Editor’s note: This month, a former missionary to China shared how his time working with the Chinese church challenged, encouraged him, and has continued to impact him in the years since he returned to the U.S.
It has been six years since I returned to the States from my time in China. Though it feels like it was a different lifetime ago, the time I spent there has profoundly impacted me in ways that affect the way I pastor the church today. When I went to China in 2007, my focus was on doing God’s kingdom work. Little did I realize just how much God would use the Chinese to shape and influence me over the nine years I spent there. Here are a few ways I was profoundly moved and shaped in my life and ministry.
The believers in China modeled a deep love for learning and sacrificial service.
I provided theological and pastoral ministry training, but they showed me the heart of ministry. My work involved traveling through different parts of China to various house church networks, often in semi-rural parts where there was little access to formal training. I witnessed young and old believers alike sacrificing significant portions of their time, including weeks at a time, and evenings and weekends so that they could learn more of the Bible and how to minister effectively to others. Many of these people had full-time jobs and families to raise. Yet despite their exhaustion, they eagerly came to the various trainings to grow and learn more. They were hungry for God’s word and passionate to see God’s kingdom advanced in their regions.
This was true not just for the spiritual leaders but also for new believers. The new church I was able to serve in my city drew many young people – college students, graduate students, and young professionals. One of the most common questions asked by the young people who had just come to faith in Christ was how they could effectively witness to their faith, especially among their family members. Though barely starting off in the faith, they were immediately impacted by the gospel to the point they wanted to share it as fruitfully as they could with the people they loved. This is not always true for new believers here in the States. Here, there is sometimes a fear of evangelizing, or a lack of urgency and zeal to share the faith. But this was not the case in China. They immediately understood their responsibility to witness right away, and were eager to do so.
The believers in China also modeled sincere worship.
The leaders in China valued theology and teaching from the West. They recognized and deeply appreciated teachers and professors who were well-trained theologically. While we brought theological and missiological experience and training, I saw a more sincere and fervent heart of worship from the Chinese. When they sang hymns, there was such a sincere and deep love for God in the simple worship of their voices that it often brought me to tears. This, to me, was more far more powerful than a professional band of extremely talented musicians seeking to stir a crowd to worship.
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They may not have had professional stage skills and musicianship, but they had far more: a simple but deep love for God that showed in the way they worshiped God. Churches in the States value skill and talent. Churches in China value heart and service.
Finally, I saw how the power of the gospel can fuel a renewal and missional movement.
I witnessed how the simple message of the gospel has the power to continue renewing believers and church leaders alike. High-level house church leaders rediscovered the power of the gospel and found new joy and love for Christ. Walls of division between leaders were broken down. Older believers discovered fresh joy as they repented of moralism. Church leaders found a core sense of identity in Christ alone, rather than in ministry performance and results. A new humility among the believers was taking shape through the gospel working its way down in the heart. In return, churches found fresh new vision for church planting and missions.
I will be forever grateful for my time in China and how the Lord used this time to shape me as both a disciple of Christ and pastor for his people. I have learned what it means to keep serving God in trust that he is doing his work, to worship him wholeheartedly, and to keep putting my own trust in the gospel for my identity and for the power for ministry.
David and his family live in the Los Angeles area, where he is planting a church and serving as a church planting catalyst.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians to persevere in love and service for God’s kingdom, in heartfelt worship, and to be continually renewed by the gospel.