What I Learned from the Chinese House Church About Leadership

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Savior, like a shepherd lead us,

Much we need Thy tender care.

Many metaphors spring to mind when discussing church leadership. None, perhaps, are more apt than that of sheep in need of a shepherd. Christ is the church’s ultimate shepherd, yes; but in this earthly life, pastors and elders represent Jesus himself, overseeing, shepherding, and guiding his flock.

In September, China Partnership has been praying for and sharing about leadership within the Chinese church. As a pastor’s wife and a member of a local body, spiritual leadership is of great personal interest to me. Looking to China—where Christian faith is in its teenage years, idealistic and growing like a weed—is helpful. Their failures, triumphs, and struggles help me to see the traps into which I and the Western church so easily fall.

Below, I list just a few of the things I’m holding onto from this month’s blog pieces.


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A theology of the risen, reigning Christ grants present power

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“When difficult times come—and they will!—I must remember that Christ is already king, and live in his present power, especially when I am powerless in the face of earthly opponents. If that means I must lay down my desires or even my life to attest and submit to Christ’s ultimate kingship, then so be it.


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Christ died; Christ rose; Christ reigns right now. I have been taught to focus on “already-not yet” theology: Jesus is already victorious over sin and death, but we do not yet experience the full fruits of that victory. This explains the sin and difficulty among which we live, and that causes believers to long for heaven, when at last all the hurt will be healed and mended. While this is true, the Chinese church reminds me that the “already” of this pithy saying is the part that does the work: Christ is presently reigning in heaven, and his reign there is for all of time. Ministry veteran Muxi Zhang reminds us to remember Stephen, who, when facing death at the hands of the council in Jerusalem, lifted his eyes to the heavens and focused on the simultaneous reality of the heavenly kingdom, where Christ is already seated on the throne.

“Only by this power can we face persecution and be willing to give our life for Christ,” Zhang said. “The reality of God’s reign and Christ as the true and real king controls you so you can live here, now. Both the visible and the invisible kingdom are real, but only Christ’s kingdom is eternal.”

When difficult times come—and they will!—I must remember that Christ is already king, and live in his present power, especially when I am powerless in the face of earthly opponents. If that means I must lay down my desires or even my life to attest and submit to Christ’s ultimate kingship, then so be it.

Pressure from without is a gift

The church is not defined by her difficulties. Instead, pressure and pruning are God’s good and gracious means of shaping his church into his radiant bride. Zhang again shares what the house church is thinking: “This is a time [for pastors] to reflect on their calling and where the power is from. Based on that, they decide how they are going to be a church… Dependence is the perfect time to live out the reality of the early church: which king is the true king?…In this new reality, God will do things. I think it’s an even better situation.”

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“While everyone would prefer to live in a society that applauds our belief system, pressures that cause us to examine our allegiances are, ultimately, used by God for the greater good of his people. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living; in this vein, perhaps we should rejoice instead of despair when we are granted the opportunity to more deeply examine our faith and consider the implications of following Christ.

In China, the Lord is using the trials and fears of pastors and church members to call his people to depend on him more fully, to trust him more deeply, and to walk with him more closely. As for me, if others judge me because of my faith, that is within God’s mercy toward his beloved child. While everyone (I include both Chinese and Western Christians) would prefer to live in a society that applauds our belief system, pressures that cause us to examine our allegiances are, ultimately, used by God for the greater good of his people. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living; in this vein, perhaps we should rejoice instead of despair when we are granted the opportunity to more deeply examine our faith and consider the implications of following Christ.

Toxic leadership

I was raised in the church, and have spent most of my adult life working in missions and ministry. I have experienced firsthand leadership and even abuse, and have also myself been a part of perpetuating hurt and harm. Toxic spiritual leadership has been a watchword in the Christian community in recent years. Two leaders who have firsthand experience with the church in China reminded me this month that this sort of leadership system is not a uniquely American problem.

Seymour, a former missionary, wrote: “Local believers…face not only political and social pressure, some even face abusive church and ministry leaders. The problem isn’t characterized by or limited to geography or circumstance. We in the West experience similar things in our churches and ministries, too. Power and authority belong to Christ alone, and when his people attempt to wield it on their own terms, the results are often disastrous. But God’s gift to his flock are leaders who know him first as a sheep, and thus have the capacity to look and act like our great and gracious shepherd.”

There is no quick fix, but instead we lean on the Lord, who himself is the Good Shepherd, and who will lead, protect, and defend his sheep. I close with the words of Muxi Zhang, who said: “Even under persecution, there are many different ways we can slowly be tempted to worship something other than the Lord. We need to live in a community that reminds us of this. In China, the environment [of external pressure] can help, but still, the battleground is in our hearts.”


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 that the Lord will today help you to rejoice in his reign; to rest even in difficulty; and to humble your own heart before him, the Great Shepherd.

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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

About Shenyang

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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About Qingdao

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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About Xiamen

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 Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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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 Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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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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