Editor's note: In the present day, the churches in China maintain their belief in the singular savior, Jesus Christ, and uphold the Bible as their shared foundation of truth. Beyond this, they engage in diverse forms of congregation: the customary in-person services held within large churches, the intimate house church meetings, and the practice of online worship.
Recently, Brother Shang Boen (pseudonym) shared his perspectives on traditional church gatherings and familial gatherings with the Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China.
Brother Shang is a returnee student from City A in the Southwest. He studied for an undergraduate degree in the United States, where he also accepted the Christian faith. After he returned to China, he experienced different kinds of church gatherings. In the interview, he talked about his observational reflection on the church's experiences back in China.
Christian Times: How did you come to embrace Christianity? What was your conversion experience?
Shang Boen: I embraced the Christian faith during my freshman year in Ohio, USA. At that time, a friend of mine, who was a doctoral student and a teaching assistant, invited me to attend an evangelical camp. I was deeply moved and offered the sinner's prayer. Subsequently, I began attending the weekly services without interruption. Later on, I participated in a baptismal course and was baptized in 2017.
Christian Times: How did your life transform before and after your faith?
Shang Boen: Prior to my belief in the Lord, I was genuinely perplexed. Engaging in diverse subjects such as mathematics, physics, and chemistry compelled me to contemplate differently. I recognized the necessity of a fundamental truth serving as the bedrock for all forms of knowledge and comprehension. I pondered upon my identity and the purpose of my existence. Upon embracing the faith, I obtained answers and placed my reliance on God.
Christian Times: What distinguishes the attendance of church activities during your time studying abroad from attending church meetings in China?
Shang Boen: I truly appreciated the atmosphere of attending church in the United States and the myriad of activities during ordinary times. Upon my graduation, I returned to China. Initially, I attended a traditional church, followed by a church that deviated from tradition—an intimate house church. In the past, conventional large-scale gatherings were characterized by their sheer magnitude, a vast number of attendees, and a pronounced sense of ceremony. However, I found that the sermons predominantly emphasized doctrine, making it arduous for me to retain the information that could be integrated into my daily life after the sermons.
Conversely, the current gathering style in the house church I belong to is marked by scaled-down assemblies that place a premium on fostering familial bonds. Commencing with each Christian household, the church nurtures the inner lives of its members, enabling them to share the word of God. Throughout this process, individuals incorporate what they have heard into their own life circumstances. The objective of such gatherings is to emulate the apostolic era. Distinct from smaller fellowship groups, this approach upholds the worship ceremony and the holy communion.
Apart from Sundays, the leaders of each group assume a parental role, maintaining contact with different team members. Midweek, we convene to study the word of God. On Sundays, we forgo division into groups and gather in a single individual's home. Every week, different family members attend church and partake in service. We come together to share God's word, offer praise, engage in worship and prayer, and subsequently enjoy communal meals and shared experiences of life.
Christian Times: What do you believe are the characteristics and requirements of today's youth? How can the church facilitate their engagement and understanding of their beliefs?
Shang Boen: I was born in 1994. Many young individuals I have encountered are becoming increasingly rational and inclined towards individualism, placing significant importance on personal identity. They may be exposed to a wide array of cultural diversity, yet they tend to shy away from social responsibilities, often avoiding them in interpersonal relationships. While they exhibit a strong tolerance for various aspects of society, they need to learn to critically evaluate acceptance and tolerance. Simultaneously, they must learn to embrace responsibility while possessing the ability to foster brotherhood. Therefore, if the church can serve as a companion, it has the potential to greatly assist contemporary young people.
In my view, the church needs to adapt and reform in terms of conveying the truth, pastoral approaches, and service time arrangements. Pastors should engage in more interactive sermons, allowing young individuals not only to listen but also to express themselves, share their understanding and logic, and discuss the aspects they resonate with.
If pastors and church workers can first establish a friendship with them and subsequently teach them about God's creation and salvation, it would be more effective.
Contemporary young people require more than just pastors who can communicate through words. They yearn to witness the pastors' exemplary lives before receiving "lectures". By demonstrating an infectious church life and exemplifying it themselves, we can attract them to remain in the church, draw closer to it, and foster commitment.
Christian Times: How do you perceive the church's ability to provide pastoral care to individuals with high academic qualifications?
Shang Boen: Drawing from the Book of Acts, the lives of the apostles showcased a harmonious integration of truth and life. The church needs to minimize the initial emphasis on doctrinal teaching and instead focus on an interactive pastoral approach. It is essential to allow highly educated individuals the space to pose questions and encourage them to witness the integration of faith and life within the pastor's family. Additionally, modern-day youth face immense work pressure and have limited time availability, so service times should be flexible, avoiding a fixed schedule.
Furthermore, the church should offer premarital counseling, love counseling, career counseling, career planning, and related courses, connecting them with the overarching theme of God's kingdom, holistic faith, and life.
- Translated by Charlie Li