Chinese house churches find hope for gospel growth…

Christians in China have been through several difficult years. The Chinese government struck missionaries out of the country, tightened restrictions on religion and cut off access to the world with its aggressive “zero Covid” policies. After growing discontent sparked unprecedented protests last year, the government finally abandoned its pandemic restrictions.

Solomon Li, an overseas ministry leader who has served the Chinese church for the past 30 years, finally had the opportunity to return to China this year for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020. (Li’s name has been changed due to security risks.)

He met with 150 pastors within a network of urban house churches and shared with CT about the new challenges and opportunities facing Christians in this post-pandemic era. The interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

China’s “zero Covid” policy, which aimed to keep cases as close to zero as possible with strict lockdowns and mass testing, did not end until last December. How did the pandemic affect the house church leaders you met with?

They generally found it more difficult to hold Sunday services, but many of them tried to meet in person as much as they could. It also made things difficult for communities and home visits. People feared they were spreading germs by gathering. They were some really hard years.

One of the reasons these churches wanted to continue meeting offline is that they were concerned about intentional ecclesiology: What is the doctrine of the church? Can online services or Zoom be acceptable in the long term? His answer, based on the Bible, was no. Online church is the exception to the rule. If we can go shopping, then maybe we can provide the opportunity to have Sunday worship in person.

The COVID-19 pandemic also occurred in parallel with new religious policies. While “zero COVID” affected everyone, the intentional tightening and attack on house churches added another layer of difficulty for Christians. If the government keeps a close eye on your church, it is difficult to resume in-person church. Even online church is difficult.

However, because there are so many churches in China, it would be very expensive for the government to monitor all of them. So while some large churches were attacked, many other churches simply continued to encounter minor difficulties.

What encouraging stories have you heard about how God worked in house churches during the pandemic?

I discovered that some churches met throughout the pandemic; They never stopped meeting in person even for a Sunday service. I don’t know how they managed to do that, but it shows that there is room for it. I believe that a church’s performance during the pandemic is not based on external but internal factors: How prepared were the church leaders to face the crisis? How do you understand what churches are? How are you adapting to reach out to the flock and provide leadership and pastoral care?

A church in a major city began meeting in February 2020 at the beginning of COVID-19 with 17 people. When I visited in July, they had grown to three congregations with 150 people in the largest congregation (the smallest congregations had between 40 and 80 parishioners). One of the reasons the church grew so much was because the hearts of the people were still seeking the Lord and worship. If a church was healthy and continued to hold worship services, people would come. Much of the growth came from church moves, however, between 20 and 25 percent of attendees were non-Christians.

At times the church could not meet, especially during outbreaks, but they were creative in building community. They asked different families to film themselves reciting a children’s catechism. They then edited it together and played the video during the virtual Sunday service to provide a sense of togetherness.

Some churches did not have the capacity to provide good care or did not have the solid theological structure to move forward. Then the Beijing Zion Church, which is a relatively mature church, supported these churches, incorporating them into the Zion family. They formed a huge online church with almost 10,000 people from all over China. At the same time, they still wanted their members to meet in local churches.

Each church tried to do things in different ways. It was a time of consolidation. Some churches grew more and more, while others disappeared.

News reports It is often mentioned that China’s “zero Covid” policy especially affected universities. At the same time, campus ministries have historically played an important role in introducing Jesus to young people. How have these ministries fared during the pandemic?

Universities were one of the most tightly controlled places because COVID-19 can spread very quickly on campus and impact the entire city. The students were imprisoned on campus and no one could access them. Some pastors encouraged their students to attend church every week.

Overall, COVID-19 and the government’s strict control over education made university ministry a very different reality than in the past. Much of the fruit of today’s churches comes from the campus ministries efforts of the 1990s and early 2000s by missionaries from Korea and the West.

But today there is very strict control on campuses. They use facial recognition to determine who can access the door and teach students to reject any approach from religious groups. This is making campus ministry very difficult. We are losing the next generation and I fear the momentum of church growth will stop.

Still, there are some very creative leaders who do campus ministry. For example, one urban church sent 60 college students to five cities in China for short-term mission trips last summer. They shared the gospel with an estimated total of 10,000 people. It is a means of training the younger generation. I still see these brave and creative ministries going on, and we need more of them.

What was the most surprising thing you found when you returned to China after several years away?

The Chinese are very resilient. With the pandemic and political change, many people are realizing that China is not moving in the right direction. But in the midst of all that, they still live their daily lives.

From the outside we think that China has become very political, but in everyday life many people don’t care about that. Sometimes people even joke about it. I really admire the resilience of the Chinese people. However, on the other hand, if they don’t care about what is happening, it becomes more difficult to share the gospel.

I am also amazed by the emergence of some great Christian leaders. Although many things are difficult, God has raised up leaders with great vision, great passion, and godly character. They try to share the gospel and care for their flock. His leadership has led the church to grow. He moved me to see that the Resurrection is real and the work of the Holy Spirit is real.

This gives me a lot of hope. I think a lot of people are pessimistic about China, but I think this is the most hopeful moment for China in the last 30 years. I asked Chinese pastors: Would you like to be in a completely modernized and well-developed society that has little room for the gospel? Or in China, where everything is uncertain, fluid and challenging, but over the last 150 years, God has been creating a greater space for the gospel? Many people are eager to learn and hear the good news.

As society in China is changing, how should Christians change their approach to evangelism?

I think we need to speak “different languages” with different people. There are some people who just keep moving no matter what is happening around them. However, another group is leaving China because they cannot live with the current situation in the country. They want to protect their wealth and the future of their children. Some of them leave for idealistic reasons. [Last year 10,800 millionaires left China, and 13,500 more are expected to leave in 2023, according to Henley and Partners.]

So the first group of people we can reach are the idealistic people whose hope in the country is broken and who are searching for answers. The second group are those who are not the idealistic type but are very concerned about their safety. Both are people that Chinese diaspora churches should be prepared to reach out to.

When we talk to them, we really need to be down-to-earth and realistic rather than spouting off some high, lofty theology. We need to have honest discussions. Otherwise, people will say, “What does this have to do with my daily life?”

What impact does this exodus from China have on house churches?

Many Christians are leaving the country, especially the most educated and wealthy. A pastor told me that eight families from his church left China last year. Another pastor was discouraged because three key leaders left China: people who had committed to die together in the same church in the same city. That will have a huge impact on these church leaders. They need to rethink: what is the essence of the church and what is it built on?

At the same time, how does this exodus provide an opportunity for Chinese diaspora churches in the United States and around the world?

The challenge is that so many Christians come. You don’t need to share the gospel, you don’t need to evangelize, people will just come to your church.

Imagine that your church has 100 people and in one year it grows to 180 people. That completely changes their demographic landscape. How does that impact the culture of your church? This is a big challenge for existing churches.

Then, when pastors in China try to start new churches abroad, they assume they can do the same things they did at home. However, in a new country and culture, the dynamic changes. Their authoritarian way of starting a church no longer works in Thailand like it did in China. There are many changes they must adapt to as they learn about a new culture.

Leaders of Chinese churches in the United States must understand the current culture of mainland China and why these Chinese immigrated to the United States. Just because you speak the same language doesn’t mean you really understand them. There is a great opportunity, but there is a lot of work to do.

I still have a lot of hope. China has gone through all these national disasters in the last 150 years, but through it all, the gospel has never stopped and the church has never stopped. Hopefully the current upheaval in Chinese culture will open doors for the gospel to enter.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button