Beijing Pastors Provide a Glimpse into Christian Churches in China

May 9

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Friday, May 9, 2014 11:39 AM  RssIcon

Washington, D.C. – A typical Sunday for the Rev. Wang Xuan includes preaching to more than 10,000 people, leading a choir practice, visiting home-bound parishioners, handling administrative tasks, and preparing for her next sermon. She is one of six pastors serving this church and they hold multiple worship services every Sunday, with an attendance of 3,000-4,000 every service.

Xuan is one of five of the leading Christian pastors in Beijing, China and she’s spending the semester at Wesley Theological Seminary to complete an intensive study – the first of its kind in the United States. Recently, she and her classmates shared details of their ministries and their lives in the People’s Republic of China.

For another of the pastors, Sundays begin at 5 a.m., with the first worship service beginning at 7 a.m. Every Sunday, she leads six, hour-long worship services – including one in English, with only a 30-minute break between services. Next, she leads a small group before visiting parishioners in their homes. She often doesn’t get to eat lunch until after 5 p.m. on Sundays.

With such demands on their time, it is a rare thing for these pastors to take time away from work. The opportunity for intensive study at a seminary in America was worth the sacrifices necessary.

The Beijing Christian Council, which is the official sanctioning body of Protestant churches in Beijing, selected these students to study in the United States. “It is an unusual decision for the BCC to send five top pastors to us for such a long time because there is such a significant lack of pastors throughout China,” says Wesley President David McAllister-Wilson. “The absence of these pastors will be felt greatly in their home churches.”

“I hope to gain more knowledge and spiritually and to improve my pastoral skills this semester at Wesley,” said Xuan.

The Rev. Chen Yuzhen came hoping to learn more about administration of the church and strengthen her theological foundation. The Rev. Wang Aixiang hopes to learn how to better lead the church and to better spiritually nurture her parishioners. The students were able to see first-hand how an American church addressed these issues when they completed a week of field education this semester in the vibrant Korean United Methodist Church of Metro Detroit in Troy, Mich.

Aixiang and the others are leading their churches in a country that has an estimated 14 million to 130 million Christians, with a total population of more than 1.35 billion people. While Christianity is growing faster in China than in any other region of the world, there is ample need to educate – and evangelize. The Rev. Wang Haiqiang says, “People are usually surprised that I’m a Christian pastor. Some don’t know what a Christian pastor is. And sometimes people don’t understand the difference between Protestant and Catholic or Muslim, but more and more, people in China are gaining more knowledge about Christianity.”

Haiqiang speaks from his vast experience. Before becoming a pastor, he was an evangelist travelling the country and telling people of Christ’s love for them.

In addition to evangelists such as Haiqiang, people typically become followers of Christ in China because of curiosity, a connection to a Christian, or through searching for help. Aixiang said, “Many young people are curious about Christmas and Christianity, because they know it’s so popular in other countries, so they come to the Christmas services. Sometimes when people have a difficult time, a family member who is Christian or a classmate will spread the word about Christ and the church being a help.”

The Rev. Wei Jia said, “We’re able to offer Christianity as a solution for people who are searching for meaning of life when they turn to the church for answers.”

Though Christianity might not be the cultural force in China that it is in America, there are tremendous similarities between the visiting pastors and their American counterparts. When asked what their prayers and hopes were, Jia answered, “For my church to feel the will of the Holy Spirit and for the congregation to grow.”

Aixiang wished for her congregations feel united. She works outside the city and has many locations where she preaches and serves. She would like to build community among her 700-plus parishioners.

Xuan said her prayers are for a big building. Her parish encompasses nearly 500,000 people and her current location is straining to serve the thousands who attend on Sundays.

In addition to their prayers for their churches, the pastors pray for American churches. The Rev. Wu with the Beijing Christian Council said, “I would like the American church to know God has heard your prayers for the church in China to flourish. I would like the church in China to have more of a relationship with the American church and for churches in both countries to continue to pray for one another.”

Xuan said she would like Americans to know more about what China is like now and for more Americans to come visit.

Xiao Baorong with the Beijing Christian Council said she sees the growth of the church as challenge because of pastors’ workload being so heavy. “It a challenge to maintain a balance between work and family for pastors because of the need being so great in the community for their services,” she said.

Aixiang agreed with this. She said, “We have enough believers, but not enough ministers.”

“This semester of intensive study is important for both Wesley Theological Seminary and for the Christian church in China,” says the Rev. Dr. Kyunglim Shin Lee, Wesley’s vice president of international relations. “This semester provides rigorous theological preparation for the visiting students, while offering the opportunity for Wesley’s students and faculty to learn about Christianity in China. We have much to learn from these visiting students.

“We at Wesley are very grateful for the trust the Chinese government and the Beijing Christian Council have placed in us,” says Shin Lee. “We anticipate the education these pastors receive this semester will have a tremendous influence on their future ministries. Also, we hope this exchange will build ties at the non-governmental level between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China.”

Wesley Theological Seminary cultivated a strong relationship with the China Christian Council, the official sanctioning body of Protestant churches in China, throughout the past 10 years. Wesley faculty and students have visited China several times. Wesley’s partner pastors in the Korean Methodist Church in South Korea also played an important role in facilitating the relationship with the CCC. Previous collaborations between Wesley and the CCC include the premier of the Chinese Bible Exhibition in September 2011 in Washington, D.C. This was a museum-quality exhibit on the history of Christianity in China, which then went on a four-city tour. At the launch of this exhibit, Wesley brought together leaders of six major Christian denominations. The opening was attended by various U.S. government officials and the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. Since then, Wesley has prepared two faculty members from Chinese seminaries for advanced leadership roles.

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