Interview with a Xiamen Pastor – Everyone Has His Idols
Editor’s note: China Partnership has launched a new chapter of its prayer initiative. Over the year we are praying for the church in a new city each month - providing videos, interviews, and prayer requests directly from the churches with whom we work. We hope this helps you better understand the needs of the Chinese church and commit more fervently to stand in prayer with our brothers and sisters.
This month we continue the project with Xiamen. We’re excited to bring you this interview with a Chinese pastor in the city! We hope you will check out the Xiamen page for additional content and to sign up to partner with us in prayer.
Pastor: I come from Xiamen. Xiamen used to be an island city, but now it’s connected to the mainland; therefore, it is now a second-tier city connected to the mainland.
I am now planting a new church, but my mother church has a long history. Our [mother] church started Sunday worship in 1977, and its history can be traced back to my great-grandfather.
CP: From the church of your great-grandfather’s era to your current church, how has China changed in this period of time? Or what has changed in Chinese culture or Chinese thought?
Pastor: I don’t know much about my great-grandfather’s era, but I do know that ever since I came to understand myself as a Chinese person and that I was born in Xiamen, the city has undergone some great changes. From the time when my aunt came back from the labor camp in the 70s – roughly between the 70s to the middle of the 80s – the church was persecuted. It was very isolated and conservative.
CP: What is the social environment for the church now?
Pastor: It is fast-changing, with so many new things for us to get to know. We had no such thing as cell phones before, but now everyone has a cell phone. Before 2004, very few people in Xiamen owned a car, but now most people have a car.
CP: In such a fast-changing culture, what are some of the challenges to sharing the gospel?
Pastor: I think it was easier for us to share the gospel ten years ago. People's thinking was still very simple. But now I think it’s not easy to share the gospel, because people are in contact with so many things; a lot of things draw their attention and make it hard for them think about faith or the purpose of life. I think people are focusing more on making money.
CP: What do think of this type of culture?
Pastor: How do I evaluate this culture? I think this culture is a challenge for us as evangelists. Therefore, we have to know what they are thinking and pay attention to what they are following. This is a challenge.
CP: You are saying that this culture, or this ideology, may present a big conflict with our gospel. When you face such conflict, yet at the same time still have to love those who are suffering in it, what do you feel? What are your struggles? What is your experience?
Pastor: I came back to China in 2006. I actually studied in Singapore from 2002 to 2006. During my services, I [used to] focus more on what was happening inside the church – like my ministry, my preaching, my Bible studies, etc. But after studying gospel theology, I started to pay attention to the fact that our gospel truth is closely connected to society and the people around me. I have to look at their problems with the gospel; therefore, I had to make an adjustment.
I used to pay more attention to my own church, focusing on things like church attendance growth. But I thought little about what they think, how their thoughts relate to our society, or how they relate to our gospel. The gospel does have the capacity to solve their problems.
CP: Thanks for your answer. Previously you mentioned the contemporary culture and problems we encounter as we share the gospel. Our co-workers are also very interested in the biggest challenge you have personally encountered as you pastor a church. Could you share a story with us?
Pastor: My challenge really lies in how to turn our brothers and sisters away from the secular culture. They live in such a secular environment and love so many things in it; my challenge is turning them from the things they love to Jesus Christ.
Once I chose some brothers and sisters for discipleship ministry. During the training, I found that it was really hard for them to commit themselves to the ministry or commit their whole lives to Jesus Christ. This is my challenge. Maybe their faith was stagnant; pursuing Jesus Christ requires continuous effort.
Moreover, we all have idols deep inside ourselves; everyone has his idols. But it is so hard for some of us to remove the idols from our lives because they are so deeply entrenched and have become part of their lifestyles. Therefore, my challenge is how to turn their focus to Jesus Christ.
CP: What are these idols? Time, money, or something else?
Pastor: Most of the people I pastor are very successful in society. Their quality of life is very good. Therefore, they have a lot of things they like to do – hanging out with friends, leisure, etc. These are things they love to do and what they are accustomed to.
CP: These limit their time to come to the church.
Pastor: Right. They do commit to Sunday worship and small groups. But if we ask them for more commitment, they will not do it.
CP: One more question for you, how did you find out about the Grace to City movement? What prompted you to join the Grace to City movement?
Pastor: Grace to City was initiated in 2014, but I had been paying attention to church planting and evangelism before that. My contact with the movement was gradual. In 2009, after attending a mission conference for college students, I heard that there was going to be a church planting training in Beijing. I was very interested in it and wanted to know more. During that training they shared about the three ways to live according to the gospel, and I was instantly drawn to the gospel they proclaimed.
CP: What are the three ways to live?
Pastor: One is the Older Brother's way, one is the Younger Brother's way, and the last one is the gospel's way. [Referring to the parable of the Prodigal Son.]
CP: Thank you. One more question. You have witnessed the development of the Grace to City movement. We would like to know – among all the male pastors, you are one of the few female pastors. What challenges does that bring? Do you enjoy attending this conference with them?
Pastor: My involvement in this ministry was a calling from God. More than ten years ago, maybe in 2001, I was once sharing with my church sisters that we had to pray overnight. While we were praying overnight, we heard God saying, God will do great things in China. This was from the Bible, Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” After that, I was searching for ten years the things that God was going to do.
God did not respond to me until 2010 as I was getting involved in the initiation of the Grace to City movement. God responded that this is the great thing God was going to do. So, I got involved in it. The majority of people involved were brothers, and I did have some pressure. But I kept going back to God’s calling; I had little power, but I was willing to be involved in this. Whomever I meet, I am rooted in this calling, and I will persevere to the end.
In terms of church government, many churches involved in the Grace to City movement are Presbyterian or Reformed. Almost all the pastors are brothers; but I think God did call me to build up the church and to plant churches, and this did put some pressure on me.
Of course, my co-workers are all brothers because I have not found any sisters who share the same calling. Therefore, the co-workers at my church are all brothers. They help me to build up the church. There is always pressure in the process, but I keep going back to God’s calling for me.
CP: In this process, how do you divide up the work? Do you divide it according to people's gender?
Pastor: I allocate ministries according to God’s gifts to each of them. I prefer teaching and preaching. In areas I am not good at, I invite other gifted co-workers to take the lead. I could plant and lead the church, partly because from the time I came back to China in 2006 to the time I started planting the church, I had been pastoring for a long time and accumulated some influence. So, when I started planting the church, it was not hard to start.