China's Churches Facing Leader Shortages

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CBNNews.com -BEIJING, China -- The dramatic rise of Christianity in the People's Republic of China is severely straining the resources of Chinese churches in order to meet the spiritual needs of the people.

Some Chinese Christian leaders believe that theological training and education have not kept up the pace of the church's rapid growth.

Equipping the Saints

It's Friday morning just after ten. The streets and sidewalks are chock full of people still trying to get to work. Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square is already filled with tens of thousands of visitors.

A few blocks from the square in the backroom of a popular store, a small group of new Christian believers are learning to thrive economically in the new China.

They are listening and taking notes on how to manage their finances from a Biblical perspective.

"This is so important for us," said one student. "We are developing fast as a nation. Our economy is growing and we need to know how to handle these changes. We need to know how to handle our money, how to handle the things we own. We can only do that using the Bible as our guide," the student continued.

Churches Face Shortage of Pastors, Elders

But this group is fortunate. Across the country, Chinese Christians are facing a dire shortage of trained pastors, elders and lay leaders.

In his first television interview as the leader of one of the most influential religious organizations in China, the president of the China Christian Council worries that Christianity is growing too fast in his country.

"We cannot catch up with the growth of the quantity of the believers, " Gao Fend told CBN News.

When asked about the growth of Christianity in the country and having enough people to disciple these new believers, Feng responded that it was "a very big challenge."

It's a challenge that's especially acute in the countryside, where 70 percent of China's Christians live.

"Churches in the countryside are growing so fast yet they cannot afford to send a pastor for training to the city, it is too expensive," said Yu Xinli, Senior Pastor of Chaoyang Church. "So we try to help them by sponsoring their education. But even after they graduate from seminary, they go back to the countryside where they often serve in their churches without pay."

There are dozens of seminaries throughout China tasked with the training and equipping the next generation of Christian leaders. Last year, Dallas Theological Seminary began offering master's level web-based courses for Chinese seminarians.

"We have students in Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Canada all taking these courses in Mandarin, said Dr. Mark Bailey, president of the Dallas Theological Seminary. The lessons include, "how to prepare sermons, how to live a Godly life, how to council families, how to deal with conflict resolution, church leadership, and lay education training."

Other Shortages

Shortages of Christian books have hit house churches hard especially in the countryside, where Christians seldom have access to government-printed religious materials, including Bibles.

But Reverend Xinli says China's economic miracle has enticed pastoral candidates to seek job opportunities elsewhere.

"Every year we lose about 10 percent of our candidates," Xinli said. "They leave for other jobs. The rest stay, knowing that this is part of their calling. But we have got to do more to keep those pastors from leaving," he explained. "We have to provide them good housing, good medical care, and good insurance."

CBN News then asked if candidates can make more money in the secular world than in the religious world. Xinli responded, "Pastors don't make a lot of money. They make much lower than the average wage and so it is difficult for them to survive financially."

The shortages are only going to get worse.

According to government figures, there are an estimated 20 million protestant Christians and between 12 to 15 million Catholics. And those numbers don't take into account the growth of the Chinese house church movement, home to an estimated 100 million "unofficial" Christians.

"And so the need is so incredible," Bailey explained. "There are so few workers here and so many people."

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