Continuing Education for Chinese Church Leaders - April 2018 Update
Walking with Chinese Pastors
“The average pastor in our province has a congregation of 6,500 members.” With those words Rev. Keyun Zhang, chairman of the Provincial Committee of TSPM and president of the Theological Seminary, explained why the development of Chinese pastors is so important for the ongoing health of the growing congregations in the Jiangsu Province.
During the week that he spent in the United States last fall, Rev. Zhang led a delegation of eight high ranking leaders in visits sponsored by The Outreach Foundation to University Place Presbyterian Church (Tacoma, WA) and First Presbyterian Church (Wilmington, NC). He used the opportunity to share how even with such significantly high pastor to member ratios, the church in China is committed to improving the quality of its spiritual life and its ministries in their communities. “We have nine times as many congregations in the Jiangsu Province as we had in 1950,” he stated. “We have gone from 540 to 4,639 churches.” They currently dedicate an average of two new church buildings every single week. Intensified efforts to equip new pastors resulted in an increase from 600 pastors in 1950 to 6,290 at the present time. However, the pace of growth in the number of Christians in that same period has far outpaced that of the congregations and pastors. Church members have increased from 60,000 to 240 million, representing a staggering forty times increase! In light of this, Rev. Zhang said, “in this new century we are concerned with church growth, but we also pay attention to the health of the church and the importance of pastoral care in our church ministries; the care of our church members as well as the training of the church personnel.”
The delegation interacted with faculty and administrators of Fuller Theological Seminary and Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary to explore innovative programs for theological education. While their realities are very different, common elements such as the use of technology and importance of the spiritual formation of pastors were carefully considered.
Some of the realities of serving as a pastor in China are very well summarized by one of the partners of The Outreach Foundation: “The new generation of leaders has access to comparatively better education and resources. At the same time, they face huge challenges regarding pastoral care and the changing social environment.” The following stories illustrate some of the challenges that Chinese leaders face:
The Challenge of Simple Living
After Pastor Li, who is only 22, graduated from seminary, he returned to the mountain regions to serve in an ethnic minority church. He is the only pastor in his church who has received a
formal theological education, and one of a few who can teach the Bible in the local language. The village church of his hometown is not used to contributing financially with regularity, and as a pastor, he receives no regular salary. Though the conditions and quality of life cannot match those in the city, Pastor Li chooses the simple life. With the support of his parents, they serve the church together.
The Challenge of Pastoring in the City
Pastor Qin was recommended by her senior pastor to study at the highest level theological seminary in the nation. After graduating she returned to her church in the city, leading lay leaders in pastoral work and service. Pastor Qin understands that it is a rare opportunity to study theology, but the pressure is high, especially as believers in urban areas have increasing levels of education and work experience, while she only has junior level experience in managing groups. She pays attention to books about leadership and management and vows to read and learn for the sake of applying her knowledge and abilities.
The Challenge of Committing for the Long Haul
In the grasslands of the north, in a Bible school lacking in resources, a couple – freshly graduated – joins the work. They both have theology degrees from a highly recognized school, yet they have given up the comforts and recognition they would receive in the city to answer their calling. They have decided to return to their homeland to equip other pastors.
As of February 1, The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) released a new set of rules for religious institutions. One of the positive elements in it is that it allows for greater flexibility for faculty members of regional schools such as Jiangsu Theological Seminary to pursue degrees outside the country. There is, however, significant concern about some restrictive elements of the regulations and the impact that their implementation will have on Christians and their relationship with the broader Chinese society. Pastors that I regularly communicate with have expressed their appreciation for how The Outreach Foundation helps bring the body of Christ together in both countries even during a time of economic tensions.
Your prayers for pastors in China and for our delegation that will be visiting three provinces there in October are greatly appreciated.
Juan J. Sarmiento, Associate Director for Mission
Read more about Continuing Education for Chinese Church Leaders HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $5,000 to support continuing education opportunities for Chinese Church leaders.