Jonathon Swift said, “I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular, but some degree of persecution.”1 I became a full-time pastor at the age of 27. Young, bold, naive, and scared to death, were definitely adjectives that could have described my first couple of years. I remember thinking that I that I was more than half some of my church members age and they were asking me for advice. I remember that I sat in my office and wondered how I had been given responsibility for both a church and an elementary school. When my daughter was born six moths prior to taking my first church I had very similar thoughts. How could the hospital trust me with the life of this baby. Couldn’t they see in my eyes I was totally over my head? Emma Percy2 has done a great job comparing pastoral ministry with parenting (motherhood). There were and still are so many time that I was walking someone through life, giving advice, and hoping to find the answers along with them. People love to make the joke that pastors only work one day a week. Ministry involves not only holding the hands of young sick children and the dying elderly, but also ongoing mentoring and support for those that God is calling out of a stagnant life and into the light of Christ.In the Chinese culture parents often give up their right to raise their child giving their parents (child’s grandparents) the right and authority to raise how they see fit. Between full time jobs for the parents as well mandatory retirement for males at 65 and females at 55 a system of grandparent raising seems to have been implemented. This has great frustration for those young families that would like to raise their own kids. Not only are there expectations made from grandparents but also expectations from culture. Young people are to work and the elderly will take on the job of modeling, shaping, and training the children. As you may imagine this creates so many problems and challenges, specifically with the relationship with parent and child; whether that is the young child or the adult parent and their relationship with the ones raising their child. The resolution of differences is often determined by the culture and not by who is correct. Confucius taught that love was expressed through filial piety. “Filial Piety is the ‘root of all virtues and the stem out of which grows all moral teachings’: I commences with he service to parents; It proceeds to the service to the Ruler; It culminates by the establishment of character.”3 Loosely understood in a western context as a deep love and appreciation for parents and grandparents. This concept layered with Confucian hierarchy as well as honor and shame has created not only a complicated family structure but church structure as well. From the canonical book of Li Chi we read:
It is not filial piety, if one does not rule well his own house;
It is not filial piety, if one does not serve his ruler loyally;
It is not filial piety, if one does not treat his friends faithfully;
It is not filial piety, if one does not fight as a good soldier4
The concepts of order, hierarchy, and respecting parents or parental roles are so at the foundation of any leadership structure that it influences the church and that of the pastors.
In the Chinese church young leaders are seen as not having enough life experience to lead. They are often not given mentors because old pastors or leaders are too busy doing all the work. Young pastors (or potential pastors) are often frustrated that they have not earned the right to lead nor earned the right to even engage in the conversation. They are often treated like children simply told what to do with the expectation that what is commanded will be done. I am currently in the States and sat down with a Chinese pastor that ministers in California. He is in his mid-forties and felt privileged to be asked to be on an LA area Chinese pastors leadership council. Once arrived he was asked to be the recording secretary for the meetings. He served that role but told me that since he was the youngest member he needed to not express his opinion during each of the meetings.
I believe this culture has led many that are called to be ministers of the Gospel to accept lesser roles and the freedom that comes with leading a small group rather than assuming the role of an official “pastor”. As the lay leader of a small group, one has the ability to “mother” and teach the group without the cultural politics that can frustrate many believers. The Biblical training schools we lead in the country of service are full of 20-40 year olds that claim to be too young to be ordained and too young to think about being a pastor. We train them in all the courses needed to be ordained but know that some will never officially allow themselves to go through the ordination process. We do commission them to be servants of God and help them find ministry where they are “pastoring” a group of people in a way that allows them to save face, respect their culture as well as fulfill their calling…even without titles that hinder.
I know that I have deviated from the original concepts found in Percy’s book but mothering in ministry has to take into account the cultural context we live in. As frustrated as we all get with the people God has sent us to work with, finding avenues to glorify God, in spite of our own cultural expectations, is what I need to be reminded of from time to time. Just like there is really no one perfect way to parent, there is no one perfect way to minister. When the persecution of life comes, whether from our ministerial children or political entities we are to find our comfort and support in the one that makes the nothing we do into something life changing.
1 https://ireland-calling.com/jonathan-swift-quotes-religion-and-belief/ accessed May 29, 2019
2Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing (London: SPCK, 2014).
3 Lit-sen Chang, Asia’s Religions: Christianity’s Momentous Encounter with Paganism (San Gabriel, CA, CA: China Horizon, 1999).55