Back to the Future

Tuesday, May 25th, I had the privilege of joining an ecumenical group for a Conversation with Leaders of the China Christian Council.  Brite Divinity School graciously hosted the gathering along with the Tarrant Area Community of Churches.  As I listened to the Rev. Gao Feng (President of the Christian Council – representing the registered Protestant Churches), I could not help but think that we have much to learn or more accurately relearn. Rev. Gao’s group purports to represent some 20 million Protestant Christians in China.  Their group is “registered” with the government.  There are other “unregistered” protestant Christian gatherings in China.  By all accounts the 20 million figure is low.  In fact, a more accurate number may be closer to 40 million.  The Christian movement is growing rapidly in China. Repeatedly I was struck the reference to the Christian Church in China as “post-denominational.”  There is an affiliation but it is a loose one.  One of the Brite professors present who had more detailed knowledge than I said that it was a relationship more like what we might have with the National Council of Churches.  The Christian Church in China reported 3,700 pastors (1,000 of which are female).  You do the math.  By my rough count that means there was one pastor for every 5,405 active(!) lay persons.  They reported 55,000 churches and “meeting points” (many of which are house fellowships).  That means each ordained clergy had 14.85 churches or meeting places they were responsible for! Behind all this is obviously a vibrant movemental sense of the Holy Spirit at work.  Lay leadership in ministry is common and vital to the movement.  Much of the preaching is done by lay leaders guiding house fellowships.  (The leaders insisted in not calling them house churches because as they put it “there is only one church.”)  Instead of focusing on church buildings, most of the members worship in homes. Hit the pause button and ask, “Where have I seen this before?”  Here are three quick answers: 1) The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, 2) The Celtic missionary movement from Ireland in the 5th – 7th centuries, and 3) The early Methodist movement. It’s time to go back to the future!  We need to loosen our structure and allow ministry to flourish as a lay movement under the power of the Holy Spirit once again.