“If the governmental authorities show up and ask us what we’re doing, we’ll tell them that we’re having an informal meeting and that you’re our guests.” That’s what one of the lead house church pastors told us before we began our teaching. We’re told that it’s illegal for a group larger than to meet in China, particularly a Christian group, without letting the government know. If fact, any gathering of Christians for worship that is not sanctioned by the government is against the law and subject to criminalization. Persecution of Christians varies from place to place. In the large city where we were, many house churches have found that the law is not adhered to very strictly, especially if the churches are small and receive no complaints. Still, this group of pastors and church leaders wanted to be cautious.
Ryan and I were invited by this group of about a dozen pastors and leaders to share about the importance of church membership. In fact, they asked us to walk them through Jonathan Leeman’s book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. I was honestly a bit surprised by their request as I assumed they would be grappling with issues such as discipleship, preaching, equipping, and others. I was encouraged to know that they wanted to learn about and seek to implement meaningful membership. We were thankful that 9Marks had already translated this book into Chinese. We took twenty copies as gifts and then learned that a couple of the pastors already had a copy.
We had about six hours with the group, so after a time of prayer, we jumped right in to the teaching. Ryan and I decided to alternate teaching. I would take the odd chapters and therefore began our time together talking about the highest kingdom authority on earth being the local church. The group was incredibly attentive, and our times of discussion were lively.
It was interesting to learn that many of the churches these men pastor have a pretty stout membership process. I believe a good bit of this is because of past persecution and the need to insure that people weren’t trying to infiltrate these churches to report them to the authorities. Also, it seems like they genuinely what to make sure those coming into membership are true believers, bearing fruit and willing to walk with Christ even in persecution. If persecution were all around us here in the U.S., we too would likely take membership even more seriously.
Some of the pastors and leaders shared that they have a tendency to make membership more burdensome than need be. Their culture is one of rules and processes. They wanted to make sure that their membership process didn’t learn toward legalism but was also filled with grace. This was particularly evident when we began to share about church discipline. This topic was one that they had obviously been wrestling with. We received many questions and walked them through specific scenarios that they brought to us. It was an energetic discussion.
Overall, it was a sweet time with these laborers. They were so gracious to us and expressed gratitude for our coming. They asked if we would come again soon.
As you finish reading this post, take a few minutes and pray for this specific group of pastors and leaders. Also, pray for many such church leaders throughout China who seek to shepherd their flocks well in a place where true Christianity is not welcomed and even opposed.
Written by John Mueller