Hallelujah! I’ll Never Build a Grand Church

Editor’s note: At this year’s CP conference, we were honored to host a number of Mainland Chinese pastors who spoke on God’s work in their country. The following was taken from one pastor’s testimony of God’s grace to himself and his church in recent years. If you did not have the opportunity to attend the conference, check out our attendee interviews and catch up on speaker content in coming weeks.

In 2010 China Partnership and Redeemer City to City invited me to join a city church planting training. Back then, I had already started planting sixteen churches. I said, “You should come here to learn about church planting.” I said, “I could be a teacher, right?” I was prideful back then. When I spent a month there, I was really challenged and I really changed my feelings. These five years, we’ve walked that path, and we [now] totally have a grand vision for urban church planting. It’s a long story, but my time is limited tonight. Therefore, I will just share three major points.

First, should we build one big church or sporadic churches?

Second, does the evangelist and full-time worker [demonstrate] the same life in the church and in his family?

Third, should church planting start with Bible study or discipleship training, and what kind of difference does it make?

So I will share from these three perspectives.

In the past our vision was just to build a grand church, a big one. We learned from America and from South Korea, because in the last few decades there have been a lot of mega churches in America and also in South Korea. We see their pastors always preaching. We see that they are building grand, big cathedrals. They can’t even park in the parking lot because there aren’t enough spaces. And after worship, there will be lines everywhere – you can’t even make it into the bathroom. So as a Chinese Christian, when I came to America and saw this, I was very envious. [Doing the same thing in China] would be the pride of my life.

When we were learning in seminary, we learned about methods for building a church. We learned a lot of different ways in the class, so we focused solely on the ministries of the church. However, when we only focus on ministries, we neglect the development of people’s souls. We led someone to a conversion prayer and then would say, ok, he has converted to being a Christian, and we think that is the end of it. Our job is done and now he can join the ministry. If you don’t join the ministry, then you don’t love the Lord. Then you have a weak spiritual life.

When we were doing that, our coworkers’ relationships became tense, because we all wanted to build this big church and see the pastor as this big boss. So coworkers kind of became your employees. As time progressed, the church started to split. Coworkers started to have tension and members were leaving, and other similar problems. So we started to reflect – what is the church? Is the church just a building? Does the church have to be big and grand?

At that point I joined [the training]. It gave me a whole new understanding. The gospel and the church – what is their relationship? The gospel and the effectiveness of the gospel – what is their relationship? At last I realized that I was focusing on the end results of the gospel, and ironically, we were losing the gospel itself.

What is the focus of the gospel? It is to save a sinner. It is to focus on his spiritual life. So when I started to think that way and I returned to my church, I realized I needed to focus on people’s spiritual lives. Focus on my coworkers’ spiritual lives. No longer was the focus solely on the ministry, but focusing on my brothers in Christ and their relationship with Christ. And based on all of our good relationships with Christ, we started to have good relationships with each other.

Another thing that challenged me – back then our only vision was to build a big church. We really were always seeking a sense of accomplishment. We tried to see a legendary accomplishment in our lives, hoping that one day it could be my church, and the church will have my name, so that generations after me will look at me and remember my name. We wanted to be a legend. So even though out of my mouth I was saying that I’m serving God, I was really seeking my own accomplishments.

My own accomplishments became my idols. When accomplishments become our idols, we lose the joy of the gospel. When we lose the joy of the gospel, then of course that creates a lot of problems. We may even lose our family.

So you know, among a lot of evangelists, there are couples that have problems in their marriage. Because they are so tired and are suffering for the church, in their hearts there are a lot of struggles. But they don’t dare expose them before the members. When they go home, it will just come out and they will attack each other as a couple. You know that the one you’re closest to becomes the target of your frustrations. In psychology this is called blame shifting. The Chinese term is “kicking the cat.” So home is no longer a place to sabbath. There’s no joy of the Lord at home. We were counseling people outside of the family, but when we were in the family, it was a mess.

But when the gospel truly transforms our lives, what do we see? When you are at church, when you are at home, when you are before your “other half” – are you consistent? If you’re inconsistent, then you have a personality disorder. Therefore, I would say that a lot of pastors today have personality disorders. Before I went to Redeemer, back then, I truly had a personality disorder. My wife didn’t like me. My kids didn’t like me. They would say, “You only care about the church! You only love the church! Why don’t you just live in the church. Don’t even come home.” So the more I serve, the more I suffer. The more I serve, the more I feel dry.

So I spent a month at Redeemer, and it exposed my issues. Reminding me that I need the gospel, reminding me that I need Christ. I am a servant of Christ. It is he who saves me. It is he who loves me. It is he who calls me. He called me to be his servant because that is his will. This is all grace. I have to be faithful to him. In my whole life, maybe I’ll never build a grand church. But in my whole life, I want to build up people, I want to save souls. Hallelujah!

The third point – today we are finding out that many churches started as Bible studies. Usually there are three to five brothers and sisters. They will meet at home and study the Bible, and they will invite people so that there are more people coming. So they say, oh, let’s build a church! Probably in the US, a lot of churches are started like that, and after decades the church [might be] growing, but I have found out there is a difference with these types of churches and those that are started with discipleship training.

Why do I think this? In the original Bible study, everybody sat a table, everybody brought a dish, everybody had fellowship, everybody shared what they thought the verses mean, everybody shared how they feel about scripture. But as time goes by, the atmosphere of the church is such that there really isn’t a commitment involved. There is no sense of belonging. There really are no life challenges.

But if a church is started through discipleship training, you have to follow and you have to be committed to the life of Jesus’ church. Jesus started with discipleship training. In discipleship training, the pastor needs to expose his life for everyone. The pastor also needs to expose his weakness for everybody to see. So people in discipleship training need not only to expose their lives, they need to expose their weaknesses, expose their sin. When this happens, there is true spiritual fellowship, true life-challenging conflict resolved within the body of Christ. So if a church is started through discipleship training, the sense of belonging and commitment is so much stronger.

So I started discipleship training in the church. I have led hundreds of disciples. Twenty of those have become pastors themselves through my discipleship training. They left my church and they started churches elsewhere. This is the result of the training I received. This is my sharing. Thank you very much.