Letters from the Pastor: Are You Equipping Yourselves?

Editor’s note: This pastoral letter was written by a house church pastor in Eastern China, some months after the start of COVID-19. This letter is a sober admonishment for Chinese Christians to soberly take advantage of the freedom, resources, and peace of the age in which they live, even as they prepare for the seeming inevitability of increasing hardship and persecution in coming years.

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.

 

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4:8

Dear members,


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I hope our last pastoral letter has motivated you to rebuild your spiritual habits, especially the habits of reading the Bible, prayer, and developing discipleship relationships. Although all Christians know these habits very well, they often neglect to do them. We are always looking for excuses to settle our conscience, such as, “I’ll do it later;” “next time;” “I am not ready right now;” “don’t just check the box;” “it’s better not to read than do it half-heartedly.” Maybe these excuses seem reasonable (otherwise they could not become excuses), but the result is that you are not obeying God, but subjecting yourselves to sin. Furthermore, before you know it, you will fall into the trap of Satan’s various temptations. 

We Christians of this generation are very fortunate. As I found while researching for my previous sermon, these decades since the beginning of the reform and opening-up policies in the 1980s are probably the longest period Chinese people have enjoyed without war or turmoil in Chinese history. The last large-scale political upheaval (the Cultural Revolution) ended in 1976, and the last border war (China–Vietnam) ended in 1990. The second longest peaceful age in Chinese history was the period of time between the war of the Shanyang Iron Crown in the third year of Yongshi era during the reign of Emperor Cheng of Western Han (14 B.C.) and the Yangling Ren Heng uprising in the third year of Yongshi Period, under the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Western Han Dynasty (A.D. 3). That period of peace lasted 17 years. 

Dear brothers and sisters, have you thought about this? You’ve been placed in the longest peaceful age in Chinese history. God has given China a window of 30 years (I hope it will last longer) to share the gospel, establish churches, multiply spiritual fruit, develop theology, and build up ministries. We live in an unprecedented age. If we applied the parable of the three servants from Matthew 25 to a historical Chinese setting, our generation of Christians has been entrusted with more resources than any other, as compared with our Christian forefathers.

Brothers and sisters: are we faithfully managing the resources and talents which God has entrusted to us for his kingdom? This is also the question that was asked in the parable of three servants in Matthew 25. In the foreseeable future, the Chinese church will face further restrictions and persecution. Have you been faithfully using the resources, time, wealth, and gifts with which God has blessed you to grow in God’s love, to serve others, and to grow with the Body of Christ in order to face the coming trial? I will give a few examples of what I have been worrying about in the past few months. We can predict that:

·      The entire political climate development and the new norms of pandemic prevention regulations have made the gathering of the church more difficult. Churches, both here and in other cities, that have resumed their gatherings have been interrupted, raided, persecuted, and scattered. This will weaken the faith of some, and steer the efforts of the pastors and elders from prayers and preaching, to ensuring church gathering.

·      For the same reason, the space for children’s ministry, Christian school, and homeschool will be further compressed. Christian parents will have to spend more energy and time, as well as money and resources, raising their children or dealing with authorities. That will make us feel worried, scared, even doubtful and disheartened. 

·      For the same reason, the space for communication with overseas churches and the sharing of spiritual resources will also be compressed. Good websites, conference information, and books cannot be published, but low-quality and false information will have more space to circulate and spread. Heresies, cults, secularism, self-centeredness, consumerism and postmodern Christianity will expand. This will not only affect brothers and sisters within the church, but also erode the space for healthy faith. 

·      The long-term lack of blessing from in-person gatherings and the laxity resulting from online services can cause some of our weak members to remain in sin, backslide and fall, or some of those who have never been born again will refuse to submit to the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The Church will have to deal with more cases of church discipline, or face the reality of people giving up their faith. 

·      The pandemic, unemployment, and economic recession will cause offerings to drop. Those situations will also further weaken some Christians’ faith, or make them busier. As a result, pastors and elders will be more burdened and worried. Plans for training or raising more leaders (such as internships or hiring another pastor) will be inhibited, and other pastoral resources will also be reduced.

Reflecting on Heb. 10:36-39 can help us: 

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

Just like I said in the beginning, compared to our Chinese Christian forefathers, we have not endured as much as they did. God has given us a great window of time to prepare us, train us, and equip us, as well as to prepare the Chinese church to face the next ten years’ challenges and assaults. You must equip yourselves, prepare yourselves, and spare no efforts to crucify the old self to follow Christ. Otherwise, my friends, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you. Satan will also seek and devour the Church. The next ten years will provide an opportunity to refine the Chinese church and Chinese Christians. Are you the wood, hay and stubble that will be burned up, or the gold, silver and gems that will be refined? I hope all members of our church are “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” This is also my daily prayer for you.

You should prepare yourselves in these ways in the coming months: 

·      Join a small group on Sundays, and sign up for a small group near you. If there is no open spot left, choose one that is a little further. Just keep in mind that even if there were no pandemic, it would still take some time for you to go to church on Sundays. If no group is available, you can invite people to your home, or be bold and grow a thick skin to ask if there are still vacancies in any group. In a word, don’t just do church alone.  

·      Build up or deepen your spiritual discipline, including Bible reading, prayer, and discipleship relationships. It is not too late to start. 

·      Join other equipping and training programs provided by the church. we have several core courses which are hosted online on Sunday mornings. On Wednesday evenings we also have a one-hour Bible study. This will help you read, understand and apply the Bible better. Again, it is the Bible, not our feelings or experience, that is our highest authority. 

May the Lord help you equip yourselves. While you are equipping yourselves, you are equipping the church, because you are a member of this Body.  

If you have been equipping yourselves in these ways, thanks be to God. Think about how you can serve other members and our church!  

Your pastor

Week 19 of the pandemic 

FOR REFLECTION

Although the situation in the West is different than that in China, Western Christians can learn much from the attitude taken by Chinese Christians as they look to faithfully follow God in the times in which he has placed them.

Just as this Chinese pastor asked his congregants to examine their hearts and actions, Western believers can ask themselves the same question: “Have you been faithfully using the resources, time, wealth, and gifts with which God has blessed you to grow in God’s love, to serve others, and to grow with the Body of Christ in order to face the coming trial?”

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Further Reading

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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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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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