Editor's note: Amongst groups of Chinese pastors, the most discussed topics are how to increase the membership, how to increase the number of meeting points, and pastors' feelings and reflections on the objective environment. But few pastors have had a deep, collective discussion on how the church is cultivating the "new generation of successors".
The "new generation of successors" is a group of people who are already church workers and have the potential to lead the whole church in the future. Pastors today are intentionally selecting and focusing on training them. A few days ago, the Christian Times invited pastors of different ages (born in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) to discuss "how to train the next generation of Chinese pastors".
In the first article of this serial interview with the Christian Times, Pastor Chen Tianfu (pseudonym for safety reasons), a theologically well-equipped man who was born in the 1980s, calls for "an urgent need to train a new generation of pastors."
Christian Times: What do you think of the church's efforts to cultivate a new generation of spiritual leaders or the next generation of pastors and successors?
Chen Tianfu: The new generation of spiritual leaders can be defined as the younger generation carrying the baton, standing up to lead the church. The lead pastor of a church should be conscious of cultivating a new generation of pastors. The people who carry the baton in the Bible are Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament, and Jesus and the Twelve Disciples in the New Testament. In fact, cultivating and passing on is necessary in this process.
When a pastor has this idea and pattern, he or she will do a good job of training the new generation of pastors to carry on the baton--help them to open up new areas, give guidance and help, and pass on Jesus' commandment of carrying out the Great Commission and the duties for pastors. However, the current situation is that not all pastors have this idea.
In fact, for pastors at different times, leadership demands different things from them. Because the leadership of Moses must have been different from the leadership of Joshua. Moses brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, while Joshua brought them into Canaan. There are people who are suited for pioneering work, and there are people who are suited for maintaining the church.
There are now three generations of pastors in China. The first generation were the pastors of the oldest generation, who are already gone, like Rev. Samuel Lamb or Li Tian'en. The second generation was like their direct successors, and they are the pastors who were born in 1980s. And the third generation are pastors who are born after 2000.
Christian Times: What do you think it means for the church in China to cultivate a new generation of church leaders?
Chen Tianfu: I often wonder how Jesus cultivates a new generation of leaders. I think the core of the church is to have good pastors. Without good pastors, it's hard for the church to grow. Jesus did many things. He went around proclaiming the Gospel, healing the sick, and preaching in public. But the core of his ministry was the 12 disciples. He often taught them privately and kept telling them about the cross he was going to face, and the responsibilities they were going to have after they left him. I think the revival of the church needs mature leaders like them.
For example, Rev. Samuel Lamb and Li Tian'en lived in a time when many pastors were not in the spotlight, but they chose to serve many people quietly. In this process, there were actually many loyal believers. They all played a leading role in the communities they could reach. Therefore, when pastors know how to delegate power and train young pastors, they can better continue the spirit of the Gospel of Christ, so that the church in China will have a bright future.
Christian Times: What do you think pastors in the Chinese church should do to become more open-minded about training a new generation of pastors? Or how should we do it operationally?
Chen Tianfu: I'm still exploring this aspect. Our church has a team of staff. In addition to me, there are two full-time workers and maybe seven or eight part-time workers. They have their own jobs while also having fixed areas of specific ministry in the church. Usually, a small church would have 1-3 church staff.
We can find the right personnel through a series of selections. For example, some personnel are in charge of the Sunday school, some are in charge of promoting the mission, and others are in charge of a meeting place. This is the process of training them, because they had no experience at the beginning, and the pastors want to delegate power to them so that they can try new work. And then we can guide them, and find out about their character and weaknesses in this process. We can also encourage them. It's a very complicated process. We've cultivated many new pastors, but maybe at this stage, they're not mature enough. We will have to wait until they are mature or until someone else comes along who is more suitable for the job.
It is difficult to train fellow workers like Moses who raised Joshua from childhood. In the operation process of the church, there will be some loss of workers. You need to keep expanding your team of co-workers and keep giving them more tasks and making them more capable. It is a complicated process, and it's important to pray, because it's not necessarily what you want, and it's a big burden on the present leaders.
Christian Times: What do you think are the necessary factors to consider in choosing the right pastors?
Chen Tianfu: Pastors should learn to entrust their trust and power to those who have potential in the future. Because the work is complicated enough, there must be a team. Having a team means you have to hand over many things, and you have to allow some things to be out of your control. And that's a kind of commitment to God.
The first requirement for a potential worker is faithfulness to the Lord Christ. The second is ability. But to be a leader, you need not only loyalty but also competence and vision. Vision is sometimes more important than the others because you have to help your team see the greater needs of the church and see the greater possibilities.
In fact, many pastors are afraid to try something new and are afraid to try to hand something over to someone less mature, for fear of the negative consequences. We must have the ability to see that there may be better results.
Christian Times: What do you think is a healthy model for training and selecting a new generation of pastors? What ideas or patterns in the church in China need to be updated?
Chen Tianfu: As for the church I'm in, I am very upset about this aspect because we still do not have enough workers. I think we should do more to increase the number of staff. What if we do not have enough workers?
Recently, we held an orientation meeting on the needs of the church's ministry, also known as a job fair. The first goal of this fair was to let the participants see where the church as a whole is going and what it actually needs. The second goal was to let them think about whether they really want to go down this path of ministry.
There are two means for selecting talents. One is for us to recruit and build a team, while the other is to figure out the right person by meeting them one by one, just like Barnabas found Paul. When you need someone, you go and find that person, and you can do it openly. Our job fair was well attended, but whether or not there is any suitable person is beyond our control. At least those who attend will know the church's specific needs for workers.
And about what we expect from our workers. If someone is going to serve full-time, the most important thing our church requires is that he or she has proof of salvation and a call from God. At the same time, we also require a junior college or bachelor's degree.
Here's why. We want the congregation to know that being a church minister is not something suitable for anybody. It's not that someone can't find a job in the community, so he or she settles for serving in a church. At present, more than 80% of our church members are junior college or undergraduate students, making them a special group of believers. If there is no corresponding diploma, there will be some problems in the future while they are preaching.
My method to judge is to observe while talking to them. I would talk to them individually and ask them if they had a call from God. Letting them pray on their own is a good way to figure out the right person. I think most pastors would probably do this, but this process is still a little too mysterious for the congregation. It's like they're suddenly hearing about someone starting to work for the church, and they don't know exactly how that person made the decision. Therefore, the church also needs to tell them publicly about the process of selecting fellow workers, so that they can be more clear about the direction of their future efforts for Christ.
- Translated by Nicolas Cao