Voice: What on Earth Are Major Factors Causing Rural Pastors to “Falter” or Drift Away?

A cross on the roof of a rural church
A cross on the roof of a rural church
By Jonah ZhangDecember 23rd, 2021

Editor’s note: This article is written by a rural grassroots pastor from North China in which, from his personal experiences, he shares all kinds of pressures and influences that he felt were encountered by the community of rural pastors, especially the plight. He himself also has various challenges, serving while doing all types of small businesses to make a living. “What is the reason of rural churches being unable to develop normally and healthily, and what factors lead to the faltering or even vanishing of rural ministry?” This is the topic he hopes to discuss.

Time flies. More than 20 years passed seemingly overnight, and I still stick to my position as a rural grassroots pastor. To be honest, I have thought about leaving many times for other jobs. However, whenever I reflect in the dead of night, the voice will once again sound in my ears, and scenes of me being called emerge in my mind. With the condemnation of my conscience and the call of the times, I can only carry forward with my heavy burden.

I learned at a dinner party from my colleagues that a brother who was serving outside had left his ministry. I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken. So, what are the answers to the above questions?

I identified five factors that were affecting the community of rural pastors.

First, it is the temptation of the times and environment.

Living with today’s rapid development and materialistic desires, people’s pursuits are gradually changing, starting from basic living to chasing superior living conditions. There is no shortage of pastors among this group of people who pursue excellent and high-quality life. How many pastors slowly forget their first call? Perhaps, in the mouth of many believers, these evangelists represent the love for the world, showing weakness and incompetence. However, there might be a sad story behind almost every one of the evangelists who love the world.

Many years ago, I attended training in a suburban church. On one of the nights, a brother of the church drove me around the city. I seldom went out, but I saw wide roads, bright lights, and busy people running back and forth. All these sights made my thought at that time stir, and how eager I was to have my own life in this bustling city. At that time, I was still relatively simple, often reminded by biblical words, so my fluctuating mind gradually became quiet in the Lord.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Second, the pressure is from real life.

I remember when I was a child, I seldom heard the word ‘stress’, and I didn’t even know what it meant. However, today children in primary schools know that there is a pressure of studying, economic pressure of working people, market pressure of doing business, and work pressure of employees. It is obvious that pressure is everywhere, and the pressure of real-life squeezes out children’s childhood happiness and makes many adults leave their homes and work hard all year round.

Today, living in the 21st century, in the face of this seemingly accelerating pace of life, people are constantly improving their life requirements and quality, and they are constantly putting pressure on themselves virtually. Buying a house and a car are now the life goals of many. They are the outward indicators of wealth. This social trend has also slowly influenced the church, thus affecting many evangelists to gradually incline to it. My colleagues around me often talk about the pressure of mortgage loans, and they often talk about the troubles of car loans, which suddenly make them exhausted.

I was born in the post-1980s. I can understand the generation very well, and I have personally experienced the great pressure of life with old people and children. I have experienced immeasurable grace in the care and protection of God. Behind every hardship, there will be an unforgettable touch for me. If it were not for the guidance of God and the help of his gracious hand, I would have collapsed on the verge of serving. I have experienced such difficult times, for example when there was less than 20 yuan collectively in my family. I witnessed the noisy scenes where children had to compete with classmates in food and clothing and heard the voices of children saying that they didn’t want to get involved in preaching when they grew up. Too much negative information in life makes me very stressed.

Third, it is the new norm of suspending in-person gatherings.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, my church has received many notices from the relevant departments to suspend gatherings, and the longest suspension lasted for half a year. Many churches can’t provide effective online ministries after the suspension which leads to the loss of believers, and that has very much affected the church. In rural churches, the suspension of gatherings also means that evangelism has lost its basic guarantee. Some colleagues left to find a job temporarily because of practical needs, while others left the church completely for job-related reasons. Rural churches do not have a good management system nor a healthy concept of church development, therefore many pastors can’t see the hope and so they leave in search of other work.

On the Internet, I occasionally communicate with other colleagues. When talking about the impact of the pandemic on the church, many were sighing and felt helpless about the status quo. I often hear things like “a pastor who has received formal training for many years has become a truck driver”, “a colleague who is fully gifted in serving has become a temporary worker on the construction site”, and “a band leader who has been working for decades has actually become a scaffolder on the construction site”. My heart is deeply tingling when I hear this news.

Once, a pastor asked me: what do you think of the problem of missionary work in the church? My answer is: in fact, I can understand their choice very well. Because churches today are very independent of each other, they lack the concept of mutual assistance, which makes colleagues who are struggling on the edge of service feel lonely and inferior, and they can only find their own way to live.

Fourth, it is the lack of self-equipment.

Today, many church pastors lack the habit of self-study, and they usually don’t concentrate on learning and training and they don’t use the sporadic time to study so a lot of time is wasted without any benefit. In rural churches, the life and work of pastors are irregular, and life is always chaotic. In many cases, preaching can be said to be almost for coping, and in many cases, spiritual preparation is for coping with work. This unhealthy mode of service has gradually made many pastors numb with the status quo, without the desire to make progress, and ultimately, they can’t supply the truth which also brings a lot of negative influences on their churches.

Many years ago, I communicated with a pastor who had been trained for many years. During the discussion, I was surprised to learn that although the pastor preached for many years, he never read the Bible completely even once. In addition, in rural churches, there will also be many evangelists that look like “workaholics”, that is, they can work in the church all the time, but they just don’t want to study quietly.

Fifth, it is the ambiguity of the mission and vision.

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint. (Proverbs 29:18) This is an often-quoted Bible verse by many pastors. In the eyes of many people, vision is an abstract theological term. I remember a teacher said: a vision is to see what God sees and to think what God thinks. However, today many churches preach and work, but they don’t know what vision God gave them. Throughout the Bible, many ancient sages received their own visions from God, and they were responsible for the mission from God so that their work could have outstanding achievements.

Today, the pastors who stop, look around, and wait and see often don’t know what vision God gives them, and there is no vision, so they have no motivation to serve themselves. Consequently, because they can’t withstand the temptations of the world, they will gradually stop serving and start pursuing the world, which is really regrettable.

I have summarized these five factors that affect rural ministry. I think that only by paying great attention to these factors and truly solving them can rural evangelism emerge from the precarious situation and be strengthened so that rural evangelism and rural churches can head to a revival.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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