China Sees, Summer 2016 Ministry Update
Greetings in the Lord from Katie and Steve. We write our summer update from sunny Florida where we are enjoying a break from ministry. While a bit hot, it is a joy to once again breathe clean air and see sunny skies day-after-day. It is also a blessing to spend time at our home church, visit with Mom and Dad, and catch up with our faithful supporters.
As we have had time to rest and reflect on the ministry, we are able to see how the Lord has redirected us from a wide field of focus to a very specific task. And yet, while we are traveling less, we find ourselves with even more work. As a result, we have both experienced a new level of exhaustion along with a longer climb to recover – physically, mentally and spiritually.
The events since our last update (only 4-months ago!) would have been hard for us to envision, but they have become a present and vivid reality. Namely, we are working with a single “club” that has two great desires. First they want to conform themselves to the model of the NT Church in both structure and ministry focus. Second, they want to begin aggressively planting new “clubs” in their city.
This October will mark their 10-year anniversary as a “club,” and they will hold two services to commemorate this milestone. The first will be to celebrate what God has done to take them from a small-group fellowship to a large club (by Chinese standards) that conducts three weekend services. Following this they will cast their vision for the next 10 years to the congregation, Lord willing. It has been both exciting and challenging to have the privilege to coach the leaders of this club in building this plan – which includes their formal call for us to serve them full-time in a leadership capacity. This update will chronicle what has transpired to arrive at this point, and our role going forward. As always, please forgive us for being “intentionally vague” in some areas for the protection of those who we are working with.
The group we will be focused on is the one described as the “City-side” ministry in past updates. You may recall that we identified five initiatives with this group including: 1) governance; 2) expository preaching; 3) small groups; 4) biblical counseling; and 5) women’s Bible study. As we worked in these areas, it became clear to the club’s current leadership that they needed to make some fundamental changes in their structure and their approach to ministry.
Changes in structure arose from our elder study – leading them to embrace the need to move from their current organization (a steering committee comprised of men and women) to Biblical eldership comprised of a plurality of qualified men. They have taken this process very seriously and are in the process of fulfilling the direction given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Having identified men who “desire the position of an overseer,” they are now pursuing a time of examining the qualifications of these men. Attendant with this, they are also preaching a 10-week series titled “What is the Church,” with the purpose of educating the congregation on the doctrines of the Church and their practical outworking. This is to prepare their sheep for the structural changes they have announced.
Along with their structure, they also realized that they needed to make some fundamental changes in their approach to ministry. This club has grown very quickly over the past three years and they found themselves “bolting on” ministry programs to keep up with the need. As a result, they have an unsustainable set of programs that are not evenly implemented across their different service. We quicken to say that they have done an amazing job with NO paid staff, and NO formally trained ministry leaders – a testimony to their faithfulness and God’s grace! Nevertheless, they realized that they needed to become more coordinated and more integrated to have a consistent quality of ministry to shepherd the flock.
Their first major step was to commit to expository preaching staffed by their own leaders … this has been a HUGE step, requiring a HUGE commitment of time on the part of six men to become trained and practiced in this sermonic approach. Today, they do book by book preaching and are preaching God’s truth each and every week. This success then led them to think about how they can help the flock “go deeper,” leading them to develop a small group discussion guide that is tied to the weekly message. Another very positive step.
Yet with all this, the ministry needs continue to outpace their ability to staff them. As a result, the last four months have been an intensive time of study, conducted by the men candidating to become elders, to develop a philosophy of ministry, a clear doctrinal statement, and ministry platforms. It was at this point that the “club” approached us to commit ourselves to them full-time to lead them through this process and to help with its implementation over the next 18 months (from now through the end of 2017).
After a period of prayer, and with some trepidation, we have accepted their call – and are both intimidated and excited by what lies ahead. This said, we have been very encouraged by the support we are receiving from our new home church in Florida – both in their prayer support and with many other practical contributions when we run into areas where we need help. They have a deep pool of resources and experience and have opened all of this up to us as we proceed with the Lord’s calling.
The best way to describe our work is as “player-coaches.” Our first priority is to lead and equip them for conducting the work of the ministry – this is the coaching part. In addition, we also fulfill specific ministry functions when they do not have a qualified individual prepared to take lead – this is the player part. Consistent with our ministry purpose, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job as quickly as we can, recognizing that nationals will always be more effective at reaching and shepherding nationals. What we need from all of you is intensive prayer coverage … namely:
1. Pray for “realism” – Both us have a tendency to want too much too quickly. Pray that we be reminded of God’s sovereignty and God’s timing … remembering that we are instruments in His hands.
2. Pray for “protection” – It is a delicate balance to be focused in one area in terms of security. There are certain things that we MUST NOT do – and particularly as it relates to Steve’s presence at the club site and gatherings. While not yet overt persecution, the current government regime is paying more attention to what is going on with Christianity in China. Little things are happening to remind China’s believers that they walk a fine line.
3. Pray for “resources” – We are often over our heads, and at times physically, mentally, and spiritually overwhelmed. Pray that God will provide the resources that we need to sustain us … when we need them!
4. Pray for “the club” – This group's desire to be a God-honoring and faithful NT church is quite unique in China. To do this they have to combat entrenched cultural norms and hold a firm line on difficult doctrinal issues. It is easy to compromise for expediency and to avoid conflict. Pray that the men who have expressed the desire to lead will have a strong conviction to resist the temptations to take short-cuts and to compromise.
Thank you very much for all your support and prayers throughout years! We cannot do this without you!
Our love in the Lord,
Katie and Steve