A promising start
After four years of evangelism, we finally had enough momentum to start a weekly Sunday service. This is in an area where there were previously no churches. Not long after, we appointed lay leaders to serve at the church. Equipping lay leaders has always been a key value of our church plant. But we had not foreseen the complications about delegating responsibility helping leaders overcome their insecurities.
Shortly after, Susan, a long-time believer, started coming to our church. Susan appeared to have all the markings of an ideal leader: she was enthusiastic about serving, encouraged others, and was very working class.
A new believer we met at the park and Susan became good friends. She asked if Susan should take her place in leadership. Apparently she thought of Susan as being more “seasoned” and “suitable” than herself.
When appointing lay church leaders is less straightforward than it may seem
Instinctively this didn’t feel like a great idea, and when we conferred the pastor of a church in Chiayi City, he advised us to keep an eye on this new sister for the next year to assess her suitability for leadership. In the life of our baby church, one year seemed like a long time, but we decided to follow his suggestion.
Within the year, we came to realize that, even after so many years of professing to be a Christian, Susan still lacked full understanding of grace by faith alone.
The influence of the past
Traditional Taiwanese religion places a high value on doing good deeds to earn the favor of gods. It is often an “exchange-based” faith where, after earning a god’s favor and receiving its blessing, one was obliged to “give back” to the god to show gratitude.
Since Susan grew up believing this, it greatly influenced Susan’s view of Christianity; her fervor for service was fueled by a desire to receive extra blessings from God, and she subconsciously conveyed to other members that God would bless them the more that they served Him. She also harbored a great deal of unforgiveness and bitterness because she felt “cheated” out of the opportunity to have a better, more “successful” life.
Almost exactly a year after Susan’s arrival at our church, we got a phone call from another church member, asking us to go to her house quickly. There, Susan was in a rage. We realized then that she frequently got into physical altercations with family members. That day, she had punched her 70-something year-old mother-in-law in the face. She was sent to the emergency room.
“I hate her! And I’d hit her again if I could!” shouted Susan, her normally self-righteous glow melting off her face.
We realized then the great challenge of discipling working-class people—people who’ve often suffered from years of rejection and losing face—to lead lives of forgiveness and unconditional love. We were also reminded of the importance of choosing leaders Biblically and carefully, though we so often are tempted to pick leaders for the sake of convenience or expediency.
Please pray that the Lord will give missionaries discernment to appoint the right leaders for our working-class church plants.
– Jennifer McIntyre, Church Planter