Roundtable: Contextualizing Pastoral Resources in the Chinese Context

Believers gathered to celebrate Christmas at the Xingsheng Church in Anshan City, Liaoning Province, on December 10, 2023.
Believers gathered to celebrate Christmas at the Xingsheng Church in Anshan City, Liaoning Province, on December 10, 2023.
By Steve Sun December 28th, 2023

In recent years, within certain growing churches, pastors have increasingly emphasized pastoral care within church groups and disciple training, as well as studying and employing teaching materials from different churches and organizations.

In the process of selecting and using teaching materials, there have been some issues. For instance, some pastors tend to overlook contextualization when using materials, resulting in a direct copy-and-paste approach that doesn’t fit well. Some teaching materials have an average lifespan of less than two years, so churches can’t consistently use a fixed set of materials. There are also issues with some popular courses having insufficient depth in their gospel content.

The Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China, interviewed three front-line pastors from different provinces on the topic.

Liang, a pastor born in the 1970s from the southern region, leads a church of fewer than 100 people.

From daily devotions to Sunday sermons and group sessions, Pastor Liang always prepares for the courses. He places significant emphasis on elucidating the core message of the gospel. Regardless of the version of small group materials he uses, his concern lies in whether the core of the gospel is clearly articulated within those materials.

He reinstates gospel information into parts of group sessions where the gospel seems diluted.

"No matter which set of teaching material is used, the most important thing is that it is used for the proclamation of the gospel, rather than the gospel serving the use of the material," emphasized Pastor Liang.

Liu, born in the 1960s, serves as the senior pastor of a 300-member church in a city in South China, where two-thirds of the congregation are working professionals.

His church has experimented with diverse, effective courses like "Happiness Group" and "Alpha Course," yet the results were only moderately satisfactory.

For the pastoral care of believers, he uses the CCC&TSPM textbook set MasterLife authored by Avery T. Willis Jr. He shared, "Compared to previous materials, this set focuses more on faith practices, helping them apply the truth and bear witness to Jesus after learning. Materials from some Western and East Asian countries tend to lean more towards doctrines, lacking in practical aspects."

"The faith practice sections in MasterLife suit the contextual characteristics of Chinese believers. For example, the material includes training on evangelism, lessons on caring for family, and specific actionable exercises. When believers practice these, they become more attentive to changes in their lives and the personal mission they've received. Previous materials we used didn't yield such gains and results," he added.

Pastor Li ministers in a church in a southern urban area and has mainly served migrant workers for over 20 years.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, his church transitioned towards decentralized pastoral care through smaller groups.

Li observed that many pastors nowadays adopt a "copy-and-paste" approach for convenience without investing their mental efforts. Whether for Sunday sermons or daily pastoral care, they directly use others' teaching materials. While this might resonate with some, it alienates others.

He believed that when using teaching resources, pastors should follow the principles of contextualization and practical theology. He has developed four sets of teaching materials at different levels for seekers and believers. The first set focuses on evangelism, primarily exploring the relationship between faith and science. The second set covers the journey from doubt to faith and baptism. The third set encompasses the content for spiritual growth from initial faith, covering aspects like prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, church, gospel, and sanctification. The fourth set talks about how Christians study the Bible, lead groups, conduct worship, and engage in team ministry.

"They extend to varied facets of Christian living, including how to live and work. I also incorporate courses on Christian filial piety and marital relationships into these teachings, and the results are quite significant," he concluded.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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