JIANGSU, China – Thirty-six years ago, Xiong Juanfen (left) was working in a textile mill in her hometown when the chance to enroll into Nanjing Theological Seminary came. Her church had planned to send six members for enrolment but the response was not good. She was the only person who signed up for the entrance examinations.
“However, the textile mill wanted me to pay a penalty of 1000 yuan! That was equivalent to two years’ worth of salary then! But thank God that after some negotiation, they reduced it to 500 yuan out of which my church helped to pay 200 yuan.” recalled Pastor Xiong, a third generation Christian.
Today, as the Vice Chairman of the Jiangyin TSPM, Rev Xiong is helping to train more lay preachers. There are 16 churches and meeting points, 40 preachers, 100 lay preachers and 30,000 believers (3% of the total population) in Jiangyin. Due to the lack of pastors in the Church in China, churches are relying on lay preachers to share the load of shepherding and ministering to the believers. In fact, the national average ratio of pastor to believers is 1:6700.
In order to equip the lay preachers, churches usually hold training sessions conducted by pastors and invited instructors. For example, Jianyin CC/TSPM has put in place a monthly two-day training stretching over two years for lay preachers. “They are trained in Biblical interpretation, Biblical studies, sermon preparation and preaching, including how to use the Bible tools sponsored by UBS in their preaching and teaching,” said Rev Xiong who just conducted a class for about 100 lay preachers. Examinations will follow at the end of two years. Existing preachers have to go through annual examinations for the renewal of their preaching license issued by Jiangyin CC/ TSPM. “Most of the lay preachers are from a lower income group and would find it difficult to afford Bible tools; so we are thankful for your donation.”
“We are seeing people coming to Christ but pastors are lacking. So these Bible tools are not just helpful to pastors and lay preachers but also to believers in helping them not go astray or become extreme in their theology and beliefs,” shared Rev Xiong. “For instance, there are some believers who would tell others not to seek medical help when they fall ill or attribute all illnesses to sins in one’s life. All these beliefs have to be corrected.”
To help believers have the right theology, lay preachers, forming groups known as “Gospel Teams”, do frequent home visitations, devotions and services addressing specific needs of believers in the rural areas in Jiangyin. Tang Huahui (right), a lay preacher for three years and one of the class participants said, “I recently visited a Christian couple struggling in their marriage and led a family devotion for them. And they were very appreciative. The needs are great out there. Bible tools come in handy in helping us to reflect and think, in sermons and message preparation. With it, we are more confident in ministering to the believers.”
It is our prayer that more lay preachers will be equipped to bless believers in China and help them become more be rooted in the faith.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership