Living Out Theology to the Utmost, Part 2: A Motto That Isn’t Just Talk

This is second post in a weeklong series relating the experiences and observations of a Chinese house church pastor visiting, evaluating, and learning from an American church. These posts were originally posted in Chinese on his personal blog with the aim of helping and encouraging his fellow pastors. Check back every day this week for new posts in the series.

The first stop on this trip to America was Charlottesville, Virginia. (The local Chinese affectionately call it “Xiatsun” for short, so I did as well, as “Charlottesville” has far too many syllables.) We were invited to a local PCA church called Trinity Presbyterian Church, hereafter referred to as “TPC.” There, I listened to the introductions of the various ministries, met with all of their elders, and got in contact with the person responsible for managing the Chinese overseas student ministry. These things were not unfamiliar to me as almost every 1000+ member church in America is like this and the churches in Korea easily outdo any of these churches in terms of buildings and ministries.

But if we only looked at buildings and ministries, we wouldn’t be able to learn anything or bring anything back with us. Which house church in China would be able to mobilize over a thousand people and care for a dozen full-time staff members? Therefore I was much more excited about attending their Sunday [worship], observing how they put their theology into practice. Thankfully, after attending that Sunday, I had the opportunity to review the service and discuss some of my questions and observations with the church’s elders on Monday.

I wish to discuss this church from three aspects:

  1. Their situation – I used what people these days call “field research.”
  2. Their strengths – their self-understanding determines how they do their ministries.
  3. Their practices – I focused on Sunday [worship] and added some of my own observations of some details as well.

This church’s motto says, “Seeking the renewal of all things through Jesus Christ.” Before I went, I had seen it on their website and wasn’t impressed, as I could come up with any kind of motto for my circle of friends no matter how impractical. It wasn’t until after I had attended their Sunday worship that I discovered this wasn’t just talk, for not only did they seek the renewal of the church and the congregation, but the renewal of the community and city, as well. Furthermore, they believed that this renewal could only come through Jesus Christ, a very important distinction to mistake

In my estimation, their pastoral practice had two key foci:

  1. To be Christ-centered.
  2. To be welcoming towards seekers.

Note! These two points must not be switched in terms of priority!

  1. TPC’s situation

This is a Presbyterian church near the University of Virginia, whose congregation is composed of either the local residents or university students. Different from America’s city churches, the non-members in attendance are largely brought by friends, with very few here because of the church’s reputation or simply because they passed by. In this, at least, the church is very similar to the house churches in China’s cities.

Because of its proximity to the university, the ratio of seekers and minorities is higher; by my visual estimation, about 10% [of the congregation is composed of minorities]. Because of the continued surge in Chinese students studying abroad, UVA’s status as a good public school has attracted many such students, bringing them to TPC’s doors. Their pastors, elders, staff, and even members have brought up this last point quite a bit; evidently, they are very clear on where the church is, and that the church’s mission is to be used by Christ and renew the place where they are.

  1. TPC’s strengths in the community.

When we discuss a church’s excellence or strengths, we usually think about her musical worship, workplace ministry, student ministry, etc. In other words, we think of some kind of ministry. But if you asked me where TPC is strongest, I would tell you the preaching; more specifically, its “Christ-centered preaching.”


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The pastor on that Sunday, Greg Thompson, has quite a few titles and schools to his name; of these, Covenant Theological Seminary is the most familiar to me. If I’m not wrong, when he was a student, Bryan Chapell was still the president. Thus I’m certain that Pastor Greg is deeply immersed in the truth of Christ-centered preaching, and that he deeply believes that so long as he faithfully preaches and lifts high [the name of] Jesus Christ, both believers and unbelievers will be renewed and become more willing to know Christ. As he continues to challenge the believers from the pulpit, the power of the gospel will influence them such that every believer becomes willing to share their faith with their friends and invite those friends to church and listen to the preaching. In the words of one of their elders, “This was an organic process; we didn’t arrange for any of it at all.”

From what I can see, with this church’s situation and their strength in understanding and believing in the power of the word of God, their practice is a slight expansion of the two points I mentioned earlier. First, the commitment “to be Christ-centered.” This is mostly embodied in the preaching and worship; every aspect of the Sunday morning worship exists to draw attention to the pulpit and help everyone understand the message, and even the hermeneutical method behind it, so that they can correctly understand the Word of God (the Bible) for themselves and know Christ.

Second is the commitment “to be welcoming to seekers.” This is not just offering them meals and convenience, but also to help them understand the gospel better and more clearly when providing such services. They don’t draw people to the church via food or drink, but by challenging them to make breakthroughs in their faith. Finally, the members of the church are continually given motivation and support so that every one of them are able and willing to bring new friends to the church.

From this, [we can see] that we in the Chinese house churches have a lot to learn.

 

Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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