Editor’s note: This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. In this selection, a Shanghai pastor talks about how is trying to share the gospel with his own unbelieving parents; about his realization that he should not serve his church at the expense of his family; and about how time away from church and grandparents has blessed his relationship with his daughter.
This excerpt has been edited and condensed for both clarity and length.
Sharing the Gospel
My in-laws are Christians, but my own parents are not. I’ve been trying to share the gospel with my parents, but my father has a very strong patriarchal belief system, so it hasn’t been effective. He thinks following his son into faith is something to be ashamed of.
Later, I found out that he actually listens to the gospel message when it is shared by people who are closer to him in age. When my mom and dad went on vacation, my dad met some Christians who were around his age in their tour group. He had a good impression of them. After he returned home, he told me about his tour group, and how great they were. Now, our strategy is to let our daughter share the gospel with my parents. My dad loves my daughter very much.
I am very happy that my daughter grew up in the church. We started taking her to church as soon as she was born. She feels like church is her second home, and she loves attending every Sunday. All the adults in our church are very nice to her, and they treat her like their own daughter. She has a strong sense of belonging in the church. When I share Jesus with my father, he is very resistant. But when my daughter shares with him, he is very happy. My daughter also sings worship songs and hymns to my parents, and this makes them very happy.
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It Is Right to Serve My Family
As my wife has mentioned, there was a season when I was very busy with church ministry. I wanted to make our church better because I had received so much grace and felt indebted to the Lord. I felt that I would not be honoring the Lord if I did not lead my church well. However, I later realized that, if I do not serve my family, that also does not honor the Lord. Once I realized that, I made some adjustments in the hopes of spending more time with my family.
I subconsciously thought people at church would not be happy with me if I didn’t do more than I was expected to do. I worried they would think I was not devoted enough to the church. However, I realized that I should not think or act in this way. I should not sacrifice my relationships with my family or my child to serve God or the church. It is natural and right to also serve my own family. From that point on, I started to spend more time with my family and became more involved in parenting.
Eventually, I realized that no amount of theological books can refresh your spirit if you are too occupied with ministry. No matter what you read, you will continue to be exhausted and spiritually dry. There was a season when I was utterly exhausted: I was preaching three times a week, leading small groups, and doing other ministry work.
(I am also the kind of person who does not like to preach the same sermon twice. For instance, I preached today. I wrote that sermon late last night. Even if I am not preaching at my own church, I almost never preach the same sermon twice. I want to preach something that is fresh and moving. My sermons have to be inspired by God while I study the Word, so that when I preach, we can all be touched together by God’s Word. I do not think it is possible for a sermon I have previously preached to have the same impact.)
This is why I was so exhausted when I felt overwhelmed by my preaching and ministry responsibilities. During this time, I asked my wife and our brothers and sisters at church to pray for me. I told them I could not continue serving with the same level of intensity, because I would burn out. Because of this, I began to schedule two week breaks every six months or so.
Training My Daughter
Some parenting issues have arisen because my parents live with us. My parents spoil my daughter a lot, so she needs to work through some issues related to that. Every six months, I spend a few weeks in the countryside with my daughter [and do not bring my parents]. During our getaways, I have begun to train my daughter. I do not give in when she has unreasonable demands; and it turns out she is actually very teachable. The first time we traveled to the countryside, the first day was the only day she cried. She cried when I told her she needed to eat her meal before she had her juice, but after she cried for a little while, she realized she would not get her way. Then, she stopped. After this, she was very obedient: going to bed when she was told to do so, and doing other things like this.
When we returned home after this getaway, my parents were very happy with the change in her behavior. Because they found this helped my daughter listen to their direction, they have been supportive of these trips. Whenever she has a summer or winter break from school, I take her to the countryside for two weeks. Looking back, I have really enjoyed our time together. My daughter is adorable, and very thoughtful. She often talks about interesting things. She loves to draw, and I think she takes after me in this.
Pastor Fan Xu (a pseudonym) and his family live in Shanghai.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese pastors to rightly discern how to serve both God and their families, and to understand how God is calling them in these areas.