Brother L, in his mid-20s, is currently studying at a seminary and serving in a church on weekends and on holidays. In spite of his young age, he is very experienced, having served in churches for almost ten years.
On weekdays, the Generation Z pastor likes to post his thoughts on social media and often exchanges thoughts and ideas with fellow believers in his online community.
Recently, Gospel Times, a Chinese Christian online newspaper, had an interview with Brother L who shared his experience of growth and thoughts on serving God, which is a true reflection of himself.
Gospel Times: Pastors generally don't voice themselves very much and rarely express directly even when they are hurt. What do you think of this phenomenon?
Brother L: I think, first of all, it has something to do with a person's character. Some people are as extroverted as I am and others are introverted and don't like to express themselves very much. Either way, I think what people need most is to be respected, and everyone wants to be accepted.
I may have been influenced by the word "truth" when Jesus says, "I tell you the truth", in that I feel pastors should do what they say and say what they do. The truth is authoritative. However, the good or not so good behaviors of pastors also influence their congregations’ recognition of the authority of Biblical truth. After all, many people now don’t listen to what you say but rather look at what you live out or what you do.
Why are most pastors reluctant to voice or express themselves? That is because many people will measure God's servants by God's righteousness, but they fail to realize that pastors are also human beings rather than immortals. They, too, should be treated with God's love.
Rabindranath Tagore was once asked three questions: First, what is the easiest in the world? Second, what is the most difficult in the world? Third, what is the greatest in the world? Tagore replied: Blame others is the easiest, know yourself the hardest, and love the greatest.
In love, brothers and sisters can remind their pastors of their inappropriate acts, but can’t completely deny the whole person. Many times we only criticize others, but rarely encourage or affirm them. If a child does not do well in school, many parents will blame the child or compare him or her with other children. I think it is especially important to give pastors room and time to grow, especially young pastors. Don't let them become anxious the moment they start their ministry in a church. That’s why I think many pastors cannot be themselves because they have been picked on for a long time. This results in an inferiority complex, so much so that they need to hide their true selves. I think for us young pastors, correcting our mistakes needs to be pointed but not point at our dignity.
Are many pastors pretentious? Because some feel that if they are not, they believe they will cause people to stumble. If not, they fell they cannot stay on in the church. So they have to pretend that they are good people. In fact, such pastors are very anxious about this. Many pastors are depressed. They also feel helpless serving under this pressure. In other words, before the brothers and sisters, they appear good and very spiritual. In fact, their inner beings are hurting.
Gospel Times: So how do you make the congregation realize that they should accept the pastor's true self?
Brother L: First of all, a good pastor brings people into God’s presence and brings them to worship God, not the pastor. Pastors must be aware of that.
Christians need to be aware that when they gather to worship God, they don’t come to see a certain pastor or team leader. They need to make sure that their teachings are in line with the Bible. When you focus on Jesus Christ, you won't fall because of people.
Gospel Times: What if a pastor has had many burdens and even a tendency to be depressed?
Brother L: There should be a team that cares for pastors. It’s not only the congregation that needs to be taken care of but also pastors. I hope to see in my lifetime the Chinese Church having teams of caring pastors, granting pastors times of sabbatical leave, and also having retreat centers where pastors can rest and be comforted. All that I can do myself for now is to let things settle.
Regarding the current church situation, I tell you what I truly think: a pastor's wife should see her job as a counsellor to her husband. When I was a teenager I learned that the pastor of my Bible study group worked hard to serve us but received no understanding from his wife. That made the pastor as good as being dead. So, I think the more important is to have the support of the people who are closer to you. The scolding by brothers and sisters may not matter. However, if the people who are closest to you speak to you in a destructive way, that hurt is really terrible. A person's dedication to serving God really needs the support and understanding of the family.
In addition, Paul made a good comment, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) Since we want to truthfully live before God, we must also live truthfully before men. I think being sophisticated yet hypocritical is not as good as being simple yet truthful because whatever is hidden will be unveiled.
From this point of view, I don't like the kind of pastor who flys everywhere in order to provide spirituality workshops here and there but never commits themself to anything specific. They serve with gifts which is rather simple for them to carry out and the enumeration is rather high. But by being down-to-earth in serving in a church, in a year or two their shortcomings will be more or less exposed, and then they will need to humble themselves to grow together with the brothers and sisters. So, the personal spirituality of pastors is very important.
Gospel Times: When it comes to personal spirituality, how do you maintain yours while you serve?
Brother L: I am really repented to the Lord. Many times I am alive outwardly but rather dead inside. I appear to love the Lord. But in fact, my personal relationship with the Lord is distant. In fact, pastors are a group who will repent most severely.
My spirituality is simple and involves three steps. The first step is about seeing what the Bible says, or what it says to people of at that time. Step two is about what the Bible says to me. And step three is about how I live it out with the Lord's help.
Perseverance in meditation is what I seek. I think spiritual growth is like the letter "W". Everyone would be like that. When they are zealous they are like boiling water and when they are cold they go down to zero. I want to remind myself of two words, "repeatedly trying and yet repeatedly defeated, yet repeatedly defeated but repeatedly trying." Weakness is also a good thing. Just admit your weakness and rely on God's power.
I think spiritual partners are necessary. Pastors need pastoral care as well and I still think that the best pastor for a pastor is their spouse, their families, or their spiritual parents. Be sure to receive the guidance from your elders.
Gospel Times: What are your personal hurts in serving?
Brother L: To be honest, I have complaints. I even think I’d rather die than serve. I think the church is not as good as society. There is no love at all in the church, the place where love is most talked about. That is my evaluation of the church. This is the very time when I need to rely on the Lord to know that I am serving Him. That is why there must be a calling upon the individual. No calling, no real continuing.
There was a time when I did not have a penny or even have a glass of water given to me while I was preaching. I complained. Back home my mother said, "why won’t you bring a cup of tea with you?" But what I want to say is that God is righteous and loving. Now when I go out to serve, I get paid and am even given tea. In the words of Hudson Taylor, "There is no shortage of God's supply to do God's work in God's way." That's the lesson of faith.
To put it another way, I think having been hurt can be a treasure. There is no shortage of people who can talk these days, but there is a serious shortage of people who can teach the true way and tell the truth. I would also like to be a bridge so as not to allow the next generation to also be hurt. I have suffered and don't want the next generation to suffer the same. This is my idea and my burden. It seems to me that suffering for the Lord and being abused by the church are two different matters.
In addition, I think the motivation and attitude of serving determine how you look at the hurts. In other words, if you have no hurts, it is very likely that people are pleasing you. This is definitely not serving the Lord because the path of the cross is inherently not easy. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know, it hates me first before you."
Truthfully speaking, I find the persecution from outside the church bearable, but it is hard for me to accept the strife within the church. Since the apostolic age, there have been problems and we are all sinners. No church system is perfect and only the elder system is somewhat better. There are problems everywhere. So, here on earth you and I can only find a church that is somewhat closer to the Bible's standard, and our ultimate hope lies in our future heavenly home.
- Translated by Charlie Li