Interview With Grassroots Female Pastor: Low Pay for Pastors Becomes Detrimental to Chinese Churches in the Long Haul

The pastorate ordained two pastoral staff as pastors in Dongwang Church, Xinzhou, Shanxi, on June 21, 2022.
The pastorate ordained two pastoral staff as pastors in Dongwang Church, Xinzhou, Shanxi, on June 21, 2022. (photo: Shanxi TSPM)
By Tian Jiu'enJuly 12th, 2022

Editor's Note: Born in 1966, a female believer surnamed J followed her mother in the faith of God since childhood. She used to be a primary school teacher and began to serve full-time in 2009. After that, J received very little support. At the age of retirement, she has to make ends meet, as she is also taking care of her paralyzed mother. Despite all the hardships, she still gives thanks for everything. At present, J does not serve in a fixed church. She works as a substitute teacher and home tutor to earn a living and rents while participating in church sermons and visits.

To lead church pastors and believers in paying more attention to those who remained on the front line despite the difficulties, J was interviewed on the topic of the difficulty of supporting pastors. As a freelance pastor, she lives in a place as far as two hours by subway from downtown in a developed city in southern China. Apart from her mental journey as a freelance pastor, she shared the burden she had to bear, as well as her worries and expectations for the future of Chinese churches.

Q: Could you talk about your service experience? How did you embark on it?

I followed my mother to believe in the Lord since childhood, who used to be a crazy evangelist. I was once a primary school teacher and was called at a party in 2006. Then I went to study theology, started to give up my job, and served full time from 2009. My mother was ill in 2012, so I took care of her while serving, during which we lived in many cities. It's been a hard journey, but I also experienced countless blessings from God.

Q: How is your mother now?

In 2012, my mother began to suffer from heart failure, kidney failure, and several critical illnesses. Thank God, she finally came over. After a fall during the Spring Festival this year, she had to stay in hospital for more than a month and needed to receive care all day long. Thank God, now she can sit in a wheelchair and eat something. She is sometimes sober and sometimes confused when she would call me her sister. We have just moved here for half a year, for relatively cheap rent."

Q: Where do you serve now?

I don't have a fixed church now. When some would ask me to preach, I will go there when I have time, and I would also arrange a time to visit, but I can't go for too long as I need to take care of my mother, while my father can help buy food and cook. Last year, I served in a church for one year, but it was difficult for the church to support me. I had to rent a house by myself. Recently, some pastors wanted me to work as a co-worker, but if I worked full-time, I would have to ask a nanny to take care of my mother, which means a considerable daily cost for me. I really want to serve full-time, but the conditions don't allow it.

Q: For your situation, will the pastor and church that invited you to offer help or support?

Generally, no. I know their difficulties. Nowadays, most of the family church believers are middle-aged or elderly, who would help their children to take care of their grandchildren, and have no ability to donate. Especially under the pandemic situation, church pastors are under great pressure. They are in a very difficult time and have no strength to support the pastors.

Q: Are there many pastors like you who are involved in church service but are not supported?

Actually, there are many pastors like me. Several pastors around me are willing to serve, but they can only choose to serve part-time because they don't have a basic living guarantee. However, they are in a better situation than me as they can find jobs, while I have to take care of my mother, and can't go out to work. My mother can take a wheelchair recently, so that I can find some part-time jobs, such as being a home tutor.

Q: You said that more than one church invited you to serve?

Yes, the churches have a great need for preachers and pastors. Especially under the pandemic situation when we cannot gather on a large scale and the church is closed, some who are thirsty for His words would form groups to get together and study the Bible. There are many such groups now. They are incapable of pastoring themselves, so they are eager to have pastors to lead them in studying the Bible. For such group study, I would try my best to pastor as long as I have time, even if there is no support. But this is very limited.

Q: What do you think of the lack of support of preachers?

I don't think it is a healthy model, and it is not conducive to the development of grass-roots churches in China in the long run. Over the past 10 years, I have seen many preachers in a hard time, and many of them have left their ministry positions because of their difficulties. As preachers, we put the ministry first, but we also need to provide for our parents and children. We may not pursue a high-quality life, but we still need basic supplies. Only when the preacher has no such worries can he be fully convinced in serving.

I don't want to see the preachers leaving for a living. My daughter, who is good in spiritual life was suggested to serve full-time, but she said it would be a hard life after witnessing my experience and did not want to work full-time. However, she is willing to provide for the preachers, and I supported her in serving part-time.

Q: Some would say, "The harder a preacher suffers, the more spiritual he becomes". What do you think of it?

In many times, the preachers are harmed not by the world, but by churches and believers. Seeing the difficulties of preachers, many churches and believers would not try to help but pass on the responsibility to God. Church pastors or enthusiastic believers would simply say, "God will bless you when you give all your heart and soul".

When I quit my service position because of practical difficulties, brothers and sisters in the church advised me in the same way. They said, "It's the loss of the church if you leave. Stay and serve. God will not treat you ill." A simple sentence would leave you with nothing to say. If you refuse, they may think that you have no confidence or are short-sighted, and are serving for the service fee. I replied to them that if a preacher serves for the service fee, you can refuse to invite him, but if the church has the ability and does not support us, it is their debt to the preacher and to God.

In fact, workers deserve their wages. "Do not keep the ox from taking the grain when he is crushing it." Not to say human. However, it is difficult for many preachers to get basic supplies. The church should not treat preachers as free labor or employees but should treat them as family members, cherish them and respect them.

Some would argue that I can use my parents' pension to pay the rent, but they also need to be taken care of. Once they get sick and are hospitalized, it's not a matter of a small amount of money. Would I raise money from the brothers and sisters? I don't want it. So I'd rather serve part-time.

Q: Any suggestions on the support of preachers?

I think we can learn from foreign experiences.

First of all, almost all the missionaries sent to China a long time ago were top talents in terms of personal knowledge, ability, character, and spiritual life. So there appeared missionaries like the Cambridge Seven.

Second, the church should strongly support the work of missionaries, not only through prayer but also through financial support, so that missionaries can concentrate on their ministry. Missionaries have set up hospitals and schools all across China, which have trained a large number of outstanding talents and pastors for China.

On the other hand, Chinese churches need to improve their awareness. Many churches think that preachers have to suffer, be selfless, and cannot get high pay, and believe that if preachers live comfortably, they would have no motivation and not rely on God. These ideas need to be changed. Otherwise, more people who want to serve the Lord will leave. Just as China is constantly increasing the income of teachers in order to attract more talents to engage in educational work.

Q: How do you handle the misunderstanding and harm from the church and believers?

I have met many brothers and sisters who love the Lord. They are not capable of giving, but they can give touching love. I have also met people who have the ability to give but are unwilling to. I used to serve in a church, the head of which was a rich businessman who built the church himself. At that time, my daughter was still in college. I would look up to the Lord for the tuition every semester. I served there for quite a period of time but got no supply at all. When I left, the nanny of his family cared about my traveling expenses and gave me RMB 100. I experienced too much, which made me learn a lesson. That is, I cannot put my hopes on others, as they often bring disappointment, discouragement, and even despair. Only by focusing on God can there be hope.

I'm building confidence recently. I haven’t been able to work for nearly half a year after my mother was hospitalized, and I have the big pressure of paying the rent. My daughter helped to pay the deposit and part of the rent, but I could not put this pressure on my daughter, so I prayed. Last month, my mother was able to take a wheelchair. Immediately, a brother introduced me to a tutor work, four times a month, which would provide just enough income to pay the rent.

- Translated by Oliver Zuo

related articles
LATEST FROM Church & Ministries