A pastor reflected on diverse pastoral training courses, saying there's a need to bravely accept challenges to earnestly practice but also avoid blindly following trends in receiving training.
Changshun (pseudonym), 42, is a pastor in a small fourth- or fifth-tier city in North China. At 28, he entered the church, evolving from a believer to a church staff worker and eventually becoming a church leader.
He recently shared his observations in an interview with the Christian Times, a Chinese online Christian newspaper.
Over the years of serving in the church, he noticed a trend: Chinese churches constantly engage in a variety of advanced pastoral training and life growth courses from both domestic and international sources. On one hand, church leaders and believers acknowledge their shortcomings and humbly seek to learn. However, he noticed that each learning and training session appeared to be similar to a trend or fad—after a year or two, it would end, and a fresh wave of learning would take its place.
These courses cover aspects related to the personal growth of staff workers or Christians, disciple training, leadership training for pastors, church nurture, and strategies for church growth.
Changshun personally participated in or led learning sessions within his church related to believers' inner spiritual growth, small group development, spiritual gifts, and mission-oriented evangelism. Despite the considerable effort that pastoral workers and believers put in, the outcomes of this learning did not become apparent. Instead, people seemed to grow more fatigued and lost as they continued learning.
Reflecting on his own experience during a pastor transition in his church, Changshun recalled a difficult time as he wondered how to be a qualified church leader. A fellow pastor recommended he attend a three-day fasting meeting. "At that time, I thought by attending prayer, the problems among believers would be solved, solely focusing on God changing their hearts." However, by solely concentrating on the problems among the congregation, his heart wasn't engaged in the fasting and prayer. The Holy Spirit reminded him, "Only live in the prayer; can you live out the faith?"
Later, Changshun realized, "Believers study courses or participate in diverse spiritual growth trainings not just to acquire knowledge, but more importantly, to undergo and experience it in practice; that is, to live within that course. Without embracing and living within the vision and mission set by that course, it's challenging to see its effectiveness. Many people, due to not seeing results, hastily give up, starting a new cycle of learning."
He also analyzed the mindset of some church leaders: "We merely see a good method someone else has and try to adapt it. Each church usually has its own unique traits, and pastors aim to develop within their established framework. This desire to 'preserve themselves' often leads to merely 'adapting' without genuine integration."
Changshun emphasized, "New course models will inevitably bring challenges. Heads of churches, afraid to challenge themselves and hesitant to let go of established practices, might superficially engage in learning, ultimately failing to grasp the essence of the course content." He believed that to bear fruit, one needs to overcome fear and immerse himself in the course, embracing its vision. Otherwise, it's challenging to get the experiences and fruits others have gained.
He quoted the words of Jesus: "New wine needs new wineskins; new patches cannot be added to old clothes." He likened these training courses to new wine, which the old vessel can't contain; similarly, adding new patches might ruin the old cloth. Overly conservative approaches among pastors and church workers might hinder progress. Outdated ideas need change and renewal because welcoming the new requires shedding the 'old.'"
Additionally, choosing resources suitable for the church is crucial. Different churches face distinct problems, have varied environmental backgrounds, and their members' lives differ, along with unique visions. Some learning resources might not fit a particular church, and pastors should never blindly follow trends.
"Blindly following trends is also one of the main reasons why diverse learning and training resemble short-lived trends or movements," he concluded.
- Translated by Abigail Wu