Advice From Millennial Pastor: How Can We Face Paternalistic Church?

The Bible on the altar
The Bible on the altar (photo:
By Li ShiguangJuly 7th, 2022

Many grassroots churches in China have a great dilemma and difficulty in management, which is how to get rid of or get out of paternalism.

After the reform and opening up, the Chinese church entered the fast lane toward rapid progress. However, due to various historical reasons, until now, many churches are still paternalistic. The church is governed by one or a few leaders, with all members of the church needing to obey the leader.

The paternalism that was suitable for the church decades ago is starting to expose many problems today. The new generation of Christians is very uncomfortable with the paternalistic leadership of the older church leaders, with violent conflicts in both philosophy and practice. After receiving theological education, more and more young believers and church staff expect the church to practice discipline to restrain leader behavior, and even overhaul the church management system.

A few days ago, C (pseudonym), a pastor born in the 1980s in the Central Plains, shared his advice for young pastors with the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper. As Pastor C has served in the church for many years with rich pastoral experience and has come through the paternalism in the church, he hoped that today's young pastors could avoid detours to grow up quickly.

"A big problem for young Chinese pastors, especially those who serve full time, is that they should say yes to the employers. The church leaders, who support the full-time pastors with all they need, expect them to do more, with young pastors feeling a lot of pressure. It is difficult for them to meet the church’s expectations due to their limited ability and energy. Living depending on others at a young age, the pastors always feel disheartened towards themselves and the church, as their words are of little effect because of their low positions. C said, "As you are just a young man in your 20s with no social experience and work experience, it's actually very difficult for them to adopt your suggestions, and also it is a very risky thing to put the whole church in your hands.”

C believed that instead of tilting at windmills like Don Quixote, young pastors should calm down to study hard and improve themselves.

C added, "It is almost impossible to change the church management system in a way of revolution. My advice to those young pastors is to increase their influence, which is radical. I also know that there are indeed many problems of bureaucracy and paternalism in the church, which test the endurance of young pastors very much. If you have a will of changing the church, you should stay in the church firmly. On the one hand, work hard to cooperate with the work of the church and gain the testimony in the church, but on the other hand, maintain your independence and protect yourself from being assimilated by the environment like lotus unsullied from mud. When young pastors grow to be an influencer in the church, they can do many things that they want to do, as the previous generation may grow old and retire."

C believed that paternalism with many advantages was adopted in most Chinese churches, especially house churches, but we should see whether the patriarch was good or bad. In fact, the church system could not be perfected in the present circumstance. It took a great deal of hard work to realize the church system that many young pastors expect and recognize, and the church could not create conditions to achieve it due to various reasons. In contrast, patriarchy was much simpler and easier, with one leader doing everything. Due to the influence of the traditional Chinese culture, it was actually very difficult for the Chinese church to adopt a more democratic system. The church becoming democratic constrainedly would only lead to many internal struggles and intrigue, resulting in people struggling for power and profits.

"To change paternalism, young pastors should learn to grow well while maintaining their independence, then the patriarchal system will naturally perish," C concluded.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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