Editor’s note: This article was originally presented as a speech in a 2021 pastors’ gathering in mainland China. In the first three sections, Elder Li Yingqiang shared the history of the modern Chinese house church, beginning in 1949 and continuing through the present. In this excerpt, he exhorts house churches to prepare for what he believes are the hard times the church is currently facing. He believes in the traditional Reformed doctrine perseverance of the saints. But saints must prepare themselves in order to successfully persevere. Elder Li helps believers think through steps they and their churches need to take in order to remain faithful through trying times.
This selection has been edited and condensed from the original version for both time and space. It was originally published on the Grace to City website.
Believers and co-laborers: winter has come. Are we prepared? Are our churches ready? We must look at history and the practical experiences of those who went before us as the church prepares for this crisis.
Problems to Face
How can church workers and believers communicate after their church experiences a first round of persecution? Many still use WeChat groups. Yet this communication tool is completely transparent; these churches are naked and unready. Once persecution against a church begins, it will be impossible to communicate via WeChat.
We must prepare for how to communicate with one another before we are persecuted. We must plan: how will believers be able to find their church? How can they contact pastors or leaders? The first important thing to settle is communication.
[WeChat is a Chinese app used for instant messaging, social media, and mobile payment. Yet the app, used by almost all Chinese, is also controlled and monitored by the government. The many churches who use WeChat to share information with their members could find themselves without any way to contact believers if they are no longer able to use it. WeChat is also unsafe for sensitive political groups to use, as government officials have instantaneous access to any messages about meeting times or plans.]
The second is how to appoint lay leaders once existing leaders are arrested. If a church’s pastors, elders, and leaders are arrested, and no one is left to lead, then the church will scatter once the shepherds are struck. Churches must have a contingency plan. At Early Rain, we had a crisis plan, but all the leaders listed in that crisis plan were arrested at the same time. Still, I think only a few churches will face this type of situation. Most churches will only have to deal with the arrest of a few leaders. Churches must prepare for these arrests. They must make arrangements for how backup candidates can lead, and for how the church can gather to produce new leaders.
The third issue is Sunday worship. Once your church is persecuted, where will you meet? How will you rent a place? If you decide to return to the small group model, how will you organize these groups? How will you arrange for pulpit supply? If persecution occurs, will you retreat to the Internet for worship? If so, then how will you meet online? These issues should be addressed before persecution begins.
Finally, what is the pastoral plan for the church in a time of crisis? How will a church continue with small group fellowship, daily Bible reading, devotions, prayer, works of mercy, and the sacraments? Churches ought to plan for all these considerations.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Preparing for Jail
In addition, it is very important that church leaders, workers, and pastors prepare for prison time. I have gone into more detail on this point in other places, but here is a brief outline.
The first and most important thing is spiritual preparation. Beloved believers: if you lead a church, you should begin to pray and prepare for prison. Otherwise, you yourself may become a breach, leading the church to collapse without you, causing other believers to suffer serious losses. In these times, preachers must be prepared to go to prison. Those who want to study theology and equip themselves as church planters must first ask themselves: “Are you willing to go to jail for the Lord?” If you are not prepared, do not even begin.
We preach the perseverance of the saints. Have you considered what this means? Have you understood how we can make it past the moment of crisis? How will you continue down the long road in the midst of persecution? Pray the Lord will have mercy on us.
Do we really understand the theology of the cross presented throughout the Bible? Do we really believe persecution is beneficial? Reading the testimonies of the saints will help us. If you have not yet read the biographies of house church old-timers like Wang Mingdao, Yuan Xiangchen, Wu Weizun, Wang Chunyi, Yang Xinfei, and others – well, it is not too late. Their testimonies show how gracious God has been to keep his servants. Let us pray the same for ourselves, asking the Lord to keep us steadfast in the hands of the enemy.
Second, prepare God’s word and hymns. As a middle-aged converted preacher, I am lacking in this area. I need to work on this, and memorize more Scripture. Many preachers among us were raised in the church and are wonderfully equipped with God’s word. What a beautiful blessing. In 2017, Pastor Wang Yi said, “Before winter comes, make sure you know a hundred psalms and psalmodies by heart.” I think this preparation must be a great comfort and help to him in these years he is in prison. Memorize hymns: there is no hymnal in prison. Without these songs, we would indeed lack strength.
Also, prepare prayer. We need to pray for the coming persecution, for the church, and for ourselves. I hope arrested believers know about 5 p.m. in China – there are already many believers who pray every day at 5 for believers in prison. Those in prison know that at 5 p.m. every day, many believers outside of jail walls pray with them. As they join the church in unceasing prayer before the throne of heaven, imprisoned believers receive great comfort and support.
Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray that Chinese pastors and church leaders will have wisdom to prepare themselves and their churches for the road God is calling them to walk.