Shanghai: Life as a Pastor’s Wife


Editor’s note: In May, China Partnership is praying for the city of Shanghai. As we focus on the particular issues Shanghai people face, we wanted to re-run the first part of an older interview we previously published with a Shanghai pastor’s wife. In this interview, she discusses the pressure she faces in the church, some of the challenges and benefits of discipleship, and how she sees the gospel setting women free in Shanghai. This version of the interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.


Becoming a Shimu

CP: Can you introduce yourself?          

Wu Meijing: I am from Shanghai. My journey with Christ began when I met my husband after college. He shared the gospel with me and took me to church. The church’s loving atmosphere felt very different from society, so later, I followed my husband and put my trust in the Lord. He became a full-time pastor in 2012. Now, I have assumed the role of shimu.[1]

CP: What challenges do you face as a pastor’s wife?

Wu: In the beginning I was not used to being addressed this way, especially when older sisters came up and called me shimu. When they asked theological questions and looked at me expectantly, I suddenly realized strong theological training was required. This was why I had some struggles about how to be a shimu at the start.

I had some struggles about how to be a shimu at the start. I felt a lot of pressure, especially regarding how to shepherd older sisters.

I felt a lot of pressure, especially regarding how to shepherd older sisters. They are more experienced and seasoned, and I am relatively young, so I did not know how to lead them. Only after a period of struggle in this role did I begin to slowly enter into my identity in the gospel. I began to focus on what Christ has accomplished rather than what I ought to do to fulfill my role.

Another thing is I was working full-time then. (I still work full-time now.) At the same time, I had a nine-year-old child. Because of the many expectations church members have, I thought about whether I needed to [quit my job]. The church might expect me to shoulder certain ministry responsibilities, or I might need to go on visitations, or be there to care for women at any time. I had a lot of difficulty managing my time, since I was only able to be at church on Sundays. I was troubled about whether I needed to resign from my job and commit all my physical and mental energies to supporting my husband in pastoring.

My difficulty included the question of how much ministry work I should take on at church: whether I had to teach children’s Sunday school, or should I lead worship, and so on. I did not know how involved I needed to be in serving in order to live up to my title. These substantial pressures were from church expectations and my own understanding of my identity.

Set Free

CP: Has gospel renewal changed the way you handle church members’ expectations? If so, how? 

Wu: In the beginning, I felt like a failure when I could not answer [theological questions]. That motivated me to go deeper in Bible study and receive more training. But more importantly, the gospel set me free and enabled me to say Christ has already overcome, no matter how great my failure. I can feel freer to see my role as pastor’s wife not in terms of performance. Rather, my service to the church is the outworking of my relationship with Christ.


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The gospel set me free and enabled me to say Christ has already overcome, no matter how great my failure is. I can hence feel freer to see my role as pastor’s wife not in terms of performance.


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CP: What are the main ministries you are involved in now?

Wu: I still work full-time. I mostly teach children’s Sunday school and disciple sisters.

CP: Can you talk about discipleship at your church?

Wu: Six of us received discipleship training last December. This summer we will introduce a discipleship ministry within the church. We now have two small groups of sisters and two of brothers taking a discipleship course.

CP: How do women in the Chinese church view discipleship? 

Pastor’s wife: Sisters in our church are at different life stages: some are married, some are single, some are getting ready for children, and some are already mothers. Mostly, they hope to find companionship. They find it to their great benefit to see how others live. At the same time, the community they have enables them to face the various challenges and difficulties life presents.

Vulnerability and Freedom

CP: When I was in China, our church did not have discipleship training, and we did not know much about it. But after I went to study abroad in the States, the church I attended there had a well-developed and -established discipleship program. The pastor explained that brothers and sisters are in separate groups. For the sisters’ group, one leader led four disciples. These women become very intimate; they are open and share many things. I was amazed because I never had this kind of intimate, sisterly relationship in China, in which one is completely transparent and open. Normally, I am quite reserved. I do not know whether this is the influence of our culture, or whether it is difficult to develop such intimate relationships without discipleship training.

I am curious what women in the Chinese church think. Do they feel challenged by the transparency and openness demanded by discipleship, or at ease with it?  

Wu: Before discipleship begins, we chat with the sister and say she can feel free to choose how open she wishes to be. We also sign an agreement saying we will keep the stories and experiences she shares during discipleship training confidential, so she knows it is a safe space. Our sisters are protected and given space.

The gospel effects this kind of transformation in the church, giving freedom and enabling sisters to become more open…There is courage to be transparent.

As a person grows in faith, the gospel continues to build a sense of security, freeing them to share their stories. Since I am still in the workplace, I have observed many non-Christian young women who idolize certain things. One young girl told me she was not afraid of death, but she was afraid of getting old. She does all kinds of things to make herself look pretty. Working to improve one’s physical appearance is a huge idol.

A question we chat about in discipleship is: how does the gospel change you? One sister shared she used to be in bondage to physical beauty. But she no longer feels as affected or trapped. She may still care about her looks, but she is no longer controlled by it, [no longer] saying: “If I do not look good, I cannot go out the door.”

The gospel effects this kind of transformation in the church, giving freedom and enabling sisters to become more open. They no longer feel that if they do not cover themselves up, they cannot show up in front of others, or have a conversation. There is courage to be transparent.

 

[1] In many Chinese churches, being a 师母 (shīmǔ, or “pastor’s wife”) is a title worthy of great respect. Many pastor’s wives are deeply involved in the ministry of the church, or are full-time ministers themselves, serving the church alongside their husbands.”

 


Wu Meijing is a pseudonym for a Shanghai pastor’s wife.

Pray for Chinese pastors’ wives and the pressures they face.

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Further Reading

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Shanghai: To Run or Not?
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Christian Education: Jesus and Chinese Culture
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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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