Editor’s note: This series provides a listening ear on an intimate conversation between China Partnership staff, the Chinese pastors they work with, and various American church partners. Many people sat around the table for the conversation, but to protect the identities of those present, we have chosen to use the following pseudonyms to represent the three perspectives involved. Catch up on earlier parts of the series and enjoy this last installment of the series!
杨明道 Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.
王建国 Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese pastors in the unregistered church participating in a grace-centered gospel movement.
春笋 Chunsun is the collective pseudonym for American individuals, churches, and foundations ministering to Chinese people.
Chunsun: I’ve been trying to formulate my question a little bit… it’s very encouraging that [this movement] started from within China and is led by Chinese. It’s very encouraging. When you were talking during the conference tonight you shared how there is a Western influence to have a mega-church, and you recognize that is not healthy. So I’m wondering, is there a risk for Western donors, givers, to provide too much assistance? And should there by more assistance coming from within China itself?
Wang Jianguo: This is also a mindset problem. A pastor came to the States and he told the church in the States that we have 100,000 believers, we want to do missions, so you pay the bill and we will send people. When he spoke like that, his understanding was that the American churches have a lot of money and we Chinese can produce the human resources. If he has 10,000 people and they cannot go out to do ministry, and we cannot support our missionaries, then it’s not a healthy church. The healthy church is holistic: spiritual life and donations or offerings. If you offer money, it means you are wholly offering yourself.
We’ve been worried about this. I have heard some stories that when the money comes to China from the States, if you’re not using it wisely, it brings disaster for churches in China. Sometimes we have churches split because of the money, sometimes we have pastors commit sin because of the money. We’ve heard about these stories.
It may take ten more years [to fully sustain and manage the church’s financial resources], because in the culture of China we don’t recognize [our responsibility to] society. [The only focus] is the family. When people come to the church, they bring this mindset with them. When they realize that we need to offer money, some people leave because they cannot tolerate it. They thought the money belonged to themselves. They think, “I should pay my own bills.” Because of this kind of mindset, we’ve been teaching and encouraging our brothers and sisters, “Do not serve both God and money.” So in these years we have made progress, and we are able to have many ministries.
Yang Mingdao: Do your churches have external support?
Wang Jianguo: No. It’s all by ourselves.
We don’t have support from overseas, even in the very beginning. We now have 20+ ministers and the church can take care of their pay. But for our seminaries, half of the cost is covered from overseas. This is because the seminary students often come from very poor backgrounds and their churches cannot afford the tuition. For this kind of money we need to do fundraising overseas.
Yang Mingdao: In general, a mature church at some point should be self-sufficient and support itself. Some ministries may need different support. But the church itself should be self-sufficient from a financial standpoint.
Chunsun: I guess I’m wondering is there coaching that we can receive from the Chinese church that can tell us how can we actually avoid creating some kind of inappropriate dependency on us, but actually help the church become the church, without us harming it? We would love to learn and over some period of time, we would love to receive such coaching.
Wang Jianguo: Last August, I went to a ministry group in [another province]. They have more than one hundred ministers in that group, but they split, because one of the foundations in the States gave a bunch of money to the ministry. What was the money for? It was intended cover the living costs of those hundred ministers for one year. So they received the money. But nobody knew about it, except one leader who took the money and he didn’t tell the others. He opened a supermarket with that money. So, one year later, the foundation went to that place. They interviewed some of the ministers: did you have any improvement in your life, did you receive any financial support? Those ministers said, “No, we didn’t.” So obviously he committed sin. But he didn’t confess. He thought what he did was right. He wanted to earn money, it was an investment, he wanted to improve his life even more. But nobody accepted his explanation. He got kicked out, excommunicated. It’s a true story.
We should be very, very careful. The church in China can afford the cost of living and it’s a church’s obligation to support its own ministers. We should live on the gospel when we share the gospel. If a foundation wants to support China, we would prefer more resources.
Yang Mingdao: Can you close with a prayer for us?
Chunsun: I sure can, let’s pray.
Father, what a great joy it is to be among brothers and sisters here, to hear how you’re at work in the hearts and souls of that great country of China. Lord, we thank you for these men and their leadership. We thank you for their heart to seek after you. We thank you for the vision that you’ve given them for the church, and we just pray that they would continue to rely on you for their guidance and wisdom as they seek to serve the people in China. Lord, we pray that you would be with them, you would bless them and their families, and that you would continue to give them guidance in all they do. We thank you for this opportunity they have to share, and we pray your blessing on this evening. We pray this in your great name. Amen.