Advice from a millennial pastor: How can we deal with the paternalistic church?

Many grassroots churches in China have a big dilemma and management difficulty of how to get rid of or get out of paternalism.

After reform and opening up, the Chinese church has entered the fast lane of rapid progress. However, for various historical reasons, until now, many churches are still paternalistic. The church is governed by one or a few leaders, with all members of the church expected to obey the leader.

The paternalism that suited the church decades ago is beginning to expose many problems today. The new generation of Christians is very uncomfortable with the paternalistic leadership of the old church leaders, with fierce conflict in both philosophy and practice. After receiving theological training, more and more young believers and church personnel expect the church to practice discipline to restrain the behavior of leaders, and even overhaul the management system of the church.

A few days ago, C (pseudonym), a pastor born in the 1980s in the Central Plains, shared his advice for young pastors with the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper. As Pastor C served in the church for many years with rich pastoral experience and lived through paternalism in the church, he hoped that today’s young pastors could avoid detours to grow quickly.

“A big problem for young Chinese pastors, especially those who serve full-time, is that they have to say yes to employers. Church leaders, who support full-time pastors with whatever they need , expect them to do more, with young people pastors feel a lot of pressure.It is difficult for them to meet the expectations of the church because of their limited capacity and energy.Living dependent on others at a young age, pastors always feel discouraged towards themselves and towards the church, because their words are of little effect due to their lower positions. C said: “As you are only a young man in their twenties with no social background or work experience, it’s actually very hard for them to adopt your suggestions, and it’s also a very risky thing to put the whole church in your hands.

C believed that instead of turning to windmills like Don Quixote, young pastors should calm down to study hard and improve.

C added: “It is almost impossible to change the church management system in a revolutionary way. My advice to these young pastors is to increase their influence, which is radical. I also know that there are indeed many problems of bureaucracy and paternalism in the church, which greatly test the endurance of young pastors. If you have the will to change the church, you must stay firmly in the church. On the one hand, work hard to cooperate with the work of the church and gain testimony in the church, but on the other hand, maintain your independence and protect yourself from assimilation by the environment like a lotus undefiled by mud. young pastors become influencers in the church, they can do a lot of things they want to do, because the older generation can get old and retire.”

C believed that paternalism with many benefits was embraced in most Chinese churches, especially house churches, but whether the patriarch was good or bad would have to be seen. In fact, the church system could not be perfected under present circumstances. It took a lot of hard work to achieve the church system that many young pastors expect and recognize, and the church could not create the conditions to achieve it for various reasons. In contrast, the patriarchy was much simpler and easier, with a leader doing everything. Due to the influence of traditional Chinese culture, it was actually very difficult for the Chinese church to adopt a more democratic system. The church becoming coercively democratic would only lead to many internal struggles and intrigues, resulting in people vying for power and profits.

“To change paternalism, young pastors must learn to grow well while keeping their independence, then the patriarchal system will naturally perish,” concluded C.

– Translated by Abigail Wu


Advice from a millennial pastor: How can we deal with the paternalistic church?