While many public assemblies of Christians in China are now being allowed as the result of a more Westernized country, there is a need for pastors and Christian leaders to have strong mentors now more than ever, says persecution watchdog Open Doors.
"Not so long ago, Christians were forced to meet in secret, sing softly and whisper their prayers to avoid unwanted attention from the local authorities," Open Doors stated recently. "Now, in many places, believers are free to gather and to be a church. The growing freedoms and the rapid urbanization have left the Chinese Church puzzled. The Church is in need of a mentor who shows her how to effectively function in a more free society."
Open Doors describes one of the first pastors they mentored as fitting the profile of many other Chinese pastors, including being in his early 30s, and having grown up in a rural area. He now serves as the leading pastor of one of many Chinese urban churches. When Open Doors came into contact with him, the pastor was struggling in many areas of his ministry, including his family life.
"Your help has strengthened me in my personal life and my ministry," said the pastor, who remains anonymous.
"My church members are so different than I am," he told Open Doors. "They all have university education. Also, they are progressive in their thinking and that is not always a good thing. The urban church has to deal with ethical questions that are not asked in rural churches. What about living together unmarried, abortion, homosexuality, and joining the Communist Party? What is right, what is wrong? To be a young pastor in this environment is very demanding."
The pastor's Open Doors mentor, whose name is also kept secret for protection from the communist regime, said there are thousands of pastors like the one quoted in the organization's report.
"They struggle with these and other ethical questions, materialism, leadership and pastoral care issues," the mentor said. "Everybody is so busy that the church easily becomes an activity. Or that the leaders run the church like a business – the more people in the pews, the better the business.
"Many older church leaders recognize the needs. They say, 'Compared to the past, there are plenty of opportunities to receive Christian materials or biblical education. However, we need mentors who live out the faith and take us by the hand.' The main difference between a trainer and a mentor is that a trainer looks to what needs to be taught and a mentor looks to the person and how he or she needs to grow."
The mentored pastor says his session with his guide have been very fruitful. "I received teaching on the ethical issues that we need to deal with. I learned that the Bible is our standard and that we should keep it our standard, but also how I could teach that to the church members."
The Open Doors mentor program also addresses the needs of the Church in China in a more global perspective, teaching young leaders about the persecution Christians face around the world, especially in more restrictive countries.
"Fast growing, young city churches have another problem," the mentor said. "They are all about the 'here' and the 'now.' In practice this means they are focused on their own church and their own environment and the challenges they face now. It seems they have forgotten that the Chinese Church has gone through severe persecution and that there are still many Chinese minority Christians burdened under oppression.
"We need to re-educate these churches about persecution so they become involved in the worldwide Persecuted Church," the mentor continued. "His church is a good example of a turn around. During our mentorship program we spoke about persecution several times. Now, many church members pray for persecuted Christians daily through Weibo, the Chinese Twitter. Perhaps in the future they can support the Persecuted Church financially or go on mission trips."
China is ranked by Open Doors as the 37th worst persecutor of Christians around the world.
Open Doors works in the most oppressive and restrictive countries in an effort to strengthen Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equip them to "shine Christ's light in these places." The ministry empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer for Christians, who are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries.
On the Web: www.OpenDoorsUSA.org