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Opportunities, Challenges of China’s Growing Church, Theological Education, Part II

( [email protected] ) Dec 30, 2010 12:15 PM EST

A New York-based Chinese Pastor has recently returned to United States from a short-term mission tour to China together with his co-workers. Upon his return, he shared with The Gospel Herald his insights on the co-existing opportunities and challenges facing the developing church of China and her theological education.

Rev. John Edward Hao, senior pastor of New York Faith Bible Association and president of Faith Bible Seminary, have accumulated a wealth of experiences from ministering and developing theological educations in New York for many years.

In part one of Opportunities, Challenges of China’s Growing Church, Theological Education, Hao described his observations from his recent trip to China and from his last decade of service towards China's church.

Below are the details of the remainder of Hao and his team's visitation to China:

Third Stop: House Church in Southern China
Development: Emergence of Migrant Churches
Challenges: Church Lacks Pastors, Believers have Shallow Understanding of Faith

Immediately after their visit to the government-sanctioned churches, Hao and his coworkers visited a house church in southern China. The minister of that church is a 94 year old sister, who although are of high age still has the strength to serve.

Hao greatly respects her vigor in serving the Lord even at this age, but he is filled with concerns for the future of the church, because there are no young co-workers to continue the church work. He think that in order for the church to continue developing, it is a must to coworker with younger people.

During the visitation, around a hundred people gathered at the house church. He discovered that besides the locals there were many believers of God who were migrant workers from out of town. Among those gathered, some were originally Christians and some became believers of God after coming to church. As more migrant workers settle down in the area, it has made the local churches livelier. He predicts that the future migrant worker churches would become a very important strength to the church of China.

Hao said that today’s migrant worker churches have opportunities and challenges. Around ten years ago, China’s house churches consist mainly of those in the farm villages, but with the influx of migrant workers into the cities in recent years, the farmers have become these migrant workers. So they have become the prospects of missions for the churches in the cities.

However, today’s church in China greatly lacks pastors. Who will minister to these migrant workers after they become believers in the God? Where will they gather for Sunday Services? These are pressing issues that the churches in the cities must address.

The house church that Hao visited is facing these difficulties. A 90 year old grandma responsible for the stability of the believer’s faith is unattainable despite her passion. Hao plans to periodically sent co-workers to lead Bible training courses, hoping to build up a proper foundation of faith for these believers and to raise up younger co-working leaders.

Fourth Stop: A Seminary with House Church Background in Southern Sea Coast of China
Development: Self-Reliant
Challenge: Lacks the Acknowledgement from Other Churches, Quality and Quantity of Teachers Need to be Raised

The entourage’s fourth stop is a seminary with a house church background in Southern Sea Coast of China. Hao said that although the school labels themselves as a “seminary”, it is more like a training class, where it is in the formation stages of a seminary – shortage of faculties, quality of teachers must be raised, and training for believers must be developed systematically, but is somewhat disorganized.

Moreover, a unique trait of this seminary is that it only recruits students from their own churches and ministries. Their training programs are for long-term, and after they’ve completed their training, they must return to their own respective churches to minister. It is like a closed economy in which the nourishing ingredients do not outflow to other’s fields. But this type of seminary cannot receive the acknowledgement of outside organizations.

Fifth Stop: Migrant Worker House Churches in Southern Sea Coast of China
Development: Self-Reliant, Enormous Growth Potential, Have Greater Freedom for Gatherings, Independent
Challenge: Shortage in Church Incomes

Their next stop is a house church consisting mostly of migrant workers in the same region. With more migrant workers settling down in that region and with the increasing religious freedom, this church still have an enormous growth capacity. But because of the shortage in church income, its growth has been limited.

Asides from their challenges, the situation of the gatherings of migrant worker churches is much more flexible than before, since they can gather in their homes, rent a big office, or find a slightly remote place. This migrant worker house church is currently renting a factory for their Sunday Service gatherings. Hao thinks that this kind of migrant worker house church will grow continuously.

Sixth Stop: House Church in City in Northern China
Development: Consists of mostly Intellectuals, Self-Reliant, Greater Room for Development, Greater Freedom for Gatherings, Independent
Challenge: Leader Lacks Equipping, Believers Lack Foundational Teachings and Bible Trainings

Ending the mission tour in southern China, Hao and his team boarded the plane, heading to a house church in a city of northern China. Hao introduced that church as a model intellectual house church, for many talented people, including doctors, radio station hosts, and those with other professions, gathered. These people all have very deep desire for faith. But the difficulty is that because the church leaders lack equipping, so they are often times clueless when the congregation ask probing questions on faith.

In China’s cities today, more and more intellectual Christian churches are emerging, and this growth trend continues powerfully. Hao thinks that these Christian intellectuals are all very gifted, passionate in faith, and can lead many people to faith; but the short-coming is that their understanding towards the Bible and theology are shallow, which requires a systematic equipping.

Hao has a lot of hope for these Christian intellectuals, hoping that they can exert enormous influences towards the future development of house churches in the cities.

Seventh Stop: Seminary in Northern China
Development: 300 People Student Body, Largest Seminary in China; Excellent Facilities
Challenge: Qualities of Teachers are Inconsistent, Shortage of Funding

The last stop for Hao and his team in the China mission tour is a public seminary in northern China. According to the seminary president, the school currently has 300 students, which makes this seminary the largest in China. But these 300 seminary students fall short in satisfying the needs of the local church growth.

According to sources, there are a total of 5,000 public service chapels and gathering points, but the ratio of full-time ministers and seminary students versus total number of Christian population is 1 to 10,000. So the seminary students that this seminary trains are far from satisfying the enormous needs. In addition, even though it is a public seminary, the qualities of the teachers are inconsistent, which must be raised.

Hao toured the seminary’s service chapel, classrooms, library, cafeteria, and dormitory. He thinks that the facilities are satisfactory, and the students are eagerly studying. The only thing is that because of the school’s shortage of funds the student dormitories do not have heaters, but for the seminary students it is an opportunity for self-training.

Besides these points, something different about China’s seminaries from those in overseas is that there is an age restriction for those registering to take an entrance examination – they don’t accept anyone above 40 years old. At the seminary that Hao visited, he discovered that the oldest student there is only around 30 years old, while the majority is around their twenties, and some are as young as 18 years old. These students have very pure faith and can endure through difficulties. There was a time when he delivered a lecture for the seminary students and he discovered that they’ve strived to absorb all the knowledge that they can get like a dry sponge soaking in water, which left a deep impression in him.

[Editor's note: reporter Luke Leung contributed to this report.]