One of the greatest challenges facing churches in China is training enough pastors to keep up with the booming Christian population, said the president of a Christian organization in China.
The Rev. Gao Feng, president of the government-approved China Christian Council, told the head of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, that in his home province there is only one trained pastor for 40,000 Christians.
"One of the challenges is that we need to train more pastors," stated Gao, who at 47 years old is the youngest president in CCC's history, last Friday.
Because of the shortage of trained pastors, Gao explained, churches in China have relied on lay leaders. There are nearly 150,000 lay leaders – who, for the most part, do not have formal theological training – working as pastors in local churches.
Lack of theological education among church leaders has caused serious problems in local churches. In one province, he shared, a church proclaimed that Jesus had already returned as a young woman.
Gao noted that it is important for Chinese Christian leaders to be educated because they will play an important role in the WCC fellowship. China is not only rising as a global economic and political power but it will also rise to be a powerful voice in the global church, he contended.
The China Christian Council, which Gao has led since 2008, serves as the Chinese government's umbrella organization for Protestant churches. To be legal in China, churches need to register and operate under the CCC.
But millions of Chinese Christians have refused to work with the CCC because of its affiliation with the government. These "house churches" argue that the government has no right to oversee a religious body and that it violates religious freedom.
The underground Christian population, those who worship in house churches, is estimated to be as high as 100 million. But according to CCC statistics from 2005, there are only about 16 to 20 million Protestants in China.
Kobia stopped in China en route to North Korea where he visited churches and government leaders Oct. 17-20.