Traditional Chinese churches are generally dominated by female or aging believers and that leads some people to believe that the Church is for "old mothers". In fact, there is no lack of male believers, but many brothers are not very familiar with their faith, not active in the meetings, and not much involved in church activities – some of them are Christian in name only.
Qingyang Church in Jinjiang, Fujian realized this problem and they made an effort to build male believers up through establishing a brothers’ fellowship.
"Because our funeral services are carried out poorly, society looks down on us," said Rev. Ye Gaosheng, president of the Jinjiang CC and head of the brothers' fellowship of Jinjiang Qingyang Church.
He added that the local people of Jinjiang City attach great importance to funeral services. Formerly, most memorial services were organised by sisters. Qingyang Church wished to establish a fellowship of brothers who would be given responsibilities to provide memorial services. In this way the community would see that the Church had not only females but also males.
This is the reason why a brothers’ fellowship was set up. In addition, the group emphasised the spiritual development of the brothers so that their faith would be based on Jesus Christ the rock. Besides this, having men become more involved in the church had been a burden of Qingyang Church. On June 22, 2008, Qingyang Church Brothers’ Fellowship was officially established. In the beginning, the fellowship had over a dozen brothers. Now more than 100 brothers are registered members.
"When this brother fellowship was organized, I wished the church well," said Rev. Ye, who is now mostly responsible for the church's funeral services. If a believer in the church dies, the funeral service will be attended by more than 30 members of the brother's fellowship. On the day of the funeral, more brothers will appear to help carry the coffin or hold wreathes.
"As soon as the church informs them of a funeral, they’ll take the initiative to participate. Previously, services like this were costly because families had to hire people to help, but now we have brothers who take responsibility. Carrying the coffin requires from seven or eight to a dozen people. It’s a job that the brothers can do." Rev. Ye said that the brothers worked very hard and sometimes they couldn’t stop to even get a drink of water. There were funerals for migrant dead believers who had no local relatives so the brothers also volunteered to assist them.
In addition, after every Sunday worship, there is lunch for more than 400 people at the church. A dozen brothers from the fellowship volunteer to prepare the lunch. Some of them need to buy food before five in the morning!
Sharing his feelings on leading the fellowship, Rev. Ye said, "I am grateful to be able to lead this fellowship to help others change their lives and make them a blessing to all."
"Some of the brothers didn't use to come to the meetings, didn't pray – they were Christians in name only. They said, 'My mother or my wife is a Christian so I'm a Christian,' and they're actually confused about their faith." Rev. Ye explained that after these brothers joined the fellowship, they really realized that they needed Jesus in their lives by listening to sermons and teachings.
Some brothers were previously considered ‘sinners’ in society, but after joining the fellowship their lives changed and they lived a life for Christ. In addition, the current elders and deacons of Qingyang Church grew up in the brother fellowship.
Influenced by the initiative of Qingyang Church, other churches also set up a brother fellowship. In 2013, at the fifth-anniversary celebration ceremony of the founding of Qingyang Church Fellowship, all the city's brothers' fellowships officially announced the establishment of "Jinjiang City Christian Brothers Spiritual Retreat."
At present, Jinjiang City has more than a dozen churches that have set up a brother fellowship. Because the city's brother fellowships have begun to take shape, Jinjiang City Christian authorities have specially founded Jinjiang Brothers' Fellowship Ministry led by Rev. Xu Guozhong as Minister, Rev. Hou Zhiga as Vice-Minister (these two pastors are also the members of the standing committee of CC&TSPM).
The Brothers' Fellowship Ministry is responsible for organizing the quarterly brothers Special Meeting. Special meetings are held in turn in the churches where there are established brothers' fellowships. The brothers from each of the fellowships came to give testimonies, study the Bible, sing praise songs, and attend spiritual retreat gatherings.
Although the establishment of a brother’s fellowship has many benefits, Jinjiang City Christian authorities also respected the decision of some churches not to set up such a fellowship for the time being. Some churches believed that certain males had strong personalities so it was difficult to have them work together well; some churches were too small to organise a variety of fellowships.
For churches interested in establishing brothers' fellowships, Rev. Ye gave two suggestions: First, the gathering time of a fellowship should not be too long. It's hard to sit like a sister for a long time because males tend to be physically active. Qingyang Church’s brother fellowships usually last for about an hour. Second, the activities of a meeting should be rich and diverse. The Qingyang Church meeting usually begins with a prayer which is followed by half an hour of choir practice and the next session is a 20-30 minute Bible study with a brief discussion. The meeting ends with a pastor’s final comments.
Now, the activities of Qingyang Church’s fellowships have become well established. Monday is a home visit to a brother of the Fellowship. Tuesday night is the Fellowship. On each Tuesday evening there is a different theme, for example, choir practice (there is already a choir in the Fellowship), Bible study, spiritual retreat, and seminars (mostly about family affairs, guiding the brothers to lead the whole family in the pursuit of faith). In addition, the Fellowship has two outings and two dinner parties every year.
Most of the participating brothers are between 40 and 60. The church hopes that by participating in the Fellowship, they can be a blessing not only to the church but also to their family by being a good husband and father in the family.
Rev. Ye shared his testimony of the changes that the brothers have made in their families. After some brothers joined the fellowship, relationships between spouses became harmonious and they fell in love with each other. Many attendees come to the church as a couple or a family and some have come together to participate in church services which were not the same before.
Speaking of the greatest trials and challenges to the faith of the brothers, Rev. Ye confessed that it is related to social or business dining and drinking. Living in Jinjiang, there are many opportunities for socializing or having business dinners and drinking—most brothers have such habits. Rev. Ye and other minister have been encouraging their brothers not to drink too much and to give up smoking.
It’s really hard to quit smoking and drinking. Rev. Ye said that some brothers wanted to quit smoking but they couldn’t on their own. Finally, they relied on God and prayers to successfully quit smoking. They were slowly changing their drinking habits too. They wouldn’t get as drunk as they used to. In the fellowship, we encouraged each other to give up smoking and drinking and prayed for each other.
It is worth mentioning that the brothers are now able to attend the fellowship activities for at least an hour without smoking. You know, some smokers can't stand it if they don't smoke for ten minutes.
Our male believers will struggle with it in society as everyone else smokes and drinks.
Rev. Ye said, "It's wonderful to see that they can succeed in quitting smoking and drinking because of how the Lord is filling their lives with goodness."
Social or business eating and drinking also rob brothers of their time and deter them from attending church meetings. Yet, they are willing to set aside their secular pursuits because they cherish the opportunity of being a part of church meetings. There are more than 20 brothers who attend almost every church service.
Qingyang Church resumed all its on-site services on 21 June and the on-site meetings of brotherly fellowships were resumed in August 2020.
- Translated by Charlie Li