Back to the Early Church: Pastor Appeals Chinese Churches to Place More Importance on Fellowship

A group of people study the Bible.
A group of people study the Bible. (photo:
By Li ShiguangNovember 9th, 2023

In the past ten years, due to diverse historical factors, especially the influence of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), many churches in China placed great emphasis on the study of the Bible, guiding believers to develop a personal relationship with God but neglecting the relationships among them.

Having served in a city church in Northeast China for many years, Rev. Li Tao (pseudonym) has a deep interest in the early church or the apostolic era. In his view, the church of that time highly valued mutual fellowship among its members, which is something lacking in today's Chinese churches.

He shared that in recent years, many churches have established small groups, and pastoral care have been transitioning towards small group-based ministry. However, the pastoral model has remained centered on "preaching and listening." When the sermon begins, it signifies the official start of the service, and everything before that, such as praise and the Bible reading, is not considered the formal section. Similarly, when the sermon ends, the service essentially concludes. The pastoral care model that the majority of churches used in the past, was also characterized by a pastor at the altar speaking while the congregation listened, with little interaction among the members.

In the gatherings of the apostolic era, in addition to preaching and listening, there was a strong emphasis on mutual sharing, breaking bread, and prayer. Nowadays, not only in China but also in churches worldwide, small groups are highly valued, with a primary focus on fostering fellowship among believers, he added.

Regarding online churches, Li has a somewhat negative view. He mentioned that in an online church, people generally have little knowledge about each other's situations. It is not clear what kind of character and experience a person has, as well as what kind of situation he is in. So it is challenging for pastors to provide personalized pastoral care in such a setting and for believers to have meaningful interactions.

He is also aware of a particular issue at a certain online church related to offerings. That church provides abundant sermon and pastoral resources, with over a thousand people participating in each online gathering. During the live broadcasts, there is a segment for offerings. However, one of the church's staff members left. It was discovered that, during the offering segment, the church leader had individuals pretend to make offerings by providing money in advance. Seeing someone zealously make an offering, many others would be encouraged to do the same. Li finds that such cases are quite common.

Li pointed out that when people open their mouths and engage in mutual fellowship, their hearts also open up. In contrast, those who often remain silent in the church find it difficult for their hearts to be liberated and for personal growth to occur.

Many churches have now started to form small groups. A small group's success is typically poor if the leader presides over it in a preaching capacity. However, if the small group leader takes on a guiding role and actively involved every member, allowing each person to share their experiences, such a small group is sure to thrive, as Li continued to explain.

He shared, "A small group is like this, and a church as a whole is also like this. In a church, if every member actively brings others to the church and genuinely cares about them, the church will definitely grow."

Pastor Li illustrated the importance of fellowship in the context of the church he serves. He said, "When our church first started, it was very challenging. My wife was the one who initiated it, and at the beginning, only more than ten people attended the gatherings, mostly her relatives and neighbors. Because there was no one to preach, they took turns reading the Bible. After reading, they all shared their thoughts and impressions. But later on, all of these ten-plus people became pastors."

Li stated, "Regarding the prayer meeting, we asked every person to pray aloud. When it was almost their turn, they might think, 'What should I say?' They kept pondering over what to say. Having no idea, some people would learn from what the previous person had said, changing the form and content a bit and indirectly incorporating it. Some people didn't know how to pray, and the prayer meeting would stall. When that person finally prayed, the prayer meeting would continue. After all of them received training, one year later, each one became a pastor."

Pastor Li explained that when a person actively participates, they have many thoughts, and their mind keep working. But if a person only listens, it is challenging for them to grow and change.

He believed that, in reality, "speaking out" is more important than being "right or wrong." Because when a person speaks incorrectly, the pastor can guide them to the correct understanding. However, if they are not allowed to speak, they will never have the opportunity to grow.

This pastor concluded that many churches emphasize right and wrong and order, which are undoubtedly important. However, when each one is uninformed, with no designated preacher, but every person participates, this approach is closer to the early church of the apostolic era. Ironically, as believers grow mature, the church tends to become less like the ancient one.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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