By God’s grace and sovereignty, we have experienced some wonderful highlights in 2016. We completed the transition from a broad-based ministry model to one where we concentrate on serving a single church in a single location. This has been a difficult transition, but we are deeply committed to the church as God’s vehicle in the world in this dispensation. While we thought this might make our ministry life more manageable, the complete opposite has been true! The church can be a messy place, but the church is God’s means of displaying His glory. So we consider it all joy as we encountered various trials. It has tested our faith, and it has produced endurance!
Church Governance: We completed a year-long process of examination and preparation to install a plurality of male Elders to replace the church’s 10-year “steering committee” structure. In March of 2016, five men were nominated to become Elders, and Lord willing, will be formally installed in the first quarter of 2017.
Ministry Philosophy and Structure: One of the chief tasks for the Elder candidates was to develop a clear and biblical philosophy for ministry, along with a structure to support their ministry programs. The results of this nine month effort was presented at the end of the year at the church’s annual general meeting.
Expository Preaching: Completing a process that began in 2015, the church fulfilled their goal to staff all of their preaching internally. Seven men committed to an intensive training process to learn the expository preaching method. We began with a series on Jesus’ sermon on the mount and then on to our first book – James. In November, they began what will be a year long series on the book of Ephesians. In addition to preparing their weekly messages, the speakers prepare a Small Group Discussion Guide (SGDG) as a companion to their sermon. In 2016, a number of small groups experimented with the SGDG, using it to go deeper with an emphasis on applying the messages to their daily lives. What a blessing to see the Holy Spirit fill lay-leaders for this important ministry of the church. Remember, none of these men have had the privilege of formal theological training and ALL of them serve bi-vocationally! A testimony to being submitted to, and walking in, the Holy Spirit.
Biblical Counseling: Like many churches, there is a great need to counsel people on handling life biblically. Significant steps were taken to train an initial group of Biblical counselors and then deploy them throughout the small group network.
Bible Studies: Two women’s Bible studies (singles and Mom’s group) and one mixed Bible study commenced in 2016 studying the book of Romans. It is a very new thing for this church to participate in detailed, verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible. It was pure joy to watch them experience slowing down and discovering the richness of God’s word.
Personal Discipleship: Both of us worked closely with a small number of key church leaders, meeting on a regular basis to focus on growing in spiritual maturity and as leaders. Our home was filled with people most nights of the week – something new, and challenging, for both of us as the gift of hospitality is not a natural one. This started slowly, but by year end has started to yield some fruit.
Celebration: 2016 marked the 10-year anniversary of this church, which they celebrated with a church wide gathering… a first in their history. What a joyful time it was! What began as a small group Bible study has grown into a 350 person church that conducts three weekend services, children’s and adult Sunday school classes, and 30 weekly small group gatherings. What a testimony to the power of God – and the faithfulness of these local saints. Again, let me remind you… not one paid staff member. Completely lay led. Quite remarkable really!
Looking Ahead: Over the past ten years, the church in China has experienced a period of peaceful coexistence and relative freedom to meet openly. This appears to be changing – both quickly and severely. The Chinese central government issued new religious regulations for comment over the summer. If enacted into law (very likely), they will lead to serious persecution and drive significant changes to the way the church, to be God’s church, has to operate in China. At the extreme, our group might be faced with breaking into their 30 small groups to avoid detection. In short, the modest gains in semi-open Christian gatherings over the past ten years will be rolled back in a draconian fashion when these new regulations become enacted in March of 2017. Please pray for discernment and protection for our church. For us personally, it may result in changes to our ability to be here on a full-time basis. We have been told by credible sources that we need to treat every month as if it could be our last month.
It is our distinct privilege to be supported by you, enabling us to fulfill our call. We are most thankful!