What Does the Church Look Like Beyond Your Backdoor?
What is the church?
The church is more than just the building in your community where you attend youth group or Sunday services. The church is the collective body of believers charged with the task of sharing Christ's message of hope with the world.
And it isn't an American phenomenon.
I'm sure you realize that Christians live all over the world, and you probably already know the church didn't start here and isn't contained to the lower 48. But have you taken the time to consider how God is using the church worldwide?
I'll be honest; I don't think of the global church often. But all of this talk about the church has made me curious to see how God's working in His church in ways we don't often see or hear of.
In response, I contacted my good friend Christi. She and her husband recently spent 28 days in China researching the Chinese church. They discovered what God's Word clearly tells us—God loves the church, and He is using her to accomplish His purposes and to draw people to Him. Check it out.
Erin: What is the church in China like?
Christi: Things in China are very different depending on what region or province you are in. For starters, things are much stricter in the rural areas versus the city. In China appearance is everything, and how they "appear" to Westerners is of utmost importance. Because Shenzhen is a large busy city with many Western businessmen traveling there, they are much more lenient on Christianity to show the world how "tolerant" they are. There is a large Christian church where we had a day camp, trainings, etc. In rural areas where it is highly unlikely a Westerner would ever go to, the government enjoys tighter control.
In Shenzhen, because it was the first city opened to the West for business, it is very money-driven. The government is lenient toward Christians to put on a good front. A girl we met with was able to buy Christian books in the bookstore, and Bibles did not seem scarce. Because of this leniency and openness, it's easier to be a Christian in southern China than in other parts of the country. This is interesting, because we found the Christians in this area were more like Americans in that they go to church and love God, but it's not a huge part of their life. In a word, they are lukewarm. The church and Christians were very much like the church and Christians in America.
In other parts, it is much stricter than in southern China. There is less of a Western presence; therefore, the government exerts greater control. We also found that it would vary by province. The government is much stricter in central China than in northern China, which is why we didn't spend any time in central China. We met one couple who traveled from central China to meet with us. They were on fire for Christ and sacrificed more for Him than anyone I had met. The husband had already been arrested for just going to talk to a Christian pastor who was in jail. (He escaped and fled the province.) I've heard that Bibles are scarce in central China.
In northern China, we met with a house church. Because they cannot meet openly in public, the house churches are small. They are able to build community and discipleship, and they love each other as Christ intended the church to be in Acts. Because they were sacrificing for their faith, it was strong and genuine. The church and Christians in America could learn a lot from the Christians in central and northern China.
Here are some other observations I made about the church in China:
- Chinese Christians do genuinely seem happier than non-Christians do. We walked along the Dong Guan streets (southern China) and could really see a difference between Christians and non-Christians. There was something in their eyes that was colder, meaner-looking. When we met Christians in China, their eyes are warmer and friendlier—it's hard to describe, but is noticeable.
- Love and humbleness are the two biggest traits that attract people to Christ—genuinely caring about people.
- I can't stress how important discipleship is and how well it works. Discipleship is vital to a Christian's perseverance. The church in America needs to have a discipleship revolution.
- They witness through loving and gaining the trust of "seekers." They then invite their friends into loving communities. Thus, witnessing is primarily non-verbal at first, which is essential to them not overstepping the law and being arrested.
- In fact, it is illegal to bring up religion to those under 18 unless they ask you about it first.
- This way of evangelism (loving without verbally witnessing) is being put into practice in China and is contrary to the focus of the West. Western evangelism focuses on preaching. There is little discipleship or community. In China the focus is on fostering community and witnessing through love (which seems to have better lasting results).
- In fact, in this evangelism style, communism doesn't matter because the focus is on love (not speaking). The communist government can't stop that.
- The persecution/possible arrest has forced most churches to remain focused on love and community instead of drifting toward Western views of evangelism.
- People in China depend on God for everything, not just spiritual things, but physical things, too, like food. This dependence adds a deeper dimension to their faith. They depend on others for support and it builds community, which is what we are lacking here in the West.
Cool stuff, huh? Wouldn't you love to have been packed along in Christi's suitcase to see how God is using the church in China? Hearing stories about the ways God is using the church far beyond my back door has deepened my love for the church and helped me to catch a vision of it that lines up with the one cast by Jesus and His disciples throughout the New Testament.
I hope you'll be challenged in the same way. Have you had a unique mission experience that has brought you face-to-face with Christians in other regions or countries? Have you seen how God is using His church to disciple believers and draw others toward Him in areas beyond your backyard?
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