China Sees Spring 2017 Ministry Report
Greetings from China – where Spring has sprung in our city bringing us warmer temperatures and the amazing process of rebirth … just as God has promised in His Word with the regulation of the seasons after the Flood (Gen 8:22). And as we so richly know, it is God alone who appoints the “times and the seasons” (Act 1:7) and “there is an appointed time for everything” (Eccl 3:1ff) – thus it is “time” for a ministry report!
As we update you on the work of the past 4 months we are reminded and humbled by Proverbs 16:9 which says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his step.” Never was this more true for us as we entered into 2017 with our ministry plans … which were redirected by HIS sovereignty. The bulk of this update will recount the trial that God brought to us which we alerted you to in our year-end prayer requests; namely, the potential for a division in the club. The potential, unfortunately, developed into a contentious split which consumed us and the club’s leadership. At the outset, let us not leave you in suspense by saying that in His providence all things worked together for good in the end (Rom 8:28). But with that said, it was an arduous 4 months and has created some serious short term security concerns that will require us to take an indeterminate time away from the field. Perhaps we are being over-cautious, but the wisdom of many counselors point to the prudence of “laying low” for a period of time. This we plan to do, beginning later this month and hope that it will be shorter rather than longer in duration.
Almost immediately upon our return in October, a group (hereafter called “AG”) within the Club seized upon a “vision message” given to the congregation at the Club’s 10-year anniversary celebration as a pretense to form their own Club. At the 10-year celebration, the leadership announced their intention to plant their first church later this year. A specific, and qualified, team within the Club had been identified (but not announced) – with a great deal of work having gone into preparation for launching a new location. Unfortunately, unilaterally and with no previous consultation with the Club’s Elders, AG decided they should be the ones to fulfill the Club’s plans and approached the Elders to “announce” their plans. While disappointing, and ultimately sinful, the request was not a total surprise as the AG group has in many ways existed as a “club within the Club.” AG had asked to be taken into the Club approximately five years ago and was never fully integrated into the one body – a failing of both the AG leader and the Elders of the Club we are working with. We should note that our Elders, while qualified to fill their position, are young, kind-hearted, and inexperienced (e.g. they did not ask why AG left their previous club nor do a reference check. Had they done so, they would have learned that AG was asked to leave their prior club). The leader of AG is a very successful local business person with a high profile in the community – quite used to getting their way. A high-level summary of the chain of events follows:
1. While considering the request (a demand in reality) the Elders of the Club were subsequently presented with a list of unbiblical demands by the AG leader – and told that all members of AG were fully aware of the AG leader’s actions and fully supported the request to leave … this information was later discovered to be false. Essentially the demands centered on materially misrepresenting the circumstances and facts of the AG group’s leaving. In short, to lie and manipulate the truth for appearances sake!
2. These subsequent demands made it impossible for the Elders to support the request. They responded by telling the AG leader that they did not feel the group was prepared to start their own Club, but they would not stand in their way if they chose to leave. At the same time, they stated that they would not misrepresent the facts of AG’s departure.
3. A number of very contentious meetings followed, along with the AG leader involving outside agencies and people (well know missions organizations which the AG leader supports financially – and sits on the Board of one) to put pressure and cast dispersion on the Elders of our Club. This process (over the course of 2-3 months) and the behavior of several “so-called spiritual leaders in China” was beyond disappointing and weighed heavily on our Elders. In the spirit of grace and forgiveness, we will withhold the many damaging details and actions that were perpetrated against the Club’s leaders.
4. It became clear that we needed to administer formal church discipline to the AG leader and, subsequently, her minions – which was done in March. This was tumultuous, but biblically correct. By God’s grace the process of church discipline was completed and the AG leader was removed from the privilege of fellowship in the Club. We should say that there were repeated attempts to communicate and reach a resolution before initiating church discipline, all of which were rebuffed over a 2-month period leading up to the formal administration of the process.
5. From here, the Elders of the Club then approached the AG leader’s co-workers, some of whom were deceived and manipulated, and they too rejected any dialog.
6. Shortly after this, in early April, the Elders received a signed declaration from the AG leader and co-workers that they would leave the Club effective immediately, taking approximately 60 people with them.
Throughout the process, and in the aftermath, the Elders convened several congregational meetings to keep the Club’s people fully informed of the events. Given the cultural dynamics of distrust and “saving face,” it is almost impossible for the Western mind to fully appreciate just how difficult it was for the Club’s Elders to stand firm on Kingdom cultural principles. Both Katie and I were deeply moved by their courage. We can both honestly say that this was as difficult a trial as we have ever experienced, and a real test of this young and newly constituted leadership team. It was a true blessing to see the Club’s people stand firm along with these men – and to appreciate the burden that they alone carried. Katie and I had the privilege to walk with them every step of the way – but this is in no way the same thing as actually bearing the burden … which they did Biblically and honestly in the face of outright lies and material misrepresentations of the facts. Truly the ugly face of sin, Satan and spiritual warfare were on full display!
One of the lies that was circulated was that a “western influence” was manipulating the Club’s leadership – which is the substance of the security concern introduced in the opening paragraphs of this report. There is, and remains, a possibility that some parties of the departing group could make this statement to authorities which would cause significant harm to the Club. To date there has been no such action, but we do not want to pose any unnecessary risks to the Club. After a period of prayer and consideration with the Club’s Elders we determined that the wisest course of action would be to take some time away to allow matters, and emotions, to settle down.
There are many lessons to be learned in the aftermath of this trial. But before sharing three significant ones, we would be remiss not to express the sovereign and protective hand of our Lord in this entire matter. As we have opportunity to share, we would love to tell you about the number of times that He sustained us and the Club’s leaders and … even more poignantly … would not allow us to make a mistake. This is a testimony to the promises of provision the Bible gives for those who will be obedient to God’s principles and direction for dealing with sin; both our own sin and that of others! So – what did we learn:
1. Sin is never a one-sided affair. One of the more remarkable aspects of this process was God’s revealing of our side’s sin both in contribution to the situation of a “club within a Club” developing (1 Cor 3:1ff) and at several occasions in the process when we were tempted to take the easy way out – and there was an easy way out; just roll-over and consent to the AG leaders demands.
Each time we and the leaders were tempted we went back to the Word … found the appropriate principles AND confessed our sin in the matter. We don’t mean to suggest that we can in any way manipulate God – but friends, when you commit yourself to His principles it really does work!! Not necessarily always in the way to think it will work, or you want it to work – but He does accomplish His sovereign purposes in all things.
Even more-so, when you transparently confess and repent of your sin before others it is simply remarkable to watch God work. At one critical juncture in the process the Club’s leaders felt they needed to do just this – before the entire congregation! This is unheard of in China and took immense courage … the emotional support and outflow of caring that followed was a joy to experience.
Yes, the Elders and the Club were seriously and persistently sinned against – and also yes, they were not without accountability in the process. Sin is never a one-sided affair … as Jesus so vividly shares in Matt 7:1-5 of the Sermon on the Mount. Taking this teaching to heart was a comfort in the storm.
2. Lesson two is simply this – you cannot let sin gestate. James, in his epistle, provides a most vivid picture … See James 1:13-15. Our sin was to avoid confronting sin early on. It is never loving to avoid confronting sin. Without becoming Pharisaical, or judgmental, we should be diligent to confront sin early and often, speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
The writer of Hebrews is helpful, first in Heb 3:12-13 when he says; “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And again, later in Heb 10:24-25 when he says; “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
We particularly like the two-fold repetition of “one-another” in these verses. This Greek word occurs 49 times in the New Testament. The message is clear – Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation! It is at its very essence relational, and it relies on “one another.”
3. Lesson three is to fear God and not fear man. During the process the Lord again and again put the choice of fearing God or fearing men before us and the Elders. Everything would have been so much easier if we had given in to man’s pressure and followed the so called “cultural protocol,” repeatedly expressed as being peacemakers or being loving. But after much prayer God gave us the words – in the absence of truth there can be no true peace nor true love. Our conviction was that the Lord cares for the holiness of His church rather than the numbers of people. Thus, we chose to do what’s right in His eyes and entrust ourselves to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).
So we close this report with two short and simple prayer requests and one praise:
1. Pray that our time away will be shorter than longer;
2. Pray that our time away will be a time of personal growth for the local leaders – a time to put to work all the things we have been teaching them without our presence; and
3. Praise God for the over 40% of those who initially left with the AG group who have already returned to the Club. God exposed the truth and they responded. It was never about the numbers, or trying to convince anyone to stay, but this has nevertheless been a great encouragement and sense of vindication to our Elders!
Blessings in the Lord,
Katie and Steve