Editor’s note: In honor of Women’s History Month, CP’s prayer initiative is focusing on our sisters in Christ. Featuring interviews with five different women, March’s content provides a special glimpse into the ways the gospel is impacting the hearts of China’s women.
This interview is with a ministry leader who has spent many year serving and guiding her church. She discusses the renewal that has taken place in her church; the spiritually challenges she has witnessed both in the church and her personal life; and particular issues she faces as a woman in ministry.
CP: How would you describe the current state of your church?
Ministry leader: I am very thankful. The whole church has experienced renewal since 2013. After we were attacked [by the government] in 2014, we became more convinced that we needed to be institutionalized and to continually root ourselves in orthodoxy. After two years of prep work, we became institutionalized and started having church membership in 2016. Since then we have continually sought to repent and return to orthodoxy. It is very clear that we are in the right direction, and we are quite hopeful despite the challenges.
CP: How has gospel renewal most significantly impacted your church?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Ministry leader: We received the gospel from a more fundamentalist tradition, and the focus of our faith was relatively narrow – our concern was mainly personal salvation. We thought little about the church or God’s kingdom. This is why we were often stuck. We would worry about church growth because we did not know how to shepherd a large church. Our model centered on individual leadership; our question was always how many people we could place under each individual leader’s care. Thus, we had very limited capacity. We felt very nervous about the growing number of people because we did not know how to handle the issue of pastoral care: the need to extend care to every family, ministering to each and every one’s career or child-related concerns – it would be completely overwhelming even if one could go without sleep.
Through getting to know [a gospel movement that helps equip churches], we learned that the gospel also concerns the church and God’s kingdom; we also learned that we needed to rely on kingdom-centered prayer as well as establish a team of coworkers, a ministry team. After that we felt better. [The movement] also provided us with a lot of resources, including guides on how to implement things step by step till we are able to see results. In a few years we will still be moving forward. So, we are quite hopeful even if it is difficult.
CP: Can you talk about discipleship at your church? How did it start and what impact does it have?
Ministry leader: Discipleship was not systematic in the beginning; what we did was one-on-one or life-on-life discipleship, something that we modeled after Jesus. That was before we were institutionalized. When I was leading the church, I simply did my best to imitate Jesus as I understood it from the Bible. In any case, it is the Holy Spirit’s work, not mine. And brothers and sisters will learn to do what they see their leaders do. I used to think this way, since we did not have any systematic discipleship resources.
Later when I was exposed to formal, systematic discipleship training, the first thing we learned was how people change. We read How People Change, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, by Sinclair Ferguson, and Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, by Tim Keller, and we also had resources on one-on-one discipleship, prayer and devotion, Christian discipline, and evangelism, etc. These materials helped us to better examine our hearts – in the past we stressed putting things into practice, like praying and keeping daily devotions, but few people could actually do it. We asked why that was. Reading How People Change has helped us understand that it is not easy for people to change. People come from various backgrounds and have different circumstances, and it also just takes times to grow. We are currently using a course called Exploring the Bible suggested by [a pastor] from Shanghai. We use all these resources and we plan different discipleship training classes to systematically train our church members in groups.
Our system is still in its infancy, but I am learning a lot from other churches’ experiences. So, I feel even more hopeful.
CP: What are the greatest challenges for the church at this time in China? How do you face these challenges?
Ministry leader: I think that the times are good for us and offer more opportunities than challenges, because the church now understands all the more what faith is about. I feel that those who stay and are willing to serve the church together are all called by God. Despite the apparent difficulties, much good comes of it: your faith is stronger, and you give more serious thought to your belief. This kind of trial produces much growth.
CP: What does the church do when faced with a challenging circumstance?
Ministry leader: Personally, when I face a difficult circumstance, I believe that God’s intention is to bless and refine us through it. This is my mindset, and also the mindset of our ministry team and our deacons, so that when we face hardship, the whole church, including our brothers and sisters, hold the same attitude. So very often, we pray and confess together; we begin with our own purity and the purity of the church before we proceed to discover problems, which we know will turn out for our good. We learn to pray, to wait, and to be companions of one another as we go through these things.
CP: Can you share a memorable story of how you have experienced God through prayer?
Ministry leader: There are simply too many of these! Here is one. We went through a difficult period after our church was institutionalized. Some members disapproved of what was done and voiced many different opinions to our deacons. We also experienced discord with one of our coworkers. We had a new pastor who had only been at our church a fairly short while (we had been praying to have our own pastor because God did not call me to preach). He was relatively new, and as we got to know him, we noticed many problems. Our conflict was extremely serious, and we faced the question of whether he was going to leave or whether we were going to let him go.
We gathered together to pray about this. Finally, that Sunday when worship was over, after he finished preaching, he came to us and said, “I would like to speak with you,” and he confessed his sins and problems to us. All of a sudden, the tension eased and there was reconciliation. If he had not been willing to acknowledge his issues, it would have been futile even if we had noticed them. It was so precious that he was able to recognize his problems. We reconciled and we were able to move forward together.
Our conflict that day was to such an extent that I slapped the table two times (and I am generally good-tempered; I have never slapped a table). I was very upset, perhaps because my expectations for him were too high and he could not meet them. He also had expectations for us, and we could not meet them as well. You can imagine how great our conflict was. But on that day, we were able to be honest with each other. Reconciling after a conflict – that was wonderful.
CP: You mentioned that God has not given you the gift of preaching. In what capacity are you serving the church right now?
Ministry leader: I was the leader of the church before we became institutionalized, meaning that I was responsible for coordinating things great and small. After institutionalization, I was not able to step down right away, since the new leaders – these brothers – still needed my support, and I could not simply drop my responsibilities. After that, I’ve become mainly involved in counseling and prayer. I also offer guidance and supervision from the sidelines, and I help to move certain things forward, for example, classical Christian education. Something else that I do is related to resources; for example, whenever quality training courses are offered, I encourage the church to attend. I bring people to the trainings so that they can have an understanding of what each other has learned as they take the knowledge back to the church.
This is how I gradually got to know where God is placing me.
CP: As a woman leader in the church who helps develop future male leaders, what challenges do you face?
Ministry leader: [It is difficult] because my husband is not a believer yet. I believe this whole process is God’s grace. He intends the process to do me much good. I have experienced many struggles being in this [leadership] position. I often wonder when I will be able to step down. Most churches are led by brothers, and in most cases their family members are all believers. So, I wonder whether I am not building up the church with my example. I think about this every day, but every time I pray about leaving my position, God does not allow me to do it. He knows the time is not right yet, and so I am still being obedient to his will. In truth I have long had the desire to step down so as to better serve my own family.
In terms of giving counsel to men, while it is still rather doable with younger men, when it comes to pastors who are closer in age, even those for whom I am 10 years their senior, I have to be very cautious in how I counsel or interact with them. In most instances, I offer reminders in large group meetings or give guidance while we serve together. Otherwise, I mostly just pray. It is because men and women have different roles. You can’t give men too much pressure. And [women] exhorting [men] too often is not a good witness in the church. So, very often, I give small suggestions privately over WeChat or publicly during church board meetings. But I have to be especially tactful with my speech, always complimenting first and raising questions second. Leading as a woman has quite a lot of pressure.
CP: How has your role as a wife or as a mother been influenced or impacted by your ministry experience over the years?
Ministry leader: In the beginning, I kept thinking that the fact that my husband was not a believer was the reason I was not able to minister from the pulpit. But later I recognized that God is able to change my husband’s heart [in a] minute, yet he still allows him to tarry. Why is that? I believe God is really growing me through this as I trust him and submit to him. He has actually been building me up. That is also why my daughter’s faith has been able to deepen. I am very thankful for that. It is rare for young people her age to still be willing to listen to their parents and to have such a level of spiritual maturity. And even though my husband is still not a believer, he is very supportive of every aspect of my ministry. I believe this is God’s doing.
When I am at home, I do not talk too much about my work at church as a “leader.” When I am at home, I put my heart and soul into cooking for my husband, doing housework, and spending time with him. That way he does not feel that I am trying to lead him as well, besides being a leader at the church. It is especially important to return to a woman’s role, given to us by the Bible. When I am home, I particularly enjoy cooking and grocery shopping. When I am at church, I am a different person. These are my different roles.
English translation provided by Amy, Rachel, Brent, and the China Partnership translation team. Please refer to our reposting guidelines for permission to share on your blog or website.