Interview: Changing from Past Tastes of Institutionalization, Scalization Back to Simpler House Church

People listen to a sermon in a church service.
People listen to a sermon in a church service.
By Li ShiguangDecember 15th, 2021

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had a profound impact on the world, and the church was no exception.

The post-pandemic era and various environmental changes have also prompted new ways in which pastors around the world act on church and pastoral innovation. One of the most significant changes is the shifting of many churches across China from pursuing institutionalization, mainly from 2010 to 2015, back to, in practice, forming small groups and "house churches".

A few days ago, two pastors W and D (pseudonyms) from the east of China shared their thoughts on the topic. In their younger and middle age, they both have many years of experience working for migrant worker churches.

Question: Facing the current post-pandemic environment, many churches and pastors are confused and don’t know where to lead their congregations going forward. A few years ago, many churches pursued large-scale transformation and institutionalization. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Pastor W: In my personal opinion, the church has two important tasks at present. One is that we need to work hard to train our fellow workers, and the other is to strengthen believers with God’s words.

If we use God’s words well in strengthening believers’ faith, then one day they may leave the city and the church, but they will never leave God. On the other hand, however, if a person doesn’t know the salvation and the truth, it is impossible for you to let him hold on and bear fruit. People can’t achieve this by themselves. Therefore, a believer must be clear about his faith. He should know that “I am a sinner who should have died and perished long ago”, but “at this time, Jesus stood up and died for me with his life and gave me new life”.

In this way, no matter what the current environment is, whether it is bitter or happy, it is clear that in this world where decades pass by quickly when a person belittles the world, he or she will value faith, and they will be motivated and determined when they have hope.

So, my burden now is to train pastors and fellow staff so that they can not only lead a group but even lead the church independently one day.

One is the staff issue and the other is the believer issue. Both of them are very important. Pastors in the church can’t always emphasize that believers will get rich and have peace if they come to God. This is very irresponsible. Practically speaking, in this environment, if you believe in Jesus, that means dedication, and if you want to be a disciple of the Lord, then you have to commit yourself to Him. This is my personal opinion.

Look at the history of Chinese Christian churches. For a long time, Chinese churches have experienced many hardships from time to time. However, this is how I see it: I think it’s like wheat seedlings in heavy wintery snow. On the surface, the wheat seedlings disappeared in the heavy snow, but when the snow and ice melt, the wheat could grow better. Chinese churches have gone through many hardships, but we have to see the fact that there are not only the hardships but also the revival that follows them. With the many times of adversity, equally, there also shall be times of revival.

The present situation is not easy, and it is possible that the future will be even less so, but I believe its time is set and will pass after all. An old brother said that when the church was secularized, when the church deviated from the truth, God would discipline and purify the church through the environment. When the church was purified, the work of the great God’s revival would be revealed. Therefore, I think that no matter what kind of environment the church is in today, it is allowed by God. We're not worried since even God has allowed this to happen.

In addition, the Bible tells us about when the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon, in Psalm 137, the Babylonians made them sing, and they said how they could sing the songs of the Lord in foreign countries. Although they were taken captive to foreign countries and the situation was utterly miserable, their hearts returned to the Lord. This is often the case with people. The worse the environment is, the easier it is for people to rely on God and get close to Him.

Believe that God is watching what we have said and done today. Whether it is a pillar or a brick, no matter what you are, as long as you keep yourself well in the environment and fear God well, then He will use you in the future. So, thank God for everything has His purpose in it.

Pastor D: Because the church used to look larger and paid attention to the membership, and now it is much smaller, so now is the time to pay attention to the quality.

Judging from the situation of house churches, there are of course many good things, but undeniably many heresies and even cults have emerged there. Therefore, through this, we can see that in fact, we have not done enough in truth. That is why heresies and cults have risen.

Looking at the Chinese church over the years, not only the house church but Chinese churches as a whole are developing too fast, and there are many problems emerging and as yet they have received no solutions. The growth of the churches in Europe and America took a long time, but the churches in China have developed to the present state in just a few decades. It can be said that the truth is far from enough, and the overall understanding of the truth is not thorough enough. This is a big problem. Now many believers are also influenced by many factors, including certain extreme Pentecostalism as well as prosperity theology. Their level about the Christian faith remains relatively shallow.

Let’s think about it: “Why did prosperity theology come up?” Isn’t it because people are getting rich now? In Chinese churches, many believers have moved from rural to urban areas, and they used to be poor and needy. Now that the economy has developed significantly, certain individuals have become rich. Yet, many people are not satisfied and still wish to have more. Why do so many people pursue prosperity theology? In fact, it is not only that many believers need it, but also many pastors highly admire such a theology. Why? Simply put, it is because they were once poor and hungry. For example, I remember that when I was a teenager at the time to grow fast, I often only had one meal a day because there was not much to eat. Now the economy is developing, more resources are available, and conditions are permissive, but as a result, many problems in the church have emerged.

We used to pursue scale very much, but now, because of the pandemic and various environmental restrictions, I believe that most pastors, if not all pastors, who are in the front line of ministry will certainly understand this: now we must take root in life, including our personal, theological and pastoral equipping.

I believe that at the present time and environment, it is time for pastors to make up their minds in order to settle down. Pastors settle down first, then take root in the Bible and cultivate believers’ lives. It’s so important that we need to spend at least three or five years to prepare from now.

Judging from the current reality, we must turn away from the previous pursuit of institutionalization and large-scale transformation. We can only return to "house" and group churches. So, what we can do is settle down, equip ourselves and the church well in truth, and wait for God’s time.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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