As time passes, the Chinese church has made significant progress through the efforts of several generations. A new era has now arrived, and the question is how to better equip this generation of young people to take over and care for the flock. Pastors from different generations, ranging from the elderly to the young ones born in the 1990s and currently serving, share their insights.
Elder C, born in the 1950s: being down-to-earth and acquiring true knowledge
Elder C, close to 70 years old, still has sharp senses, articulates clearly, and has led the church for decades, nursing one generation after another to serve the Lord. For the upcoming generation, he advises the young servants of Christ to acquire true knowledge and warns against impatience, with an emphasis on staying grounded.
Elder C believes that acquiring both traditional and contemporary knowledge should go hand in hand. The era of spreading the gospel through a Bible and a few hymns is over. Sermons with drafts and based on inspiration alone can no longer meet the needs of demanding beliefs. The church faces a generation that questions authority and doubts the truth. They have specific preferences and easily become bored. The stress, frustrations, and needs they experience are different from those of previous generations. The new generation of servants must be eager to learn. On the one hand, they should familiarize themselves with church history, theological doctrines, heresies and cults, pastoral care, and devotional resources. The rich spiritual legacy provides inspiration to find solutions to seemingly novel and challenging questions. On the other hand, they should keep up with the times, understand the challenges and characteristics of contemporary life, be familiar with modern technological and cultural tools, and advance their knowledge in church management and pastoral care both domestically and internationally. Young servants should take note that the labels associated with the church's lack of quality and knowledge must be removed, and they should be committed to continuous learning and improvement. Young servants should take note that the labels associated with the church's lack of quality and knowledge must be removed, and they should be committed to continuous learning and improvement. Young servants should take note that the labels associated with the church's lack of quality and knowledge must be removed, and they should be committed to continuous learning and improvement.
Elder C, bluntly states that the form of Christianity is not the truth. Many young people only focus on the external form and overlook the essence of salvation.
"Learning only the form is detrimental. The form serves to support the inner life. Young people mistakenly believe that by adhering to the form, they have mastered everything. However, in reality, the essential aspect—the inner life—is missing."
A strategy for teaching about Christianity is simplified as "one, two, three, four, and five." This signifies one God, two covenants, three persons in one, four books of the gospel, and five major doctrines. However, these conceptual frameworks do not encompass the essence of Christianity. Overemphasizing them can only lead to confusion. The essence of the gospel lies in a lived life that grows through practice. To attain true wisdom, young people must mature in their faith by investing time and engaging in constant reflection on their journey.
"Be down-to-earth and unaffected by the impetuousness of the modern world," Elder C emphasized. He pointed out that today's world is restless, with everyone dreaming of becoming rich overnight. This mindset has influenced some young people in the church. They search for shortcuts and prioritize results over the process. They desire quick achievement, which has a negative impact on the church. When they encounter setbacks along their journey, they often give up and fall into a state of disappointment. Elder C, who has faithfully served for decades, earnestly encourages young servants to stay grounded in their service to the Lord.
Pastor S, born in the 1960s: It wouldn't hurt to "work overtime."
Pastor S diligently keeps track of who in the congregation is hosting a celebration at their home and whose child has an issue that needs resolving. She believes that she won't be able to take good care of her flock as a pastor if she doesn't know them well.
For the church where Pastor S serves, theology students are recruited every year from institutions such as Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and Zhejiang Theological Seminary. However, only a few of them are able to stay. Pastor S observes that these young people treat the affairs of God's house as a secular job and lack a strong sense of dedication. In contrast, the older generation of pastors never had so-called personal time. If a church member has an issue at 3 a.m., the pastor would get up to help right away. When a memorial service starts at 6 a.m. at a member's home, those who serve begin the preparation at 4 a.m. Morning prayers start at 6 a.m., and it can be challenging to motivate the young servants of the Lord to wake up. They are often reluctant to "work overtime" and struggle to carry out the tasks mentioned, including waking up early.
This is the wish of Pastor S. When young people sign a contract with the church and receive payment accordingly, they should "have good job performance to deserve the pay" if they treat their ministries as a secular job. She adds, "Don't abuse grace; take responsibility for the ministry." It takes commitment to serve wholeheartedly. "Working overtime" does not cause any harm.
Pastor Y, born in the 1970s: increasing in all knowledge and living out the faith
Pastor Y is the senior pastor of a church in southern Jiangsu Province. The church currently has a stable attendance of over 4,000 believers. They have established a generational talent pool, with members from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s serving in various capacities. The serving team consists of fairly young members. In the prime of his life, Pastor Y leads this team of young people and manages all aspects of the ministries in an orderly manner, including the pulpit, small groups, fellowships, social services, communication texts, and social media.
When it comes to young servants in Christ, Pastor Y indicates that they should focus on learning and keeping up with the times. Their knowledge should increase not only in theology but also in general education. It is especially important to have a deeper understanding of Chinese culture, adapt to the needs of the times, and meet the needs of intellectuals among non-believers, seekers, and believers. To encourage young servants in the church to grow, the church supports all fellowship leaders, small group leaders, and area coordinators in enrolling in correspondence courses at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, with full tuition coverage provided.
In addition to comprehensive study, young people need to put their faith into practice. Pastor Y points out that believers have no shortage of sermons to listen to in the era of the internet. Likewise, young servants of Christ have no shortage of learning materials. However, the key lies in whether they are actually putting these abundant resources, knowledge, and principles into practice. It is imperative for young servants to live out the life of Christ daily and actively participate in ministries to gain practical experience in their work.
Pastor C, born in the 1980s, believes in "winning hearts" before giving suggestions and complementing the limitations of theological training through practice.
Advice from peers is often more direct. Pastor C and a brother in Christ serve as pastors of a grassroots church in southern Jiangsu. Both of them graduated from seminary and initially served as ministers in urban churches. Later, an elder in charge of a rural church in the same city persuaded them to work at the grassroots level. Within just three years, they witnessed the church's remarkable growth from over 100 to over 300 members. It is an accomplishment.
Pastor C shares that having the acceptance of the people in the church is more important than offering suggestions. "Young servants are often filled with enthusiasm and eager to put what they have learned into practice in the church. However, this approach frequently leads to obstacles. It is important for young servants of Christ to recognize that it takes time for the church and its members to collaborate with them. Demonstrating commitment and the ability to take responsibility can greatly help in this process. In the initial stages, it may be better to follow traditions and maintain the status quo rather than make impulsive suggestions regarding certain people, issues, or policies. Believers can sense those who genuinely dedicate themselves to the church and perform their ministry effectively. Trust from members will help overcome resistance to carrying out the ministry within the church."
Secondly, it is essential to complement the limitations of theological training through practical ministry. Pastor C emphasizes that, compared to the older generation, young people have received relatively comprehensive training. However, they should recognize that current theological education in the country tends to prioritize abstract thinking and theoretical knowledge while offering limited guidance in pastoral practice and church management. Young servants should avoid dogmatism when entering the mission field and instead focus on growing through practical service.
Pastor G, born in the 1990s: establishing a biblical worldview and values
Pastor G, born in the 1990s, holds a different perspective from the pastors mentioned earlier. According to her, the primary concern for young people entering the mission field is their faith: whether they have established a solid biblical worldview and values, and whether their faith manifests powerfully in both their service and personal lives.
Pastor G serves in a church that specifically focuses on believers born in the 1980s and 1990s. Eight part-time coworkers who are also from the same generation support her as a full-time pastor. As they approach their thirties, these individuals generally bear responsibilities for their elderly family members and children. They face various challenges related to their careers, finances, and resources, including educational resources for their children. At times, it seems that God's Word does not provide them with tangible help in their daily lives.
Regarding this, Pastor G states that young servants of the Lord have a significant responsibility towards their families. The stresses and disparities of life can often cause them to waver between the teachings of the world and those of the Bible. In order to address these challenges, it is crucial to reevaluate and reaffirm one's worldview and values based on the teachings of the Bible. They shouldn't let secular information or the definition of success in the world influence them. Instead, they should hold onto their initial faithfulness in service and perceive a meaningful life according to biblical standards. “Take specific concerns such as education as an example. Rather than prioritizing worldly achievements or prestigious schools, they should focus on nurturing their children's character and obedience to God's word. By not placing excessive value on worldly pursuits, they can maintain a calm and accurate perspective of themselves and live in a more fulfilling manner while serving God.”
- Translated by June I. Chen