Connecting Our Evangelism to the Idea of Sabbath
Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China and assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.
Over my thirty years of ministry with Chinese I have heard both good and bad gospel presentations. For example, trying to link Chinese characters or the concept of 天 (Tiān, heaven) with the Christian gospel generally fall short. I recently asked a Chinese sister in Christ what she thought of such presentations and she replied that they do not really reflect what the culture believes about these things so they do not adequately connect seekers to the truth.
So how should we present the gospel in Chinese culture? I just finished teaching a night class at our local seminary. Roughly fifty students, all from local house churches, attended five evenings of class on the subject of missions and evangelism. In the class we watched a message from Tim Keller delivered at our 2014 event in Hong Kong on the subject of contextualization.
Keller teaches that we should both affirm and challenge any culture's values and articulate how the gospel answers the questions it is seeking. He proposed the idea that traditional and modern elements in Chinese culture have combined to make the modern Chinese soul very weary. People are tired and need rest, but they look for it in illegitimate ways.
I live in a city in China known for having a culture of leisure, but I see very little true rest. Playing mahjong, visiting tea houses, getting foot massages, or just enjoying food and drink are popular ways folks blow off steam, but they cannot provide lasting rest.
Our local church leaders have begun to model such rest by taking sabbaticals and talking about our eternal rest in Christ. In the past I found that taking a day off for distraction free prayer, meditation, scripture reading, and reflective writing were immensely helpful and spiritually refreshing.
Missionaries need that rest as well. Weekly sabbath is a key, but so also is an annual extended rest time and seasonal sabbaths (every several years) where we take several weeks or months away from ministry for spiritual nourishment and rest. One way we do this with our missionaries is by having an annual retreat and focusing our time on spiritual nourishment, prayer, biblical preaching, and fellowship, sharing our ministries with one another.
Both Chinese and Westerners have much to learn about rest; that our ultimate rest is in Christ. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The peace and joy that come from resting in Christ is a message that Chinese can connect with. At that the same time it is something Western missionaries need to practice and learn to model, not just for the sake of those they minister to, but for their own sake.