Pastors' Roundtable: How to Face Pastoral Challenge to Young People?

Participants in an Ecumenical Youth Gathering that brings together hundreds of youth from all over the world in the lead-up to the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany walk through town towards the assembly venue in Karlsruhe, Germany, on 27 August 2022.
Participants in an Ecumenical Youth Gathering that brings together hundreds of youth from all over the world in the lead-up to the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany walk through town towards the assembly venue in Karlsruhe, Germany, on 27 August 2022. (photo: Albin Hillert/WCC)
By Steve Sun September 14th, 2022

Editor's note: In a round table discussion with the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, four young pastors from different churches in Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang focused on how to shepherd young people. In particular, they shared that their own strengths and God's guidance have assisted in building trust and a sense of belonging with people of similar age.

The speakers are Sister Jiang born in the 1970s, Sister Shen and Brother Huang born in the 1980s, and Sister Lin born after 1995.

Christian Times: What are the demography and features of the young people in discipleship?

Keywords: Vitality, love of communication, tolerance, intellectual curiosity, self-abasement, social phobia.

Sister Shen: The members of the fellowship I lead are between 24 and 30. On the positive side, they are optimistic and dare to express their ideas and opinions. On the negative side, they tend to be self-centered and have weak tolerance. They easily give up when they encounter difficulties and fall into self-blame and self-abasement.

Sister Jiang: My young people are about 22 years old. It is easy for me to communicate with them. During our first meeting, they gave me good feedback. I felt their soft hearts, strong intellectual curiosity, and humble attitude. But they resist being taught. They have their own ideas which need to be heard and made known.

Sister Lin: For my part, the young people are between 24 and 32 and were born between 1990 and 1998. Most of them have low self-esteem, social phobia, and many worries about the outside world. They also have a search for eternity and thoughts about life.

Brother Huang: I have young people from 20 to 28. They are energetic, willing to share and communicate, and pay more attention to their own world (games, online society). They have a strong ability to accept and understand new things (and therefore high adaptability), and care less about the details in life (e.g. they cannot wash clean the dishes and clean the floor). Sometimes, they are too honest to think deeply about some events, and would do what others require them to do).

Christian Times: What do you think is the most challenging part of disciplining young people?

Keywords: victimization, trust, battle and burden, prayer, deep thinking

Sister Shin: For me, the most challenging thing is that they have experienced a number of betrayals and lost hope in their hearts. Even if I tell them about hope, it is hard for them to believe it, leading to the loss of hope in both reality and themselves. It takes many sacrifices to disciple such people, and they will not be able to follow the path by faith in a short time.

Sister Jiang: From my side, I think it is the problem of good faith. Their response somewhat deviates from their actions, as the results would be a bit below my estimation. The pastoral challenge is to keep building the relationship, as well as the stickiness of the relationship. It is difficult to fully meet their expectations, as their values are influenced by their own interests.

Sister Lin: My challenge is faith. In the process of leading, I will encounter various problems, and I need to face and bear them together with the young people. I would pray for them and seek God's will, and I need to give more to unite with God. Basically, the young people are those who have never been exposed to Christianity before. It is indeed a great challenge for me to let them accept the existence of God.

Brother Huang: Everyone has a different personality, so it will be difficult to guide them in the same direction. It is also hard to conduct in-depth discussions and thinking.

Christian Times: How do you build trust and a sense of belonging with them?

Keywords: Fellowship activities, ministry, communication, the witness of the shepherd, prayer, Bible study

Sister Shen: I will do some fellowship activities. In fellowship, they experience the real-life embodiment of God's words and come to understand more deeply the world of love they receive from others. In addition, I will lead them in a way that is easy for young people to open their hearts. For example, young people like hanging out, so I would take them out. During this process, we will communicate with each other and build trust through more open communication. I started talking to them more and sharing my own testimony of Christianity faith so that they would really feel it, and then they would open up and share their own struggles.

Sister Jiang: I open my heart, open my home, and take them with me to care for others. In the process, I feel that our relationship has further deepened. When we go to care for others, they can feel the close sense of mission and have the heart to help. As I take them to serve and show them different services, they will also trust me. The role of the model can give them confidence and a sense of belonging to serve.

Sister Lin: In my view, I would rather give them the truth before giving them love, as truth can keep the soul awake. I would let them realize the value of words and ask them to write down their thoughts. I will also post on my Moments and social media to share my life and closely combine faith with life. This is actually to let them constantly feel the life of Christ in me, as my life can affect their lives. Their souls feel the true prayer and love for them, so I can only ask God to let me see their weakness and pain, and add to my heart the love for the souls so that I can hold on.

Brother Huang: I build a relationship through eating and playing together and communicating stories with each other.

Christian Times: How do you conduct Bible studies on usual days? Do they accept it?

Keywords: Conversation, communication, Bible study, sharing guidance, discussion, OIA

Sister Shen: I talk, preach, share and pray. First of all, I will learn about their faith level through simple communication. Then, I will preach according to their situation. When there are some obstacles or conflicts, I will take them to pray together. Some get answers through the words of the Bible. Some form a relationship with the leader by sharing their true experiences so that I can interpret their experiences with the Bible. I think it is very important to guide them to share actively when leading the Bible study, as I will know them better, and then can guide them well and explain things in life according to the Bible teaching.

Sister Jiang: We will form a Sunday group. They can actively discuss, combine truth with life, and share their values. It will also have a subtle effect when leading them to pray.

Sister Lin: I usually invite them to online Bible study a few times and then invite them to fellowship when appropriate. This way, they more easily open their hearts and prepare their minds. In the morning, we will regularly set up Bible reading classes, lead them to read Bible together, and help them develop a habit of getting near to God.

Brother Huang: We use OIA (Observe, Interpret, Apply) method in Bible study. We would observe the Bible contents from each word and sentence, places, time and people, and their relationships. We would then interpret the reasons, and ask questions to decompose the sentences. Finally, we would apply it to real life from the above discussion, find out the reminders and lessons, and compare the Bible with our real life. If time permits, we would observe the application scenarios, interpret and apply them again, which becomes a circular guided questioning, discussion, and sharing. At the moment, we invest time and effort in building relationships. Later, it will be different. As they have different learning and understanding abilities, those who already have Bible knowledge would find it easy, while others would find it appropriate.

Christian Times: In what ways do you build their sense of commitment and mission to the church?

Keywords: Bible study, prayer, trust, the invitation to ministry, challenge, the pastor

Sister Shen: The first step is to build their trust in God through His words, and then the church silently prays for these souls, so that they can experience the real work of God in their lives. Let the souls know that they are loved through visible and invisible ministrations and love for the souls. In this way, the souls will gradually trust the pastor and the church. When the trust in the church is built, the church should constantly invite them to participate in ministry, even if it is small, such as leading Bible reading and praise, so that they can feel that they are needed. By serving bit by bit, they will feel their own preciousness. Give them more confidence and courage, and gradually give them more challenges, then they will find the true value and meaning of their lives.

Sister Jiang: I will sort out their life with faith during my care for them. First of all, I would share with them a combination of my ministry path, my testimony of life growth, and my service to the church. Then, I would listen to their sharing and explain their experience with Bible words and principles to slowly build a sense of mission.

Sister Lin: First, the pastor’s life itself has to be a witness. When I have a good relationship with God, they are curious and attracted. Then I would pray for the Holy Spirit to work. Several times, the Holy Spirit worked immediately, and many young people followed me and were naturally attracted to the life of the church. By comparison, they can feel that people need to have a mission, and their own lives keep being renewed and changed.

Brother Huang: I would invite them to observe others’ services to the church, and participate in the ministry (cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, leading poetry and worship, etc.). The commitment to God is imperceptible. In the application part of the Bible study, their thoughts and reminders are like planting a seed to serve God.

- Translated by Oliver Zuo

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