Topic: Apprenticeship May Be Applicable to Chinese Church to Cultivate New Leaders

A pastor preaches a sermon.
A pastor preaches a sermon.
By Steve Sun, Ruth Wang December 22nd, 2022

Editor's note: It's the third article of a series of interviews under the topic: Cultivate a New Generation of Chinese Christian Leaders (see article one and article two). A pastor in North China shares that compared with the pastor's employment system in the West,  apprenticeship may be more applicable to the Chinese church.

Pastor Wang believed in the Lord when he was an undergraduate in college in the 1980s. After that, he has worked in rural and urban churches for many years and has been engaged in charity and workplace work. He was interviewed by the Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China.

Christian Times: What key points do you think today’s church in China or the older generation of pastors should grasp when cultivating the next generation of pastors?

Pastor Wang: First of all, as the founders of the first churches, we need to share our experience and divine knowledge with these new pastors, and slowly train and select suitable potential pastors through discipleship training.

When I was young, when a dozen people were together, our pastor spent a week training us in a hotel. It was a luxury to stay in a hotel in the 1990s. Then, from morning till night: we read the Bible as the first priority after we got up, then prayed, ate, studied, and answered questions. Generally, it took one to two weeks to train for intensive courses.

When an old pastor cultivates the next generation, he must first contribute his feelings. The human soul is very sensitive. Whether you love him or not, everyone can understand whether you care or not. It is really important to teach him hand in hand. Now we can only say that it is called oral transmission. In the past, it was hand-in-hand teaching, but now I see very little of that.

Why is there so little hand-in-hand teaching? At present, there are too many things in the old pastor’s church to have time. Either I’ll give you some other books, read them for yourself, or I’ll deliver a lecture, and that’s it. I think we should become a family like teachers and students. Treat your partner as a family member, and he will regard this career as his own, not as employment.

Second, the material part that I emphasized before is that our church is now faced with how to appease the life of the younger generation of pastors. Caring for the family of the church pastor, including his wife, children’s schooling, and other aspects. If pastors struggle with these problems, they will easily drift away from their ministry and mission.

My old pastor, for example, retired at the age of 65. What did he do after he retired? He was reluctant to part with the staff in the church, so he was at the door to greet the visitors at the Sunday services. At the door, when the believers approached, he went to meet and greet them. He no longer gave sermons in the pulpit, and the senior pastor gave up his place to the younger ones.

Christian Times: Why do you particularly emphasize pastors’ inheritance and mentoring?

Pastor Wang: It takes time and energy to cultivate a person. At that time, the pastor of my church spent five years training me, in life, spirituality, caring, and loving.

It is absolutely necessary to get along with and spend time with the trainees. You need to be objective about whom you cultivate and the interpersonal relationship you establish.

For instance, if a church wants to train two or three young pastors, the kind of inheritance and intimate relationship between teachers and students will not occur without the personal investment and commitment of time.

Moreover, church pastors need to give the new generation of pastors the opportunity to try and allow mistakes, because you can’t help them do everything to prevent them from making mistakes. It is in the process of making mistakes that he will grow.

Christian Times: What are the criteria for selecting successors who seek God’s heart?

Pastor Wang: I don’t think there should be a myth about academic qualifications. Many preachers and pastors of the older generation actually had average academic qualifications, but their spirituality and talent supported the growth of the church.

I know that some people who are prepared by God have poor academic qualifications and are not theological students. However, he can do ministry well, because he is called by God.

In addition, his family background, financial income, spiritual life standards, etc. all need to be looked at, but the most fundamental thing is that the church has to pay. The church should ask itself: How much energy and money is the church prepared to devote to this pastor? The cost of living for the pastor and his family to live the city should be considered. Does the church have such a budget?

We can see examples of success. For instance, the churches in the West are mature, and it is good to retire and have someone younger assume the position. Then a perfect system is formed, which means everyone has a role. When a pastor attains a certain extent age, he will retire.

Back in China, the patriarchy of churches like China itself hinders the cultivation of successors. Looking at our Chinese enterprise in China, some pastors are still working in their seventies and eighties, and they don’t want to delegate their power. You can do things if you want, but you have to find your place. For example, my old pastor became a receptionist in the church after retirement.

Also, be willing to share. Jesus preached, telling all his own stories and all his secrets. Then as those from the older generation need to open their hearts and share the most precious things.

Christian Times: What do you think is the balance between institutionalization and mentoring?

Pastor Wang: Protestantism was introduced into China nearly 200 years ago, but it began to develop steadily after the 1980s. It’s still an immature church, which needs a firm foundation, and then a system can develop.

Why is the employment system implemented in the West? It’s because the Western church has already developed the mentoring system, which is comparable to the stage when Jesus Christ trained the disciples. However, China has not experienced it yet or is not mature yet.

The church system will take several generations to build, and after it is established, you can use this employment system. Maybe the mentoring system would be better for the Chinese church at present. However, the mentoring system is also a modern mentoring system, rather than the old one in which apprentices respected their mentors by pouring tea and washing their feet for them. 

It’s like a very simple private enterprise. When a private enterprise starts a business, the group of entrepreneurs must have been family members, relatives and classmates, and then they start recruiting professional managers to a certain extent. The current stage of the church in China is still in its infancy. Just like an enterprise, the core group of people at this time must have a close relationship, comrades-in-arms or classmates, and then they work together for many years so that the foundation will be stable.

With a foundation, the system will only be developed at the beginning. When the church has developed to a certain scale, the recruitment system can be introduced. However, in my opinion, under the present situation, most churches in China are still weak in management and particularly internal management at the core, and the frequent transfer of staff has a great influence.

Over the past decade or so, many churches in China tried to copy some church systems, such as the electoral system, but most of them failed. I think it’s definitely inappropriate to completely copy foreign models. It has something to do with our cultural soil, our own environment, our receptivity, and the foundation of the faith in the church.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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