Recently I spent a few days in Singa pore with five key house church leaders of China. Two are from multi-generation Christian families. Two are first generation Christians. One is a Korean Chinese whose mother was a Bible woman in the revolution era. One thing they have in common: All have attended many Christian conferences, both in and outside of China. They are tired of attending “China-Concerned” events and being treated just as the audience, “We have something to say.”
So I gathered a few colleagues to listen to these leaders share:
House Church: China’s rural house churches are still growing and by comparison, they are still much bigger than their urban counterparts. They are totally indigenous, and truly Three-Self: selfsupporting, self-governing, self-propagating. They are the silent portion of the Body of Christ in China. But their evangelism among the grass root populace is the loudest.
They are not sophisticated but it’s the simplicity of their faith that has kept them growing and growing.
Leadership: Both the rural and urban house churches suffer from a leadership crisis. For the rural, the earlier generation of neversay-die founders and leaders are aging. Their underground Bible schools are producing very young workers. There is a big gap. For the urban, the leaders are mostly in their 40’s or 50’s. A large number of urban church pastors are still bi-vocational. They are stretched by all sorts of demands.
One of the greatest weaknesses in China’s church is building teams. Younger leaders are bombarded by the speed and scope of urbanization, westernization and materialism. Few are devoting to full-time ministry.
Persecution: In both rural and urban settings we are witnessing a lessening of all-out persecution to eradicate the church. We are still being watched, and often times visited by the authorities. Our government’s main concerns are foreign influences and infiltration,
or cross regional organization and activities.
By and large, the attitude of the government has changed. We are now engaged more in dialogue than direct confrontation with the authorities. This may not be so in the countryside, as Christians there still prefer staying away from the government.
Cults: Only in relatively backward rural regions do you still hear about cultic activities. With educational levels rising throughout China’s villages, rural house churches are becoming less vulnerable to cultic influences. Good, solid teaching is very much needed.
However, because there is a general lack of checks and balances in China’s church leaders, even urban house churches can easily deviate into seemingly cultic activities such as a recent “mass wedding” fiasco.
Alliance: The rural house churches have their “Big Five Families,” whose leaders meet from time to time to resolve issues and to hold their movements together. For the urban house churches, there is a network, loose but functional. Between the rural and urban house
churches, there are always contacts. After all, the urban house churches roots are rural.
At this time, there is really not a pressing need to form a national alliance, although we have been urged by overseas friends to do so. This will be like waving a red flag. We do understand and appreciate their teaching on unity, but we don’t believe in unity being forced
upon us from the outside.
Division and Splits: The gulf between the house churches and the Three-Self official churches, to most of this generation, is a nonissue. It’s history. In reality, both parties are changing. Splits within churches happen more in rural churches and usually between younger and older leadership or between two strong personalities. All are getting quite nonchalant towards splits. They hurt for a moment, but afterwards, you often see both parties keep on growing.
Personal character, or the lack of it, is often the real cause of division.
Conversion: In the rural areas, people convert to Christ mostly due to needs being met. They are healed. Evil spirits were cast out; such news travels fast and wide.
In the cities, the new generation come to Christ more as a choice. They see the witness in Christians’ lives. They hear the message of Jesus as different from anything else, and they choose to accept Christ.
This is a kairos moment for China. It is so easy for people to come to Christ. Discipleship is essential.
About Dr. David Wang
Dr. David Wang, a leading expert on China, is a highly sought-after speaker at international mission conventions and congresses. He has translated and authored more than 20 books, including several best-sellers in the Chinese world. David joined Asian Outreach in 1966, and led it into an outstanding organization in cutting-edge programs throughout Asia. He is also the Founder/Chairman of ActionLove, which is one of the social development arms of Asian Outreach, serving Asian people living in poverty. Today, David serves as the President Emeritus of Asian Outreach. His personal focus is on China and the Chinese world.
From Asian Report, issue 295, September and October 2009, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with the permission of Asian Outreach. All rights reserved.