Equipping the Saints in China

Christians in Xing City, China, gather to celebrate God's Word. Photo credit: Lindsay Reilly

Not long ago, the dream of Bible ownership was just that for many Chinese Christians — a dream. But now the vision of holding God's Word in their hands is a reality for an increasing number of Christians in China.

Thanks in part to Bible distribution efforts, Christianity in China is growing at an unprecedented rate, and believers around the world are starting to take note. The BBC estimates that on any given Sunday, more Christians are attending church in China than throughout the whole of Europe.

But this bountiful harvest also brings a challenge: As the body of Christ continues to grow in China, the church needs pastors and leaders with sound theological training who can equip and shepherd this flock.

That's why American Bible Society comes alongside the government-registered church in China by working with the United Bible Societies (UBS) China Partnership to strengthen leaders in the church. Through biblical study materials, practical pastor resources and training programs, Christian leaders in China can effectively lead the growing church.

Large Harvest, Few Workers

At 1.34 billion people, China remains the world's most populous nation. Estimates place the number of Christians in China anywhere from 23 million to more than 100 million. And these numbers are only increasing. With an average growth of 1 million new believers every year, the church in China is one of the fastest growing in the world.

Yet the pastoral presence in China is greatly outstripped by the need. In rural China, where 70 percent to 80 percent of Chinese Christians make their home, pastors are responsible for multiple congregations. The geographical distance between churches and lack of access to reliable transportation means that pastoral care is spread far too thin. Even in urban settings, the number of pastors cannot begin to meet the needs of the ever-growing number of Christians.

The cost of a theologically sound, Christian education also limits the success of Chinese pastors. For many rural pastors, courses at one of China's 19 seminaries or Bible schools would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention geographically inconvenient.

Without adequate pastoral care, Chinese Christians remain especially vulnerable to the influence of cults that distort the truth of the Bible. One cult, a group called Eastern Lightning, teaches that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

“China's growing church urgently needs leaders with a solid foundation in God's Word so that the Gospel message is not compromised,” says Lindsay Reilly, research analyst at Global Scripture Impact, the research arm of ABS.

Christians in China are often willing to serve as church leaders, but they need training and materials. Photo credit: Dag Smemo

Prepare and Provide

To meet the needs of training and equipping Chinese pastors, China Partnership works with government-registered Christian organizations in China to provide biblical and theological study resources to teachers and future pastors.

“Providing ministerial students and teachers with Scriptures and reliable biblical reference works will help them properly shepherd believers,” Reilly explains.

China Partnership works with the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the two government-registered umbrella organizations for China's Protestant churches. CCC/TSPM work to meet the need for Bibles, Scripture-based materials, leadership training and theological programs in the Protestant church, using resources provided by ABS and other Bible Societies through China Partnership. Parallel organizations do similar work in the Catholic church.

In addition to facilitating the translation, printing and distribution of God's Word, the China Partnership has the crucial task of supporting the church's work of teaching and training Chinese pastors in sound, biblical theology, Reilly explains. Through this “wider ministry of Bible engagement and advocacy, the China Partnership supports the whole range of Bible ministry in China,” Reilly says.

Developing Disciples

Zhou Yunang is a 25-year-old student at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Yunang grew up in a Christian family but says he didn't feel anything about his faith until he was in junior high. At that point, “the Christian faith started to make sense to me,” Yunang says, and he began to understand the importance of God in his life.

As Yunang continued to grow in his faith, he soon felt God's call on his life to help others with questions like his. After graduating from university with a degree in mechanical engineering, Yunang joined the staff at his church full-time, assisting the pastors there with their many responsibilities.

Now, Yunang is a first-year seminary student, studying God's Word so he can fulfill his calling to be a shepherd of God's flock.

“I really like classes that deal with exegesis,” Yunang says. “There was a need for me to understand the Bible more in order to serve the church, which is why I am getting a theological education.”

The Future Unfolds

Nanjing Union Theological Seminary is China's only national theological seminary. The nearly 200 students come to Nanjing from all over China after being recommended by their local pastors and passing competitive entry exams. For many, the cost of a theological education would be impossible for their families to shoulder, so they are supported, in part, by their local churches.

In 2011, a Bible Resource Center was established at the library of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Replete with more than 6,000 biblical reference books, computers and computer software, the center is an invaluable tool in equipping Chinese pastors. As other seminaries receive needed funding to establish their own reference libraries, the Bible Resource Center can serve as an excellent model of this much-needed resource.

“These scholarly resources are wonderful gifts for the students,” says Ms. Liu Meichun, New Testament professor and librarian at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. “These [materials] are very expensive to buy and many of the students are being sponsored by their home churches, which are not wealthy.”

These scriptural references are available to pastors-in-training, who will in turn take what they are learning from God's Word and share it with the countless believers in their churches and congregations.

With projects like Bible Resource Centers, Christian leadership trainings and Scripture-based materials for pastors, American Bible Society is making a difference in China through the local church. And with each project, they are adding to the number of workers who are equipped to harvest the fruit of spiritual growth and maturity in China.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

Help us share God's Word where needed most.

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