Boundaries and Filial Piety

Editor’s Note: This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. In this selection, a Chinese house church pastor and his wife discuss their struggles to respect their parents while also maintaining the boundaries of their own distinct nuclear family. They also talk about the importance of repentance and confession within the family as they deal with conflict and disagreement.

We have previously published other excerpts from the same marriage retreat; this article also discussed filial piety, and this one dealt with the pressures pastors face balancing church and family life.

This excerpt has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


Moderator: When people get married and start new families, we often have the new responsibility of taking care of both the older and the younger generations. In these seasons of life, our ministry work and church lives will inevitably be affected. How do you protect your family in the midst of your busy ministry? How do you protect your children and care for your parents?

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“My wife and I are different from my parents. We try to respect and care for them to the best of our abilities, but I struggle determining the boundaries.

Pastor Chen Wei: One of the reasons I thought my wife and I were compatible was because I knew she had the virtue of filial piety. Before I was a Christian, this quality in a significant other was very important to me. We originally raised our son by ourselves, since we lived far away from my hometown at the time. Since my parents are older and lived by themselves, I worried about them, so I invited them to come live with us.


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To be honest, I struggle with this living situation. The Bible clearly teaches, “a man shall leave his father and mother, and they shall become one flesh.” My wife and I are different from my parents. We try to respect and care for them to the best of our abilities, but I struggle determining the boundaries.

My parents and I had a serious fight, which was a result of our different living habits. My parents come from the countryside, and many of their old hygiene habits remain unchanged. When I reminded them to be more hygienic, they thought I wasn’t respectful. I felt I was being misunderstood, and was very frustrated. My father has a bad temper, and he’s very irritable, like me. We erupted at the same time. My father was so furious he wanted to hit me with a stool, but my mom and my wife restrained him. In the heat of the moment, I also felt the need to act on my anger. I couldn’t hit my dad, so I slammed the stool into the floor.

This is the reason I wrestle with what filial piety looks like. I can’t ask them to return to the village, so I am planning to rent an apartment for them. I later realized filial piety doesn’t contradict the Biblical teaching of leaving your father’s house and becoming one flesh with your wife. When my parents are too old to take care of themselves, I will be more involved in caring for them. However, our son is now 15, and our house is too small for all five of us. If we are able to help my parents find a new living space, I believe this will also help us better parent our son, as my parents love to spoil their only grandson.

However, I appreciate how supportive my parents are of my ministry work. They pray for and actively help me. However, it is very important to live according to God’s Word. I feel it is necessary to move them to a different place.

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“I don’t feel guilty for ministering to my own family….Although change can be a slow process, I can feel it happening. Our church is slowly learning the importance of a pastor’s commitment to their own family.

Moderator: As pastors, serving the church is our job and our calling. Our ministry work is closely intertwined with our families and children, and they can be seen as complementary parts of our calling. On the surface, we understand that Jesus is our head. He is the head of our family, our church, our children’s education, and our filial responsibilities. However, this is easier said than done. We only have so much time, and it’s hard to manage our priorities. 

Pastor Chen Wei: While I was in seminary, my professors taught us to prioritize different relationships. The first priority is my relationship with God. My second priority is to protect my family, instead of myself or the church. We can find Biblical support for this. To paraphrase the Bible, “Elders and deacons must manage their own families well, and they must pay much attention to spiritual practices at home.” I don’t feel guilty for ministering to my own family. I also need to put a lot of effort towards maintaining the balance between ministry at home and at church. While serving at church, I make an effort to communicate the need for balance with brothers and sisters. Although change can be a slow process, I can feel it happening. Our church is slowly learning the importance of a pastor’s commitment to their own family, and a lot has changed.

It is important to be cognizant of how we influence our children at home. When I had the huge conflict with my dad, we all left the house in anger. Afterwards, I wanted to have a conversation with my parents about what happened, and my son came to sit at the table with us. He is a thoughtful child. We didn’t ask him to sit with us, but he was afraid another argument would break out, and he wanted to be there to stop it if anything did happen.

God really moved my heart at that moment. In tears, I told my parents that it wasn’t that I didn’t love or respect them, but that I wanted to share what I had observed. By the end of our conversation, all four of us were crying and praying together.

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“In tears, I told my parents that it wasn’t that I didn’t love or respect them, but that I wanted to share what I had observed. By the end of our conversation, all four of us were crying and praying together.

Another time I had a conflict with my wife. We were sitting at our dinner table, and the conflict was my fault. I told her I would do something, but I later forgot. My son was sitting with us, so I didn’t want to admit my mistake. Later that evening, my heart felt heavy and sorrowful, and I finally made up my mind to apologize to my wife. Furthermore, I felt the need to apologize with my son present.

The next day, my son came back from school and started working on his homework. I picked that particular moment to apologize to my wife. I really wanted to say sorry, but I had an internal conflict with my hypocritical and sinful pride. I hesitated for a long time, but was finally able to tell my wife, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault, and it’s my fault.” At that moment, I secretly glanced over at my son, and I saw him gleefully laughing in his corner.

Whether it’s ministry or serving my family, I want to try my best to do it well. Also, I want to be a good example to my son.


Pastor Zeng Shu and his wife Li Yujing are in a large city in eastern China. All names are pseudonyms.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese families struggling to honor their parents and raise their children. Pray especially for the families of those in full-time ministry, who face pressure to meet the needs of their church and their family.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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