Friday Reflections is a new series on the China Partnership blog. Twice a month, we will share a short reflection from a Chinese pastor on the nature of the gospel. Though we often post longer articles, there is a richness to short and concise thoughts.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking and writing 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.
When I was preparing to church plant, I was quite lost in my preparations for church planting because I didn’t know what it would be like in the future. I did not know who my team members would be and I did not know what vision to cast. I was at a loss. At the church level, everybody had a vision for several colleagues, several teams. But in reality, without the core of the gospel, these things become mere formality or something in vogue, because everybody else has them.
“Oh! Since your church has a vision, my church ought to have one too.”
“Your church has a leadership team? I ought to train one, too.”
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In reality, what we need is an understanding of the gospel. If we have misconceptions about the gospel, even though we may have the entire package, it is still meaningless – it is sowing without seeds, or perhaps with spurious seeds, or perhaps with unhealthy seeds. Thus, what I hoped for was to see the true needs of the church through the gospel. This is not a need for a model, or a format, or a system, but a need for the true understanding of the gospel. After more than twenty years of ministry, I have been forced to rethink what the gospel is. It is not a simple thing and it affects everything. Studying the DNA of the gospel allows us to see a clear blueprint for building a church, knowing what kind of church and what kind of theological outlook we need.
This has also greatly influenced my preaching. In the past, perhaps I would observe what others are doing – if they said that expository preaching was good, then we would practice expository preaching; if they say that topical preaching was good, then we would preach topically. We didn’t have any certainty and in the busy seasons of ministry, it was very draining. But after studying Christ-centered preaching, I obtained a clear direction for the weekly pulpit – that is to say, I know to focus on the gospel, on evangelism, and on the conviction of the gospel. Except for four special occasions –Theology Sunday, Family Sunday, Marketplace Sunday, and Marriage Sunday – the rest of the 48 sermons in a year are gospel sermons, centered on Christ, pointing to Christ. And actually, those four exceptions are also gospel sermons – the gospel in the marketplace, in the family, and in marriage; and all this enables believers to observe the direction of the church, and affects the atmosphere of the church.
The believers are passionate for the gospel; they thirst to understand the gospel, they are grasped by the gospel, and their lives and experiences are intricately connected to the gospel. This really moves us. In the short span of four years, the church has had many incidents, including marriage problems, abortion problems, cancer problems, and even accidents. In the process, everybody felt the peace, strength, support, and faith that the gospel brought to them. When the pastor delivers the message, the believers then immediately apply it to their lives. This is something that we are thankful for.
In the third church plant, there has been a very deep sense of understanding that church planting is not a technical thing, but rather it involves many concepts that encourage us to return back to the gospel. If a person’s life is transformed, he cannot hide it and he cannot help but to preach the gospel. It is impossible for him not to preach because when he is captured by the gospel, it is not a burden that is placed on him; if it were, preaching the gospel would be a passive activity. But it is different today. What I observe is that each and every brother and sister is coming to know themselves better. They recognize their need for the gospel, and that their families, their friends all need the gospel. How are they to bring them before God? We all need the salvation of God. In other words, those who have received grace help those who need grace.
The gospel has had a deep and huge influence on me. After I finished my theological studies, I had a very selfish thought – to have a glamorous ministry like a career. But I realized that I had strayed very far – I had neglected my family and my children. So, I started to wonder where the gospel was leading me. What does my faith give me? I began to have doubts. In 2011, I started to focus my attention on my family and consider how I influence my family and my children. At that time, my daughter was 14 or 15 years old, and she was in a rebellious stage. Although I had always been very strict in my discipline, even to the point of rebuking and spanking, one day when we were together I told her, “Daddy is very weak, and he needs the gospel. If there is no gospel I would not be able to serve.” She shed tears as she realized that her dad was the same as her – weak, struggling, and suffering. From then on, we started to pray and to truly face ourselves, and to face the gospel. Thus, there was a great change in our family, and my children repented from being rebellious and we cried hugging each other, being captured by the gospel again. I felt that if I do not have my family, no matter how great the church, there would be no meaning. With my wife who loves me and in our obedient and joyful children, this is the renewal that I see happening in my family and in my personal life.
This is a very important lesson for a pastor. In other words, with the renewal of the gospel, I can then have a family renewed by the gospel; and with a family renewed by the gospel, I can then have a ministry team renewed by the gospel. If my team members are not renewed by the gospel and captured by the gospel, I suppose we could still do some ministries to some scale, but it will not really edify them or impact them.
Translation provided by the China Partnership translation team.