Interview with a Chongqing pastor: “We all need God’s grace”
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 Chongqing. We’re excited to bring you this interview with a Chinese pastor in the city! We hope you will check out the Chongqing page for additional content and to sign up to partner with us in prayer.
CP: Can you tell us about your church?
Pastor: I live in the city of Chongqing. Chongqing is a large area that covers 82,000 square kilometers, equal to the size of a state in America. We have a population of 36 million, which is as populated as some countries in Europe are. Our city is very mountainous and is surrounded by two rivers — Yangtze and Jialing. I think my city is very beautiful. We have a lot of people and there are a large number of ethnic minorities.
CP: Chongqing’s roads are known for having many twists and turns. Is it easy to travel from one place to another in such a big city?
Pastor: There has been a lot of improvement to the public transportation system. It is quite easy to travel from one area to another, whether by high-speed rail, by car, by ferry, or by plane. Of course, if you see the Chongqing municipality as one single city (Chongqing comprises a central urban area and an outer region made up of former counties), then it is huge compared to other cities. The more remote hilly areas are relatively less accessible.
CP: Where is your church located and who are the communities you serve?
Pastor: We began as a church made up of all university graduates. Early on we decided to be in the city center where our neighbors are the city’s majority — the so-called “urban population.” Most people in our neighborhood are professionals and most of them work in the city. We chose to be located in the city center because we wanted to be able to relate more closely to how the people of this city live. We also wanted our place to be easily accessible by public transportation. This is how we have positioned ourselves.
In the beginning, our church was made up of people ages 25 to 40. But once our ministry took off, the elderly started coming and we even started having teenagers once the parents were more involved, so our church became more diverse. The majority of us, however, are between the ages of 30 and 45. These are those among us most capable of taking up ministry responsibilities and being developed to possibly lead future church planting efforts or serve on the ministry team. These are the different people we have in our church.
CP: How long has your church been established in the city?
Pastor: Our history is a bit complicated. We were attacked by the government in 2004. At the time we were only a fellowship group. The incident helped us realize what it was that we were doing; it made us recognize the purpose of our existence. We started seeking the Lord’s will and found it in Matthew 28. We sought [him] and [saw that] his heart is in the building of the church. So, 2004 was when we began having Holy Communion; it was a milestone. I think we can say we became a church in 2004. There is still a lot to be done in terms of establishing a more mature institutional infrastructure, but we are getting there.
CP: What would your church like to do next? Who do you want to reach?
Pastor: From what we are learning these days, we find that we have not done enough in the area of missions and evangelism, particularly evangelism through church planting. We have been more inwardly focused, caring mostly about the church’s own needs. Our consensus is that our next step would be to explore how we can engage in systematic — rather than sporadic — evangelism through planting churches. This is likely one of our next directions.
CP: Can you tell us more about your plan?
Pastor: Due to our size and the direction of how we wish to develop our church, we may take the “division” approach. That is, we may send out some members to pick a place to start a new church at a new location. Another thing that is important is to nurture a number of members to receive theological training or study at the seminary in the future. We may go forward with these plans very soon, possibly this year.
CP: Chongqing seems to have quite a laid-back culture. People there love a good, easy life. Has the gospel influenced how believers in Chongqing think about the local culture? Has the gospel caused any lifestyle changes or reshaped any cultural habits?
Pastor: You just pointed out [something important], although a lot of people might not agree. The people of Chongqing do not think life there is all that pleasant or easy. To many missionaries Chongqing is hard ground. The people [care] very much about what they eat and what they wear, and the lust of the eyes—this is Chongqing culture. It is very worldly, and it places great value on the pleasures of this life. It has also been said that Chongqing is one of the cities in China with a higher percentage of homosexuality.
So there are very many things in that place that need to be changed and that we hope will be changed by the gospel. We have witnessed and seen with our own eyes how certain things that are regarded as norm or customary in Chongqing, yet are things that displease God, are being changed through the power of the gospel.
For example, we have seen in our midst some on the brink of divorce and some with broken families who were able to recognize their sin and come to repentance as God’s light shone into [their lives], reconciling with one another and learning anew what marriage means.
We have seen another brother who has developed strong homosexual tendencies due to his upbringing and other reasons healed. Having been truly accepted in the gospel and by the church and not treated as an outcast, he was able to come out of it. And when he did, he changed not only in terms of his outward behavior, but he also led his whole family to come to know him differently. I see the gospel does effect enormous changes on people. Except for the gospel, any other philosophy or belief system would not have had been able to bring about [such changes], especially in a megacity like Chongqing. Anything else would only have led the city further down the path of degeneration.
CP: How does the church support brothers and sisters in their struggles? How has the church come alongside the brother struggling with homosexuality, for example?
Pastor: What’s most important is for us to recognize through the gospel that we are all of the same nature and we all need God’s grace. We also need to see that there is a force of darkness underlying our brokenness—it is not simply a matter of behavior modification or acquiring a different set of moral principles for any person. Rather, one needs the gospel to be planted and grow deep into one’s life. It is important that our brothers and sisters were able to operate from a completely different value system; that is, they do not see that brother as someone who is odd or different from the rest, as if he were inferior in some way. Rather they see him as someone among us who has needs, someone who needs the gospel just like we do. This is essential.
Another point [to keep in mind] is not to regard the matter as a simple one, with an easy solution. We need to know that it is a very complex matter and that he is still a sinner, which means that we not only teach him the truth, but after that we also genuinely accept him and walk with him in gospel love. On all practical matters — when he goes on a business trip, for example — we have to make an effort to hold him accountable, offer him support, and give him frequent reminders, encouraging him with God’s word. This way he can slowly mature in his faith in an environment saturated with the gospel, coming to understand better his sinfulness, developing from within a godly hatred toward sinful behaviors and in turn desiring the goodness and beauty of Christ. This is very important.
CP: Praise God for such a testimony. What has contributed most significantly to your spiritual growth as you seek to become more Christ-like?
Pastor: Most integral to my own growth is the continued pursuit of God's word and also experiencing and living in the power of the gospel. Personally, as our family integrates into the church and as we grow with the church, we have seen that it is truly God’s grand purpose that his church should continue to mature. We therefore greatly desire to be built up by continually refreshing and deepening our knowledge of God’s word as we seek our church’s growth as well as our own. What is more important for my devotional life is as I recognize my own brokenness and as I recognize through my ministry the brokenness of my brothers and sisters that I come to see how true the words of the Bible are. This is what establishes the heart of my spiritual life.
Prayer is also key. I have learned that engaging in both individual prayer and united prayer with brothers and sisters help us truly experience how God is with us and how the Holy Spirit is working at the same time in each of our lives. This is a very important part of my spiritual growth.
CP: Is there a memorable story to share of how you have experienced God through prayer?
Pastor: I have had many [experiences]. To give a simple example, you know that up till a few years ago our country’s policy had been that we could only have one child. As Christians we wish to be law-abiding citizens, yet we also know that God’s desire is for us to multiply and be fruitful. At that time, we were saying how we could not have a second child in our country. Our daughter (then our only child) said, “Then we should pray.” She was more determined than we were. What happened was that after we started praying our country’s policy began to change.
Now I know that God is always working and his hand is in our country’s policy changes, but to me this was a personal experience of how we thought there was no hope, and then a little child came with a simple thought to pray, and God just made it happen.
There are many more instances like this one. When I look at the lives of brothers and sisters in particular, I do sometimes feel that neither my companionship nor the counseling support I offer makes any impact or yields any fruit. But when [I] pray they themselves begin to change. It is almost like change happens overnight, just like that. They begin to understand. This is why I believe that God is faithful.
CP: Praise God. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. May the Lord bless your church. Thank you.
Pastor: Thank you!
English translation provided by Amy and the China Partnership translation team.