In many Chinese churches, there is a significant lack of trained pastors and church staff. Lay people’s pastoral needs may go unmet because of this deficiency in trained pastors, leading to unhealthy spiritual growth.
In this article from China Christian Daily, Zhang Xiaoyi details how one Three-Self church in Shandong province tackles training needs for lay leaders.
Shandong Church Adopts Systematic Training of Lay Co-Workers and Community Group Pastoral Care
Since there are so many more Christian lay people than pastors in China, most of the pastors who are active in grassroots churches are also the church's lay preachers. Therefore, for the grassroots church, good training in and participation from co-workers in Bible teaching and pastoral care has an important impact on the pastoral work of the entire church.
The Hou Zaimen church in Jinan, Shandong Province has gradually developed a suitable system for training lay people and managing meeting points [i.e. cell groups] which in turn has aided in the spiritual growth of believers.
Ten-year Plan: Lay Co-workers Receive Systematic Training
For the church of Hou Zaimen, the period of training for a lay co-worker can be as long as a decade of systematic study of the Old and New Testaments.
Pastor Wang Wenhuan, director of the Hou Zaimen Church, explained to Gospel Times' staff that the current group of lay co-workers from Hou Zaimen church began their training in the latter half of 2003. They study intensively twice a year for one month each time. It has taken essentially five years for the lay co-workers to systematically complete the New Testament, as well as courses in systematic theology, preaching, and missions. Pastor Wang thinks that it will take four to five years to learn the Old Testament.
"The number of lay co-workers participating in each study session has remained stable at around 30 to 40. Most of them have been able to steadily participate in each study session and their level is constantly improving," Wang said. "These lay co-workers serve at various meeting points. In the front line, they feel that it's more necessary to keep learning. Therefore, many lay co-workers are grateful for the time to be able to concentrate on their studies."
In addition to inviting local pastors to do training for lay church co-workers, Hou Zaimen church also attaches great importance to the actual effect of each period of lay co-worker training. After each training, all lay co-workers are required to complete the work assigned by the pastor. They also suggest how the training should be held including the teachers' expectations and suggestions for the next courses. The church pastor will also lead the students to make a summary [of what they learned].
In addition to the twice-yearly intensive lay co-worker training, the Hou Zaimen church convenes a meeting for the lay co-workers once a week as they serve at the various meeting points and are the main co-workers. "We talk about issues that have come up in the faith of believers and seek guidance from the Bible. At the same time, we also discuss the problems that need to be solved in each meeting place."
Community Groups: Do a Good job of Pastoral Care
With the improvement in the quality of the lay pastors and a suitable management model for the church, the believers naturally receive better pastoral care. This picks up slack in the church's ministry of care. In addition to attending Sunday worship and weekly church worship, most believers of the Hou Zaimen church also have their own cell groups. According to Wang, the church has more than 30 cell groups. Almost every large community has a cell group and each group has from less than 20 to 30 people, and up to more than two hundred people.
The Hou Zaimen church's visitation ministry to the believers is basically done in the cell groups. The co-worker of the cell group can easily know the believers' religious conditions. He/she can help if they are able. And if they are unable, they can apply for help from the church. A network of pastoral care has basically been formed for this. And for some brothers and sisters who are busy with work and do not belong to a cell group but usually attend church worship during the week, the church pastor will get to know this small group of people and more easily give them care. Among the cell groups, there is also a group for overseas Chinese. A group of overseas Chinese gather in a fellowship led by an older pastor from the church.
The Hou Zaimen church started and gradually adopted this model of pastoral care in 1995. Drawing on a model of family and community groups from a Hong Kong Church, Hou Zaimen church has also strengthened its relationship with the church in the area of pastoral care.
Pastor Wang said that, in the past, the church's members have moved around a lot. Without attention from the pastors, some of them were left in a spiritually weak state. Since Hou Zaimen church has adopted the cell group pastoral care model, believers' commitment to the church has increased, and their spiritual lives are showing continuous improvement.
Original Article: Shandong Church Adopts Systematic Training of Lay Co-Workers and Community Group Pastoral Care by China Christian Daily.
Edited and republished with permission.
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