Birth of vision in China for equipping underground Chinese church planters committed to planting schools. (Photo of Steve Childers & Pastor Wang Yi Saturday, December 8 in Chengdu, China)

After teaching church planters last week in China, I met for several hours, one-on-one, last Friday late afternoon with the underground church movement leader, Wang Yi, pastor of the Early Rain church in Chengdu. My plane left China on Saturday. I learned on my layover in LA that Wang Yi and his wife were arrested by police, along with 80-100 others in the church, on Sunday and Wang Yi is still being held in custody.

Since returning to Orlando last night, I haven’t posted anything on social media regarding this trip because of the concern that public knowledge of what I’m doing there might put the Chinese leaders at risk. But I’m now being asked by leaders there who are not in custody or were just released to publish their story and photos so Christians will pray and protest their persecution.


They told me that since pastor Wang Yi is already an international figure representing the persecuted church, raising the awareness of Christians worldwide would be a good thing and is needed to help him and the other leaders. So, this is the first post just to share the big picture and ask for prayer.

There are already stories about this today in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, etc. But World magazine seems to be the most accurate to date:

They’ve reported that all of their church plants are now “officially banned or their possessions confiscated.” And “They are using violent means and methods to arrest and threaten meek and loving Christians. We are like sheep that have entered a pack of wolves.” They also write on Dec 11 2:00am (China time),

“They want to completely eradicate Early Rain Covenant Church from this country, but the will of God is to stamp this church even more firmly onto this country and to engrave it even deeper into their hearts. The Lord’s Church is the only community that will endure forever. Today, may we who bear the weight of eternal life meet head-on all of the hardships, evils, and tears of this world. This is the good intention of the Lord. This is the lot that has fallen in our laps. May the Lord fill our cups to overflowing!”


Another key movement leader taken into police custody today is Early Rain Church elder, and headmaster of Christian schools (up through college) Li Yingqiang. He goes by elder Timothy.

He took my course in church planting last week, partly to learn our Pathway Learning educational platform for helping train their teachers—like we’re doing in their seminary. After our meeting to review the Pathway courses in Chinese, he wanted us to take this photo above—taken in the classroom we used.

Elder Timothy was in hiding until a few hours ago when police found and arrested him. But before he was arrested he wrote a letter called “How the Church Should Face Persecution” for members and leaders in the movement now suffering persecution. Here are some excerpts below:

Beloved brothers, sisters, and fellow workers:

Thank the Lord! Just as the year 2018 is about to end God has given us a reward in the form of this large-scale persecution that arrived on December 9. Since yesterday evening until noon today, over 100 pastors, elders, staff, brothers and sisters have been taken away. As of now we still do not know where they all are, and even if we did know it would be difficult for us to help them. But, thankfully, we know for certain that the Lord’s loving face is shining upon them. They are within the gracious, sovereign providence of the Lord. He will be with them in the midst of their chains and trials…

…. Police also went to the homes of those brothers and sisters one at a time. They would use multiple police officers and community workers to control just one person. Their small groups were also broken up one by one. How should we respond to these things in the days to come? According to the contingency plan prepared by our session of elders, there are a few things we must do.

  • Those elders who are still free must take up the responsibility of pastoring the whole church, waiting for the pastor and elders to be released. If Pastor Wang Yi is not released within 48 hours, those elders who are still free must lead the church down the next stretch according to the order decided on previously.
  • Regardless, Early Rain Covenant Church must not alter the statement of faith and the path of openness that it has proclaimed publicly in the past. And we will not alter our previous stance on the relationship between church and state (正教分立) or our beautiful spiritual inheritance from the Chinese house church of walking the path of the cross. We will not register with the Religious Affairs Bureau; much less will we join the Three-Self Church.
  • We will not easily relinquish our church building and retreat to our small groups. Regardless of who is leading the church, they must try to return to the church building that God has given us. Neither paper seals nor arrests should hinder our determination to worship in our church sanctuary. Unless all elders, preachers, and seminary students able to lead public worship and the preaching of God’s word lose their freedom, we will not retreat to small groups. If we cannot enter the church building, we will rent another place. If there is no place indoors where we can worship, we will begin worshiping outdoors.
  • Meeting in small groups is our last resort. If there is even a very small possibility of worshiping together as a whole church, we will not retreat to small groups. But if we must meet in small groups and encounter opposition while doing so, we are willing to pay an even greater price to bear witness to the great work of the gospel in our lives. We are willing to have 200, 300, or 500 people arrested and imprisoned. May the whole world know that we are joyfully willing to receive this persecution for the sake of our faith.

Beloved brothers and sisters, I am writing this letter in “hiding.” May you all be filled with joy in the gospel of Christ. May you welcome, filled with hope, the even heavier cross and more difficult lives that lie ahead of you.

“Christ is Lord. Grace is King. Bear the cross. Keep the faith.”

This is the vision Early Rain Covenant Church received from the Lord. May we all obtain it, cherish it, put it into practice, and live it out!

Loving you all,

Elder Yingqiang
December 10, 2018″


Church planter, Joseph Jiang, during my church planting course last week. We trained the church planters how to train other church planters and leaders in church planting by using only their cell phones.

Joseph was my translator last week. He was arrested and interrogated for 24 hours after I left. They did not allow him to sleep.

But I have some good news. He was just released by the police. We’re able to communicate again now through encrypted software. See an excerpt from our communication today below.

Please pray for Joseph, his wife Wendy and 2 young boys, 5 years old and 3 years old. Wendy is pregnant with number 3. Thanks. He writes me: “Please pray for our family to stand firm during this persecution.”

Thank you for praying for our brothers and sisters facing persecution in China. Please pray and protest in any way you can. Let your voice be heard.

For the King!


PS: I just learned as I was writing this that ten young women serving the Christian school as teachers and staff are being taken into custody. These women were in the teacher training course being offered by Ravi Jain, former student and partner in ministry, during the same time I was teaching church planting 45 minutes away.  I’m sure several are among those I met while there and shared a meal. Please pray for them also. Thanks.


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The Scriptures present us with not only a broad and narrow sense of worship, but also a vertical and horizontal focus. Our vertical focus in worship is on God and our horizontal focus is on others.

Vertical Focus of Worship

The vertical focus of worship is that it should bring glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria). Paul admonishes us, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). So, just as all of life should be to the glory of God alone, so should all of our worship. Robert Rayburn writes, “It is fundamental that we recognize that all true Christian worship must be theocentric, the primary motion and focus of worship are Godward.”

The essence of God-centered worship is the acknowledgement that we no longer see ourselves as the center of our world and recognize that only God rules and reigns there. In worship, we lift our voices to heaven and proclaim: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev 5:13b). God alone is the one whom we are to please and honor in worship.

So what is God-honoring worship?

It’s worship that honors the Triune God for who he is and for what he does in creation and redemption. It is worshiping and honoring God the Father as Creator (Ex 15:1-18, Ps 104), God the Son as Redeemer (Heb 7:24-25, 10:1-18, Eph 1:15-23, 3:14-21), and God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in fallen humanity and creation (Rom 8:16, Eph 1:13-14).

God-centered worship honors God as our Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer for his love, his justice, his goodness and wisdom. We worship God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We worship God the Son as our Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend because of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, anticipating his coming return to make all things new. And the only way we can worship God the Father and God the Son in this way is by the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit exalts Christ in our minds, hearts, and lives. We worship God as our Father only because the Holy Spirit awakens us and persuades us that we are his children (Rom 8:16-17). And in those times of worship when our words and understanding fail, the Holy Spirit utters to God our unspoken groanings (Rom 8:26).

Preview New Course: Worship

Horizontal Focus of Worship

Although worship is primarily vertical and God-centered, there is also a biblical, horizontal focus in worship on God’s magnificent display of grace to us through our redemption in Christ. We please God as we praise and honor him for creating and redeeming us. So there is a horizontal focus to worship that emphasizes ourselves and our fellow worshippers.

Some believe that any human or horizontal focus in worship detracts from its God-centeredness and is therefore unbiblical and inappropriate. They teach that we should be so focused on God in worship, so obsessed with him alone, that we never even think of ourselves or our fellow worshippers. This idea sounds right, and there is truth in it, but it’s not biblical.

Besides the primary purpose of glorifying God, biblical worship also considers the good of God’s people and requires aspects in worship that also promote their instruction (1 Cor 14:3-6), mutual edification (1 Cor 14:12; 26-28), conviction of sin (1 Cor 14:24-25), love (1 Cor 14:1), encouragement (1 Cor 14:3), thanksgiving (1 Cor 14:16), and even their witness to unbelievers (1 Cor 14:16, 23).

People sometimes criticize contemporary worship songs for being too focused on self, on “I” and “me”. They consider such songs narcissistic, the worship of self rather than of God. Although some contemporary worship songs do not honor God because of their preoccupation with the worshiper, this doesn’t mean that using a lot of person pronouns in worship is always wrong.

For example, in the 50 verses of Psalm 18 there are at least 73 forms of the Hebrew first person singular pronoun. It begins:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
My God is the rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call on the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
And I am saved from my enemies (Ps 18:1-3).

But this Psalm is God-centered, for it recognizes God as the source of all our strength, deliverance, and refuge. The Psalmist speaks of himself to acknowledge his weakness and his intense need for the Lord. God, as our Covenant Lord, is not only a receiver but also a giver, who takes great pleasure in pouring out his blessings on his people for the sake of his name. In worship, God calls us to give to him honor and to receive from him grace. This is why the worship we offer up to God is also a means of grace flowing down to us. We glorify God as we find our ultimate joy in him as the supreme object of our worship.

In worship, God also means for us to be his instruments through whom he channels his blessings to others. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” In this passage, we see both the vertical focus of giving thanks to God, yet we see the horizontal focus of encouraging others.

This horizontal focus of biblical worship even includes unbelievers who may be present in public worship. The Apostle Paul teaches we should have a concern for unbelievers who attend our worship services (1 Cor 14:23-25). Some teach that being sensitive to what unbelievers may think of worship is unbiblical. But it is clear from Paul’s teaching that we are to honor God by making our worship accessible and intelligible to unbelievers. However, in doing so, we must always maintain our primary, vertical focus on God.

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Watch This New Video

Some believe that any human or horizontal focus in worship detracts from its God-centeredness and is therefore unbiblical and inappropriate. This idea sounds right, and there is truth in it, but it’s not biblical.

The Scriptures present us with a vertical and horizontal focus in worship. Our vertical focus in worship is on God and our horizontal focus is on others.

In this 6-part series you’ll be equipped to:

      • Distinguish between worship in its broad and narrow sense
      • Affirm the vertical and horizontal dimensions of worship
      • Understand the role of Scripture as the only authority regarding worship practices
      • Learn how to determine the propriety of worship practices not addressed in Scripture
      • Illustrate how worship includes our understanding, affections, and behavior
      • Demonstrate the importance of the means of grace and the elements of worship

This brief video (7:15) will help you understand how both a vertical and horizontal focus in worship is needed to mature spiritually.

Preview New Course: Worship

Registration closes December 15

We help underserved church leaders
develop churches that transform lives and communities.