[Interview] How Grass-root Preachers Earn Their Livelihood in Rural China

A gathering in a church of Henan
A gathering in a church of Henan
By CCD contributor: Ding DongApril 5th, 2017

Financially supporting pastors is a common problem in the Chinese church, especially in the northern part of China. It is not easy to solve the livelihood issue of pastors. Many Christians question whether the church leaders have made appropriate measures to guarantee the livelihood of pastors.

China Christian Daily (CCD) interviewed Pastor Hu, the president of Henan Christian Council, about the current state quo of preachers' livelihood.

CCD: The China Christian Daily has covered many passages reflecting the livelihood issues of pastors. Many of the passages are from Henan Province. Could you please share the main focus and concern of the Henan Christian Council on this issue.

Pastor Hu: We have really paid attention to this issue. However, what matters is the resource shortage. There are also conflicts between the old generation of pastors and young theological students. At present, Henan Church has opened about 7,000 halls. About 6,000 of them are based in rural areas. Great changes have taken place in the rural church compared with the past. However, many rural churches are facing a shortage of young staff. The old generation of pastors passed away one after the other. Young Christians have to leave their hometown and work in the city in the era of economic development. As a result, only the empty nest elderly and left-behind believers remain in the rural church.

The self-support ability of the rural church is very poor. When theological students graduate and serve in the church, they have to face low salaries. Believers are full of love for the church. They have tried their best to dedicate, but their efforts are limited. Besides the daily expenses of the rural church, the rest of the dedication is far from enough to pay the pastors their basic wages. In some mountainous areas of Henan Province, believers sell eggs to donate to the church. However, such dedication is undoubtedly a drop in the bucket for pastors in such a high price era. We can’t make bricks without straw. Some well-educated graduates, such as undergraduates and post-graduates, may enter the church in the city. They will be treated better there.

The Christian Council of Henan Province has issued several documents about the basic treatment of theological students and life conditions of pastors. However, the self-support ability of some areas is too poor. Moreover, many pastors of the old generation have never been paid since they started to serve in the church. So they pay little attention to the livelihood problem of young students. The rural church doesn’t speak highly of theological graduates. When a new pastor comes into the church, he will never become the backbone of evangelism in a short time. They lack the attention of the church due to their inadequate experience in evangelism. The old generation of pastors haven’t shown enough tolerance for young pastors, so the young generation just get less practice. It is natural that their salaries won’t increase.

The Christian Council has mobilized every field of our society to raise funds for the church. Over 3,000 theological students graduate every year. However, no more than one tenth of them have benefited from it. The weak economic foundation has seriously constrained the healthy development of the church. The church in Henan Province, for instance, is experiencing a difficult period of transition. Currently, the Henan Christian Council is also coordinating and promoting the development of large urban churches. We hope that in the future, the urban church can feed back the rural church. After all, the rural church used to support the urban church.

China Christian Daily: The number of pastors in Henan Province is so large. It is a valuable asset. However, the asset seems to become a burden. Is there a reasonable evaluation system for pastors?

Pastor Hu: Currently, there is no reasonable evaluation system for pastors for rural churches in mainland China. In general, believers are assessors. They are more stringent when judging pastors. Many pastors, who couldn’t meet the believers' requirements, have to leave the church. The Christian Council hopes that the church could understand and tolerate the weakness of young pastors. We should look at the issue from the perspective of the church’s future. We must cultivate the next generation of the church. We should try our best to maintain young pastors in the church. Otherwise, the rural church may have to face a shortage of staff after the old generation leaves. We are trying to make the newly graduated pastors more capable. The Christian Council has set up a lot of platforms to make the ambitious young pastors get the chances they need for practice. For example, we have established a provincial mission group to coordinate the province's excellent resources and guarantee pastors’ livelihoods.

China Christian Daily: Are believers objective enough when they assessing others? For example, we set the premise that believers shouldn’t be as good as pastors. At least, believers don’t understand well enough about the interpretation of the Bible. So how can we ensure the assessment is objective? The gift of some pastors may not be obvious; but, they have a good understanding of the Bible. Should they be abandoned? Some pastors don’t have a good understanding of the Bible, but they are eloquent. Will they be left?

Pastor Hu: First of all, I will see a student’s ability of preaching the gospel. I will assess their spiritual appealing. Then, I will test if they would like to sacrifice for the church and go through hardship. They should also have a humble and obedient attitude. According to our present situation, some students haven’t met our harsh requirements. Some theological students are not recognized by believers; because, they haven’t grasped the essence of the Bible which believers cherish very much.

China Christian Daily: Have we paid too much attention to sermons and ignored other ministries in the church? Is the single pattern of sermon and shepherding an obstacle to the development of the church? How can theological education be organically related to the needs of the church? At present, some southern churches have diversified forms of pastoralism. Should the church in Henan learn from their example?

Pastor Hu: The key to theological education is the teaching staff. We still lack qualified teachers due to the economic reason. For example, we need, at least, 20 well-educated and experienced full-time teachers in our seminary because there are about 300 students. However, no more than ten full-time teachers work in Henan Seminary. We have devoted all our efforts to the improvement of teaching material and students. However, it is still hard to carry out comprehensive education. The church of Henan has always focused on sermons. This is why we have a large number of believers and pastors. We also need transition in the new age; but, it is more appropriate for the church in Henan to concentrate on sermon.

Editor's Note: The current development pattern of Chinese church is similar to that of Chinese society. The former national leader has said that some Chinese people should get rich first. They will lead economic development and make other Chinese rich. However, it is actually hard to realize it. Some Chinese churches are rich in resources now. For example, rural workers used to go to the urban church and make it prosperous. Now, we should think about how to lead the rural church and make pastors there survive.

Translated by Emma Ma

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