Interview with a Pastor in Shenzhen – The Gospel of Old
Question: Can you describe the city where your church is?
Answer: Shenzhen is a first-tier city, representing China’s fast growing economy. But for me, I’m more concerned about it as a city of migrant workers. According to the municipal government statistics a couple of years ago, there were sixteen million people living in Shenzhen, and only three to four million of them were native; that is to say, most residents are workers who come from all over the country.
Question: What are the people groups your church is in contact with?
Answer: We are in contact with people from all over the country. We see very few natives.
Question: What are the age groups?
Answer: All age groups. Within our church, or within the community where our church is, there are senior people who come to help look after children; there are young people who come to work; nowadays there are also those who bring children here to attend school. These are the main age groups.
From another perspective, Shenzhen is known for people living in clusters with those having a similar background. [There are two main areas.] They are “within the border” and “outside of the border”. People who live “within the border” are mainly well-paid white-collar workers; people who live “outside of the border” are mainly workers with less education and lower pay. I pastor mostly people living “outside of the border”, the lower class in Shenzhen.
Question: What characterize these people’s lives?
Answer: They live like robots with an especially strong life rhythm; they are very busy. Every day they are busy at work; they work overtime and are under a lot of pressure. Usually their family life is a mess, as they either have no time to care about it or are not concerned about it at all. This is why Shenzhen has serious public safety issues with a high crime rate. Public safety there is awful.
Question: Can you describe your church?
Answer: Our church started with a group of Christians who came to work in the city and gathered together for fellowship. It gradually developed into Sunday worship, and later I came to pastor them and help them to form a church. We started mostly with young people, workers from the countryside who had just finished high school. Some of them were actually Christians back home, but they did not have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of faith. Most however heard the gospel when they came to Shenzhen and were brought to the church by their friends.
These are young people who were relatively simple-minded when they were at school. After they entered the workforce, they found it hard to accept the darkness they witnessed in the society. For example, when they came to Shenzhen, the high crime rate, problems like theft, robbery and more often fraud, caused them to begin to fear life itself. They live in Shenzhen to make a living, but they have no sense of security inside them.
There has been great transformation among them in these past two, three years.
Previously they left home and came to Shenzhen to earn a living. As they come to understand the gospel, we have been teaching them to bear the mission of the gospel, because for many brothers and sisters their family members are not Christians. There may be no church in their hometown.
Praise the Lord that most brothers and sisters can now take with them the mission of the gospel and share the good news with their family and friends in their hometown.
Shenzhen is not typically a permanent place to live. One may live here for three years, five years, or ten years, but one has to return to his hometown one day. Therefore, the mission of our brothers and sisters now is to equip themselves in the faith while they are here.
I call our church a transition hub for domestic missionaries, for the reason that brothers and sisters have come to Shenzhen to earn a living, yet they become saved here by the gospel. They start equipping themselves, and then they bear with them the gospel mission, whether they are moving to another city in the future or returning to their hometown, or staying in Shenzhen to spread the gospel here.
We are also especially grateful for the many marriages and many births in our church. There are almost as many children as adults now.
Question: Can you tell us how the gospel is revived in your church?
Answer: I will talk about two aspects. The first is myself.
I grew up in a house church in the countryside. My father was the minister of the house church. Growing up in a minister’s home, I was deeply influenced by pietism and therefore more concerned about behavior. In reality I was living under fear in the mindset of a slave.
I came for ministry in Shenzhen and began to pastor in 2007. I found myself pastoring the church with the same pietism and legalistic requirements from my background, leading brothers and sisters to also focus more on behavior and on living, to the point where I discovered that my faith was bankrupt. I found that the person I was was not the person I had thought I was.
Under my pastoral leadership, brothers and sisters began to judge and condemn each other with harsh standards. That resulted in serious conflicts with my co-workers and broken relationship with brothers and sisters. All these came from holding each other to high standards and mutual condemnation.
Thankfully while we were in the midst of all these I began to realize that, while I thought I had known the gospel from childhood, that I had accepted the gospel, and had followed the calling to serve as a minister, I ended up being far away from this good news of old that God had given me. I had forsaken the gospel and returned to the dominion and bondage of the law.
Then I experienced what is called grace alone. I experienced God’s mercy and love, knowing deeply His forgiveness, acceptance, and healing. This resulted in great blessings for our church.
I started to apologize to co-workers and confessed my sins in front of brothers and sisters, acknowledging that my sermons and the demands I issued them, even though my motivation was to give them what’s best, were contrary to the gospel of God. The result was it brought legalism into their faith, that is, the pursuit of moral behavior.
When I was thinking that way I went deeper into studying Gospel DNA and many other books by Pastor Timothy Keller. I was looking at them as a whole and I gradually got to share them with brothers and sisters.
What was particularly amazing was that the church started to see how our team of co-workers repented together, how we wept and confessed our sins to one another. Brothers and sisters used to despise each other and were critical of us ministers, saying, “You are the pastors. You should be our role models in all aspects. But you fail. You can’t do this and you can’t do that.”
But when they witnessed us repent and learned through our preaching what the gospel is and were able to differentiate between the essence of the gospel and the fruit of the gospel, amazingly brothers and sisters at our church started to know how God had forgiven and accepted me and how we should follow God to forgive and accept one another.This was how our church turned around in terms of our unity. In fact, the larger turnaround was from me to the whole church. We would no longer serve God, or each other, or the entire Shenzhen community, like slaves.
When we were seeking pietism, we were actually seeking individual pietism. We did not think our church was related to the city which we were in. We tried to escape from the city. We hated it. Brothers and sisters hated their companies. They hated this place but they stayed because they had to earn a living.
But when we came to understand God’s gospel and that this gospel is to come not only to us but also to this city of Shenzhen, we started to increasingly value our relationship with brothers and sisters in the church as well as our relationship with the city. In other words, we changed from a negative attitude of disgust and avoidance to gradually thinking about how to proactively reach out to them, care for them, and bring the gospel of Christ to them.
Question: Can you share a testimony from your church?
Answer: We are thankful to the Lord that because our church is in Shenzhen, there are often many newcomers visiting the church and gradually getting to know the Lord. There are many such cases. Take one family as an example. It is typical in Shenzhen that the husband and wife would work here and leave their child behind in their hometown. China has a serious problem with children left behind in their hometowns.
This family has been to church in their hometown but never really understood the gospel. When they came here, their first shock was, how could brothers and sisters here in Shenzhen, who live under such great pressure, have so many children? That was because we have more families [in the church] with two or three children while they only have one child, whom they left in their hometown.
They found this unbelievable. Yet as they started coming to church and started to understand the gospel, the first to transform was their pursuit of wealth and their worldview. They realized that what they pursued in life could not bring them true satisfaction. In fact they found their marriage deteriorating and the child they left behind was becoming more alienated from them.
When they came to see God’s heart and God’s will for family as well as our mission in the world, amazingly in their struggle they were willing to bring their child here from their hometown. It was hard, and we were with them through it. The second change concerns their concept of having children. They started trying to have a second child.
One biggest change actually was the turnaround of their values, as they were initially most concerned about whether they had enough money, how they could establish themselves in Shenzhen, how they could afford an apartment and a car, how they could tell people from their hometown that they were successful in Shenzhen.
But then this couple actively participated in every class at our church, and whenever we met the husband he would say, “Please pray for my hometown. My parents don’t believe in Jesus. There is no church still in my hometown. What should I do in order to bring the gospel home? What should I do so that not only my relatives can believe in Christ but also that there can be a church in my hometown?”
I was grateful for his burden and took him through discipleship, guiding him to purposefully equip himself while in Shenzhen.
This may seem like an uneventful testimony, but for this one person, his whole value system has been transformed. If the gospel were not in him, he would not have turned from his previous wholehearted pursuit of money, wealth, fame, and everything of this life, to his eager preparation of himself for the souls of his relatives and for evangelism in his hometown.
I would like to close with his words. He said that if it were not for the gospel, he would have left Shenzhen long ago and gone home to live the life he preferred. But he knew he needed to be equipped in the truth. He said, “I am staying in Shenzhen for the sake of the church, so that I can systematically equip myself here to become a vessel pleasing to the Lord. I am waiting for the church to send me back to my hometown to plant churches and share the gospel.”