Chinese Church Voices

Training Disciples in China

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

The pandemic continues to impact church life in China with many churches still unable to meet in person at times. In this Christian Times article a rural pastor in China, reflects on that ongoing challenge and recognizes potential for positive growth in the lives of believers.  

Thoughtful Reflections from an Experienced Central Plains Pastor:
Pastors Must Truly Live out Holiness—Doing It, Not Just Teaching It

In the decades since the reform and opening up of China, the Chinese church has matured considerably. According to the analysis of many pastors who watch the development of the church in China, the overall development of the Chinese church during the 1980s and early 1990s was driven by lay believers.

In the process of church development, churches used different models of development. However, starting around the year 2000, a new characteristic appeared in that most pastors tried every possible way of promoting church development, while believers simply become the object of ministry. The power of lay people has been neglected and stagnated. On the whole, there is still a pastoral mindset of “pastors stand in the pulpit and believers sit on the side lines.”

Recently, Pastor W, who has pastored grassroots churches in rural areas in the Central Plains for many years, shared with our co-workers that during his many years of pastoral care, he has reflected deeply on his own pastoral model and church development model.

In a nutshell, he said, “It starts with me doing, not with me teaching”—turning from theoretical instruction to living it out in practice.

Here is what Pastor W shared.

Since the year 2000, many believers in the Chinese church have received a more orthodox theological education, and the institutions, structures, and ministries of the church have gradually been established. On the one hand, this shows that the Chinese church has developed, but on the other hand, as the church’s organization became tighter and more refined, the church has also slowly become rigid, losing the presence of God and unable to have an intimate relationship with him. As a result, people have had to come back and relearn how to have peace in their hearts, relearn how to wait on God. Many movements, such as the inward Christian life, devotional studies, etc., reflected this phenomenon.

In contrast, in the church of the 1980s, there was no real church organization, nor decent theological education, let alone the study of “inward life” or “devotionals,” but there were at that time many works of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the lives of believers, and there were indeed many signs and wonders.

I have found that the more organized the churches are now, the less optimistic the situation is; while the more freedom believers have to grow within the church, the more positive the situation is. So, I strongly encourage ordinary believers to stand up and become spiritual leaders, which is very good, and God himself will come and nurture them.

I used to be afraid that believers would go astray, that they would go down the wrong path and stumble. But slowly I realized that I had made a big mistake—that the pastor had taken the place of God. Pastors have always thought that they needed to shepherd the believers. But, in fact, God does not need anyone else to do the shepherding; God will shepherd the believers himself.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, I see that many pastors seem hidden, and I wonder if God is deliberately hiding the pastors. God wants to reveal his own glory rather than ours, and wants to build an intimate, direct relationship with believers. I have been thinking about this for a long time. What the future holds for the church, we can’t imagine, no one knows. We can only walk by faith, trusting in what God is going to do in the church, among believers, among his workers.

In the past when the overall environment was better, true Christians had, to be honest, very little impact on society. At that time the impact of pastors and workers was inside the church rather than outside it, and much of the ministries were confined to the church. But now the environment has become very different, and many pastors can no longer continue to pastor within the church as they did in the past. At this time many pastors have reflected on their need to become more grounded, more down to earth, and not just stand in the pulpit and teach people purely theoretical things. They need to put God’s word into practice with their lives and truly manifest the word of the Lord.

I was greatly inspired by what one pastor shared. This pastor said, “We used to do a lot of discipleship training, but in reality, that sort of discipleship training was a sham. We were essentially teaching disciples rather than training disciples. The best way to train disciples is for the pastor to start living as a good disciple. That is, you set an example for others to imitate, rather than try to teach others with some sort of packaged theory.”

I believe that the present-day pastor needs to demonstrate that he is a disciple of Christ by living a real life in a real way, and making sure other people can see that lifestyle, providing an example that believers can refer to, imitate, and follow.

In the three years or so that Jesus led his disciples, his teaching was limited, but he lived with them regularly. After the disciples had seen what Jesus did, those things were engraved in their hearts and would never be forgotten. Teaching is something that a person hears and understands, but it rarely has a long-term impact on a person. I personally believe that in the future, as pastors in the church, first and foremost we need to live out Christ’s example, so that believers can imitate us.

A pastor’s ministry that comes from the throne of God, the inner sanctum, is not the same as ministry that comes out of a college. Thus, a pastor may not preach or speak very much, but he can have a great impact on the lives of believers and be a great help, whereas even if he speaks at length, he may not be able to truly impact or help others.

Therefore, pastors need to truly live out a holy and godly life, so that they can really edify believers. Therefore, I now strongly encourage believers to be faithful and holy in the smallest things, and to always act in kindness and honesty, so that a personal faith can gradually be built up. The opposite would be people who may be very knowledgeable but not necessarily of good character.

Why are there such evil things as corruption and adultery in the church? It is because some may understand theory very well but be weak in their faith’s foundation and have no real living connection with the Lord.  A truly mature life is one that takes even the smallest things very seriously, so that they will naturally have a real impact.

I believe that this is how the church will develop in the future; this is my personal view.

Original article: 访谈| 一中原牧者多年牧养的深刻反思:牧者需真实活出圣洁,从我做起而非从我讲起,  基督时报
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.

Image credit: Melpro4020 from Pixabay.
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Image credit: Melpro4020 from Pixabay.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

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