In recent years, some churches have come to understand the importance of reading and began to explore various forms of reading clubs to promote study and communication among believers. Pastor Z, from East China, has many years’ experience in shepherding young people. Later, he chose to serve in the field of culture and founded a cultural ministry to help churches and Christians promote a combination of faith, culture, and life. His first ministry was promoting book clubs in different cities nearly three years ago.
A few days ago, Pastor Z had a talk on this with the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper. He especially hoped that Chinese churches would recognize the importance of a cultural atmosphere of readings, dialogue, and discussion and would therefore promote the shaping of this culture and atmosphere through book clubs, tea parties, symposiums and forums.
The following is the part 2 of the interview between the Christian Times (CT) and Pastor Z (see part 1 here):
CT: You just said that the church needs to be aware of the importance of increased readings, dialogues, discussions, and other forms. Now you are emphasizing communication on the basis of readings and dialogues. Do you think there are any differences or similarities between the discussions and the first two forms?
Z: Our book club plays a popular science role because I find that reading is a kind of self-seeking, but this state is relatively broad and loose. If discussions were added, we would enter a state of more quality in the self-seeking process.
For example, scholars and pastors are relatively thoughtful. They are thoughtful or practical about a certain topic. They discuss a certain topic together and sort out a clue. Here is not the part as a standard answer, but a part of sorting out a clue to topics.
Many listeners need this kind of centralized sorting out, which helps to map out the fragments they have learned.
Reading clubs may play a more popular role. It is a slower process of education. The relevant discussions are more highlighted, qualitative, constructive, or closer to implementation.
CT: You have been emphasizing the importance of promoting discussion, and some of the main ways to promote it are through focus groups, tea parties, or forums. Do you think it is necessary to hold some forum activities?
Z: Some Christians are beginning to realize that they want to have reading clubs and the significance of the cultural mission of Christianity. However, the book clubs aren’t just for books. In fact, it needs more systematic discussions and seminars to achieve deeper results, such as some topics about the establishment of the church and communion in the post-epidemic era. Of course, maybe these problems are not to be solved with a simple answer but may require some discussion and a group of thoughtful people. It is not to give a mature result through similar forum discussions, but to bring out quality results through a discussion. This achievement will help the present church.
If it has a constructive effect on the church and Christian community, the topics that may be discussed may not necessarily be too academic, too profound, or metaphysical, but may be more focused and interesting issues aimed at the actual situation or the current times, and these issues that have deeper significance and influence on the church. Then these issues may need to be stimulated and promoted through thinking, communicating, and rambling to see if some quality results can be obtained and then returned to the church.
CT: When it comes to discussion, it’s easy to get caught up in criticism, for example, or just confined to metaphysical discussions, which will lead to a tear-down between Christians and the church. What do you think of this?
Z: I think whether the discussion is critical or complete, or specific in time or purely academic, this is not the core reason for the tear-down. Personally, I think the main reason for it is that the discussion replaces the church itself, and it may cause that.
First of all, it is clear that this kind of discussion cannot replace the church itself, otherwise, it may cause a tear. I prefer that the discussion is peripheral, not a specific one, that is, you don’t go inside others, such as other churches, to criticize and guide something - you don’t go inside others’ houses to comment, and you don’t go inside others’ homes to say whether this is good or bad - but you can be an exhibition hall in which you can show a template, and this presentation is a discussion.
Second of all, the mentality is very important. I think criticizing sometimes is not a bad thing if it is for good. Criticism is that if the house is going to collapse and if a pillar is needed in a place, then you must put one there.
Critical discussion is sometimes not a bad thing but depends on the motivation and effect. It’s like pointing out that a house is going to collapse and commanding that a pillar be built to support it. This is an auxiliary role. The biggest result of this criticism is not to enter other people’s houses to build or demolish them directly. The enthusiasm of the discussion is that it is an exhibition hall, showing what kind of house will collapse, and then listing several templates for repair and reinforcement. In this sense, the discussion is positive.
In fact, we want to show the repaired and reinforced effect through an exhibition hall, which is a positive textbook effect.
CT: You have been talking about whether the discussion you want to do is mainly aimed at the church or the Christian community. How do you consider these?
Z: Discussion is a bridge. It may be a bridge between pastors and pastors’ practice, or between church and society.
CT: What kinds of topics do you think are worth discussing now? Which topics are more constructive?
Z: Many topics really need to be discussed. For example, if it is related to the internal affairs of the church, it can broaden one’s horizons. Finally, it is beneficial to turn these metaphysical things into a kind of practice and a kind of guidance, which is a driving force for guidance. This kind of discussion has a positive concept and significance.
Of course, my personal ideas are certainly limited. For example, the tearing of reformed theology and the spiritual grace movement in the church, the faction that believes that sects are restored and some conservative evangelicals refuse to restore the tension of sects - such are topics that we can hardly avoid. Sometimes we will encounter a barrier, that is, there is no bridge for dialogues, a “black or white” issue.
CT: In reality, there are some “black or white” cultural phenomena in the church. For example, if in the future, in the course of your discussion, there may be problems that are difficult to listen to, how do you think you should avoid them?
Z: It is difficult to solve this problem at once. The discussion needs a lot of warm-up and foreshadowing, and it’s hard for us to determine who will not have conflicts when we get together.
In the normal process of a reading club, those who can come in are constantly trained in the process of reading, and those who have too strong a personality may not stay in the reading club for a long time. Individualized reading will constantly strengthen one’s point of view. A person who persists in a reading club has a certain cognitive height. Only when they want to solve problems will they have a process of seeking understanding, and they are not in a hurry to make a judgment. This is the role of the book club in screening groups.
I think, in faith, after all, we are not trying to achieve personal correctness, but to achieve the correctness of a result, so we need to tolerate a process of giving birth to good thinking.
CT: Imagine that, for example, if you set up a forum to invite people who are familiar with you or have similar positions to discuss with you, then you may think that it only unites the majority that you want to unite, and there are no people with completely different or even hostile positions. What do you think of that?
Z: I just feel that two different views have a chance to be presented in different identities. It is necessary to present each other’s views on a forum-style third-party platform. Just like a bookstore with different books, preachers can browse different views when they go to the bookstore. The same is true of forums. Many people can be a listener in forums, and they have a lot of benefits in the process of listening. Sometimes the forum also needs to provide an introduction, not just to talk about opinions, but an occasion for them to have more communication, which will make many conversations less difficult.
Many young people in the church are confused and struggling. I see the disconnect between young people and the church, and there are fewer and fewer young people in the church. The conservative and basic model makes people out of touch with life, and the belief and life of young people are out of touch. The church should be correct in the basic truth, but after the young leave the service, they will have a lot of puzzles in reality, and problems in their marriage and the workplace that cannot be solved. If for a long time they can’t be solved, young people will be dragged more into the secular world, and they will be dragged into another world that they feel is more real. In fact, this is a serious disconnection.
Therefore, the reading club, literature tour, marriage, and love lecture, workplace seminar, etc. that I do are generally aimed at the young people of the future church. It can be said that, whether it is the way of reading a book club or holding various kinds of discussions in the future, in fact, my whole ministry is an operation aimed at the young people of the church in the future.
- Translated by Charlie Li