Observation and Reflection on the Application of 'the Concept of Family' in the Church

A family in rejoice in front of a church at sunset.
A family in rejoice in front of a church at sunset. (photo: Pixabay.com)
By Katherine GuoJuly 11th, 2023

To commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of Wu Yi-fang, Professor Jin Yihong from Jinling Women's College of Nanjing Normal University gave a lecture titled “Wu Yifang and her ‘Jinling Daughters’.” In the lecture, she mentioned the concept of the “Jinling College family,” and the profound impact it had on the students.

Founded in 1913, Ginling College was the first-ever women’s college in China and one of the 13 missionary universities in the Republic of China, with Mrs. Lawrence Thurston, an American missionary, as the first president. The school had a total of 999 female graduates, who were called the “999 roses”.

Professor Jin talked about Feng Jin’s The Making of a Family Saga: Ginling College. Under the management of passionate teachers, female students were interacting with their teachers and integrated into the family. At that time, the students were separated from the traditional family, and they established a new self and interpersonal relationship. They had a new sense of home.

Similarly, the church also uses the concept of family to shape the church and its ministries. Pastor C, who leads a church in Central China, referred to the church in a broad sense as a family. He is like an enterprising parent at the helm of the family.

Many churches in China are facing a shortage of young leaders. One of the reasons is that, for fear of losing their position and financial support, the elderly leaders are unwilling to train the young ones. Pastor C’s church has established a subsidy system for retired staff, who can basically receive more than 80% of their salary. He regards the young pastors of the church as his own children and is proud of their achievements.

When fellow workers and believers have difficulties or are sick, the church provides help. When elderly believers need to be taken care of, church volunteers accompany them constantly. Believers are buried in the church cemetery after their deaths. So, the idea is that believers worshipped together when they were alive and would be buried together after they died.

Due to the unity of the church, its believers have a strong sense of belonging. They contribute to the church as much as they are able, and even beyond their ability. All the money needed to build a new church was donated by believers, and no outside funds were needed.

Concerning guiding believers who have completed discipleship training to participate in church services, an elder of a church in North China said, “When children grow up, they must contribute to their families. Isn’t that right?”

The church run by Pastor T in South China uses the concept of family more specifically and plainly than the churches mentioned above, which use it in a broad sense.

Pastor T’s church relies on interactions among discipleship training, groups, and ministries. In groups, members learn words in the Bible in a more daily-life manner, and they also have emotional connections with each other. Team leaders are like parents, and they assign team members to different “discipleship training classes” according to their life levels and supervise the study to help them absorb what they have learned. Group leaders also recommend team members participate in different ministries according to their gifts.

This church defines disciples as team leaders specifically, which means they can be the "parents" and help build the lives of the team members. All the work of the church is built around the goal to train believers into group leaders.

The notion of a family is not always synonymous with warmth and love; it also has harbor elements of oppression. If such aspects infiltrate the church, they may give rise to autocratic and authoritarian practices. Consequently, it's necessary to establish and implement a comprehensive institutional framework.

Wu Yifang was the second president of Ginling College. Professor Jin Yihong thought that Wu Yifang’s important work was to train students from “Ginling Daughters” to “National Daughters”.

The "sinicization and localization" of Christianity is the path that the Chinese church must take, and the Great Commission of churches is to establish God's Kingdom on earth. In addition to uniting believers with the concept of family, the church may also need to cultivate the self-awareness of believers as Chinese citizens and citizens of the kingdom of heaven and have an attitude of "here am I, send me" when it comes to the needs of the country and the needs of the kingdom of God.

-Translated by Charlie Li

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