China and the Church in China, Part 4: I Did Not Need to Run Anymore

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Editor’s note: Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically 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. This pastor is currently studying at a seminary in the States, but plans to return to China once his studies are complete. You can read the rest of this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Last, I want to share about the church experience. When Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him, “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.” Goads are rods with pointed iron tips, which shepherds used to guide sheep. Kicking them was very painful. Jesus did not tell Paul something Paul had never heard; Jesus told Paul something he already knew. This is what happened in Shanghai, in our church.

Everybody in Shanghai knows there is something wrong. They know they are worshipping some idol, either career or money or kids. They also know they have a dark side in their heart that shows up and explodes when they are busy in the pursuit of all these things. For instance, if someone is working a lot of overtime, going home every night at 2 a.m., their kids have a fatherless life. They know something is wrong. 

In this special moment, people’s hearts are very soft. The church does not need to tell people something new. We just need to tell them the things they ignore, or do not want to see. This is what Jesus said to Paul. Jesus did not speak to Paul in Aramaic or in Greek, he spoke Hebrew. “The people you are persecuting read the same scripture as you. They are your brothers.” I believe in urban cities, the pressures of life, or of pursuing the Chinese dream pushes people. They reach a point so that when you ask them if they feel there is something wrong in their life – “Is it hard for you to kick against the goads?’’ – they say yes.

That is what I saw. People ask, “Can we convert?” I started a small Sunday service in my living room with eleven people. As I became more reformed, I did not make an altar call, or push people to pray a prayer.

Several years ago, I attended a preaching forum. The pastor taught, “Do not preach about what to do. Preach about what Jesus has done for you. Preach to the heart. Tell them something they already know: ‘You are a sinner and you need to repent.’” I began to do this. After the service, people came to me and told me, “I want to be a follower of Christ.” I did not challenge people to make a decision. I told them there is something wrong, and they cannot cure themselves. They need somebody to help them. They need grace.


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If you have an empty church in China and are preaching the gospel, within a month, the church will no longer be empty. For example, there is one church I know in Shanghai with a faithful pastor. If you go to this church on time, you will be standing up for the entire service. This is the reality. People are coming to convert.

In Ezekiel, God said, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26) God is using the environment of China, his Spirit, his own word, the government, and everything else, in order to remove hearts of stone and give people soft, flesh hearts.

We do a lot. Theological training, intentionally planting churches, helping start a reformed Baptist and also a Presbyterian denomination, and we of course have a lot of work and faith outreaches, because people are there. Those people, the ones who want to drink themselves high in order to not look at their own hearts: those are my people, that is the place I come from. I spent twelve years in the marketplace, and all of my friends from business school are the ones who do not want to look into their own hearts.

When I read Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen, I was excited to know this phenomenon is not happening only in China. In college, within a five-year period I saw many people born into faith and commit their life to the gospel. It was exciting. I was convinced this was the movement of the Holy Spirit. But later, the teaching of the church seemed disconnected with the world outside of the church. We did not know how to apply the gospel to daily life. I rediscovered the gospel because of extraordinary prayer. Through a soul Sabbath of prayer and revival, I discovered how the gospel can renew every part of life. For many reasons – persecution, the pietistic and conservative church tradition – the Chinese church prays a lot. I saw the same story repeated over and over across China. When I hear others share their stories, they have had identical experiences.

I believe this is an Acts 13 moment for China. Crosses have been torn down, a new regulation on religious affairs has come out, but on the other hand we have large conferences. There are things we can do, and it seems right now persecution is not becoming harsher.

In Acts 13, the church of Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and told them to go plant new churches. They started to plant churches intentionally. What happened next? Paul preached the gospel in the synagogues, he preached Christ from the Old Testament, he practiced apologetics. In Acts 17, Paul debated with Greek scholars about the reason for God. In order to strengthen the churches, Paul and Barnabas kept visiting churches. 

This is what we do. When someone leaves their family to come to China and visit us, it strengthens the churches. We keep planting new churches. We see persecution—we have pastors who are blocked at customs from leaving China, we have seen some of our very good friends who have gone to “tea time” [an euphemism for an official questioning by government officials] or were in prison for a couple of days. 

Maybe we should expect martyrs someday in China. We believe it is the seed of the church. I ask myself: “Am I ready?” I asked my wife if she was ready and she said, “Of course.” I thought, “Okay. I hope I can be, too.”

All the things that happened after Acts 13 are happening in China. We have preaching training, theological trainings, denominational growth, church planting incubators, discipleship, and lots of prayer. How can we keep the momentum going? This is the question I leave with you. 

A professor told me, “You always need to define yourself in God’s plan.” If I am convinced something is due to God’s plan and the moment of the Holy Spirit, I should look for my place in this plan.

I ran the Shanghai Marathon in 2014. If you look at pictures of the race, you can see the dust in the air. I ran my personal best. I bust into tears at the starting point. People were shocked. They said, “What are you doing? You haven’t finished, there are forty-two kilometers ahead.” 

I cried because in that moment I saw all the nations, all the races, all the languages – there were thirty thousand people – come together and run for a medal which will perish. That was the Isaiah time for me. I told God, praying and weeping, “God, the only thing I can do for the rest of my life is to help people run for something which will not perish: your crown of righteousness.”

That was the last marathon I ran. Because after that, I did not need to run anymore.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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Nanjing: A Relational Gospel
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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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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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