Pastoral Appeal: Strong Sense of Mission for Co-workers at Rural Church

An interior view of a Chinese rural church
An interior view of a Chinese rural church
By Katherine GuoApril 25th, 2024

Aunt Zhang is almost 60 but does not have a "permanent home." Over a distance of more than 20 kilometers, she rides her motorbike to and fro between the city and the villages.  Very often, she stays in her native village for two days and in the city for the next two days. Naturally, her children are quite upset about this, often urging her to settle down in the city. She, however, always declares, "I have a mission given by God."

Aunt Zhang's village is located on a foothill, and the residents—almost all of them are old folks—number less than 100. The young people have relocated to the city, which is more than 20 kilometers away. In fact, Zhang's children have bought a flat for her in the city. For more than a decade, Zhang has been a volunteer worker at the village church, preaching and leading the worship at Sunday services. Besides, as another village nearby does not have any ministers, she and another church sister go there to lead the worship service every Saturday. Although the congregation at each village consists of about 15 elderly people, Aunt Zhang regards the ministry as a God-given task and never contemplates giving up.

Owing to urban planning, some villages in the region have relocated en bloc to the city, and the believers there have begun to worship at new premises. Since she has her own home in the city, Aunt Zhang can contact the believers there easily. She also feels led by the Holy Spirit to minister to the rising generation, and so she began to serve at the youth fellowship of the city church. On the other hand, Zhang has not given up her original ministries in the villages. Therefore, she travels between the city and the villages very frequently. But even Zhang’s daughter, who, thanks to her mother, has been a believer since her tender age, cannot understand why her mother persists in ministering at the village churches.

This is the reality of the church in rural China: most of the ministers have their hands full with their pastoral duties. Just as one radish is for one hole, there is no spare co-worker. When delivering her sermon, the pastor of a church in a certain county town in northern Jiangsu lamented about the situation of the rural church. She related what a co-worker told her: "I am at my wits’ ends. No one can travel around with me.“ The local CC&TSPM jointly allocate the Sunday worship duties for the churches within the county. Pastors often go to the villages, preaching, teaching congregnants how to sing hymns, playing the piano, and leading the cell groups. Even though the city congregation consists of more than 100 members, none participate in the village ministries. There used to be more co-workers. But owing to the necessity of bringing up their grandchildren or earning extra income, they have relocated to the cities and are thus reluctant to return to the villages.

Undeniably, these co-workers are entangled in family matters and the multiple needs of their children. But is the entanglement so suffocating that it is physically impossible to help in the ministry? The reality is not so helpless and hopeless. When delivering her sermon, an old sister re-examined her own "deceit and lethargy". As a church co-worker, she participated in various ministries at the pulpit. After her daughter gave birth to a baby, she assumed the task of bringing up her grandchild. So her participation in ministries dwindled daily. When the church was arranging for co-workers to go out for training, she intended to decline, using the "grandchild burden" as a pretext. But her daughter was not against her taking a leave for training at all. After much soul-searching, the old sister shared her struggles frankly and honestly, and this should evoke a similar re-examination on the part of all co-workers.

In a city church, if the congregation suffers a loss of one or two members, the ministry can still survive and thrive. At a village church, such departure can, however, jeopardize the whole ministry. “Ministers must have a burden and a sense of mission for the local churches to which they dedicate themselves. There must be a sense of mission for one’s ministry. Isn’t it most appropriate to go wherever the need is greatest? As servants of God, shall we sew fancy flowers on colorful silk or deliver comforting coal in the midst of shivering snow?” asked a certain pastor.

Amid the ever-rising tide of urbanization, the older generation is swept into oblivion by the super-fast wheels of time, or transformation, languishing behind in the static and silent villages. However, isn’t the Lord’s heart with the weak, the despised, and the oppressed?  Aunt Zhang has refused to terminate her rural ministries and choosen to shift and serve between city and village, serving and sacrificing with all her heart and with God-given strength so as to "give account" before the Lord.

- Translated by Luther Li 

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