Reasons Underpaying Pastors and Solutions

Rural Preachers' Dilemma
Rural Preachers' Dilemma (photo:
By Yi YangJuly 18th, 2017

Editor's note: The issue on "poor preachers" has been quite controversial in the Chinese Christian community. Reports including"33YO Young Missionary Died of Cancer and Pressure in Marriage" and "Inner Voice of a Grassroot Pastor" have aroused intensive discussions regarding preachers' salary. Preachers leave their ministry or work for the Lord with worries for financial reasons. The church fails to keep them or cultivate preachers after God's hearts, resulting in fewer pastors which hinders the church growth.

Brother Kong who has studied theology in a local training center of Baoshan to Yunnan Theological Seminary returned to serve in his hometown, Sudian Lisu Village of Yingjiang County, after graduation in June 2016. The village has many Christians, while he is the only seminary graduate.

It's not easy for ill-educated Lisu Christians to be admitted into a seminary, moreover, it's more challenging to be a volunteer preacher in a local church, who needs to serve while working part-time to support himself. However, what was more realistic was that in the early days of his service, he was confronted with how to preach sermons in Lisu language, for he studied theology in Mandarin during the seminary days and the Lisu believers couldn't adapt to hearing sermons spoken in Mandarin.

Yingjiang, China's southwest border with Myanmar, is a port county of an ethnic minority. The majority of Lisu people live in stockades in distant areas with little education. Many become Christians for their family ties, yet few can truly understand the Bible and personalize their faith. A preacher of a church in Yingjiang tells CCD that apart from limited incomes of Lisu believers and church offerings, another reason of low preacher pay lies in that a large portion of preachers who don't receive formal theological education are incapable of full-time ministry. So they have to serve in the church while farming to support themselves.

Yingjiang Bible Training Center has trained 2500 people for over two decades, including 350 graduates. However, it's hard to hire full-time teachers due to a lack of money. Instead, most of the part-time teachers have to farm lands or work to  solve the problem of a livelihood.The situation is a hindrance to the church development, while the church has to grow in such a mode. Seminary students not only study in the center, but also can be sent to other cities, for example, they can receive education in Baoshan Bible School and even Yunnan Theological Seminary.

The church in Fugong County, Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, also faces financial challenges. The congregation respect preachers, regarding serving God as a sacred job. If there is a preacher in a family, especially if the husband serve as a preacher, the wife takes care of the family chores. The women seldom complain, supporting the ministry of their husbands whole-heartedly.

"Our churches require that preachers must receive theological training before preaching. " States Di Youtang, chairman of Fugong TSPM. Their churches hold an annual training class and provide a systematic training program for preachers before Christmas and Easter. Similarly, Fugong Bible School needs to bring in full-time theological teachers who speak in Chinese, which means that it should offer higher salaries. The church also needs to take the living issue of preachers into account. Indeed, some seminary graduates choose not to serve in the church due to financial reasons, or serve the church part time while supporting their own families.

It can be seen that preachers are not poor merely because of the concept that the church should not pay preachers. It is true that some churches such as the churches in minority areas of Yunnan are stuck in a dilemma despite that they want to pay preachers and foster more talents. It's a comfort to see that believers in those areas hold preachers in high regard and they receive preachers when the latter visit or preach in local areas. Meals and transportation expenses are not a problem.

From a positive perspective, Rev. Lin Chaoqun from Fujian CCC&TSPM holds that the solution to "poor preachers" is that the church should not only pay preachers, but also have the idea of promoting church growth by keeping and nurturing talents, which is more important. What's more, preachers should be resolved and imitate Paul to be content in plenty or in want. Meanwhile, the church should consider the benefits of the staff and its own development.

In recent years, the rural churches are in the face of brain drain and financial loss. Some spend millions of yuan building churches, while the church attendance has decreased from hundreds to dozens.

For this, the urban church should repay the rural church, especially in talents. It should attach greater importance to the rural church, strengthen pastoring it and nurture talents by hosting regular training classes. In addition to these, the church should provide positions to those who want to serve God and more opportunities to young seminary graduates. "Have Paul's heart for Timothy, rather than fear their surpassing you." He says.

Rev. Li Lujun from Yunnan Theological Seminary believes that most of preachers are married, having to consider their families, while Paul was single. In his eyes, church leaders play an important role in church revival. For example, a large church has many workers who are paid well and effective ministries, while another church doesn't have full-time staff with ineffective ministries. It's not because the second church is not capable, but because it doesn't have the consciousness of hiring full-time workers. "So the head of the church is very critical and I compare them to 'the heart of the church'. The whole body suffers when there is something wrong with the heart. Hence it's not enough for the church today to summon people for services. Instead, a church experiences revival when it preaches the Gospel and launches ministries. In this way, preachers won't worry about their livelihood."

Except church leaders, teams consisting of workers are also needed to generate church growth. So the major person in charge of a church should value workers and arrange them to carry out ministries. "Ministries cannot be launched without church workers, thus producing testimonies and miracles. A church revives when there is testimony."

He gives another example that a seminary graduate was hired by an urban church as its preacher-in-residence several years ago, responsible for only preaching on Sundays. There were no other workers. It turned out that the preacher left the church after over a year, for the church leader only focused on services, failing to start ministries that would be done by the staff.

So the pastor suggests that church leaders should pray to God to rise up workers, organize them for ministries, and let the congregation pray together. Besides, concentrate on evangelism and nurturing the congregation. "There is no need for today's church to evangelize on the street in a big way. The most effective way is to start various kinds of ministries and activities and to witness God through the fellowship and life of Christians."

Translated by Karen Luo

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