Interview with a Linfen Pastor: “Prayer is Essentially Submission to God”
Editor’s note: Over the past year we have been praying for the Chinese 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 Linfen. We’re excited to bring you this interview with a Chinese pastor in the city! We hope you will check out the Linfen page for additional content and to sign up to partner with us in prayer.
CP: Can you tell us about churches in Shanxi?
Pastor: I am from Linfen, Shanxi. Our church is in an area called Huozhou. Huozhou’s population is about 300,000. Because of urbanization that began in 2015, we have lost large numbers of people. That is why in 2016 we started planning for new church plants in other cities of Shanxi. Since then we have focused much of our energy on these new churches.
The church in Shanxi was earliest established by missionaries from China Inland Mission and Pastor Li Qiushan, who set up churches in Linfen in areas around Tie Fo Si. Pastor Xi Shengmo might have been the first person who came to faith in Shanxi. He was very famous, and he founded many churches as well as rehabilitation centers for alcoholics in the area. Our church is influenced by these traditions.
We do not have the office of “pastor” at the moment. Pastor Li Qiushan was largely from the Methodist tradition; however, churches in Shanxi experienced a period of disruption due to the beginning of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in 1951 and later the Cultural Revolution, during which there were no sacred offices being set up. Later, influenced by the two traditions of Christian Assembly and Jesus Family, the church would have no clergy; members are all brethren with one another. Our church began to follow the Reformed tradition since 2010, and we only began to advocate reformed theology and a Presbyterian polity in 2012. We are a fairly big church with mostly older women, and so it has been a very slow process for us in terms of setting up ordained ministry positions. This is why we still do not have a pastoral staff or church membership.
CP: You have mentioned the planting of new churches and adopting a new theological tradition for your church. These are huge changes. What role has prayer played for you and your church in coming to these decisions?
Pastor: I believe that prayer is essentially submission to God. It is a kind of surrender. We love our city very much and we understand some of its real concerns. We also understand churches from our own tradition. Our vision has really come from knowing what God says in the Bible and recognizing our circumstances, and then submitting ourselves to him in obedience through prayer. It is not that we have been given any unmistakable vision or guidance. Rather, it is our city’s real need for the gospel that has brought about or guided us into such a transition.
CP: What does prayer look like in your church then? How do you pray together?
Pastor: Even though we are moving toward Reformed theology, prayer has always been an integral part of our church tradition.
We have prayed in many different ways. We do prayer walks, we pray around the city, and we do Trinitarian prayers. We intentionally gather together to pray for a whole day. We also have all-night and evening prayers. There are many forms of prayer.
The themes of our prayers have also changed over the years. In the past we focused on praying for the problems of our own small town: the growth and future of our church, the suffering and difficulty of our brothers and sisters, etc. Our focus was on these things. And then we went through some changes and we have learned to pray kingdom-centered prayers.
Everywhere we go, whether it is a workplace or a school, whenever we visit a new place, we would pray for the unit and the workers there according to what we observe. That changes us from not being very willing to pray for certain public departments in the past to loving them, caring about them, and praying for God’s grace and mercy to come in their midst. These are some ways we have changed.
CP: How important is prayer to the church in China?
Pastor: I believe that the power for all ministries comes from prayer. The Bible is God’s Word; it guides us in giving and showing us a vision, a blueprint, and God’s will. Prayer, on the other hand, is our vertical relationship with God. Without this relationship with God, all of our ministries will likely fail. This is why we say that Word and prayer are foundational to all the ministries of our church. These are two means of grace. We believe prayer is extremely important to the church in China. Perhaps Chinese churches need to set up more prayer groups in support of them, and perhaps they need to have clearer prayer topics. And churches need to pray not only regional prayers but more broadly for the whole nation. This is what I think.
CP: You know there are churches in the US praying for the church in China. How do you feel when you hear that?
Pastor: It makes me picture myself in a Sunday service, where all of the angels, and all of the saints past and present, and all of the churches around the world come before the throne of God like in the book of Revelation.
CP: Do you have a memorable story to share of how you have experienced God in prayer?
Pastor: There have been many such experiences. Our church tradition tends to highlight spiritual and emotional experience, and we often connect prayer to things that happen in real life. For example, once during discipleship training we were inside a large mountain where there was a reservoir. A group of us was there and we were raising our hands to pray for the city. Meanwhile, there was a kid who (he was a little mischievous), on his way up the mountain, slipped and was falling downhill. It was at that moment that we heard a noise while praying, and as soon as I heard it I instinctively stretched out my hand and grabbed. And I thought as I grabbed hold of him, “This is how Christ saves us. We should also pray that we would lead people to him and his church. This is the mission that God has given to me.”
CP: Praise God. Thank you for your time.