Chinese Pastor Roundtable: Once You Taste It, You Cannot Return
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 check back later this week for the final installment!
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: From some of the things I’ve heard, you’re experiencing the same challenges we’re facing in the United States with keeping the heart of the next generation. You have seen, and we have learned, that God’s grace is awesome and the gospel of that is very important. I would suspect, though, that the challenge is after you go to [the movement’s] trainings. What is the follow-up or the coaching to keep it going three months or six months later? I’m curious, what do you do to help young pastors or new pastors who have been to training to check in and keep that progress on track?
Wang Jianguo: The first thing is that the mindset has been changed. The previous kind of spirituality, [the ideas about] what spirituality is, have been [changed]. The second thing is realizing and having the ability to identify my own idols of my heart. We all have different gods that are not the Biblical Jehovah God. We start to see the internal, small gods be eradicated. The real God is going to enter our hearts to become the real God for us. When we have God in our heart, we are going to see things from his perspective.
I’ll give you one example of a minister in my church who sinned. If I had not been transformed by the gospel, I think my morality and my piety, or the way I think I am a moral and pious person, [would have led me to] kill him. I would have kicked him out of the church. But when I started to look at him from God’s perspective, I saw that his weakness is also my weakness, his sinfulness is also my sinfulness, because we are one body. This great sorrow made me serve him; he is a soul, so I can love him in Christ to restore his life. And now he is a pastor again after several years. So we have a great relationship.
Yang Mingdao: I think back to your question, what I figured out in the past three or four years is that the gospel itself is God working in your heart. The gospel never reaches your heart by the message alone; it always reaches your heart by the Holy Spirit. That is the way the Holy Spirit reaches people’s heart: through the gospel, who God is, who Christ is, and what he does for us. That is powerful.
When you have a focus on the gospel, its power itself is transforming. Whenever we hear the gospel, whenever you taste the sweetness of the real, true gospel – the resurrection, the cross, the ascension – you are looking for the eternal rest [that comes] after his return. Once you taste that, you cannot return. You reach a point where you can never return. That sweetness will always attract you in that direction.
You preach the gospel to your own heart, as all of these people have shared. You feel it’s another regeneration in your life. I will not say that’s a regeneration – we were saved by the gospel, but our sinful humanity, our fallen humanity, is at its core anti-gospel, so over the years we can lose the gospel. And then you find it again. It is so sweet. So we just stick to that. That is what we are seeing in these pastors and all the leaders, again and again and again. You build on that foundation: God’s word and his Holy Spirit in the gospel.
Yes, there is a great uphill battle, there is still daily repentance, but you have a foundation. People know their sinfulness will not transform them. There is still daily repentance and going to the cross. That is something we have for follow-up. But it’s not the follow-up that makes [repentance and growth] happen; the gospel makes that happen. Follow-up can only facilitate that process. For me, I am now coaching three to five pastors from time to time, and pray for them daily or weekly. The hope is some key leaders are going to be transformed and they will be models to help other people.