Editor’s note: Last week, we shared a letter to the congregation from Fan Ming, pastor of a mother church preparing to send out a new church plant in urban China. Today, we are sharing the first of two congregational letters from the pastor of the new plant.
If you were given an opportunity to choose your ideal church, what elements must it have in order to suit your taste?
What kind of church are you planting?
Since becoming a church planting pastor, people often ask, “What kind of church are you planting?” The questions behind that question are usually: Is this new church Baptist like the mother church? Does it have the same order of worship as the mother church? Will this congregation be mostly young people? Will there be a campus ministry? What will the music style be?
I can think of even more questions: Will the church be far from the subway? Are there many families with children? Will there be childcare? Is parking easy? Will you be promoting a particular ministry? What role will your wife play? How long will sermons be?
To be honest, these questions leave me feeling baffled. The problem is not that I do not have good answers, but that no matter how well I answer, I will probably never satisfy my questioners. Sometimes I have wished that planting a church were like running a business! Then, all I would need to do was hire a consulting firm to conduct a customer survey on the target group. I have even thought about the title of this fictional survey: “What kind of church plant would you like to join?” I would list, one by one, these questions I have so often been asked. Based on the survey results, I would build a church that most people would like to join.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
In fact, this is indeed how many megachurches in the United States now operate. But would such a carefully tailored church still be the church of Christ?
The church’s primary faithfulness is to Christ
I am not saying it is not good for a church to accommodate families with children and to consider the practical needs of its members. It is simply that, when a church comprised of disciples of Jesus Christ shifts her focus from the unchanging Christ to the fluctuating and constantly changing needs of people, the church loses her biblical mandate to build the house of God as a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”
If the church seeks to satisfy the needs of the “self-serving elite,” then the church loses her primary faithfulness, which is to Christ. The church then becomes nothing more than a comfort zone for a group of consumers. The gospel to which the church bears witness deteriorates into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” This also means that, when a better option comes along that suits our shopping habits, we are as free to switch churches as we might be to switch to a restaurant that better suits our tastes.
One pastor put it this way: “Coronavirus has removed many external, superfluous things from the church. The arrival of the pandemic immediately took away the church’s exterior ‘ornaments’—all the showy and dispensable things that used to be regarded as essential.”
In fact, the pandemic has taken away most things that we consume in our churches: our valued relationships, the social circles we enjoy, convenient transportation via the subway, and now we cannot even gather physically for Sunday worship. Have you ever thought how you would react if God has removed our current worship space from us forever? What would you do if external circumstances become more and more difficult and we were no longer able to freely use our current place of worship?
As soon as our church planting group began to search for a new site, the relevant government departments immediately called me [to check on what we were doing]. This season is just like that one. What is left of the church in the midst of the pandemic? Jesus, the gospel, God’s word, prayers, and the recordings of past hymns.
Is such a purified church still the “ideal church” you have in mind? Would you join this church planting ministry if I said that this is the goal and direction of the new church, and that a new church plant may not be as comfortable as your mother church? I want to challenge each member to examine themselves.
Motivations, expectations, and purification via pandemic
For those who have decided to participate in church planting: What are your expectations for the new church plant? Are you expecting to plant a new church which will satisfy all your unfulfilled desires from the mother church? Or are you expecting the new church to be a replica of the mother church? If you hold either of these expectations, you will probably be greatly disappointed.
For those who have decided not to participate in church planting: What is the real heart reason for not participating in church planting? Is it really the distance? What is God’s true calling to you? Do you really just want to stay in what you think is a safe place?
For those who are hesitating: For what are you waiting? What is the evidence that you are expecting to see, but have not yet seen? What are you afraid of?
Perhaps our church planting motives have been purified as the pandemic has taken away all the “extras” we expect from our churches.
Sun Lei is a pseudonym for a church planting pastor in a large Eastern Chinese city.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese church plants to be established on Christ, not on church consumerism.