Generation-based Shepherding - Strategy Desperately Needed in Chinese Church

By CCD contributor: Mu Sheng, February 21, 2017 01:02 AM

Hosanna Church Christmas Celebration(

Not long ago I was invited to a giant church to preach. It's a giant church because there said to be a congregation of 5,000 people in the church, and usually there are about 3000 in attendance. Compared to the small 300-attendance church I am in, that is indeed a giant church. 

I carefully prepared my teaching, decided to speak a topic on "justified by faith" from a little book I wrote. The teaching was not simple but involved some thinking.  I set out after my quick preparation, but what happened next caught me by surprise.

Standing in the front of the platform of the church which is said to have 3000 members, as I looked across the congregation, I saw only old people who are aged in years and the very few people with a young appearance are already grandparents.  I suddenly felt at a loss, wondering whether they could understand what I was teaching them. Sure enough, when I just began to teach the introduction after prayer some people began to doze off. You can not force the seniors to think who are lazy to think, they are too lazy to think. Their heads are like their stomach not suitable for accepting anything other than liquid form of food.

Strangely, they have unusual ability to sit still for a long time. They can sit for a morning and after lunch, they would sit for the whole afternoon. It was like this for three days on end. After the meeting was over, they would go home with their bags. When I was preaching, I never felt the time was the problem, except that I may develop a sour throat. (and I had preached for 11 days once). But this time I felt a little powerless and time went too slowly for me, when I was trying to provoke thinking from 3000 seniors before me by my preaching.

After three days came to the end, I told my classmates not to invite me again to preach to their believers but to invite someone who is good at making food easy to digest for them. Their age determined that they were not suitable to listen to my preaching and neither was I suitable to teach them.

When I recently read the Bible, I paid special attention to what the Bible teaches about "generation." Each generation of people has unique characteristics, and a unique shepherding model is needed for each generation.  Generation can not be equated with the times. While different times are very different but each generation in different times are somewhat similar. Generation means the time of people from the time of birth to the time of death while age is a concept about the stages of men. Therefore, we need to focus on the generation difference when shepherding. Different generations vary in their ability to accept information. It is difficult for a church made up mainly of seniors to accept rational information. What the church likes is the direct answer to questions, while the process of reasoning can be omitted. It would be better if daily trivial matters are included in teachings.

Generally speaking, China's main body of believers are the seniors. It became a lot of young preacher's burden because your sermon must first please this group of old people. However, what is good in your eyes is not necessarily good in their view. Although you believe that thinking is important in faith, they do ot think the same way. As a result, teachings are not received well by listeners and many young people fear preaching to the seniors. Actually what they fear is that the seniors would not accept their teachings. A normal church should organize their members according to the concept of generations including the seniors, the mid-aged, the youth and children, which is rarely practiced in current churches.

Some time ago, I was invited to a youth fellowship and when I arrived there, I was dumbfounded at what I saw which looked like a great mix of different items rather than a youth fellowship. The oldest was 70 years old, and the youngest 6 years old. The younger ones are aged above 50 and there are very few which truly can be called the youth. I asked the person in charge, "this is your youth fellowship?" Feeling embarrassed, he said: "the elderly resist on coming too and we have no way to refuse them." I told him to make a prompt announcement before the end of the gathering, telling those who are over 40 not to attend the youth fellowship anymore and neither should those children less than 15 years of old. In fact, the age gaps have been big enough.

The head of the church said that at the beginning of the youth fellowship; if they put forth such requirement, there would not be so many young people attending the church so they allowed the seniors to come for the number's sake. In reply, I said, "young people will not want to come if it goes this way. They are from a different generation without the desire to communicate with the seniors. the seniors will attract seniors while the youth attract the youth. We see it clearly that normally the youth like to stay with the youth and different generations of people are different to become one.

When the church is divided into four generations of people, everyone will find the proper people to serve. That is, everyone seems to be able to find their own organizations, with a sense of collective acceptability. Every generation of people faces different problems. The seniors who have gone through the past society would feel happy when they have food to eat every day. If a senior is appointed to shepherd the youth, he would tell them that they should feel satisfied when they have food to eat every day. He does not know the real problems facing the youth, including the work pressure and pressure in their heart, neither could he feel their difficulty. As a result, the shepherding could not go deeper.The mark of the times will be manifested in shepherding. If people cannot feel the way the shepherd feels, shepherding fails.

How to achieve it? Success would be very difficult among different generations. Reasonable shepherding models should be like this: the elderly for the elderly, sharing the same historical environment and the characteristics of the times, they will not feel distant from each other; middle-aged people to raise middle-aged people, faced with similar problems in society, they will understand each other easily and feel a sense of being accepted. The youth fellowship is better to be led by the youth who should not be over 35 in age. Once the leader's age goes up, the generational gap will appear. In China, the 70s and 80s have different thinking, not mention the 90s mind. So people from the 70s are not suitable to lead the young people's fellowship.What benefit will this way of shepherding bring to the church?

First of all, this will lead the church to develop its culture in a diverse way so that newcomers in different generations could find the proper groups of people to communicate. The culture of the church will be accepted by the society easily because different generations affect different generations in society.

Second, the shepherds are easier to find their people groups to serve. They do not have to wonder what to preach all the time facing the mix of people.  The preacher must remember that we are not serving everyone in a time but serving the people of our generation, just as the Bible says that David has served his generation. Do not dream that your preaching will be accepted by each generation, which is a great torment for us. Are there any whose teachings are accepted by everyone? There are such people, some of whom I have met. That happens only when the people of the church are those whose bodies show different generations but their spirit is the same. The church will attract the type of people.

Why do many of our theology graduates choose to leave the church? Apart from the economical issue, they have not found the proper people to serve.

Finally, the people being shepherded will be easier to find their needed information. Everyone's needs come from their own situation, and the generation is a big factor.For example, how to educate children with truth is suitable to parents, single people need to know how to prepare for marriage which is not an issue any longer for the seniors. Therefore, the truth of the Bible is more likely to enter the depth of people's heart if we teach them according to generation's needs.
Generation-based shepherding is being desperately needed in Chinese Church.

The Author is a Preacher in a grassroot church.

Translated by Alvin Zhou

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