Interview: Pastor Says Church Ministry Attempts to Explore 'Integrated System'

Churchgoers stood up to worship God during a baptism service in Xishan Church, Dalian, Liaoning Province, on January 30, 2022.
Churchgoers stood up to worship God during a baptism service in Xishan Church, Dalian, Liaoning Province, on January 30, 2022.
By Steve Sun April 2nd, 2022

As the church is the body of Christ, the purpose of the earthly church is to be the glorious body of Christ and win the lost souls for the Lord. The significance of the church’s existence will not change, but the pastoral and governance model of the church is not static and will change with the changes of the times and the environment.

The global pandemic in 2020 had a profound impact on the world and the church, prompting the church to innovate and adjust its pastoral mode.

A few days ago, I interviewed Pastor M who is from East China. He is a witness to the changes in pastoral mode in China’s grass-roots churches over the past 30 years. In the past decades, grass-roots Chinese churches have experienced various pastoral modes, from the parish system, dispatching system for rural churches to the church system emphasized by urban churches, and then to the post-pandemic era today, which combines online and in-person modes for group, family and church gatherings. At the same time, Pastor M combines the advantages of the past dispatching system and church system in the current ministry, avoiding their respective disadvantages.

It should be noted that at present, this emerging model due to environmental changes is not called and defined by special terms such as the parish system and the church system, but its connotation and formation are more presented as a style of the “integration system”.

First, the combination of the dispatching system and the church system can give new vitality.

Pastor M recalled that nearly 30 years ago the parish system was mainly for many rural churches with one pastor assigned to different parishes or churches to preach in rotation, which was very important at that time. However, it is reviewed as a kind of “cursory” ministry and difficult to play the role of in-depth ministry. Pastors and believers could not establish a deeper relationship between leaders and believers.

So, now how does Pastor M use the dispatching system? First of all, he hopes that the fellow pastors can be trained to preach everywhere, but at the same time, this pastor also has a fixed church or group church to manage and deeply take care of the believers. Therefore, the present dispatching system is that this pastor will go out once a week in addition to his own church or group church so that they will get a balanced growth in preaching and ministry.

Pastor M said, “If the dispatching system is not applied, the pastors in some churches will have a weaker level of leading the believers because of their education level and age. However, through the dispatching system, the pastors can cross and take turns preaching sermons, so that the believers in one church can hear the sermons of other excellent pastors at least twice a week, and there will be a balance in the provision of truth.”

At the same time, Pastor M stressed, “A pastor must take good care of his own work in the church. Dispatching orders is only a part of training pastors. In the previous dispatching system in which pastors did not have their own place of responsibility, they only preached in a fluid way, which made it impossible to cultivate them in depth. The pastor was just like a preaching machine, and the pastor had nothing to do with the believers in this church so the pastor could disappear straight after finishing each sermon. This was the detour we had before. Although the dispatching system is still used now, we ask pastors not only to preach but also to take good care of the believers in the church they are responsible for. This can also establish a real pastoral relationship.”

Second, the church system needs to avoid disadvantages: to have a deeper understanding of the essence of the church.

The church system is a popular model in urban churches after 2000 - the church is fixed in a church spot, and all pastoral activities are carried out in this space.

Pastor M believes that the first church system was mainly just one person preaching the holy word and doing the ministry. For example, some pastors needed to teach many sermons or do much counseling during the week. From a certain point of view, it was a drag and internal friction for this pastor; secondly, the believers in the church were mainly influenced by one pastor, and it was easy for believers to deviate from their cognition of truth and the whole gospel view. After a long time, the believers in this church might find that they only recognized this one pastor. However, in the current environment where the resources of online channels are sharply reduced, if a congregation are confined to the level of the pastor’s ministry, it will be difficult for them to integrate into the comprehensive gospel. After a long time, there will be disharmony in truth and relationships in the whole church.

Therefore, Pastor M thinks it is necessary to combine the dispatching system with the church system. Moreover, a more systematic way of preaching and ministering is needed in ministry. For example, Pastor M recommended ways to formulate the annual sermon outline, including truthful, doctrinal, and life-oriented sermon contents and the development direction of the church. The sermon preached each month can be adjusted and balanced by these. For instance, if the sermon is weekly, the first week will lead the Holy Communion, the second week will be about the cross, the third will focus on the Gospel of Mark, and the fourth week will be the practice of Christian faith life.

Pastor M believes that faith should not be bound by the church. Not meaning against the church, he believes that many believers have a faulty mindset - they only look for which place to get together and think that this is the only place as the church. But in fact, the Bible shows us that people who believe in Jesus Christ and are saved together are the church. The Temple in Jerusalem is sacred, but it is not only called a gathering place in Jerusalem, but also a church. In ecclesiology, it is necessary to shift the focus from place to people. For this reason, Pastor M pays special attention to sharing the correct ecclesiology with his members.

Third, how can the advantages and disadvantages of group ministry be balanced?

“The group gathering mode can transform the large-scale church gathering mode. If we strengthen the nurture of believers’ spiritual lives, we can make up for the shortcomings of church services. In this way, there are not only healthy pastors but also healthy believers, which makes it even more balanced.” He said, “At present, we use the idea of group gatherings in pastoral care, but the problem of group gathering is that although it cultivates many people, it also creates a lot of chaos in the church.”

For instance, he said that one of the typical examples was that from the previous time when several pastors managed their own churches, to the time when the group leader got the power to manage his own group members, there was a problem: after the power was dispersed, some individual group leaders had pride, and there was also the split of the group or the split between the pastors in the church. The worst outcome that he had experienced was the group leader taking away the group members and leaving the church.

Pastor M affirmed that group gatherings were very suitable for today’s environment, but it was also necessary to realize that sometimes the church group meetings would lead the church to the utilitarian side and would stimulate pastors to continuously develop more groups to achieve the goal of doubling the number of people. This would lead the church to be ministry-oriented in raising and cultivating disciples - it attaches great importance to results, numbers, and scale. Yet, it was not life-oriented. “When I realized this problem, we made an adjustment to strengthen the internalization of believers’ lives,” he added. 

Fourth, believers and pastors need to change and update their mentality in the post-pandemic era.

Pastor M specifically pointed out, “From 2020 to 2022, in the two or three years after the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, we had to change a lot of patterns. In the beginning, I didn’t want to accept online services either, and I always felt that there was less atmosphere and feelings that I would have on site. When I first talked before a screen, I was not used to it. As I preached before the computer, I felt no emotional responses. At first, I felt a lot at loss. I felt that online preaching seemed to lack the touch by the Holy Spirit, and it was better to speak in person. Yet, I couldn’t help but accept this fact.”

“Throughout our experiences over the past three years, I think it is God who has given us a reminder. I often tell my brothers and sisters that we should adapt to and accept the current online and in-person hybrid meeting modes. It is certainly better for us to get together when we are safe, but when we are in trouble, we can’t complain to or test God. At least when we face this environment, we are calm. Even if five people get together, our faith will not go weak. I have always encouraged my brothers and sisters not to lose heart.”

- Translated by Charlie Li

related articles
LATEST FROM Church & Ministries