Editor’s note: The following is Part 4 of an extended interview conducted by a Chinese writer with the leadership and various members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. It was shared online in China over the last month; the Chinese original can be read here and the entire English translation here. To understand the people and places discussed in the article, please refer to China Partnership’s Early Rain Prayer Guide. We will be sharing additional sections of the interview in the coming weeks.
Pastor Wangyi: Through the years, we reflected on the structures of the Reformed church, and one of them is that Reformed theology has a strong emphasis on the word. There is a greater emphasis on academic learning when co-workers are trained – that is, the preparation by the word. Thus, there is an inclination towards rationalism. If we do not return to the gospel constantly, there is a danger of moving towards legalism. In the structuring process, there is an imbalance between institution and movement. We realized that there is a slowing down or even a loss in the momentum of the movement and in perceiving the Spirit’s work.
Therefore, in these past two years, we strongly emphasized that the Reformed faith needs to be united with the house church’s traditions of pietism and walking the way of the cross. This is especially true last year when we experienced the painful split. We reflected on past experiences in order to gain greater clarity on the balance between institution and movement, and the unity between the Reformed faith and the house church’s way of the cross. So we started to promote prayer more intentionally, beginning from switching morning prayer from 2-3 times a week to daily spiritual formation and Bible reading. We started to intentionally return to the traditions of the house churches (for example teaching on the history of the house church) in order to retrieve the tradition of revival, that is, the tradition of spiritual growth. Revival and spiritual formation seminars have been going on for about 1.5 years, and meanwhile we also encourage street evangelism. In these aspects we have seen some of the spiritual revival work that God is doing: the spiritual atmosphere, the power of prayer, the passion of brothers and sisters, and the missional direction of the church.
We always emphasize that we need to be a giving church – one that gives continually and generously for the sake of the kingdom. In the past 1.5 years, we clearly see that God is preparing a group of brothers and sisters for this task. In our reflections on the church and the team, and on the relationship between institution and movement, we established an evangelism ministry. The church encouraged brothers and sisters to do evangelism on the streets and form street evangelism ministries. When evangelists form these ministries, they will go to various places to preach. Correspondingly, there is a prayer ministry and over 90 brothers and sisters have joined the prayer group. The goal of the church is to train brothers and sisters into special forces for the Lord.
On the basis of our daily shepherding, we started to emphasize movement. In the past one year, I saw that God has prepared and called a group of people for full time ministry. The revival and worship event in September was one of the harvests. Among the 34 who stood up, 3 came from another church, 2 were already in seminary, and there was a 9.5-year-old girl. At the beginning of this year, we planned to expand a non-academic theological training center at our church. There is a need in potential future mission movements. For example, China needs around 100,000 preachers or full-time ministers. The graduates in seminaries in China, together with the few who returned from overseas, amount to about 10% of that need. 90% of the need has to come from the church’s ministry. Thus, we hope to prepare workers through this theological training center. This center is not too academically-driven. It focuses on the intimate relationship between the spiritual disciplines and practical evangelism and ministry. It is also closely tied to the local church.
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We made plans for this in January, and if we are still doing this after June 4, we will officially form the “ERCC Great Commission Training Center” in September. On November 1stwe will begin the first batch of students. Most of the 28 brothers and sisters who are called will register. We will challenge them: in the span of one month read a book, write a testimony, preach on the streets twice, clean the streets, obtain reference letters, join a prayer groups, and so on. If they can fulfill this series of “homework,” they can register. We are also announcing in November that we are establishing this Great Commission Training Center. The curriculum is 1.5 years long, one course consists of four evenings per month and one full Saturday. There will be a 2-3 weeks break after every course. We encourage all who are called to full-time ministry to register. After they register, they should set aside some time and cancel all travel plans for the next 1.5 year. At the moment, there are 16 registrations. I will choose from among them and train them for full-time ministry. Although we do not know how many of the 30-odd trainees will eventually become full-time ministers (Half? One-third?), this intensive training will make them into more committed colleagues. There is another consideration: to prepare for persecution. If preachers are detained or lose their freedom during persecution, [these students] become the third backup team.
Three weeks ago, we officially commissioned small group leaders – the elders laid their hands on them and commissioned them. The small group leaders are the second backup team after the session and diaconate. We also considered that if the persecution expands so that the elders, preachers, and myself are detained and we lose our freedom for short or extended periods of time, and if the church is sealed off, and if we cannot find an open place for public gathering (we will fight for every step and we will not back off), and if eventually we have to split into several locations of worship, we will divide into different locations according to the 5 districts (every district consists of 4-5 small groups). At that point, the entire ERCC will be a church of 5-6 different locations, and 5-6 other evangelism centers. If we were to maintain the church’s DNA at that point, there must be a system to train the co-workers. Then, the Great Commission Training Center will not only train those who are called to full-time ministry, but also for the co-workers in all the evangelism centers and gathering locations. This preparation is not just passive but also active.
Interviewer: All of you have shared the two primary aspects of shepherding in 2018. One aspect is internal equipping, shepherding, and preparation; the other aspect is external revival and gospel movement. The main components of internal shepherding are gospel-centered preaching of the Word, shepherding of every member through small groups, spiritual formation of the entire church with the Bible as the foundation – shared Bible reading and spiritual disciplines, daily devotions and sharing from the pastor and elders, and the discipline of prayer – morning prayers. Because of this firm, gospel-centered shepherding, the church can face persecution with vitality.
English translation provided by Moses, Ryan, and Brent of the China Partnership translation team. Please refer to our reposting guidelines for permission to share on your blog or website.