Most of my encounters with believers and most of the interviews I had done in China were one on one. Knowing the communist government’s policy and practice of relentless and brutal persecution of the faithful, and recognizing the security challenges that I would face on this trip, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have an opportunity like this.
More than one hundred and seventy-five house-church leaders were together in one place. And all of them are willing to sit down and talk with me. Ten million believers were represented by this one gathering on a rural farm.
About ten percent of those attending the house-church conference were women. I was intrigued by them. I realized that any house-church leader was taking a huge risk-but I wondered about the women who were willing to take that risk. And, even further, how had they become leaders of groups? I was looking forward to the opportunity to hear some of their stories. How had they come to know Jesus? How had they come to take on leadership roles?
My large-group interviews continued. Amazing stories were being heard by the entire gathering. Between the large-group gatherings, however, I made a point of spending time with smaller groups that huddled together during meal times and breaks. It didn’t take me long to discover that all of these leaders were strong individuals. I found them to be spiritually mature and exceptionally articulate about their faith. The women, in particular, were passionate evangelists. They had spiritual fire in their bones. I sensed that they could have witnessed about Jesus for three hours straight without stopping to take a break. Their passion and their enthusiasm were astonishing.
I learned that the women at this conference had planted churches all over that province and neighboring provinces. When I asked them about the biggest challenges facing house-church leaders and pastors, they explained to me that they did not have those titles. “All the women here at this conference,” they explained, “are evangelists and church planters.” I was beginning to learn a lot more about what those titles meant. To this point, I had assumed that being a leader or a pastor of a house-church was the most dangerous position. After listening to these women, however, I began to wonder.
Based on their stories, being an evangelist or a church planter was perhaps an even more dangerous responsibility in a house-church movement than leading a local congregation. Fulfilling the role of an evangelist or church planter required witnessing to non-believers. It was a constant danger to interact with people and to decide whether or not those people could be trusted. These evangelists relied on the leadership of God’s Spirit when it came to the matter of trusting people. They were passionate about sharing their faith, but they knew how much risk was involved.
I asked them how they had become evangelists and church planters.
They told me, “Oh, it is just common sense!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Once churches are planted, the leaders are often imprisoned,” they explained. “When those leaders are away, other people begin to lead. Sometimes, those leaders are taken to prison too. Every time, though, others rise up to take their place. We simply do what we have been trained to do; we take God’s Word and share it. When people receive the message, new churches are started. That seems to be the way that God grows His church.”
I was astounded by the clarity and simplicity of the strategy-and by their commitment to it. These women seemed completely uninterested in titles, positions, and formal structure. They were committed to sharing the story of Jesus; nothing else seemed to matter to them.
In that moment, I thought of so many denominations that are engaged in conflict over matters of authority and leadership. These believers seemed to understand that the only thing that mattered was sharing Jesus. I was certain that if there was ever disagreement about leadership roles in the house churches in China, the argument would be over who would most quickly and most passionately venture out into a hostile world to share the gospel with the lost and win people for Jesus. These women, in particular, didn’t seem to have the time or the inclination to debate responsibilities or titles within the church.
Used by permission, Nik Ripken with Gregg Lewis, author of The Insanity of God – A True Story of Faith Resurrected © 2013 B&H Publishing, Nashville, TN, pages 245, 255-257.
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