Editor’s note: During the course of the CP Conference 2016, we had the opportunity to interview a variety of attendees and hear from their experiences. The following interview is with a Mainland Chinese pastor and his wife. They were delightfully fascinating to interview, and though their answers have been separated into his and her responses, it was clear as the wife translated for her husband that both share a united heart and perspective on the needs of their city and the work the Lord is doing in it.
What is your church like?
Pastor: Our church is full of young people, actually only young people. Our average age is around twenty-six years old because our church started from a student fellowship. It started from there and so it attracts similar people. So our church is maybe still half made up of students and [others] are young professionals just starting to work. In the city, about 40% are students, and 60% are young professionals whose income is quite low, so most people are spending all of the money they earn. That’s the situation for us nowadays.
But there is a good side to that, because those are the years of change for people. You know, in your twenties, you are just dating and getting married, having kids, buying a house, so a lot of things are changing and they need help. It’s a good time in life for them to get guidance. They really trust us and listen to us. It is a very influential time in life.
You mentioned that it is a very influential time in life. What are some of the struggles people have at that point in life in China?
Pastor: Mainly it’s an issue of searching for identity. They are easily influenced by people around them in the city. They feel like they have to buy a big house and find a great job, so they can [discover] who they are and why they are here. This is a big danger and a challenge, to help them live for God and not only for their own pursuits as they see the city as a place where they can search for things, what they want for themselves. How can they really give their life to God and not just think about themselves?
Do you have any particular stories about these types of struggles?
Pastor’s wife: I can think of one. It’s a new story and actually, he’s still struggling a little bit. In our church, we have an architect. He is working in probably China’s best architecture firm and he knows many specific things like market goals. So he knows the best place to invest money for the [housing market]. He is still pretty young in that firm and not super rich, but he knows that if he gets the best house, later he can sell it for a good amount of money. At that time, he already had two houses, but he bought a very expensive house. It was really beyond of his ability to pay for that kind of house.
Later he felt frustrated and he felt like the Holy Spirit was convicting him and telling him it was his lust, his greed that led him to buy the house. He really trusted us, so he shared with us his struggle. We asked about his motivations and why he was doing it. He told us that he wanted to be smart and use his money to make sure he became successful. But we challenged him and asked him why he thought God was not allowing him to do this. Later he understood and he repented. He decided to sell back the house early. Afterwards he was so happy and he said, “Wow. I don’t need to worry about this. I am following God and not following my desire.”
So this sounds like a great story, but after that the price of the house went up and up and up. I think it increased by 40% or more! Maybe 50%. So even though he said he did the right thing, after a while [he wasn’t so sure]. He is struggling. One time we got together to eat lunch and he was very honest. He said, “To be honest, I have been struggling for whole past six months. Am I an idiot to have sold it? I know I didn’t the right thing, but I complain sometimes to God.” You know, that is a really hard time, so we have to help confirm to him that this is the right thing. He said that he knows when he follows God and he knows the purpose of his life, then he doesn’t need to worry about this and it really is out of his ability to understand. It was feeding his greediness.
But I feel like this is a good story about how the people really struggle. They know the right thing, but they really need people to lead them and help them find the motivation behind the things they do and to see who they really are and what they should do.
How have you seen God work in your city since you have lived there?
Pastor: It’s quite obvious we can see God’s hands working in the urban church movement. Even before we started, I felt like God was calling me clearly to do urban church planting. Afterwards, you can see clearly God’s guidance step by step. At the starting point, I didn’t know what to do, but God is leading us step by step. People have helped us and it’s obvious, so we just follow. So the guidance of God is quite clear.
God is using books and some trainings and seminars to help me to facilitate material that will be practical for our church members. I am studying a lot and developing curriculum that can be helpful for our church members.
We also do a lot of counseling with our church members and find out their backgrounds. Although they are young, in the background and in their family situations there is a lot of brokenness in their pasts. When the gospel shines upon their lives, their lives start to change. God is really preparing people’s hearts and they are coming into the church and starting to get involved and commit to the church.
The church in [our city] has a particular characteristic that before it was very individualized and did not want to connect with others. But deep inside they have a need – the pastors want to be connected, but they just feel like there is no way. But the deep desire still lies there. So I think that in recent years, we saw the need and took steps to help build the connection, even though the connection may not be that strong, but we just started to do it. So we have united prayer among the pastors and more churches are joining and we can share some united vision and find the same place to contribute.
How have you seen God at work in China in the past 15 years?
Pastor: Actually, we have seen two groups of people – the first one from the end of the last century until maybe 2005. During this time a lot of students were raised up. The second group of people is those doing church planting, and most of them are from the student fellowships. They really are connected. We can say they are two groups of people, or two different movements, but really it is a kind of process. We are typical of this process. Some of them are from overseas, when they are exchange students, and they go back to China – many people from different campuses, but they become Christians. If you ask the underground church, they may not agree, because they think they are the ones who are helping with the students, but really in our opinion, according to what we know, a lot of them are learning from the missionaries or the campus ministries overseas.
The characteristics of the past fifteen years are that more and more you see the stronger churches in the city, because they have more abilities to have structure and the method to build a sustainable church movement. But in the countryside, they don’t have the ability to change that much. It’s also a process of transition and change. We have the heritage of the older [generation] to really stick to the truth and show loyalty to the Lord, but also, it’s a transition to a new age. A lot of things are good and we need to stick to them, but something we really need to change – like pietism and legalism are things we really need to deal with.
Because a lot of new churches are emerging in the city, because they don’t have a lot of the burdens from the old church, it’s easier for them to change and establish a new system. The structure and management of a church is important. The government of the church needs a group of people who really embrace the new idea of how to build a church and work together to set up a new system. The doctrine and the government of the church are still very important work, so I think we still need five or eight years to work on it.
Once the structure and the theology of [the church] are settled, then it is time to change society or go into missions.
What do you pray for China the most?
Pastor’s wife: Usually I really pray that God will open the door for China to be open, but [some of the other pastors] will disagree and say it isn’t a big deal. But I really pray that, because I feel like in our province the political environment is not that friendly, so I do feel the pressure and I pray for the government. I don’t feel like [the situation] is friendly or that the door is going to open for Christianity to stay. I feel like there is a lot of pushback and [intensification] of the situation. So I really pray for that a lot.
And also for the economic situation. This year it is really going down. Especially the stock market. When we see taxi drivers or Uber drivers, they tell us they were working in a company, but now they don’t have a job so they became a driver. It’s not just one taxi driver who has told us this, but at least three. One was a cook at a nice restaurant, but now he does not have a job. We’ve heard a lot of stories about people losing their jobs and now working as drivers.
I really pray for this, and I think I should pray more about how we should face this and how we should help our church members to face this situation. I think the president is trying to stop it and the corruption, but the problem already exists. People say it is too late to deal with it. I think people need to have faith, and also pray to God to bless and protect China. But also, if things really go bad, we need to think about how we can have faith to stay [in our city] and live out our Christian life in hardship. If our church members lose their jobs, then how should we face it? It’s a big challenge. In my whole life, I never really experienced hardship, but you know it could happen.
Pastor: If we are really rooted in the Bible, then when the true hardship or persecution comes, we can deal with it with faith. I agree firstly with what my wife said. Second, I think we need to remember our purpose in life as we share the gospel with others, even when we are dealing with hardship. We still need to step forward to share the gospel and build the church. It will be a challenge.
Pastor’s wife: One more thing that comes to mind. I really worry about the biblical doctrine of the church and the understanding of the Bible. I can give an example. We went to the countryside, well not really the countryside, more like a little town. But the church was very closed. They had grown for thirty years, so it is a big group of churches. They collected all of their leaders for us to help train. It was really far away from [our city], but a sister took as and we gave a teaching. We were shocked. A large number of people came and all of them are leaders for large numbers of people. Their church group is probably in the tens of thousands. It’s huge.
But when we taught and they were asking questions, I asked my husband, “Are they Christians?” It was really crazy and it shocked me. I should pray more because whenever I think about that [experience] it gives me a shock. My husband said that he was not surprised. We really need to pray that those who are serving the Lord really know what they are preaching about. It’s a big lack, a really big lack. If China is free, you can share whatever and I think a lot of cults will grow up.
What do you hope the American church can understand about the Chinese church?
Pastor: It’s related to what my wife just said. I want the American church to know and pray for the Chinese church because we know a lot TV shows will say that China’s ministries are so big and a lot of people are Christians. But that’s just the surface facts. That’s not the real facts. When you know more, you will be shocked because a lot of things need to change. We are not so focused, so rooted, so deep in the Word. The starting point needs to be understanding what the gospel is, why we are believing it, and how we can get the momentum from the basics.
Pastor’s wife: We serve people who come to our church as second-generation believers. They really are struggling with legalism and moralism. A lot of them are pastors’ kids and they are just struggling. It’s just helping them.
Pastor: The gospel renewal work really needs to go deeper and wider, because when you look at a person, you may think he is great, but really when you look at his roots, they are not on the basics of the truth, but rather a lot of traditions of Chinese culture mixed up with some kinds of doctrines and truth. How to change all of that into a pure gospel is something that we need to figure out.
Because of the culture of only loyalty to family members, rather than community or brotherhood among Christians, that is why even though we have a large number of Christians [in China] and people expect that because of the numbers something will happen, a lot of things are not happening because when you look back, there is a deep cultural issue. There are issues of shame or face among the pastors and among the believers, so it’s hard to be open and transparent among Christian communities.
Conflict resolution abilities are really bad and people don’t know how to use biblical principles to deal with their problems. Among the family members, like husband and wife, or kids, they don’t even know how to communicate, let alone when you go to the church board. If there is distrust it will continue and usually it will end in a church split.
So a lot of cultural issues need to be dealt with according to the gospel truth. If you cannot solve the problem with what Jesus said in the Bible, how can you change others’ lives? You don’t even know how to transfer that! So we think it won’t be that fast, because the quality of the church really needs to grow first.
So the American church can pray for China for a deep change, for cultural renewal. Not only that people believe in God and many become Christians, or these initial things won’t become momentum, won’t be a huge change.
What will you take home with you from this conference?
Pastor: One thing we are very touched by is that the American church does not say, “Oh, we are Americans and you are Chinese.” But it really sees us in the brotherhood. We mentioned that Chinese culture doesn’t have that. We are one community serving the same Lord, sharing the same vision. This is something we really need to learn and also embrace, because that is just not in our bones. But we really feel touched and comforted.
Because of the fifty years [the Chinese church] was separated from other church communities and because the Chinese culture is very closed, most Chinese churches just think, “We are the Chinese church.” They don’t think about being part of the whole, world Church. This is something we need to think more about and pray more about. Coming here, we really feel the brotherhood, and the big picture, and being part of the whole, universal Church. We understand more about that. We are more aware of how we are all for the same goal and joined together for that goal.