Wednesday, December 2nd
A night’s rest and time to think have presented some further comments on our visit to Dushu Lake Christian Church.
At its most basic, the challenge to the church in China today is its rapid growth putting stress on buildings, clergy and programming. This is the mirror image of life in Canadian churches struggling with declining numbers, aging members and buildings that are older, located in neighbourhoods no longer reflective of the UCC with programs that may not be relevant to newcomers.
The Chinese speak of “post-denominationalism” in much the same way we speak of post-modernism. It expresses the way we are church in the world. In speaking with Rev. He it seems that there has been little interest in creating liturgical or theological conformity. Instead, local congregations live out their mission in a colourful rainbow of expressions of the Christian faith. This was specifically why I asked Rev. He if people chose a church by its theology or location and he was clear that the choice is based on proximity to home. The idea of ‘church shopping’ that we know so well in Canada does not seem to resonate in China. While Dushu Lake Church clearly goes out of its way to accommodate a number of larger subgroups within the congregation this does not seem to dictate the ethos or liturgy in a significant way.
In contrast, in many UCC congregations we try to find our niche that sets us apart from other congregations in order to attract people both in our neighbourhoods and beyond. I wonder how much we are influenced by the American mega church movement. I found it curious but noteworthy that Rev. He is not the sole preacher. In fact there are two preachers on the staff. The congregation, as a destination, is not derived from the personality or prestige of the senior minister.
Finally, I want to reflect on the three elements of Dushu Lake Church that I also witnessed in Shanghai at the Community Church namely: worship, prayer and study. Sunday is a full day for people, not simply an hour. Worship serves as a jumping off point for nurturing personal spirituality and knowledge about the faith. At no time did I hear apologies for programs that might prey on people’s busy lives but, rather, Rev. He’s passion to foster a rich, life-changing spiritual experience. They seem to understand the limits of worship to accomplish this and, thus, offer opportunities for prayer and study leading to and enriching one’s commitment of faith.
So, I muse as our bus makes its way along the highway to Nanjing: how am I open to the Spirit in my life? Am I doing all I can to make life in my church an opportunity to fill souls with a peace beyond words? In our efforts to distance ourselves from the rote phrases associated with North American evangelicalism, we may be sacrificing some of the richest foundational values of our faith. I wonder, should we reinvigorate the personal and corporate prayer components of our churches? Should we lift up the powerful stories of scripture as a key component to a vibrant life of faith? Am I, as a church leader, setting an example in my own prayer life and in my study of scripture? These are some of the questions and insights that are growing from my visit at Dushu Lake Christian Church in Suzhou.