Gen Z Series: One of the Best Ways to Pastor Them Is to Raise Millennial Pastors

A picture shows some players putting their hands together.
A picture shows some players putting their hands together. (photo:
By Steve Sun December 29th, 2022

Editor's note: After discussing how to build a relationship with generation Z believers in the article "Topic: Pastor Can Be Friend to Nurture Generation Z", a pastor in South China shared how the church can better touch and shepherd the young people born after 1995. 

Zheng Rongkun (pseudonym for safety reasons), a pastor from South China who was born after 1960, is a study-type pastor. He has been keeping close relationships with young people while digging deep into their spiritual needs. He shared some of his pastoral experiences with the Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China.

Christian Times: What do you think of the situation in which the pastors and preachers of today's church are at a loss when facing the young people who were born after 1995? What do you think is the cause?

Pastor Zheng Rongkun: I think it probably depends on the age group of the pastors. The older shepherd is prone to stay in his fixed mind while shepherding. There are very few millennial pastors in the church now, most of them were born after the 1960s. I was born in the 1960s, but I have been constantly learning. When most pastors reach the age of 50, I think their enthusiasm for learning decreases and they are not willing to accept new things. Therefore, they will face the rapid changes of the times. They will be unable to handle the young people who were born after 1995. In addition, some churches are trapped within their denominations and do not want to communicate with people from different denominations. I think we should learn from the moderate charismatic churches, whose gathering and lively spirituality appeal to the young people born after 1995. Many young people don't want to go to more institutionalized or traditional churches.

Christian Times: How do you pastorally relate to the young people who were born after 1995?

Pastor Zheng Rongkun: I think, first of all, let them open their hearts. When I'm among them, I would not ask them to call me Pastor Zheng Rongkun. I would tell them to just call me Brother Zheng. They like to address me this way because it's more relatable. They do not want to be oppressed by authority, but when it comes, they will resist. We should guide them through their own conversations.

While we're talking, say I found out an advantage of these young men, I would tell them. I even took them to places with beautiful views. I would ask them to come and enjoy. I don't want to be a teacher, because being a teacher is a one-sided role. I would rather be a coach, or a tour guide because in that way, both sides of us would be able to talk about something.

If you are preaching to this generation in the way you used to, you would not make them accept and understand. So, you don't have to tell them a very formal truth, you can talk to them in the church during the Sunday service about this. But when we talk to them about these things on other days, we should do that in nature, or a more leisurely environment. That may be more suitable for their characteristics.

Christian Times: What advice do you have for Christian parents of young people born after 1995? Or for Christian families, how do they really exert the spiritual influence of monasticism to attract their children to the faith?

Pastor Zheng Rongkun: The first thing we see is that the Jews are able to pass on their faith. In fact, they are successful in family education, and they have successfully built family altars. Our education is much too paternalistic and didactic. It starts by having a meal together and creating an atmosphere of equal dialogue. Family altars are about building relationships and trust first, not preaching anything at length. Everyone is equal, and everyone can talk about their feelings. Then there is no need to preach. We don't need so much correction. Just talk about what you feel. Then the children will be able to talk to the parents first, and the parents will have a chance to influence them later. My goal is to help 70 percent of the people in my church build good family altars.

Christian Times: How do you see the impact and significance of "paternalistic" and "fraternal" pastors on pastoring this generation of young people?

Pastor Zheng Rongkun: I think pastors must trust them. Either way is fine. They will listen to you. If you don't have a relationship with them, they won't listen to you no matter how good your preaching is.

Pastors should know how to pay the price of accompanying them while they're growing up, and realize the meaning of life together. Pastors with paternalistic authority find it difficult to let go of their pride, and thus find it difficult to establish relationships with them.

The young people born after 1995 are actually very lonely. They're self-centered and have strong self-awareness. The shepherds need to delve into their inner feelings and listen. In addition, we should focus on training the next generation of pastors. It is best to let the young pastors born after 1995 rise up and become the pastors themselves.

I often tell young pastors that I'm transitional and that the young people themselves need to stand up with a sense of purpose. And when they arise, it'll be time for me to retire.

- Translated by Nicolas Cao

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