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Interview: Reflections on Church Growth, Individuals during Pandemic

Interview: Reflections on Church Growth, Individuals during Pandemic

A church choir in China's northeastern Liaoning Province presented hymns on July 19, 2020. A church choir in China's northeastern Liaoning Province presented hymns on July 19, 2020.(Provided by Wu Zhongyi)
ByCCD contributor: Wu Zhongyi September 21, 2020
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Recently, I went through group interviews with regional head pastors, preachers, cell group leaders, and co-workers in China's northeastern Liaoning Province to hear from their opinions on the development and growth of the Church and individual believers in the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of July 2020, the coronavirus made its appearance again in Dalian, Liaoning Province. As a result, many regions had to suspend onsite church services and gatherings again after having resumed public services.

The interviewees were old and young with the oldest in their late 90s. Their names are pseudonyms for security reasons. 

Pastor Li: It’s a time to wait for God in patience.

Most churches have resumed their public services and some haven’t yet. To this end, we need to offer our prayers. Do not worry and doubt. Stay at home before resumption. This is the time to be patient as we wait for God. This is the time to test our faith only to find that God’s purpose is good. We must firmly believe that when the right time comes, public services will be resumed.

After the resumption of worship services, we shouldn’t take it for granted but should continue to do a good job of preventing and controlling the virus by maintaining social distance and more carefully scheduling services. The clergy should obey God's will all the more by improving their own qualities for a higher level and ability to preach in the pulpit. Lead and care for the congregations well so that they may sincerely return to God.

After resumption, services should be further categorised. A variety of events should be promoted such as Bible study, choir practice, and prayer meeting. Don't neglect online services. Now some churches provide both onsite and online services.

Township churches should resume after county and city churches resume. Now is the harvest season for grapes, peaches, and pears so the believers who are farmers are very busy. On the Internet, we have evening services on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Some sermons are from external links and some are our own. Waiting isn’t necessarily a negative matter. We can be proactive in organising believers for services and protecting them from heresy.

Some live online sermons are truly very good. Believers can still enjoy online sermons at home even after worship services resume, and it doesn’t interfere with their going to church. Now the Web is rather advanced so believers are able to get different resources, which is like bees collecting different types of pollen to get a variety of nutrients and good honey.

Although many believers have to remain at home, most are patiently expecting the Church to open so that they can go and worship God there again. Although they have to stay in, God's love hasn’t left each believer. Here are two examples of God’s love. Organizers of a house church visited elderly believers who do not have WeChat (so no access to online services), and they prayed and praised the Lord together while visiting them! Some brothers are hospitalized for surgery. Their pastors and leaders have led fellow believers to visit them to pray for them. There are also shifts of voluntary care for the patients. It is touching!

Group leader Chen: How to view the phenomenon that some believers do not like to go to church?

One pastor said that he hadn’t yet encountered such a case caused by the outbreak. We have been doing online services since the outbreak. We’ve been very faithful to God and we look forward to an early resumption of our church. My view is that there won’t be much difference after my church resumes, and the brothers and sisters around me will always trust the Lord.

And do not deny those who are reluctant to go to church for being so used to services online. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. For instance, some pastors’ preaching level isn’t as good as online ministers. And there are disputes in the church. Some people bring their outside contentions to the church so those who seek quietness do not love to go to such churches. We shall pray for those who stop going to church. The church should communicate with them to know why. Give them more care! Visit them if it’s convenient.

Also, there are a few small groups that are influenced by the Little Flock (family church) who are against going to the state recognised church.

It should be certain that, as true Christians, we need to come to the church and be in the church. After the outbreak, a small number of believers may not attend the church for the time being, possibly because of the laziness caused by the outbreak, the change of work, the change of life, or even deviating from the faith. In any case, this is a big mistake. The Bible says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Pastor Huang: Should the Church reflect on its role?

Definitely. Without reflection, the Church will not improve. The Church needs reflection and believers need reflection.

The Scriptures clearly state, "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word" (Ephesians-5:26). Christ has cleansed the Church with His life through His Word. However, we are experiencing total environmental changes in the high-speed development of the Web. It is especially so when the original pattern and form of preaching and meditation have been broken due to the impact of the virus. We should reflect before God and see if there is anything wrong with the Church. Our preachers should reflect and repent. Why do some preachers appear to be incompetent compared with the newly emerging online ministers? Why do we sometimes become silent in the face of false cults’ zealous and endless boasting? Why do some preachers yell with passion when delivering sermons and yet the believers do not resonate with this?

Is the Church really "pure and flawless"? Is what is taught the truth? The current Church is not about having too few Christians but in fact, there are too many things outside of Christ. The desire for profit is impacting some of us, leading to the emergence of such believers who "have rushed for profit into Balaam's error." (Jude-1:11)

Then there is the dreary way of preaching. Some are simply forms of religion that have to be observed. The Church in God's will is completely out of Christ and no human factor is in it. A church’s actual spirituality is the fruit of the work of its leaders.

In the aftermath of the outbreak, worship should still be held in a sacred space. The Church should not be self-righteous. Secular influences such as vulgarization of services, entertainment-oriented praise, performance-based sermons, and formalization of clergy positions should be overcome because the Church is Christ's. The pastors should reflect on how they prepare and give their sermons, constantly urging themselves to learn more, and constantly renew their spiritual lives and preaching abilities.

As a pastor, I am presently at a loss as I do not know what to do so I can only obey the instructions from the top – to "follow everyone". I can only but do my duty. Yet, I will learn from other excellent minsters to improve myself by taking the pandemic as an opportunity to learn.

As a believer, I have reflected on myself. Now my initial enthusiasm at the beginning of my faith is gone. I listen to sermons while doing housework. I can’t communicate with the leaders and others. It’s as if I’m isolated from the world. I really feel sorry to the Lord!

On the Web, we should be on guard against those false priests, false teachers, and false prophets who take advantage of the poor discernment of some believers. I also have seen that some team leaders posted Islamic symbols and messages and praised them. The ‘herds’ were taken away and those who take care of the flock have an inescapable responsibility.

Church co-worker Hu: I have expectations about the Church.

I hope that brothers and sisters will understand more of this through the outbreak that our Lord is the one God who is in charge of everything, that we recognize our own limitations, that we recognize the smallness of the world. Knowing that all this is in God's hands, we should be better and more devout in following Christ.

From the Church's point of view, we must first have enough confidence, but it doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want because we must not use our faith to test God!

First: The Church should be one. The allocation of human resources ought to be appropriate. Get rid of human will in God’s ministry, especially those who serve others in the church should be well-organized because some team members don’t work at all and are hypocritical. Some are simply bullies. Church pastors should not use their relatives to be in charge of church affairs. Although some of them are believers who are in charge, they are rude and harsh. They should repent.

Second: The pastors should find ways to make their sermons reflect real life. That can be more easily understood. In delivering sermons, try not to show off that you are well educated in theology. We don’t understand many special terms or theories. Try not to add English or Hebrew phrases as most believers have no interest in them. We also don't like vulgar charismatic sermons.

Third: If the Church does not have love and warmth, people don’t feel comfortable being there. So it’s rather better to stay in to study on their own. The pastors should not just walk away by signaling "Amen" to end a service as if it were a duty. Respected pastors are those who choose to walk among the congregations to listen to their feedback after a service.

However, through the test of the pandemic, the Chinese Church has been trained and improved by God – very promising!

After the outbreak, I just want to be able to go back to the normal of the past when I quietly attended services with everybody else. I have spoken to the pastor about my resignation from the position on my church's team. It's not that I don't have faith in my church but that I'm too old. I’d like younger persons to take over. I am full of confidence in my church after the outbreak "for the glory of the LORD is great." (Psalms 138:5)

- Translated by Charlie Li

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