Interview: Pastors on Migrant Workers’ Church in the Yangtze Region: Status Quo and Future Direction
By Elsie Hu, July 04, 2017 02:07 AM
The arrangement that Sunday service is held in the afternoon or evening by many churches to mainly nurture migrant workers brings convenience to believers who also work on weekends.
A church located in a second-tier city of the Yangtze River Delta region (generally referring to Shanghai, southern Jiangsu province and northern Zhejiang province of China) also hosts its Sunday worship at seven o'clock in the evening. An old three-story building is the church where Pastor D serves.
At over 50, Pastor D from Henan looks sincere, kind, and ingenuous. Following the Lord and becoming a preacher at around 20, he followed the migration flow and moved to the Yangtze for a job, being called "a lover of the world" by his mother church at that time. Arriving in X city, he came to know that a large portion of Christian migrant workers didn't have a church, so he and preachers with similar backgrounds started to plant a church. Now, after over a decade, their church has rooted and sprouted.
Pastor D shares that some churches for migrant workers in areas around Suzhou will be demolished, including his church. It is unknown where believers living near the church will go. The congregation is mostly made up of middle-aged people, with a few seniors and a very few young people. The pastor says that the church-goers are mainly migrant workers from Henan, Anhui, and Northern Jiangsu, and a few locals. The church seldom shares the Gospel and the newcomers are introduced by families and friends.
The congregation and church pastoral model
Pastor D stated that more than ten pastors are devoted to the church and ministry, who used to be preachers in their hometowns. Although they differ in educational background, they are trained to be preachers and preach in turns as long as they want to study.
"However, I think that we need a new team of preachers in five years, for there are many next generation college graduates who have stayed in the church since childhood and want to serve God. Currently, a batch of graduates have joined in the ministry though they may not pastor in migrant workers' churches."
In his church, believers study a series of Bible courses in the evening, for most of them are migrant workers who are busy in the daytime while available in the evening. They are divided into different groups led by group leaders. The pastoral model is that Pastor D nurtures preachers, preachers nurture group leaders, and leaders nurture group members.
"Most of them are illiterate and less well educated. It's easy for them to have faith, but hard to understand that faith." Even so, the believers' feedback reveals that they have gained tremendous spiritual growth and some of their mother churches can't nurture them anymore.
Concerning work, Pastor D helps them as much as possible. "We introduce new people to factories owned by church members' relatives. In X city, a person who is not a slacker can easily get a job even if he can't read. "
Difference between a migrant workers' church and other churches
With over a decade's experience in pastoring migrant workers, Pastor D gave four reasons why he is committed to nurturing the special group:
First of all, he is quite familiar with them thanks to his long-term work in the area.
Secondly, migrant workers take the initiative to find churches for they need new relationships in a new place.
What's more, they are more likely to accept Jesus thanks to the innocence resulting from low levels of education.
However, a disadvantage is that it's hard to teach them biblical theory due to their education. "Semi-literate and ill-educated, they find it difficult to interpret the Bible," he said. Therefore, the church should be patient with them and help them understand the Bible little by little.
In addition, any circumstance is acceptable to them. It is okay for them to attend services whether in a magnificent church, a vegetable shed, or a house converted from a chicken shed. The gathering place is like a home in their eyes, and they are close as brothers and sisters.
Difficulties and challenges the church faces
From an overall perspective, it is a difficult time for migrant-worker churches. It faces four main challenges:
1. Child education.
Since most of the believers are not locals, it's a delicate situation for the church to let nonresident students enroll in local schools.
2. Church demolition and relocation.
D's church will be demolished soon, which means that the members will move. Some will leave the region and some move out of the city due to the reason that they fail to find suitable apartments.
Migrant workers receive unchanging wages, but housing prices have become higher. The believers have to be scattered and find rental apartments while it's hard to pay high rents.
4. Church transformation.
The reason why this kind of church needs to be transformed lies in that many people may leave the city because they can't run small environmentally-unfriendly businesses like they used to, affected by urban planning and environmental care efforts of X city. In light of the situation and the above difficulties, believers struggling to live in the city will move to a tier-three city. His church baptizes two to three hundred people annually, but the number of the congregation is on the decline because a lot of people are leaving the city.
Regarding church transformation, Pastor D wants to make a diversified church. He has begun the process of changing his church in the following ways:
1. Training preachers to speak in Mandarin. The preachers used to deliver sermons in their native dialects and people from other places could not understand, which limited the type of listeners.
2. Founding a business fellowship.
His church also has a batch of believers who earn good money and start businesses. Pastor D wants them to found a business fellowship where they can be specially trained.
Direction and ideas about the church's future
Having researched the development trend of migrant-worker churches in recent years, Pastor D says, "We have gone through a lot and prayed much. Having discussed the future trend together, the pastors all agree that we will make churches healthy in the next five years. Problems will emerge if churches are unhealthy with imperfect mechanisms. A church is led by the congregation now rather than a team as in the past. Migrant-worker churches should also be congregational."
A pastor nurtured several churches before, but now one is only in charge of one church: managing it, visiting members, and nurturing them. In addition to this, the church should perfect mechanisms such as financial management, pastoral models, and training courses.
Pastor D explains five areas of a healthy church:
1. Improve worship.
"We used to be casual in worship. Worship was held regardless of the time or process, but it should be systematized."
His church used good training courses from other organizations or churches no matter whether they fit the church or not. Now it chooses courses according to its own needs. Besides, the church tries to teach different kinds of serial courses based on believers' spiritual level.
Systems and rules are necessary to form a healthy church. "In the past one believer could do this and that, busy and messing things up. Things are not done that way today. We should be professional. The person in charge of one part should do a good job of that part. It is not messy when everybody does his or her own part."
Time, focus, and personnel should all be arranged clearly.
4. Have a kingdom vision.
He stressed, "A church develops when she has a kingdom perspective. She should break the limitations of denominations. Otherwise she can't move on because there will be more denominations. A healthy church contains different people and assists others in the cases that don't conflict with truth and doctrine."
5. Cooperate with brother churches.
The church should cooperate with brother churches to engage in evangelism, social service, and theological seminaries.
On evangelism, a small church can actually send few missionaries and traveling expenses for missionaries are unaffordable.
When it comes to social service, he revealed that the church lacks energy and funds for it.
"About theological classes in house churches, it's impossible for every church to open a class. So a class is started by several churches that cooperate." He concluded.
Translated by Karen Luo
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