Recently, Gospel Times, a Chinese Christian newspaper, launched a campaign of soliciting essays called “Why Did They Leave the Church?” When thinking about this topic, my heart feels dull pain.
I live in a remote mountainous area, where the gospel has only been introduced for only more than 30 years, and the rural church is desolate. What I have seen during my church life over the years is that the churchgoers of the local village (because some people do not have true Christian faith, they are called “churchgoers”) come and go, one after another, and there are not many believers who really have faith in Christian teachings. I have even seen some pastors leave the church and abandon the life of faith. Especially, I noticed that there were two local village churches, which had been closed in recent years, with their followers scattered!
The first church was built in 2000 and closed around 2015, lasting less than 15 years.
The church was built by an individual, Z (born in that village), from an organization (which was also founded in that village) and served by one of the largest churches in that area. This church was built through the efforts of the co-workers of the CCC&TSPM in the area to seek external aid and raise money from believers at the village’s temporary meeting point. Once, there were up to 60 or 70 people attending the meeting. However, since the church had no preacher of its own, a layperson Y (a volunteer without theological training) from another church in the district was sent to preach at that church meeting on Sundays. Z often returned to that church to preach on Sundays.
Z is from a wealthy family. Although he served full-time, he did not get a salary. He did not receive any theological training or any knowledge about church management and pastoral care. Besides, he was very complacent and overzealous to receive foreign “missionaries”. Due to the lack of distinguishing ability, soon after the church was built, he mistakenly received the heretic “Born Again Movement” or All Ranges Church and was soon misled by that movement, which resulted in coworker Y and many other people also getting misled.
Later, Z and Y joined hands to receive the “pastors” sent by All Ranges Church and led them to hold many "revival meetings" in the church. These foreign “pastors” identified the churchgoers that cried loudly as “saved” and those that did not cry as “unsaved”. Moreover, they were lukewarm or even indifferent to the “unsaved” believers during Sunday services, causing some of the “unsaved” to refuse to meet. The churchgoers gradually dwindled away until there were only a dozen who were called “saved.”
After discovering this situation, the fellow administration workers of the registered churches in that area exhorted Z and Y to stop the act, but they refused. Later, Y broke away from his senior church, and the church managed by Z broke away from the local official church. What’s more, Y left the church with more than a dozen members of the so-called “saved” churchgoers and set up a secret meeting place. Since then, the church has been closed.
The church B was built in 2005, but it was completely closed last year after the pandemic, lasting only about 10 years. The church was initiated by two persons (volunteers) in charge of the village temporary meeting place, and was built through the efforts of the co-workers of the CCC&TSPM in the area to seek external aid and raise money from believers at the village’s temporary meeting point. Once, there were up to fifty or sixty churchgoers. However, it did not last long. Two of the church’s responsible workers (who were also pastors, both volunteers, and without theological training) had passed away successively the year before. One of them died of old age and the other, a middle-aged man, died of cancer. However, no one in the church was willing to take the lead, and a suitable leader was hard to find. As a result, the church was left without a supervisor and pastor.
Later, with the help of the District CC&TSPM, they temporarily found a believer from the laities to be responsible for pastoral care. However, this believer did not receive any theological training and had never participated in the management and pastoral care of the church before. Therefore, he did not know how to conduct pastoral care and was unable to do his best in the management and pastoral care. As a result, the faithful have not been fed for a long time and began to stop coming to the meeting. After last year’s pandemic, only seven or eight people still went to the meeting. So the church had to be closed; the few remaining believers had to meet at a church in a nearby town.
In addition, several churches in the area are on the verge of closing due to a lack of management and pastoral staff.
The two closed churches and the others on the verge of closing have three things in common: First, the preachers and administrators are not trained in theology; second, the church relies entirely on laities and volunteers to manage and provide pastoral care; third, there is no construction of the second echelon of workers. It also reminds pastors of today’s rural churches that it is far more important to train and equip church workers and to provide for them than to build churches and office buildings (or training centers). And we should pay attention to the reservation and training of church workers of the second echelon, even the third echelon!
I believe that if a church knows and is willing to provide for its preachers, there will be excellent young believers who are willing to dedicate themselves and take up church ministry posts; there will also be excellent young believers who choose to study in theological schools and are willing to accept theological training. Only in this way can the quality of the preachers be ensured and the preachers be reassured to serve. Only in this way can a church grow in the organization, number, and spiritual life; Only in this way can the church stay away from the harm of heresy, so that the church can walk towards revival!
- Translated by Nicolas Cao