Three years ago, our family helped launch a small church plant in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles. My husband pastored this new church plant. Less than six months later, the entire world shut down with Covid. Just like everything else, our little church plant closed its physical doors. Although we had hardly figured out how to hold a regular Sunday service, our baby church immediately had to navigate online services and find a way to nurture connections that had barely begun to be established. It was a challenging time, to say the least.
Before my husband was a pastor and I was a pastor’s wife, our family lived in China for many years. There we learned that life does not always, or even often, work according to plan. While we had many plans, more often than not, life and circumstances in China required a willingness to quickly pivot.
As we prayed this month for Chinese church plants, I remembered our years there and the uncertainty that accompanied many daily and long-term plans. While praying for China, I also thought of the last few years as a church-planting family in the midst of Covid and constantly changing regulations, expectations, and needs. Together, these experiences have given me a particular compassion for Chinese believers attempting to start new churches. There are many differences in expectations and realities for church plants in the U.S. and in China – but both places need more communities of believers seeking to love God and love others.
Here are four ways you can pray for new Chinese churches, and for the church planters and their families behind these churches:
1. Pray for Wisdom
In the current Chinese environment, church planters need both the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves. They must share the gospel with those who desperately need its hope, and must also understand areas of sensitivity in their city and province. They may need to navigate complicated relationships with officials, and they will certainly have to respond to the questions and concerns of their own family and friends. They need to know when to be bold, and when to be careful. They need wisdom to know when to push, and when to pull back. They must also figure out how to share Christ with unbelievers who may associate Christianity with Western ideals and thus believe it is not appropriate or fitting for Chinese. All of these challenges require wisdom.
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2. Pray for Creativity
The difficulties mentioned above are not the only ones Chinese church plants face. In the Los Angeles area, where I live, Covid has made finding a location for new churches more difficult. Finding a place to meet was already difficult for many Chinese churches, and Covid has not made that any easier. In addition to the ongoing creativity of finding worship space, Chinese church planters also need to imaginatively find ways to nurture new communities in a culture that struggles to build and maintain trust with outsiders. They must find new and innovative ways to gather their congregations and build up the body of Christ. They also need creativity as they navigate the constantly changing Chinese Internet and, in addition to physically gathering, find ways to create safe online spaces for their churches.
3. Pray for Flexibility
Just when one plan seems to be working out well, something happens to derail it. Church planters need to be willing to quickly give up plans that previously seemed to be working well when they no longer fit the current circumstances. This has been true for my own experience in church planting, but I think it is doubly true in China. As anyone who has visited China can attest: things change quickly! Buildings rise and new towns are built in what seems to be the blink of an eye. These physical changes are reflective of how quickly Chinese society can also seem to pivot. Planting a church in China requires a willingness to hold fast to the gospel, but also adaptability and flexibility in the logistics of working out that faithfulness.
4. Pray for Perseverance
Finally, pray for Chinese Christians who are planting new churches to persevere. These last few years have brought a new and more difficult era for Chinese Christians. While the Chinese church has a long history of suffering and following Christ in the way of the cross, the pressures of this era are a new experience for many Chinese believers.
While I am praying for wisdom, creativity, and flexibility, most of all I am praying Chinese Christians will hold fast to the truth of God’s great love for them. As they boldly go forward to plant more churches and share Christ with unbelieving neighbors, may they rest securely in the arms of a Savior who will never leave them alone. May they hold fast to the good news that God loves them, and his kingdom is an eternal one, which no earthly power can ever shake.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese church planters to have wisdom, creativity, flexibility, and perseverance.