Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China and assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.
Last week my wife and I sat in our living room talking with one of the teachers at our seminary. He pastors a Chinese church in the US and volunteers to come teach once a year. He started doing this two years ago and I quickly discovered his pastoral experience and manner were a good fit for our class on pastoral care. Two year ago we began working on a project to translate a book by Timothy Witmer called The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, which was to be the book used for this class.
The book is written to engage the reader in thinking through the role of shepherding as not only the role of the lead pastor, but also the other elders in the church. The author goes into detail about how a ministry like this can take hold in your church. Many Chinese like this approach because the traditional model is for the lead pastor to do nearly all of the work, as well as make the majority of decisions for the church. After years of seeing this model fail or end in pastors burning out, a ground swell of Chinese church leaders are looking for a different paradigm.
After teaching the class last year, our friend took the material back home and began using it for his own congregation. Within the last year he began to apply the principles in the book to his own congregation and leaders, and he reported to us this time around that the results have been striking. The elders in his church are beginning to understand their role in a new way, and he is training them to engage in more pastoral ministry. Not only has the church begun a much needed shepherding ministry involving all of the church leaders, he himself reported that his attitude and outlook on his ministry have greatly improved. Because the change has empowered the elders to get more involved, he can share the load and not be so burdened. What used to feel like drudgery now feels vibrant and full of life.
What has made the difference? Ultimately, of course, it has been the Lord who has worked in his heart. But God used his experience in China to shift his focus and cause him to realize how important his role is as a pastor and how precious his congregation is to God and to him. Seeing the hunger people in China have for the gospel awakens us to the working of the Holy Spirit. The freshness of the people’s faith and the newness of the gospel here are powerful reminders of the gospel in our own contexts.
Now the Chinese church he pastors in the US is more willing to get involved in his work in our seminary in China, and the pastor himself feels invigorated by the support he is receiving from his congregation. Recently he has told me he would eventually like to step down from his role and devote more time to working with the church in China, where the needs are great and the resources are relatively few.
This is not to say that the saints here are perfect – far from it. They struggle profoundly with living out the gospel in an atheistic, secular society that highly values the material without any thought of the supernatural. Some portrayals of our Chinese brothers and sisters distort the reality of their triumphs by downplaying their failures. They are sinners just like you and I.
The remarkable thing is the newness of the work of the Spirit, the vibrancy of the church, and the vitality of believers who are hungry. This is what made the difference in my friend’s life when he went back home to face his congregation.
This is just one example of how one pastor’s life has been impacted. There are many others. I have witnessed it many times. As the pastor and the congregation get involved in China, it usually starts with some financial giving to a worker in China or to a specific project going, and then it often leads to a trip. Sometimes the trip is made by one person; sometimes by several people. Those individuals then share their experience and get their home congregation excited about what is going on until there is a ground swell of individuals in the church getting involved. Sometimes families adopt a child from China, or sometimes they host an international student from China.
This is what can happen when a pastor and a church get involved. I have seen it happen many times. And I know it really does make an impact on everyone involved.