Church and Culture: A Gospel that Can be Believed

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Editor’s note: In order to reach the hundreds of millions in China’s pressure-filled urban centers, Chinese Christians are planting churches in cities across China. Pastor Hu Yongjie is among this group. In order to present the people of the city with a gospel that speaks to their lives, he believes that the church must understand the geography, history, and culture of the city, as well as the specific idols to which people in that context are drawn.


My church is located in the new technology and art center of Shanghai, near the headquarters of Alibaba Shanghai, Westbank Art Center, and the starting point of Adidas Runbase. We were founded in February 2020 [in the midst of the initial COVID-19 outbreak]. In sixteen months, we have grown from the sixteen people who came to the first service, to 120 in attendance on Sundays with another thirty to forty joining online.

First, as the founder of a church, I cannot deny that, in this very moment, I am shaped by the culture of Shanghai as a whole. I am not only familiar with the geography and history of the city, but I also love and am familiar with the culture of the city. This is not because of my own personal preference, but because I believe this to be the prerequisite and foundation for any church planter. When Paul arrived in Athens, he spent much time in the synagogues, (i.e. the city’s religious circles) in the marketplaces (the workplaces of Athens), and in the Epicurean and Stoic schools (the academia of the day). He got to know these places and learned about the idols of the city. This prepared him to preach the sermon which convinced even the magistrates in the Areopagus. We cannot point out cultural idols and preach a gospel which can be understood and believed if we do not enter into and understand the culture of the city.

Secondly, when we chose the location, we made it clear that this is a church in the city. Entering into the culture of the city, interpreting that culture, and expecting to influence the culture is in the DNA of our church. Even the very name of our church is itself less religious. After all, if we had named our church Covenant Church, maybe seventy percent of the people in the city would immediately think: “This church has nothing to do with me.” We are a church that exists in the city and gives life to the city. On Sundays, we try as much as is possible to use language that non-Christians can understand. I illustrate my sermons with examples from current events, or I draw on issues that brothers and sisters within the church are facing. We put a lot of emphasis on meeting in third spaces outside of Sunday gatherings. In fact, more than half of our brothers and sisters meet together each week in cafes, gyms, museums, and so on.

We often mention the balance between our dual identities of being rooted in Shanghai and sojourning in Shanghai. In the church, we have a map where we mark our workplaces and places of residence. We do this for two reasons—first, to find our neighbors, but also to reinforce the idea that when our church disperses, we are scattered throughout every corner of Shanghai, just as seeds are scattered about a field.

Finally, as a response to the current cultural situation of our city, our church has also begun some ministries targeted specifically to singles, parents, and professionals. We help brothers and sisters to face the cultural situation of Shanghai, and to make biblical and gospel-manifesting responses to their context.

One last thing. As a preacher, I often ask brothers and sisters how that week’s sermon or Bible studies have helped them to face problems in their workplace or marriage. I ask them how they can find, in the Bible, relevant responses to the problems they are experiencing in their workplaces and their homes. As much as possible, I focus on specific vignettes. I want to train people to build bridges between what they see in the Bible and the practices of daily life. In the process of discipleship, I want to plant the concept of theological vision.

As I reflected on our church’s call to the city, I also spoke with a member of our church and asked him how our church relates to Shanghai. I also asked him how he views my work in engaging in dialogue with the culture of this city. I share his thoughts below. He said:

“This church returns to the biblical teaching that the church is in the world, but not of the world. We do not leave the seductive crowds of the city, but we also do not win over hearts by using fear and judging others with a critical eye. Rather, we are called to be light and salt in the city. I pray that the desperate and mourning souls of this magical city can find a heavenly home on this earth.


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“In my eyes, Pastor Hu is always changing and growing. One year ago, just after the church was planted, he was more like a hardcore theologian, albeit one with an entrepreneurial streak. Every week, he spoke from the pulpit like the director of a movie, with each sermon its own cinematic show, full of ups and downs. Back then, he faced every problem within the church with a ‘come at me’ attitude. As the church grows and our congregation becomes more diverse, many of the church’s problems can no longer be solved overnight.

What has not changed is that Pastor Hu still leads us back to the Bible. What has changed is that there is a greater emphasis on changing lives with lives. The goal is not to solve problems. Rather, it is to use the Christian life to influence and change the believers around us. In turn, these Christians will continue—to a greater and lesser degree depending on the individual—to pass on this culture of change to the whole city.”


Hu Yongjie is a pseudonym for a church planter in Shanghai. In his spare time, he enjoys trail running.

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Pastor Hu and his church plant to bring the good news of the gospel to the busy and hectic culture of Shanghai’s art and technology center.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

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Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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