Editor’s note: We are continuing to throw it back this summer and autumn by re-sharing a few of our favorite blog posts from over the years. This was initially published in 2016, as a Mainland Chinese pastor shared about God’s grace to himself and his church in recent years. It has been lightly edited and re-formatted from the original version.
In 2010, China Partnership and Redeemer City to City invited me to join a city church planting training. Back then, I had already started planting 16 churches. I said, “You should come here to learn about church planting…I could be a teacher, right?” I was prideful back then. When I spent a month there, I was challenged, and changed my feelings. These past five years, we’ve walked that path, and we [now] have a grand vision for urban church planting. It’s a long story, but my time is limited tonight. Therefore, I will just share three major points.
Should we build one big church or sporadic churches?
Does the evangelist and full-time worker [demonstrate] the same life in the church and in his family?
Should church planting start with Bible study or discipleship training? What difference does this make?
We Wanted to Build a Grand Church
In the past our vision was to build a grand church, a big one. We learned from America and from South Korea, because in the last few decades there have been a lot of megachurches in America, and also in South Korea. We see their pastors preaching. We see they are building grand, big cathedrals. They can’t even park in the parking lot because there aren’t enough spaces. After worship, there are lines everywhere – you can’t even make it into the bathroom. As a Chinese Christian, when I came to America and saw this, I was very envious. [Doing the same thing in China] would be the pride of my life.
When we were in seminary, we learned methods for building a church. We learned a lot of different ways in the class, so we focused solely on the ministries of the church. However, when we only focus on ministry, we neglect the development of people’s souls. We led someone to a conversion prayer and then would say, “OK, he has converted to being a Christian.” We think that is the end of it; our job is done and now he can join the ministry. If someone doesn’t join the ministry, they don’t love the Lord and have a weak spiritual life.
We started to reflect: what is the church? Is church just a building? Does it need to be big and grand?
When we were doing that, relationships among church leaders became tense, because we all wanted to build this big church and see the pastor as this big boss. Co-laborers kind of became employees. As time progressed, the church started to split. Co-laborers began to have tension, members were leaving. Then we started to reflect: what is the church? Is church just a building? Does it need to be big and grand?
What Is the Focus of the Gospel?
At that point I joined [the training at Redeemer]. It gave me a whole new understanding.What is the relationship between the gospel and the church? What is the relationship between the gospel and the effectiveness of the gospel? I realized I was focusing on the end result of the gospel, and ironically, we were losing the gospel itself.
The focus of the gospel is to save a sinner, to focus on his spiritual life. When I started to think that way and I returned to my church, I realized I needed to focus on people’s spiritual lives and on the spiritual lives of my co-laborers. No longer was the focus solely on ministry, but on my brothers in Christ and their relationships with Christ. Based on our good relationships with Christ, we began to have good relationships with each other.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Back then our only vision was to build a big church. We were always seeking a sense of accomplishment. We tried to see a legendary accomplishment in our lives, hoping that one day it could be my church, and the church will have my name, so that generations after me will look at me and remember my name. We wanted to be a legend. Even though my mouth said I was serving God, I was really seeking my own accomplishments.
My own accomplishments became idols. When accomplishments become our idols, we lose the joy of the gospel. When we lose the joy of the gospel, of course that creates many problems. We may even lose our family.
My own accomplishments became idols. When accomplishments become our idols, we lose the joy of the gospel.
Church Life vs. Family Life
Among evangelists, there are many couples that have marriage problems. They are so tired and are suffering for the church, so in their heart, there are many struggles — yet they do not dare expose these struggles before church members. When they go home, it comes out, and they attack one another. The one you are closest to becomes the target of your frustrations. In psychology this is called blame-shifting. The Chinese term is “kicking the cat.” Home is no longer a place to sabbath. There’s no joy of the Lord at home. We counseled people outside of the family, but in the family, it was a mess.
But when the gospel truly transforms our lives, what do we see? When you are at church, when you are at home, when you are before your “other half” – are you consistent? If you are inconsistent, you have a personality disorder. I would say that a lot of pastors today have personality disorders. Back then, I truly had a personality disorder. My wife didn’t like me; my kids didn’t like me. They would say, “You only care about the church! You only love the church! Why don’t you just live in the church? Don’t even come home.” The more I served, the more I suffered. The more I served, the more I felt dry.
Spending a month at Redeemer exposed my issues. It reminded me that I need the gospel and I need Christ. I am a servant of Christ. He saves me. He loves me. He calls me. He called me to be his servant, because that is his will. This is all grace. I have to be faithful to him. In my whole life, maybe I’ll never build a grand church. But in my whole life, I want to build up people. I want to save souls. Hallelujah!
Starting with Discipleship in the Gospel
Today we are finding that many churches started as Bible studies. Usually, three to five brothers and sisters meet at home and study the Bible. They invite people so more people are coming. So they say, “Oh, let’s build a church!” Probably in the U.S., a lot of churches are started like that. After decades, the church [might be] growing, but I have found there is a difference with these types of churches and those that are started with discipleship training.
I need the gospel and I need Christ. I am a servant of Christ. He saves me. He loves me. He calls me. He called me to be his servant, because that is his will. This is all grace.
Why? In the original Bible study, everybody sat a table, everybody brought a dish, everybody had fellowship, everybody shared what they thought the verses mean, everybody shared how they feel about Scripture. But as time goes by, the atmosphere of the church is such that there really isn’t commitment. There is no sense of belonging. There are no life challenges.
But if a church is started through discipleship training, you have to follow and you be committed to the life of Jesus’s church. Jesus started with discipleship training. In discipleship training, the pastor must expose his life and his weaknesses for everybody to see. In discipleship training, people need not only expose their lives, they also need to expose their weaknesses and their sin. When this happens, there is true spiritual fellowship, true life-challenging conflict within the body of Christ. If a church is started through discipleship training, the sense of belonging and commitment is much stronger.
So, I started discipleship training in the church. I have led hundreds of disciples; 20 of them have become pastors themselves, left my church, and started churches elsewhere. This is the result of the training I received.
Zhang Wei is a pseudonym for a pastor in an urban house church in northeastern China. Before becoming a pastor, he was a successful businessman.
Pray that Chinese pastors will truly be renewed in the gospel and will marinate in the grace of Jesus instead of working hard for the church to try and earn their position.