Recently, the Chinese government is further tightening its control around the country. As churches prepare for the challenges ahead, it is important for us to know how the leaders see their needs, irrespective of the political pendulum swing that occurs from time to time.
What Church Leaders Are Saying
“We are the first generation post-1949 trying to live out our faith in this rapidly changing environment of urban China. We desperately need teaching in three areas: marriage, parenting, and how to go about our work.”
— Professor and leader of a 200-member house church
“We truly appreciate the two couples that you have sent to serve among us. We need more mature Christians like them to join our community and do life alongside our people. We appreciate the teachers and preachers who come to visit. But we also need people to simply live among us, modeling what it means to practice the Christian faith in everyday life.”
— Pastor of a leading house church
The Need For Mentoring
In the past, churches in China had asked for Bibles and literature. Training by itinerant teachers was also in great demand. In recent years, the crying need is for mentoring in life-on-life relationships, where the good teacher who points the way is also the faithful friend and travel companion on the journey. This kind of help cannot be delivered by experts flying in and out.
Many books on mentoring have been published in the West since the mid 1980’s. Impactful discipleship through mentoring relationships requires modeling in community and over time.
Learn From The Master
This is why our Lord Jesus spent three years with the Twelve, who witnessed first-hand the life and power of God’s Kingdom. The disciples watched Jesus interact with people from all walks of life. They saw Him respond to the needs of multitudes, and give attention to both the rich and poor. They witnessed the Lord among worshipping crowds and before scheming adversaries. They were there when He directed the winds and waves, and when He gave Himself up to the Roman soldiers. They heard His parables and His prayers. They shared meals with the Lord, and remembered His every move and word during that Last Supper.
How Christ Mentored
Jesus’ life with His disciples was more than an open book, He lived among them. His disciples caught the message, and sought to pass on the Christ-Life in like manner to first century Christians, who came to faith through them.
Apostle John wrote to the churches: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”
TENTMAKERS — MENTORS IN WORK, MARRIAGE AND PARENTING
Available and Relatable
GLS tentmakers are lay people in the local church. They are not in command like pastors over a congregation. Nor are they on a pedestal like speakers who visit from abroad. Just like the local believers, tentmakers have demanding jobs and struggle with work-life balance. They are fellow foot soldiers in the trenches. So they can listen with understand-ing, and share with credibility. When others can relate to your life, you can influence theirs.
Phil and Rachel are lawyers. Phil is the right-hand man to the GM of a multi-national company. Rachel teaches law part-time at a university and runs a busy household with two children, ages 9 and 5. They are mentors to a fellowship of young lawyers in their twenties and thirties.
Phil’s workdays are long. He also travels frequently with his hard-driving boss. But Phil gives priority to the lawyers’ fellowship. A sister who works in his office testifies that Phil is “the same person during the week as he is on the weekends”. Phil has shown these young lawyers that it is possible to live by the same faith among colleagues and clients on Monday as one would with family and friends on the weekend.
During the week, Rachel opens her home to anyone who wants to drop in. A frequent visitor is a bright young lady lawyer who works at a large firm and offers pro bono counsel to Christian groups in need. She would come by at the end of a grueling workday or straight of the plane from a business trip for a cup of tea before going home. Rachel’s listening ear, her gentle counsel and faithful prayers have sustained this young woman through many a hard time, enabling her to keep her mission alive.
One weekend, Rachel shared with the group the joys and challenges of marriage in the pressure cooker life of China. A female lawyer said she had always wondered what a Christian family looked like until she saw in them an authentic one. Another woman thanked them for the marriage mentoring she received before entering parenthood.
Over food, board games, laughter, and a mishmash of “Chinglish” , they play together, pray together, and grow together. Phil and Rachel’s relationship with these young men and women is full of a warmth and affection that transcend culture and language. It is the fellowship that the Apostle John spoke of in 1 John 1:2.
TENTMAKERS — TRAINERS AND UNDER-SHEPHERDS
Priesthood of All Believers
As active laymen, tentmakers demonstrate the principle and practice of the priesthood of believers. In Chinese churches, lay people often refuse to step up because they feel unqualified. Ministry, they think, is for the professionally trained. But when GLS tentmakers serve among them, they can begin to alter that mentality too.
Mentoring Lay Teachers of the Word
A few years ago, Don had the opportunity to train a group of students in small group Bible study. First, he conducted pre-studies with the group leaders in the campus fellowship. After they had seen what good studies look like, he offered workshops on hermeneutics, design of discussion questions, group dynamics, etc. Finally, he focused on a few gifted discussion leaders and trained them until they could produce their own study questions from a passage. At the end of the process, they had also learned how to train others.
Over a few years, Don’s relationship with those he trained was a mentoring relationship around the Word. He demonstrated that the teaching of the Word was not something that only pastors and seminarians could do; lay people could be peer mentors as they explore the Word in small groups and challenge one another to a life of obedience.
Training & Coaching Small Group Leaders
Two years ago, the pastor put Don in charge of the church’s small group ministry. He was given the charge to not only train small group leaders but to set up a structure where small group leaders will be coached by regional leaders, who in turn will be coached by Don and one of the pastors. The design is intended to provide better support to group leaders and prevent burnout.
Don and his wife Elsie have led small group studies for years, first separately, then together, and now as mentors for small group leaders. They never stopped modeling the benefits of peer-learning and lay initiative in the teaching ministry. With demanding day jobs and raising a family like everyone else, they are proof to other local believers that it could be done.
Getting Ready for Winter
For months, there has been mounting external pressures on churches. The onset of a severe winter for believers in China is already happening in some parts of the country. The pastoral team of this leading church recognizes the urgency of preparing the flock in the event that they can no longer worship or meet as a large group.
Should the time come when they can only meet in homes, the teaching of the Word and the care of the flock will continue through small groups, which is already the case for some faith communities.
The church will keep on growing as more lay people are equipped to train and shepherd others. Indeed, Paul has encouraged us long ago “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4: 12 & 16)