Dear Praying Friends:
Virtually everyone agrees that the greatest need among Chinese Christians is for qualified leaders, especially men. The number of professing believers has grown so fast that leadership training has not caught up. As a result, millions of Chinese Christians lack adequate spiritual oversight and care.
Heresies and sects have proliferated, while the average churchgoer remains largely uninstructed in the Scriptures and often even ignorant of the basic articles of the faith, much less of the general teaching of the Bible about doctrine and life.
Addressing the Problem
Fully cognizant of this dire situation, countless leadership training schools and programs have been developed. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement operates over a dozen seminaries and many more Bible institutes and educational programs for lay leaders, while unregistered churches have organized a variety of ways to train pastors and evangelists.
In recent years, foreigners have entered the scene, sometimes by invitation, often on their own, with a wide panoply of offerings, such as short-term seminars with foreign lecturers using interpreters, translated materials, radio and Internet courses, and literature of all types.
A number of overseas seminaries have either dispatched faculty to China for short-term sessions or welcomed Chinese Christians to study in their schools, in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, and the West. There are also on-line courses, in English and in Chinese, that can be listened to, or even taken for credit by anyone with Internet access.
All of these efforts spring from a sincere desire to equip leaders for the Chinese church. Some are more effective than others, of course.
More and more, sophisticated urban house churches want their pastors to have an earned theological degree from a foreign-based theological seminary (the TSPM schools not being an option for them).
Of course, the academic quality of these degrees is generally quite high, and the holder of an M.Div. returns to his church with greatly increased status. On the other hand, academic theological education, especially residential schooling, suffers from well-known limitations: It takes one away from his church and often from family as well, for several years. The returning scholar has often lost contact with the people whom he once knew well, both because of his absence and by reason of the nature of his education, which is highly academic and western.
Chinese-language seminaries try to overcome the cultural gap, but they, too, focus on academics, despite attempts to inculcate spiritual life and provide practical training. The hard fact is that schools are academic institutions, and they must maintain standards that emphasize knowledge that can be measured by tests and papers, rather than spiritual maturity, Christian character, or an ability to “deliver” the truth effectively. Such programs are also quite expensive.
A New Leadership Training Course
Without claiming to have produced something novel or better, but hoping to make a small contribution, we are now launching a Leadership Training Course (LTC) which tries to avoid some of the problems noted above.
This summer, we are beginning a pilot program with a few students. Lasting three years, it will consist of a careful reading of the Scriptures, using a good Chinese study Bible. They will look up cross references; study the notes at the bottom of the page; and memorize a few verses each week.
Their homework will consist of selecting one verse each day teaching a basic doctrine, and another relating to the Christian life, and copying them into a growing file which will become their own theology-and-life sourcebook. They will share what they have learned with at least one person each week; converse regularly with a spiritual partner and with a mentor; and participate in small group discussions. Always, the emphasis will be upon union with Christ; character, community, and growing competence in leading small groups and home meetings; and in discipling individuals.
They will also read books on church history and study one or more of the classic summaries of the Christian faith. Since the greatest need is for mature men, we have decided to limit the course to brothers in Christ.
Please pray that God will enable us to help a few “faithful men who are able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Yours in His mercy,