The theology of suffering has long been prevalent in Chinese churches. On the one hand, it prevents the church from being secular and metamorphic; on the other hand, the theology of suffering gradually fails to match the current situation of the church in China.
Pastor Zhang Qiang is a middle-aged pastor in his fifties who has been serving since the time of suffering theology. He became a Christian in the 1980s and has been serving for more than 30 years.
"When I was serving in the 1980s, I used to repeat a lot of spiritual slogans, such as 'be confident about our faith'," Zhang said. "At that time, many preachers lived a very hard life, and it's really a miracle for us to overcome all these obstacles."
According to Pastor Zhang, the theology of suffering has existed in the Chinese church for a long time, except for the last century. It still exists, only on a smaller scale.
While talking about the influence of suffering theology on the present church in China, Pastor Zhang believes that the believers, pastors, and fellow workers of the present church in China are generally influenced by the trend of secularization. "God uses suffering to stir the hearts of many of today's sleeping believers. If you look at the history of Christianity, the revival of the church was brought about by suffering and persecution. On the contrary, when life is easy and comfortable, Christianity does not really develop."
But on the other hand, in his decades of preaching and ministry, Zhang also saw that many pastors had quit preaching because of economic reasons. Many of them could barely afford enough daily necessities but had to go to work to support their families. In addition, due to a lack of money, the church could not purchase or rent meeting places, and many of its followers were lost. In turn, offerings decreased further, so the church could not even organize any meetings.
When Zhang served in the 1980s and 1990s, he couldn't get any payment from the church. But at that time, this problem was relatively easy to solve because he didn't get married. Now he has been married for many years, and his oldest child is now in middle school, and the youngest is also in elementary school. The financial pressure he faces keeps growing. "I don't want to take any of the church offerings, and the church offerings are really not that easy to take. If you take the offerings, there are many rules to follow and much to demand. There will be attacks or even defamation. Because I have several children at home, even 4,000 or 5,000 yuan a month from the church would not be enough. But demanding more money would not be good, and it's hard for the church to give that money to a pastor."
Later, with the help of a pastor, Zhang Qiang went into business. "God has blessed me through business over the years. I can say that my business journey has been very successful. In this way, the financial problems of my family are completely solved. And not only that, I can even use some money to help others. This was completely unimaginable in the past, even beyond my wildest dream. In the past, I relied on God to give me some support and help through others. Now I am very grateful for the success of my business, which has solved the economic problems of my family so that I have nothing to worry about and can devote more time and energy to serving the church. So it's easier for me to serve than it used to be."
Because of his current status as a businessman, Pastor Zhang has access to many non-believers in society. He says this was almost impossible for him to do in the past when he was unable to meet many with other members in society because of his full-time work in the church.
"I believe in God's leadership, and I believe God can do no wrong. Whether it was a poor life with only faith in God in the past or a life of service while doing business, God arranged these for us. And He is sure to help us greatly in at least one aspect through His leadership."
(At the request of the interviewees, the names of the people in this article are pseudonyms.)
- Translated by Nicolas Cao