Editor's note: It's the seventh article of a series of interviews under the topic: Cultivate a New Generation of Chinese Christian Leaders (see article one, article two, article three, article four, article five, and article six). A pastor named Zeng Weicheng (pseudonym), who was born in the 1970s in southeast China and serves in the church part-time, shared his views with the Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China.
Christian Times: What do you think of the urgent need for Chinese churches to train the new generation of pastors?
Pastor Zeng Weicheng: I think training the new generation of pastors is essential. As a preacher trained after China's reform and opening up policy, I found a problem that most of our previous generation of shepherds did not hand over to others until they died. As a result, there was a massive gap in the church during the handover. It should be the result of less consideration of inheritance among the leaders of the early generation, and the estate and development of the church were delayed by the concept of "serving the Lord faithfully until death."
They did not put the training of the new generation of pastors in a critical position, especially in China. After China's reform and opening up, a new generation of leaders rose and had such ideas. For example, Dr. John Sung had competent co-workers, but it was not the case for the later co-workers. This is because the successors were not well established and had a solid leading style, which skipped the spiritual influence of the next generation and the hometown churches. The problem lies in inheritance.
When the leaders born in the 1950s took the lead, they would consider more than the previous leaders. When the new generation leaders rise, they argue with the old generation leaders. Some would say about the latest theological ideas and insist on the lousy saying: "Let theology be like theology." Their so-called theology is to receive directly from the Bible.
The pastors of my church position themselves to hand over the work by the age of 65 altogether. It would be 60 if someone could pick up my work. I think the best candidate would be those in their early 40s. If a college graduate in his twenties is determined to take over, I will train him. As preparing a preacher would need at least five to ten years, we group them into candidates in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. I think this step-by-step culture mode is the best. I also promised to follow Moses in teaching his successor, Joshua. It would take a long time, and I would show my successor how I work. I am willing to train young people.
Christian Times: What criteria do you think the church should have in finding and establishing the successors?
Pastor Zeng Weicheng: The criteria for preparing and training the successors are loyalty, the willingness to be taught, and humility. These are the most basic conditions. We can usually find out his attitude when he is loyal. After that, he must be willing to be taught and accept discipline and advice. It is no way to ignore the direction of the old shepherds. The last one is humility. Humility is essential, and he cannot feel that he does not need to change anymore, which is terrible. The way I train successors is to coach them and let them see it by themselves. I would live with them for a few days and let them see how I live. Jesus and Paul's practice are the best examples of our successor's training, and so is Paul teaching to his successor Timothy.
Christian Times: Can you share the specific operation and experience of successor training?
Pastor Zeng Weicheng: Our old pastors should establish a good church constitution. For example, retired senior pastors should make a plan to help their successors. These old pastors need to formulate the handover system and rules to avoid possible problems in the next generation.
I disagree that the new generation of baton takers will appear by air, and they can't let go at once. The old shepherd must gradually lead the recent baton takers to the top. The congregation is reluctant to accept the parachuting of a new baton receiver. Then we are the old and the young. When we are young, we will gradually let him go on stage from less to more and naturally make a transition to it. There is another model, the Presbyterian governance team, which will play a guiding role in the governance of the whole church. Many churches can establish a church advisory Committee, which will set the tone and adjust the direction. Pastors need to pass on culture.
If the church has good inheritance, it will produce good things like cell division. During this pandemic in the past two years, why did some churches run in place while others were more active instead? Because the active churches have already been prepared in this regard.
I feel that the cultivation of authentic leaders is from minor aspects. The group leaders you are cultivating may be the future leader in China. So we can start with universal cultivation. I lead 15 groups now, each of which has a leader and a deputy leader. When we walk around groups of so many different people, we can find some are special and know how to lead.
When we built up this structure, it would copy itself like cell division to make the church smaller. This way, we will train more new pastors, who will have the opportunity to get practice. When they enter the church, we will have three generations of pastors.
Christian Times: What do you think of the church pastors leaving their ministries because of economic reasons, interpersonal relationships, or theological differences?
Pastor Zeng Weicheng: I am a part-time pastor in the church, and I also have a job. In the army, there are two kinds of soldiers, the army and reserve soldiers. I will try to put the right people in the right place for training in the church. In this process, some would leave, which is normal. Even if he leaves, I believe he can become a pastor when he goes to other places. As long as he is not a heresy, we have trained a pastor for the kingdom of God. We have three or four pastors leaving our church, but they are still pastors elsewhere. I am willing to see their departure from the perspective of God.
I have seen too many cases where the pastor broke with his old shepherd, so I am more preventive. There are several reasons for the pastors to leave, such as the inappropriate relationship with the church, the robust control from the church, and theological differences and disagreement. To be free from control, some pastors want to be completely independent in economic management and not receive money from the church. But on the whole, the older generation pastor should teach the successors to establish the church and be prepared to see the trained pastors leave.
- Translated by Oliver Zuo