Q: Tell us about the need for trained pastors and leaders in the Chinese churches.
A: When I first went back, in the 1980s, there were no younger pastors taking over the fast-growing churches. The pastors at the time were old pastors who had survived the period under Mao, especially the Cultural Revolution. We asked them what they needed, and they told us, “We need training for Christian workers and young pastors.”
The church has grown rapidly over the last 10-15 years. With the growth, many church buildings have been erected. More than 20,000 churches have been built or re-opened in China, and they don’t have enough people to staff them.
Q: The Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council emphasize that in training leaders, they hope to prevent the spread of heresies. But Western Christians still worry that these groups try to suppress biblical teachings such as the Second Coming of Christ. What has been your experience?
A:That’s an old story I’ve been hearing for about 20 years, that they are not allowed to preach on the Second Coming of Christ. And when Bibles were beginning to be printed legally, people said that Daniel and Revelation were being excluded. This is nonsense. I have been talking to evangelical pastors within the CCC all across China, and they say, “We’ve never had restrictions on preaching on the Second Coming of Christ.” And I’ve yet to find a Bible without Daniel and Revelation in it. We have to realize that the government is atheistic in its policies, so they do have restrictions–but not as far as what pastors can or cannot preach.
On the other hand, false teachings are spreading rapidly across China. Especially in the rural areas, people mingle folk religions with Christianity. The evangelical pastors in China (and most of those in the CCC churches are evangelical) realize this, and they know how great the need is to properly train pastors.
Q: How can Western Christians help China’s church meet its needs?
A: By doing what Franklin Graham and others have done–going there on invitation by the church in China. Once you go through the proper channels, you don’t have any problem. The government has difficulties with those who try to sneak in. That is when the government becomes suspicious, and they may crack down in those cases.
We’ve been able to help in so many different ways, even helping to construct new churches. I visited the chapel where my father preached as a missionary. It holds 80-100 people. They said, “We need a new church.” I asked, “How big should the church be?” They said, “We’d like to have maybe 500 seats.” And the Religious Affairs Bureau person in charge of that municipality immediately said, “No, no, no. You need a church that seats at least a thousand.” Then he said, “We will give you the property free of charge where you can build your new church.” On my next visit, the church leaders took me to the property that had been given to them. If you do things properly, according to the laws of the land, you can accomplish much.
Q: What kind of training do you find the Chinese seminaries and church leaders most appreciate?
A:Evangelism and pastoral care. Evangelistic preaching was forbidden for many years during the Cultural Revolution. And then when churches opened up again, they were very careful about what they said. They were very good at evangelizing person-to-person. Eyeball-to-eyeball evangelism is being done in China all over; that’s why the church is growing so fast. But they had forgotten how to preach evangelistically. They need pastoral care training as well. Many believers come out of atheistic backgrounds, and they carry all that baggage with them. Pastors, especially the younger ones, need to be trained in how to handle issues such as divorce or how to live an honest life.
Q: Why do we in the West tend to hear only about persecution of Christians in China?
A:Often the reporting on China says only that people are being persecuted, and that if people are not being persecuted, their first allegiance is to the government and the Party, and Christ comes second. That view is propagated by people who either do not know the situation or who do not want to know the truth about the situation. I listen to a Christian radio station, and all I hear about is another wave of persecution in China and things like that. It’s not that I believe those reports are false, but they show only one small portion of the story. It’s sad that we mostly hear the negative instead of the positive things that are taking place in China today.
Q: What further changes do you expect to see in the coming years?
A: Based on what I’ve experienced over the past 25 years, I believe the churches will not only grow, but they will also be able to reach out more openly than they can do today.
Still, the most effective methods may not be what we would use in the West. For example, you cannot pass out tracts in China today, and those who do so are fined. If they keep doing it, they are thrown in prison. When I asked Chinese Christians about this, they said, “We are run by an atheistic government, so we have to accept that. But where in the Bible does it say that you have to pass out tracts? It does say we have to be a letter of Christ. So we are the tracts. We live our Christian lives so others see a difference in us, which draws them to Jesus Christ. We don’t need paper tracts.”
That is where I think we can learn things from our Chinese brothers and sisters.