In a somewhat hyperbolic yet prophetic tone, writer Huo Shu rallies Christians to reconsider the idea of “poor preachers.” As also discussed in Daniel Dakota’s blog post, this article details financial hardships on Chinese pastors and warns of the potential negative influence on the church due to inadequate compensation for pastors.
The Shame of the Chinese Church—"Poor Preachers”
Preachers are called by God to export the gospel. It is the most honorable work in the world, and should naturally enjoy honorable treatment. Treating preachers well is the teaching the Bible gives to Christians, and is a duty entrusted by God to the church. And yet the Chinese church, when mentioning preachers, often adds the modifier “poor.”
So how poor are China’s “poor preachers?” In the three main networks of Chinese churches—Wenzhou, Anhui, Henan—the Wenzhou church, with its healthy economic foundation, reluctantly provides for preachers’ basic living necessities; while with the other two main networks of churches, they are considered “good” as long as they don’t treat the preachers wickedly.
The following cases mention only the facts and ignore the location. Any of it sound familiar?
Mother and daughter, two generations of preachers, serving at the same church. The church provides room and board, and provides the two people with 500 RMB living expenses a year.
A brother preacher sacrifices the opportunity to seek work elsewhere, and willingly stays to serve the church in his hometown. Yet the church’s offering box does not include the item of the preacher’s living expenses. This brother has not tasted salt for half a year.
A pastor who came out of a Three-**** church to serve the house church, had a hard time finding even three meals a day. The pastor’s wife often went to the market after dark to find some leftover greens to bring home for dinner. A sister could not bear to see it, and bought 2 RMB worth of bread each day to give to the pastor’s family. This “act of kindness” continued for one month. . .
These stories of heartache were not made up by the author, but are the reality happening within the Chinese church. The idea that the poorer one is the more honorable, is an idea that is fading out of society, but that is being greatly embraced in the Chinese church. Aside from occasional churches who follow the Bible’s teachings to treat preachers well, “poor preachers” is a vicious illness that is highly contagious, and has also become, for the Chinese church, a shame that is hard to wash away!
A younger brother was following God’s call and was ready to quit his high-paying job and attend seminary. However, he met great resistance. The resistance was his father who has been a believer for many years. The father was worried that the son would not be able to find a wife. His worry was not without reason. A brother preacher who is in full-time ministry in Beijing only receives 4,000 RMB a month from the church; he is now over thirty and still no sister is willing to marry him, because trying to settle in Beijing on 4,000 is too difficult. Very few people go looking for a difficult life.
Even worse, someone might have a wealth of theological preparation, but still face the embarrassment of not being accepted by the church. A Hunan couple who graduated from seminary decided to go into full-time ministry. They found a church, and named their condition for 6,000 RMB a month for the both of them. A single stone cast upon a thousand waves. Not only were they not accepted by the church, but became an object of universal criticism—mentioning money even in secular society can hurt feelings, how can we mention a price when doing the Lord’s work? Following the flesh! Too un-spiritual! “The laborer deserves his wages.” Could the people giving the couple a hard time not know the Bible’s teaching? Who are the ones actually following the flesh?
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). Preachers have the most honorable work in this world, and also the most difficult work. In addition to dealing with various complex human relationships, they also have to stand against the devil’s violent attacks against them, and make the most appropriate coordination between the church and the government. Because of the labor they put forth, they are “worthy of double honor.” But what preacher in the Chinese church has ever received “double honor”?
The average monthly wage in Tianjin, where I am at, is 7,000 RMB. The young preacher just graduated from seminary, interning at a church of orthodox faith, has a monthly wage of 1,500 RMB. When officially hired by the church, the monthly wage is 2,500 RMB. Is this “double honor?” This is “not even half the honor!” The “poor preacher” of China deserves his name! Even in the wealthy Wenzhou churches, what are things like? Most preachers serve part-time, because the salaries offered by the church are only enough for basic necessities, and not enough to improve the quality of life!
“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.” (Romans 15:26-27)
This passage is very clear—if you have received “spiritual blessings” from anyone, then it is as if you owe them a debt. Repaying spiritual debts with material things is Paul’s main point. Preachers preach the saving words of eternal life. How can such a debt be repaid? How much money does it take to buy eternal life? If people do not even provide the basic necessities of life to preachers—who have given up their homes and professions to spread the words of eternal life—these people are no different than those who repay good with evil!
So how much salary should a preacher receive from the church? Such a simple question, yet so mysterious and impenetrable in the Chinese church. Some people think that the money in the offering box is for God’s home but not for the preacher, and that we should solve a preacher’s life difficulties from the perspective of charitable aid. Many pastors also go along with this viewpoint, and as a result, there appeared the “love donation box” in addition to the offering box in church. I take great exception to this.
- The preacher is a servant chosen and called by God to be his voice. God’s home is also God’s servant’s home. A servant’s normal expenses should naturally be draw from the home.
- God calling someone to full-time ministry is a blessing, not a curse. Therefore, a preacher should receive wages from the church, not charity. Charity is material giving to those who are weak, and wages are the necessary payment for those who labor.
- Levites rightly took their portion from the congregational offering, because they had no property here on earth. As for full-time preachers who do not even have a basic insurance policy, should they not also take their rightful portion from the offering?
Aside from receiving God’s special calling, preachers are normal people just like us. They have elderly parents, wives, and children. They have the same need to make a living, provide for their families, and establish their homes. Do not imagine that preachers are “demi-immortals” who do not eat the food of the commoners. When they do not have even the basic securities of life, the blows and weakness they experience are far greater than ours. And yet, the vast majority of Chinese churches’ expectations for a preacher’s living is that “he should be content as long as he has clothing and food.” And yet they are almost oppressive in their demands on the preacher’s service.
One must be sacrificial when pastoring a church, have power when preaching, be patient when interacting with people, and stand firm when persecuted. No matter how much effort a preacher puts forth on gospel’s harvest field, it is seen as proper. Yet few people ask what specific needs a preacher has. There is not even a tile’s worth of covering over his head, and not enough ground beneath his feet for a pin. He might suffer gossip even from eating skewers on the side of the street. Should the church be honored or shamed for having such a preacher?
“The foundation below decides the building above.” After all, a person has limited ability. If the basic problems of his life are not solved, how much passion can he have to serve God or serve the church? No one knows how many preachers, equipped with many years of theological training, disappointedly leave the holy pulpit, or seek to gain benefits in the world, or take on part-time jobs to fill in the deficit left by the church. Are they truly rebelling against God’s call? Before condemning them, let us first reflect whether or not we have given them rewards appropriate to their hard work.
Preachers are already shedding sweat and blood for gospel work. Let us not cause them to shed tears as well. “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18). When you tell a horse to gallop and tell it not to eat any grass, the result will be that the horse dies from exhaustion.
Paul was a “tent-maker” who was able to be self-sufficient economically, and this is because he was compassionate for the young in the Corinthian church. Paul thus declares, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.” (1 Corinthians 9:13-15)
“Commanded” can also be translated “prescribed,” and was a legal term. It meant “standards of behavior that were pre-established and must be followed,” and offenders would be dealt with according to the law. According to this standard, the church that does not provide for the preacher’s necessities of life is unlikely to escape blame.
Preachers hold in their hands the authority to “get their living by the gospel,” but how many preachers are willing to do what everyone frowns upon, and demand proper wages from the church? All churches like to think of themselves as “placing God at the head, and honoring God above all else,” but how many churches can thoroughly implement the truth of treating preachers well? Those who talk much about loving God, but do not love God’s servant, can fool no one aside from themselves!
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). How should we “esteem them very highly in love”? Do we accomplish it all by a simple “Jehovah-jireh”? Of course, God will surely provide for the preacher’s spiritual needs. But how will the preacher’s material necessities of life be solved? We must know that God’s word is always closely tied to man’s responsibility.
When God calls a preacher to serve full-time, he must also call the church to take up the burden of providing for the preacher’s life. It is great disrespect to God to ignore his calling! Although some churches who provide a comfortable life for their preacher may not be orthodox, but we can confidently say that the church with a “poor preacher” is certainly a spiritually impoverished church!
The main reason for the shallow faith foundation of the Chinese church is the lack of pastoral staff; there is a lack of pastoral staff because there are fewer and fewer young members willing to give up their comfortable life and offer it all to God. Young members willing to equip themselves in theology are becoming fewer and fewer, and as a result pastoral staff are becoming fewer and fewer. As there are fewer and fewer pastoral staff, the result is that the church lacks pastoring in truth, and faith remains on a shallow level. The result of faith becoming stagnant is that fewer and fewer brothers and sisters can understand the necessity of providing for preachers. If this horrible, vicious cycle is not broken, then at most the Chinese church can only compare with others in terms of numbers, but cannot realize a leap in quality. More and more churches will be reduced to a religious venue because of the decline in faith.
The gospel documentary Yonder Shore mentions a Mother Pu. When she was in the Beijing church, she gave the best to provide for the preacher. When she went abroad, she still gave the best to provide for the preacher. God remembered Mother Pu. She had cancer four times, and every time God changed her danger to safety, because God wanted to use Mother Pu as an example for the Chinese church. I believe that in the Chinese Church there are some brothers and sisters who, like Mother Pu, are willing to store up treasure in heaven. But how many “Mother Pus” are there? A cup of water is not enough to put out a cart on fire. If we cannot motivate all to provide for preachers, then the shame of “poor preachers” will continue to stay with the Chinese church!
To truly treat a preacher well is to love them the same way God loves them. Pray more over their spiritual life; offer more for their material life. Only when the preacher’s life is as full as Christ’s, and lives as wealthy as a prince, are we worthy of God’s trust. As the Bible says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)
Do not let the feet of the preacher run to and fro for a livelihood. How much energy would a preacher have for preaching if he is tied down by affairs? As a result, not only is the preacher’s life damaged, but our own as well. Only when all members of the church offer willingly, so that God’s house has grain, can there be sufficient supply for spiritual food, and spiritual growth be healthy. Are you willing to enter into a virtuous cycle with the Chinese church? Don’t only look at others, but ask if what you are doing is pleasing to God? Do you “have a clear conscience toward both God and man”?
May God remember and bless all preachers, and all brothers and sisters who treat preachers well.
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