Editor’s note:This year, we are praying for cities in China. We recently spoke to a key Chinese Christian leader about why praying for cities is so important, and why this is a crucial season of ministry for urban churches in China.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why are cities a central focus for the Chinese gospel movement?
The city is a metaphor for corporate humanity, and it is also a metaphor of God’s people. The gospel story itself ends with a picture of a city, the New Jerusalem, the final realization of God’s plan in creation. It is the eschatological image of God realized at the end of time.
How does the church relate to the earthly city? In redemptive history, the church is the people of God present in the earthly city, continuously calling people into the city of God. The church is the heavenly city present within the earthly city, to shine into the earthly city to manifest the reign of the king.
The church and church planting, then, become the dynamic force between the two cities.
They were not desiring to set aside the gospel in order to take up a ministry-focused approach; rather, their desires were springing from the gospel. The roots were bearing fruit.
Within the gospel movement of urban churches in China, church planting has always been an important aspect. Yet, as we look back at the past ten years, the main focus has been renewing pastors and churches in the gospel of grace. The priority has been the personal understanding of the gospel and in living in the gospel.
Now, with the end of the Covid-Zero policies in 2023, we are seeing the fruit of that commitment. Last year, I had several leaders approach me and say, “We need to begin growing more outward, particularly in church planting.” At first I was hesitant. I did not want to see these churches lose their gospel-centered focus. But as the year went by and I met with more pastors, it became clear that they were not desiring to set aside the gospel in order to take up a ministry-focused approach; rather, their desires were springing from the gospel. The roots were bearing fruit.
I believe we have reached a crucial point within the urban gospel movement in China. The gospel depth is there. The framework is there. This makes it possible to step into a season focused on church planting, without losing the center of the gospel.
In 2017, when China Partnership’s prayer ministry first launched, we focused on praying for one Chinese city every month. Now, seven years later, we are doing it again. What has changed in that time?
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For one thing, the actual prayer ministry is much different. In 2017, when praying for Chinese cities, it was a China Partnership-led initiative. This time, the leaders in China are owning the vision for their cities themselves. They’ve developed a kind of identity: not just “we are churches within this city,” but “we are churches for this city.” Their calling and vision is very strong.
The leaders in China…have developed a kind of identity: not just “we are churches within this city,” but “we are churches for this city.” Their calling and vision is very strong.
What’s more, they desire to be in contact with other churches and cities around China. The Covid-Zero policies of the last three years really cut off churches from each other, and now that the regulations have been dropped many are pushing for inter-regional partnership. They want to help churches in other cities, as well as ask churches in other cities for help. They recognize that they need churches in other cities to be praying for them, and also want to commit to praying for churches in other cities. China Partnership is really just following in their footsteps and praying along with them.
For another thing, the situation has also changed in China. The pandemic, the Covid-Zero policies, and persecution have all made things much more difficult. A question I’ve been asking myself is, will the current persecution push the churches out to the fringes of society, just like the severe persecution in the 1950s to 1970s? Or, will it be the launching pad for revival?
The current socio-economic situation in China is very bad. Many people are leaving China, and there are many who have lost hope. However, what does this mean for church evangelism? Is the church in China taking advantage of this opportunity to plant churches outside of China? Is the church in China seizing this pivotal moment to do aggressive evangelism inside of China?
A Chinese leader from Wenzhou recently told me that yes, this is the case. For them, they are pushing forward in evangelism and church planting, and also want to expand their reach to the mercy and justice arena. That encouraged me greatly.
This is a period where the fog has been lifted, just as it did after 1980, when a huge population of the educated came to the Lord. Now, in the current season of disillusionment, people are more open to the gospel than ever before. The next 2-3 years will be a key time,
Yes, it is a dire time. Things may get worse. After all, Bonhoeffer was executed right before the fall of the Nazi regime. Yet I can’t help but be optimistic. Since the end of the Covid-Zero policy, there has been so much momentum. This is the path the Lord has been leading the church into.
How can we be praying for Chinese cities this year? What overarching prayer requests do you have for the gospel movement in the midst of this revived vision for ministry to Chinese cities?
There are three things you can be praying for:
- Pray for patience. It is very easy to get discouraged looking at the current difficulties in China, but if you look at the past 180 years, you’ll be excited to see how the church is making progress. China has endured so much turmoil, and is still struggling into modernization, and in the midst of all of this the gospel has never stopped making inroads. We need to be patient in what the Lord is doing.
- Pray for urgency. While we need to be patient, we also need to recognize the time and opportunity, and seize the moment. This is a period where the fog has been lifted, just as it did after 1980, when a huge population of the educated came to the Lord. Now, in the current season of disillusionment, people are more open to the gospel than ever before. The next 2-3 years will be a key time, and we need to seize the moment. Can you imagine if 10% of China became Christians? It would be the largest Christian population in the world. I believe this hope is within reach.
- Pray for flexibility. Chinese churches need to continue adjusting to the new realities of China. They can’t simply fall back into doing things the old ways, the way they did things before the pandemic. They need to readjust and reimagine. Things change rapidly in China, and they must be prepared to change rapidly too.
Finally, pray for hope, for faithfulness, and that Chinese churches would be led by the Spirit. We are His servants. May we decrease that he may increase.
Let’s commit this year to praying for each other. Let’s commit to praying for the cities in China as they emerge from three years of slumber, as they seek to partner together in planting churches and reaching the lost for Christ.
Thank you for your prayers.
Muxi Zhang is a pseudonym for a China ministry veteran who has in-depth and extensive ministry experience.
Pray for the Chinese church to have patience, act urgently, and show flexibility. Pray the Spirit will lead Chinese churches.