Editor's note: It's the fifth article of a series of interviews under the topic: Cultivate a New Generation of Chinese Christian Leaders (see article one, article two, article three, and article four). In this episode, a pastor in southern China emphasizes theological training and encourages the next generation of Chinese church leaders to acquire income skills outside of the church.
Pastor Nai Guohui (pseudonym for safety reasons), a 60-year-old pastor from southern China with extensive pastoral experience, shared his opinions on this topic with the Chinese online Christian newspaper, the Christian Times. He believes that churches need to do a good job of discipleship and theological training in order to raise up successors. At the same time, it is important for preachers to have income skills outside of the church in order to cope with difficult times.
Pastor Nai said: "Good theological training is essential for raising up a new generation of successors. For example, in a city or rural area where the Gospel is widely preached, the church needs to recruit students who love the Lord and the church and offer them good discipleship training and theological education. Without good theological training, many problems will arise in their future ministry. For example, the accuracy of the preacher's teaching on the Bible, how to endure hardships and overcome difficulties, how to defend the church and protect it when disrupted by heretics, etc. While many young people are now rushing to make money, I continue to teach online theology. The classes are held in the evening and completed in four years. I believe an excellent new generation of successors can only be selected when the church does a good job of theological education and discipleship training at the grassroots level."
The pastor shared his own unique experience and advice when discussing the challenges of training a new generation of successors. The next generation of pastors should be encouraged to develop additional income skills. Pastor Nai confessed, "Many full-time preachers in churches have to quit their God-called jobs because of low salaries. Some pastors will be sad and helpless, while others will view it as a significant personal chance. I wish to find a way for all of them and to be their spiritual companion."
Pastor Nai continued, "Preachers are also human beings and have certain necessities that they need to purchase. They have the freedom to establish a family, the responsibility to raise a wife and children and the obligation to support the elderly. The preachers' helplessness and pain in obtaining a sufficient salary from the church can become a sore point in their ministry."
"Before liberation, a missionary trained a local theology student, Brother X, in eastern China. The missionary advised Brother X: 'Besides serving the Lord with fervor, you need another income skill.’ Later, after graduating from theology, Brother X learned ophthalmology. Then he worked as an ophthalmologist and served the church after work. He enjoyed complete freedom in his life and service to the church,” he recalled.
“Later, this brother X trained a new generation of successors including Pastor Nai (me). Brother X also encouraged the young pastor N to learn additional income skills. So I learned the skills of tailoring and making clothes. On the way to serving the Lord, Pastor N’s family encountered many financial hardships. When the family was poor, he supported a family of four by relying on the skills of tailoring. After the family’s economic recovery, he and his wife continued to serve the church fervently."
Pastor Nai cautioned, "It is helpful to have a spiritual partner or pastor to supervise and accompany preachers who want to develop another income skill. People are weak, and during the pursuit of money, they often lose their enthusiasm and hope to continue serving God. Therefore, working outside the church requires boundaries. The extra skill should be used to meet basic needs of life such as raising children, supporting parents and other expenses. After completing these tasks, the preacher should stop working outside and return to the church to serve."
"There was a preacher couple whose financial situation was often difficult when their children started elementary school. They relied on the meager living allowance provided by the church. However, because the wife was skilled in Chinese medicine and massage, she opened a pediatric massage clinic with her husband. As soon as financial relief kicked in, she asked her husband to quit his job at the massage clinic so that he could dedicate himself to being a preacher and serving the church.” “Furthermore, she could arrange her work in massage clinics and substitute service schedules in a reasonable manner. While the husband was a full-time preacher and the wife was a substitute co-worker, they could fully cover the family's daily expenses. There are many things we can learn from them," Pastor N added.
The theology of suffering has, to some extent, been an encouragement and blessing to church pastors and preachers throughout the history of the modern Chinese church. Over-interpreting and applying the theology of suffering to preachers can also seriously harm the Chinese church's development. As a result, the church's vision will become narrow and it will lose its ability to serve as a light and salt to the community.
There is a strong support system in a healthy church and full-time preachers can have a stable and long-term ministry in it without needing to work part-time elsewhere. However, not all churches have the systems and funds to do so. As a contingency plan, pastors today may want to consider the need for full-time preachers to obtain additional income skills.
- Translated by Richard Zou