Right after Christmas, I was part of a trip sponsored by Fuller Seminary to visit and teach at three seminaries (equivalent to Bible colleges in America) in Xian, Shanghai and Beijing. We meet with seminarians, church leaders, professors and pastors. We also got some great sight-seeing in: the terra cotta warriors, Mulsim quarter in Xian, the Bund in Shanghai, walking the Great Wall outside of Beijing, climbing around the Bird’s Nest from the Beijing Olympics. We ate great, amazing, and very different food…sometimes I longed for McDonalds–and found McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC everywhere.
Here is my report
This was my second and much more extensive trip to China. With each visit I gain a greater understanding of the church in China and ways that Fuller Seminary might be of service to the church. Fuller always comes to China as a guest, at the invitation of the Chinese church. Pastors, professors and students welcomed us, grateful that we took the long journey to be with them. One of the great values of a trip like this is that we are invited into Chinese life. Tour groups experience China from arms length. We were certainly treated as honored guests, but we were also exposed to slices of normal Chinese life. This served to broaden our experience.
I did not know most of the people who traveled to China on this trip. Quickly, however, we became good friends. It was an extreme joy to travel and to serve with our band of twelve professors, counselors and students associated with Fuller. New friendships were forged; old friendships were fostered.
We met students and pastors at seminaries and churches in Xian, Shanghai and Beijing. These encounters gave me a new heart and appreciation for Chinese Christians and their churches. The Lord is moving in a powerful way in China! There is a viral movement of the Spirit that is reminiscent of not only first century Christianity, but also of other periods of history where the gospel laid dormant often because of political and economic realities, but then, with the wind the Spirit, that spark burst into flame.
I am overwhelmed in my conversations and interactions with the pastors, church leaders, students and lay people in the Chinese church. They were so gracious and hospitable to us. They are eager to learn. They want to serve their churches well. The church in America while seemingly strong and vibrant is sometimes not very deep or committed. Christianity for many Americans is just one more obligation among many. The Chinese church, engaged in ministry in a very different setting, labors hard towards commitment to Jesus Christ. I was humbled by seminary professors and students, and pastors and lay leaders who are intensely devoted to the gospel and serve joyfully amidst hardship.
Pastors and church leaders face enormous challenges as the Chinese church grows rapidly. Pastors have a very difficult calling. They disciple new converts, provide pastoral care to their large congregations, and continue with the regular operations of the church—preaching, leading worship, serving the sacraments, teaching. The congregations are large; the pastors are few and they are often young and inexperienced.
Chinese pastors work many hours without enough care given to their own lives and well-being. They work very hard, too hard. Their salaries are meager. The overwhelming work required to pastor a congregation takes a toll upon the lives of pastors and their families. They often do not take a day off, nor do they take vacation. They are in danger of burning out.
The church in China is fragile. It is growing at a rapid rate, and yet the church’s infrastructure is not developed well enough to support the growth. More clergy need to trained, and clergy need to let lay people be in charge of ministry areas. More lay leaders need to be equipped to do pastoral work.
One of the important roles that Fuller may play in the future is to offer learning experiences that give pastors more practical skills in leading their churches. In my conversations with Chinese church leaders, I sensed a desire to learn more about pastoral counseling, leadership development, disciple-making, small group ministry, and church growth.
I lead Fuller’s Doctor of Ministry and continuing education efforts; this trip gave me a wealth of insights into the Chinese church, their ministry challenges, and their educational needs. Being on the ground in China gave me a perspective that is impossible to gain any other way. Fuller is ready to help the Chinese church, at their invitation.
I also had the opportunity to present a number of teaching sessions to pastors and lay leaders at Haidian Church in Beijing. This growing congregation of over 6000 worshippers understands the need for developing a strong small group ministry to further the church’s ministry of discipleship, leadership development and pastoral care. This congregation realizes that growing larger also means that the congregation must grow smaller through the development and nurturing of a growing number of small groups. They serve as a model for what needs to happen in many Chinese churches.
I had a wonderful time with the people of this church. I meet members of the pastoral staff. I enjoyed good times of fellowship with Senior Pastor Weijing Wu. Pastor Wu is one of my students in Fuller’s Doctor of Ministry program. This is a wonderful church working hard to share the gospel.
I also had an opportunity to preach at two of the congregation’s six worship services. I preached once in English to the English service and once with translation to a Chinese language service. I preached on the topic of vibrant faith from John 15 where Jesus says: I am the vine, you are the branches; apart from me, you can do nothing. Each service I preached at was full, with others standing, and still more meeting in an overflow room.
This is not the China I had pictured in my mind. The real Chinese church looks very different from American perceptions. I am glad to be a part of an education process that shares the news of the church in China with churches in the United States.