China's Churches Short on Resources

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BEIJING, CHINA - The dramatic rise of Christianity in China is straining the resources of churches there to meet the spiritual needs of the people.

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

It's Friday morning just after 10. 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 is 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. We are developing fast as a nation, our economy is growing and we need to know how to handle these changes." one student explained. "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."

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 leader of one of the most influential religious organizations here in China, Gao Feng worries that Christianity is growing too fast in his country.

"We cannot catch up with the growth of the quantity of the believers," he said. "That is a very big challenge."

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. 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," Rev. Yu Xinli, Senior Pastor of Chaoyang Church said.

There are dozens of seminaries throughout China tasked with training and equipping the next generation of 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 course in Mandarin," Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, explained. "[They include] how to prepare sermons, how to live a Godly life, how to council a families, how to deal with conflict resolution, church leadership, lay education training."

Shortages in 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. They leave for other jobs," the pastor said. The rest stay knowing that this is part of their calling. But we have got to do more to keep those pastors from leaving. We have to provide them good housing, good medical care [and] good insurance."

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 said. "There are so few workers here and so many people."

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