China (MNN) — Opinions vary widely as onlookers watch the dichotomy of the underground church and the above-ground church in China. Many are unsure that the registered church–which tends to receive less negative press than the underground church–is characterized by authentic Christians.
Erik Burklin with China Partner, a ministry that works mostly with the above-ground church, says any rumors of registered churches being "less Christian" are untrue. Just as in any congregation in the United States or elsewhere, Burklin agrees that no one can know the hearts of another individual in China. However, he testifies to the fact that there appear to be mostly passionate believers in the registered church, and that regardless, their job is to unify and serve the Body. God does the rest.
"[God] is at work. He is the one who actually grows the church," says Burklin. "Jesus is at work in the registered churches and in the unregistered churches. He knows who the true believers are."
Burklin says their work with the above-ground church is legal and open with the government. "That was the path that we chose–and now has proven to be a very good path–because as a result of this ministry methodology, it's opened up tremendous doors of opportunity for us to partner with the local church."
China Partner was recently able to take hold of one of those opportunities by training rural and lay pastors for a week along the Yangtze River in Hubei Province. China Partner caters their training specifically to the needs of each group of pastors it works with. In this case, discipleship and Christian leadership were the focus.
"Many are coming to faith in Christ in the registered churches and the unregistered churches. So many are new believers, but then what? How do you then train them up to be mature Christians? That is where these local pastors need help, and that's what we were able to give them while we were with them," explains Burklin.
Still more evidence that the registered church is alive with the truth of the Gospel, Burklin met many young pastors zealous for Christ, the church, and their country. "That is what I love about meeting these young pastors we have the privilege of partnering with," says Burklin. "These are individuals who really have a passion for Christ, first of all, and then they have a passion for their own people. They're very proud Chinese. They love their people, and they want to make Christ known to these people."
People are indeed responding. As Burklin preached in a church in China during the trip, he couldn't help but notice the attitude of his audience. "They're so eager to listen to God's word and to worship. It's just an overwhelming experience."
China Partner ended the training by handing out Pastor Packs–small libraries of theological books, commentaries, Bibles, and more–to each pastor they taught. These are especially helpful tools for rural pastors who may have little access to such resources otherwise. The ministry left the training filled with hope for the church in China, certain that God is doing mighty works throughout the country.
Pray that these pastors would put their training into practice to build the churches they shepherd into havens of mature and growing believers. Pray that the Lord would continue to stir in the hearts of the millions of Chinese seeking the truth.