Millennial Pastor’s Ministry Transforms from Rural to Urban Churches

A picture shows a man walking on the snow
A picture shows a man walking on the snow (photo:
By Esther TianDecember 27th, 2022

Recently, the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, interviewed a few Millennial pastors and their wives. Although Millennial pastors do not experience as many poor and bitter “start-ups” as their Gen X predecessors did, they also shoulder arduous tasks such as “preserving their heritages” and “evangelizing”.

The clash of expectations at the beginning of a ministry

Brother Ying Jie (pseudonym), a Millennial pastor, whose parents are devout Christians, followed his family’s faith in a rural area of the Central Plains when he was a child. Jie had one year of working experience, but he was still searching to find the meaning of life while he was working. Later, he studied theology at his mother’s suggestion and enrolled in online Bible and theology correspondence programs.

After completing the programs in 2008, he has since served a church in a small city with a developed economy in the Southeast.

Ying Jie admitted that he had encountered setbacks in his ministry, shedding tears and feeling extremely wronged at times. Especially at the beginning of his service, Ying Jie found there was a gap between the problems faced by pastors and the knowledge learned in seminaries -  that is, a gap between theory and practice.

During his ministry, he realized that urban pastoral care was different from rural churches in his hometown. In rural areas, believers were very simple. A gathering was about getting together happily to sing hymns and read scriptures, listen to sermons, and have a lively meeting while expecting to meet again in the next service. “But in the city church, believers come from different places, and everyone is different, which is complicated. Pastors do not only give sermons; they also deal with relationships. They also need to study church management, think about church development and theological teachings,” he said.

At the beginning of his ministry, he served another small church because of a conflict between staff and believers. They had referred their problems to him. The staff left because they lost their sense of security and the church almost disbanded. During that time, he prayed in tears. Later, he realized that there was a problem in the management of the church. Staff and believers needed to respond and solve their ideas and suggestions rapidly, otherwise, there would be misunderstandings and contradictions.

He realized that there was a problem in the management of the church, so he began to study the church management system. He studied with some senior pastors, attended pastors’ sermons, read many books, and groped along.

A need to study theology and church management

During his study, he realized that doctrine and organizational system were the two pillars of a church and that they were both needed to stabilize the church.

He explained: “While I was studying my programs, it was mainly a study of the Bible books. At that time, theological resources were not very extensive and so I had little knowledge of theology and doctrine. Therefore, relatively speaking, I lacked an expanding perspective.”

Because of the problems in the church, Ying Jie gradually established a relatively complete system and stable structure involving theological doctrine, management, a pastoral system, discipleship training, and other aspects.

At present, the church led by Ying Jie is relatively stable, with staff and believers growing steadily. There are more than a dozen serious and responsible staff (group leaders) in the church who are involved in serving together. All staff serve with dedication. Currently, his regular ministry is Sunday service and staff training. He believes that this is a result of the establishment of the church stipulation and management system, the pastoral training system, and clear doctrine. In his view, after the establishment of doctrine, the church has gained direction.

Tensions between the generations

In addition, Ying Jie admitted that the process of determining the church’s doctrine, formulating the management system, and carrying out the ministry was not smooth. Because of the older generation, pastors strongly opposed the practice at first. Ying Jie reminded the new generation of leaders to be humble in this process and avoid arguing with older leaders. He simply proceeded silently and when the elder pastors saw that the ministry was effective, their attitude changed slowly.

Ying Jie believes that it is still very important to connect the older generation with the new generation. If this is not handled well, it will be very destructive to the church. It is true that in some churches the older pastors simply cannot accept the change of the new management system, doctrine, and other matters. Although there are many difficulties and challenges, Brother Ying Jie believes that this is the process of shaping a mature pastor.

Planting new seeds in an age of growth and change

As a new-generation church leader, he dares to make changes and achieve results in the church not unrelated to his growing environment. He saw with his own eyes how the rural church developed in the city and believed that this was through the special guidance of God.

Ying Jie talked about the church he grew up in as a child: “At that time, the Gospel was still quite unknown in our village and faith was closely related to life. What can be done and what can’t be done was clearly divided. If you love God, you can’t love the world. Pastors believed that Christians can’t work and earn money in the world. At that time, I thought poverty was spiritual, and it didn’t matter if a person’s cultural level was not high, because they were all `little matters in the world’. If sisters love to dress up and wear high heels, they will be regarded as imitating gentiles.”

“The change occurred when my family had to provide for my sister and me to go to school. My family was very poor and we didn’t have much income from farming. In order to increase my income, my mother raised pigs, but there was still not much left to pay tuition fees. My mother had a Bible reading and worship service in her hometown church, and the pastor didn’t want my mother to go out to work. At that time, it was still very difficult to work and it was not easy for people to go out to work. If believers went out and came back, they would be considered as being disciplined by God,” he added.

“After the reform and opening up, there was a tide of migrants looking for employment. With the introduction of relatives, my parents came to the city to work in 1999 and 2000. After going out, my mother tried to find a gathering place, but she couldn’t. She contacted staff from her hometown church and told the staff: ‘I have a little preaching here, but there is no church. Can you come here and serve us?’ When the pastors in my hometown heard this, their thoughts changed somewhat. They suddenly found that those who went to the cities were not greedy for the world and could still preach the Gospel! People began to be sent to serve in cities.”

As far as he knows, during that time, there were some Christians who left to work throughout the country, slowly taking the Gospel with them and then sending workers to different cities. “The tide of migrant workers drives the development of urban gospel and urban churches, which is passive, but looking back, it was God’s preparation. In time, relatively conservative pastors realized it was enough for everyone to live happily together while spreading the Gospel instead of simply staying in the countryside. It is God’s job to spread the Gospel from the same culture to the near culture to the cross culture, from passive to active.”

In Ying Jie’s view, the dichotomy between the holy and the vulgar of the church in that era was very clear, but there were also some things worth learning. “At that time, my mother was very enthusiastic and loving in the faith. For example, there was only one bucket of rice at home, and if pastors or poor people came, they would use this bucket of rice for guests. They loved the Lord very much and were not afraid of ridicule, which many people lack today. When I was young, my mother used to come back late from gatherings. When she came back, she pushed her bike, took me and my sister, and walked on the edge of the empty land without street lamps. On the way back, I almost fell asleep. My mother is my role model, she has a great influence on me, and her faith inspires me.”

No worries about finance

When asked about the economic problems encountered by pastors, Ying Jie said: “In recent years, thanks to the grace of God, the maturity and stability of brothers and sisters’ beliefs is sufficient to supply the income and life of the pastors.”

However, Ying Jie said that economic issues were not his consideration. “We are not serving ourselves, or simply serving. At the beginning of my service, I didn’t expect to get full financial support from the church. Because my parents are Christians, they fully support my ministry. Later, church pastors also considered giving living subsidies. Sometimes it is sufficient, sometimes it is lacking, but there are secrets to victory.”

Husband and wife serve with one heart; both church and parenting should be grasped.

Ying Jie’s wife is his seminary classmate. The couple serve together in the church. Besides preaching, she plays the piano and lute and also trains in music worshiping. “The two of us are in harmony. I usually deal with theological issues and she deals with counseling. If I visit believers’ homes, I visit with male believers, and she with female believers. If I meet the opposite sex, we the couple will visit together.”

Regarding the education of the two children, the husband and wife will pay more attention to the children’s academic, psychological and emotional health. Two people will take turns to accompany and take care of the children’s studies, and the children are relatively healthy both psychologically and emotionally. Ying Jie also thanked their colleagues for being trained, taking on many responsibilities and therefore making her own life easier.

The current confusion: big church or small church?

Although the church is developing steadily and the staff are more energetic than ever, as a pastor, Ying Jie is confused about which route the church should take.

Like many churches at present, churches are mostly about group activities. He thinks that small gatherings are beneficial, more precise, and have a better atmosphere of fellowship and love. However, the ritual feeling of large gatherings is more sacred. The ideal state is to have a large-scale collective worship on Sunday and a small group fellowship during the week.

The importance of rest and relaxation for pastors

Ying Jie has never stopped studying since he graduated from seminary. He believes that pastors need time to retreat, preferably once a quarter, with five days’ rest at a time, so that the body and mind can rest in peace. Besides the usual theological equipment, pastors must pay attention to the construction of their inner life and their relationship with the Lord.

Because it is hard to avoid exhaustion and lack of motivation in serving, Ying Jie believes it is extremely important to return to God, learn orthodox spiritual traditions, establish a stable spiritual life and gain strength from the Lord.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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