With a sincere heart to serve God, a Christian born in 1985 became a preacher after graduation from seminary. However, he who needs to support his child just earns a monthly salary of some hundred yuan, struggling with the financial condition. Like him, a large portion of preachers are in the dilemma in rural areas.
To balance his life and ministry, he stresses about choosing to work outside the church while preaching as a volunteer. Then he has to face a voice in the church that preachers should live by faith rather than receive payment from the church.
With the economic development and raising living standards in China, the phenomenon of "poor preachers" appears more frequently in the countryside. It is more evident in some places such as Henan, Hebei, Anhui, Hunan, and Shaanxi, and some preachers struggle to survive.
It's not unusual in the grassroots churches of northern China. Normally, the rural grassroots preachers are paid several hundred yuan each month. Moreover, young preachers have to pay for their children to go to school and to look after their parents. Their main job is to preach Sunday sermons. During weekdays, they do part-time jobs or farm work to sustain the livelihood. Some work in secular places while serving in the church independently. Their fringe benefits are "service charges" for occasional sermons given in other churches, which average one or two hundred yuan. The congregations also make contributions to them.
Regarding the "poor preachers" reality, people hold two kinds of views: the first type of opinion is that there is a church structural problem and workers deserve wages; the other idea is that these preachers who lack faith should put hope in God to solve the living problems and trust in God's provision.
There are many factors resulting in the phenomenon. The first cause lies in poor financial conditions of some rural churches. The bad conditions is a result of complicated things. Driven by urbanization, more and more rural people move to cities, leaving left-behind children and elderly people in the countryside. The rural church turns desolate. Plus, the rural economy is backward in contrast to cities.
Another reason is a historical heritage that the rural congregation lack the consciousness to give tithes. When the gospel was first introduced into China, western missionaries distributed food to local people who came to the church for something instead of offering things to the church. Now a large number of pastors are afraid to preach on tithing, fearing the message may scare believers away.
On the other hand, many rural preachers who only deliver Sunday sermons are regarded as "volunteers". The church staff of the last generation who "lived by faith" didn't get paid in the church and moreover, worked for the church to the utmost. Their working model is passed down to the next generation, so some preachers still serve as "volunteers".
Preacher Huang who served in a grassroots church of Guangxi said that the church had the faint consciousness to support preachers. Since many old pastors never experienced the underclass life, they couldn't understand the struggles of the younger generation due to generation gaps.
The factors also involve backward concepts. Some claim that the path of servanthood is a way of sacrifice. Over two centuries ago, western missionaries like James Hudson Taylor "lived by faith" in China. There is a biblical example of Paul who made tents to make a living.
In addition, it's a mentality in some churches that "sufferings are glory" and that the poorer you are, the more pious you seem. This unwritten sense originates from the poverty of the previous generation who suffered many hardships. Some churches would like to build bigger buildings which can show greater revival rather than give compensations to preachers.
An ignoring factor is the narrow minds of church leaders. A few church leaders or elders who are not full-time worry that preachers may take over their positions. They intentionally or unintentionally crack down on them and push them out by attacking them as "hired hands" whereas they don't have paychecks.
Besides, inner conflicts in the church leave little time for the staff to take the life of preachers into account. These churches almost focus on dividing the spheres of influence.
Last but not least, a few preachers have limited preaching and communication skills.
Rev. Wu Weiwen, a former chaplain of Divinity School of Chung Chi College and the school's current guest associate professor, said that the church should foster the concept of tithing in the minds of congregations. Rural churches with low incomes can imitate the other eleven tribes who gave the tithes of the fruits of their lands to the Levites. Meanwhile, preachers should speak out their needs. They should ask work requirements in the interview and raise a wage demand.
From the viewpoint of Preacher Chen from Inner Mongolia, the financial problem was just one of the problems faced by the Chinese church. He suggested to find the solution to reviving the church from the Bible. "If we find it, the various diseases of the Chinese church will be cured as a consequence."
Rev. Gao proposed that provincial-level CCC&TSPMs should form a clear opinion on the benefits of church staff. Means of relief can be set up, including a relief fund that can be aided to financially disadvantaged pastoral workers after investigation and application.
If the money is still inadequate, a preacher can do a part-time job to be financially independent.
Some held that the main reason behind the financial problem lied in preachers themselves. As a preacher who should have the determination of serving in the church "dead or alive". Pastors ought to help preachers recognize their goals and expectations for work and life, and adjust their mentality. They can encourage preachers to freely choose resignment or not.
Rev. Li from Jilin advised preachers to return to the Bible and repent before God. A portions of believers complained about preachers, thinking that they couldn't nurture congregations and churches well. Conversely, preachers grumbled that believers were lukewarm and uncommitted. Their attitudes hindered the church from being united. He thought that preachers should repent on preaching and interpret the Bible correctly rather than teach psychology and marriage first. Many messages from the pulpit in China are about comforting, tithes and offerings, psychology, and prosperity theology. Preachers didn't dare to deliver sermons on repentance, holiness, evangelism, and mission.