Article Review, Pray for China February/March Issue, 2011
The February/March issue of Pray for China focuses on the basic foundational needs of a fruitful church in China. The articles point out that without a solid groundwork, Chinese churches will continue to struggle with growth and development. Ranging from material needs to emotional challenges, these missing components of the church ultimately threaten its chances for success as it works to fulfill its duties in the community. The foundation of a church or person functions as not only a starting point for growth, but also as a guide for future action. Without the proper guidance, Chinese churches may focus their energies in the wrong directions or leave significant problems unaddressed. Pray for China draws attention to foundational areas of the church that need more care and attention. Some of the areas discussed are Bible study for pastors, the needs of rural churches, and the Christian education of children.
The first section, “Ground with a Solid Foundation,” argues that pastors have neglected their duties to the congregation by becoming absorbed in the day-to-day chaos of meetings, business, and church management. Thus, personal and community training in the biblical foundation of faith is neglected. Obligations make it difficult for pastors to engage in serious Bible study. This neglect ultimately passes to the believer, who does not receive proper instruction to encourage growth in their faith. This lack of time for Bible-study is not due solely to the hectic lifestyle of a pastor, but also to the urgent need to spread the word of God in a developing Christian community. Reaching out to as many people as possible consumes a large part of a pastor’s time. However important it is to spread the word of God, the author points out, there is the same urgent need to study the Bible and “proceed to solid theological preparedness.” The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, and therefore, should be the foundation of Christian instruction, as well.
In some cases, addressing the foundational problems in a church is not as easy as encouraging more Bible study. This issue contains two articles that draw attention to the troubles of the rural church in China and the fragile nature of its existence. As “Resources, Training, Collaboration, Progress” illustrates, a major problem is a shortage of resources. Without the resources to aid instruction, the development of the church is hindered. Not only is acquiring resources for rural churches difficult, but transportation of supplies to the remote regions of China is also a significant challenge. Ministries in the rural areas develop more slowly than in rapidly growing cities and are often struggling to survive because of this deficiency. Resources they need include Biblical texts, but also materials on church management, pastoral training, counseling, marriage, youth ministries, and other subjects that form the foundation of a solid church. These resources can guide believers and leaders in their decision-making, and help individuals and groups understand more clearly the text they read in the Bible. In an area where it is difficult to maintain a church, resources can help educate and answer difficult questions.
In “Issues Facing Rural Believers,” Pray for China highlights issues that accompany the lack of resource availability in rural churches. Rural churches must deal with the tension between old traditions and the introduction of Christianity more so than in the urban areas. For example, women, the elderly, and children dominate the demographic make-up of rural church communities. Women in these churches face pressure from their family to get married, but are unable to find a Christian partner. As a result, they are often forced to marry non-Christian men. Melding the old with the new, Christian parents will sometimes arrange marriages with other Christian parents, which causes many Christian couples to have strained relationships. In addition to familial strife involved in bringing two families together, most rural believers do not want their children to become pastors because of the low wages. This stunts the growth of local churches, which need leadership. In addition, village churches often have few activities to bring the community together. The absence of gender diversity makes it hard for youth members to find peers with whom to share their faith, which sometimes leads youth to leave the church. Mismanagement and neglect of important rituals such as Baptism and Communion suppress spiritual growth in these areas. The churches also lack funds and means or strategies to solicit donations from believers. All of these factors come together to obstruct rural church development and growth. If the foundation of the church is strengthened, then the church will be better able to address the complex problems that arise from establishing a church in a remote region.
Another issue raised is the importance of instructing children in the Bible. “Children’s Sunday School Ministry on the Mainland” highlights the dedication of Sunday school teachers, and the necessity of preparing children to be the future pillars of the church. Many churches believe Sunday school teachers to be more like “nannies” and less like educators. Sunday school teachers report that they often have to draw their own pictures to illustrate their lessons or use their own money to purchase supplies and food for the children. Systematic training for teachers is usually unavailable, and this hinders the impact these teachers can have on the spiritual lives of children. With more support, resources, and training not only in rural churches, but also in some urban churches as well, the Sunday school ministry will be able to prosper and create a firm foundation of believers for the church.
Establishing a durable foundation of faith in a person or a church in a developing Christian community is difficult, but this issue of Pray for China indicates that many are aware of the challenges and problems that the church currently faces and will continue to face in the future. Leaders, believers, and children alike all play integral roles in the creation of a resilient church and faith. With time and effort, the church in China will have a solid footing to jump from as it grows and matures. For now, however, Pray for China proposes that churches go back to basics as they work to cultivate their ministries. Without a sturdy foundation, it is much easier to topple a building. Pray for China argues that the same applies to the Christian faith and the church community. If you want to learn more about Pray for China or read this newsletter, you can go to their website at http://www.ccchina.org/ or e-mail them for a monthly PDF copy of their newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org. All future newsletters will only be available digitally, as they are cancelling their mailing service to focus on switching over digital media.
by Erica Mitchell