A North America-based organization reported major deficiencies with pastoral and theological training for churches in China.
According to China Partner president, Erik Burklin, the problem is getting worst as confirmed with recent discussions with a Chinese seminarian. "There's about one ordained pastor to every ten thousand believers. So, there's a real leadership gap there," he says.
There are only 18 official seminaries established in China now. The exact number of unregistered seminaries and bible schools, many of which are located in remote rural areas, remains unknown at this moment.
China scholars have pointed out that the nation’s lack of trained pastor has, in some ways, encouraged the rise of cults especially in poorer rural sectors for the last few years. Some of China’s rural cults have reportedly based part of their teachings on messianic messages. The more notorious Easter Lightning cult believes that Jesus has come back to the world in the form of woman whom is hiding in Henan Province.
The government, often not distinguishing between cults and evangelical protestant house churches, has initiated crackdowns including the more recent arrest of 36 teachers and students at an underground Bible college in Anhui province.
This is not the first time that the Christians in China have endured trials involving the infiltration of misguided teachings.
The devastating Taiping Rebellion, beginning in 1851, revolved around a cult leader claiming to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Christian missionaries, ignorant of the cult’s teaching, were initially impressed by the seeming piety of its believers whom held Sabbath and proclaimed about Jesus’ coming. Admiration turned to dismay, when the sect began executing its opponents and acquiring a harem for its leader.
China Partner sees working with government-affiliated churches and seminaries as an opportunity to strengthen the theological foundation of China’s churches, says Burklin. The organization has long partnered with the Jiangxi Bible School providing a scholarship fund for poor students, stipends for alumni serving as pastors, and other material needs.
In May 2005, Burklin was invited by the principal of the Jiangxi Bible School to discuss about short-term training in the provinces of Hongzhou, Zhejan, Jiangxi and Jiansu. The same month, China Partner participated in the dedication of a new official church that had the maximum housing capacity of 5,000 people.
"China Partner wants to help and serve the church in China, by providing additional training, theological study books to help accelerate this process," he emphasized.