At present, the churches in China are facing problems and challenges in transforming from traditional Sunday services to multi-gathering points of service. One of them could be how pastors prepare for sermons and how future pastors should be trained.
Pastor Song Enkuan (pseudonym), in his forties, is from southern China, and he has been serving for nearly 20 years. The Christian Times, a Chinese online Christian newspaper, recently interviewed him.
Christian Times: Why is it so difficult to serve on the podium at present?
Pastor Song Enkuan: Since media-related short videos have proliferated and network technology is so advanced today, people are prone to find them appealing. Because of the pressure of life and work, many people have no time or interest in listening to sermons.
During the three-year pandemic, many churches used online platforms for services, and when the pandemic control is over, they don’t want to attend in-person gatherings anymore. Some people don’t acknowledge the importance of commitment and freely participate in online “church and training”, leading to more difficulties for in-person gatherings and podium service.
Training pastors is totally different from teaching in a school. School teachers have teaching materials and plans while students come and go each year, so teachers will only become increasingly familiar with their teaching work. The church is different. Some old believers may have been listening to your sermons for more than 10 years; you can’t repeat them. In the church, there are new and old believers with different education levels and ages. Some people won’t understand profound messages, but some do and need them. It is difficult to satisfy them all.
Christian Times: So, as a pastor, how do you think the ministry of sermons should be revived?
Pastor Song Enkuan: First of all, pastors should have a good relationship with God and pray and practice spirituality every day. Secondly, they should keep studying, reading broadly, and acquiring all kinds of information. Thirdly, they should constantly reach out, visit people, care about them, and go on short mission trips.
Christian Times: How do you prepare a gracious sermon?
Pastor Song Enkuan: I usually record a sermon title, a sentence, a scripture, or even several sermon outlines when I read the Bible and pray, listen to meditation materials, or watch the news and listen to the testimonies of believers’ experiences. Then pray and meditate, and constantly add up the content until it becomes a complete sermon. Leave it there when you are not moved until you are moved again.
Sometimes, before preaching, the Holy Spirit will speak in a gentle voice to me, telling me the theme scriptures and topics to be delivered. I either write down the sermons or deliver them all at once as the Holy Spirit moves me.
Christian Times: How do you usually improve your ability to hear sermons?
Pastor Song Enkuan: We didn’t have much material. After I borrowed a book, I read it quickly and noted down or copied important parts. I will buy good books now, and many electronic versions of spiritual books have been downloaded from the gift hard disk. For example, if I want to talk about marriage and family, I will read materials about the topic to enrich my sermon.
Christian Times: What do you think the characteristics of a gracious sermon are?
Pastor Song Enkuan: I think the most important thing in preaching is to interpret the scriptures correctly. You must read this passage over and over again, observe it carefully, and then make a correct explanation. If your explanation is correct, your practice will be correct.
The second is that I think pastors should have charisma, and the Holy Spirit of the truth should touch them. If the congregation confesses that God is speaking to them through your sermon, it means that what you are saying is exactly what God asks you to convey to the congregation in the church.
Christian Times: Do you think there is room for pastors to grow? Are there any problems?
Pastor Song Enkuan: I think the sermon must be well prepared. It may take at least two or three days in a week, and you should pray and prepare in advance. It’s not just looking for an online article and copying it, which is perfunctory.
Now we are all gathering in groups. In fact, preachers can also divide believers into different groups not according to their location of residence but, as far as possible, according to their spiritual level, education, and age. Then preach to them so that they can tell which different information is more suitable for them.
Also, we can’t take the podium as a mere place where news events are interpreted and criticized.
Christian Times: Pastor, will you train pastors? What kind of guidance and help will you give?
Pastor Song Enkuan: I saw the need to train preachers three years ago. In the traditional church gathering mode before the pandemic, I could raise a large group by myself. Now that we have dispersed and there are several family groups in one place, we can begin to train preachers. There is a group sermon training session once a week. I send out a sermon handout every week for them to read. Each lesson is attached with 10 questions and answers, and then I check them. It has lasted for more than three years.
We have developed from one class at the beginning to three now. There used to be more than 10 students, but now there are dozens of students from other churches. Then we have elementary, intermediate, advanced, and pastoral classes.
In addition, on Sunday, I will write the sermon in advance and then send a single copy to two elders and five assistants to preach. Afterwards, we evaluate the sermons of our colleagues, thus solving the need for preaching at multi-point gatherings.
- Translated by Charlie Li