"Pastor, my child is going to take the college entrance examination this year. Please pray for him to get a high score."
"Pastor, my dog has been sick recently. Can you make prayers for its healing?"
"Pastor, it's almost Chinese New Year. Could you pray that God helps me recover the debt smoothly?"
"Pastor, please pray for me to make more money this year..."
Rev. Shen, who has been pastoring for several decades, reflected on his experiences serving in churches across Jiangsu, Jiangxi, and Northeast China. One of his concerns is that, while many individuals attend church, follow-up pastoral care is often lacking.
He candidly said, "The believer's lives are not transformed, so they are more concerned with their physical needs in prayer."
This issue might result from pastors preaching sermons that focus on material wealth and blessings. According to Shen, "They speak about peace in the Lord, God’s care and blessings, as well as His preparation for marriage and work. This is no different from worshiping idols." He added that this was not the true gospel, which centers on Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. The gospel of seeking blessings has taken the place of the gospel of redemption. As a result, the church risked nurturing unspiritual believers whose prayers focused solely on the body.
Under such circumstances, many believers struggle with misunderstandings about prayers and offerings. During senior high school or university entrance exams, parents may ask pastors to pray for their children to achieve high scores. Shen will not make such a prayer request, stating that high marks depend on students' efforts rather than divine intervention. "If diligent students can’t achieve good results, but those who lack diligence get excellent grades, I don't believe in an unfair God." His advice for ambitious parents was to pray that their children would study hard and be in awe of God, which would lead to improved academic performance. Some people might even request prayers for increased wealth, but Shen declined such requests, saying, "If a prayer could make people wealthier, then I would have prayed for myself."
He recounted that a mother asked him to pray for her son's early release from prison. The son had been arrested for embezzling ¥180,000 after two years of employment and was later sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison, despite many pastors' prayers for his early release. When the mother came to him crying, Shen refused to make such a prayer. Instead, he counseled her to be grateful because 18 months was already a light sentence, and her son's corruption had been discovered and stopped in time. Her son could learn from this experience and live according to the law of the land. After Shen explained this perspective, the mother thanked him for his guidance.
Rev. Shen believed that pastors must guide believers in understanding the reasons behind their requests so that they may grow spiritually. "What is faith? It means that you can give up money, comfort, and even life, and fight for it." Regarding prayer, Shen quoted Matthew 6:31–33, stating, "For the pagans who run after what they shall eat, drink, and wear, and God knows that you need them. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
In his perspective, an individual’s faith as a believer cannot be evaluated based on their church attendance. He believed that many people attended services to fulfill their personal needs rather than for the betterment of the kingdom of God. The commitment to the church is perceived as a form of exchange, where individuals believe that by dedicating themselves to the church, God will assist their families. This notion is similar to giving money with the expectation that services will be provided in return.
Having observed these realities, Reverend Shen felt compelled to prioritize the training of pastors. He believed that church workers are not capable of leading believers toward revival without possessing mature spirituality. Only when the lives of workers are transformed can they influence the lives of Christians positively.
Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shen initiated full-volume Bible studies for believers. Over three years, he compiled texts and audio recordings that covered 66 volumes of the Bible. Believers were encouraged to listen to the recordings individually or in groups for further discussion. Shen emphasized the importance of comprehending the whole message of the Bible. The scripture can be divided into three parts: man’s sin, how God resolves sin, and how people should respond to God after sin has been resolved.
At present, Shen is conducting a one-month online group training session in a church. His goal is to eliminate biblical illiteracy so that believers can benefit from reading the Bible on their own. His primary task is to transform from a pastor preaching at the altar to facilitating group discussions. He believed believers could feed their souls through meditation and sharing.
- Translated by Abigail Wu