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A Reflection on 2017 Growing Church Conference

 

On the first night of the Growing Churches Conference at A Grain of Mustard Seed Korean United Methodist Fellowship in Las Vegas, our worship was a powerful, spirit lifting choral symphony of pastors when each word reverberated with years of prayer and deep spiritual formation. I could sense a thick blanketing of the Holy Spirit and I stopped singing the last stanza just to relish in the moment and sang with thanksgiving in my heart. It reminded me of my first Sunday back in Korea after spending eight years in the United States when it seemed like the windows would shatter from the amplitude of the congregation singing and the organ playing. It was mesmerizing and a testament to our living God.

I was born in Korea and I grew up in Phoenix from the age of 6. Some would classify me as a 1.5 gen or even a 2nd gen. I used to joke that I was 1.8 gen. 8 years later, we returned to our homeland and I spent my high school years and freshman year of college in Korea before I resumed my undergrad studies back in the States. I attended GCC because I serve as the senior pastor of the Korean United Methodist Fellowship in Tucson, Arizona. Bishop Hoshibata appointed me in hopes that I could help develop our congregation into a multi-ethnic one.  It is a work in progress. In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to learn from and network with other Korean pastors and GCC provided me with such an opportunity.

The conference was narrow in its focus (ie. Korean-speaking Korean, Clergy, charged with a Korean congregation) which made for profound conversation because it allowed for issues such as pastoral burnout, pressures of numerical growth, and conflicts in the church. In a culture where the normative is rather competitive, I found our presenters and colleagues to be genuinely caring. Many spoke honestly, with increasing vulnerability as the days progressed and in those moments of brokenness, I sensed a buildup of trust and companionship. "We are in this together" was a repeated theme. By the end of the conference, I was ready to take up the yoke with my fellow pastors. The yoke, after all, was meant to be carried by an older animal on one side, and a younger animal on the other. The older and wiser beast helped to pace the brute strength of the younger.

But, such focus came at a cost: the exclusion of other important groups.

2017 is an interesting year, for many reasons but for me, because it is the year of the cock. I was born in the year of the cock and at the age of 36, I was the youngest of the group and I was the only person who identified as a 2nd gen. Where are the young clergy? Recent seminary graduates would be at least 12 years younger than I.

I understand that the Growing Churches Conference was not intended on identifying or serving the needs of next-gen Korean Americans. I also know how much of a stink I am by voicing this concern in an article widely read by Korean 1st gen. You have my apology if I am only repeating the same nagging gong of those before me. I normally carry a passive voice but I also felt that speaking sincerely to the point of vulnerability is exactly what gave GCC such profound meaning. I ask that you allow me to offer my humble opinion.

If the concerns of the next generation are not included in the conversations about the growth of churches, of Korean Churches which, at best, still suffer from the silent exodus, then no matter how much the churches work together to grow, we still have a problem. We have a problem if we say that our churches do not have space, time, or resources to wrestle with the concerns that surround the next generation because we are struggling. It may very well be that we are struggling because we continue to fail in making space, time, and devoting resources to understand and address the concerns of our next generation.

Allow me to share another observation. I was only able to meet one female clergy. Where are our women leaders and why are they not at GCC? Or rather, why might Korean female clergy be less inclined to attend GCC? The reasons are as many as there are there people but my point being, if conversations about the growth of churches only look to preserving ourselves and maintaining the status-quo, then I fear we may be turning our eyes from the issues that plague the decline of our church.

The executive director of the Korean Ministry Plan, Rev. Paul Chang, shared with us that perhaps only about 11~15% of Koreans Americans actually attend church. DJ Chuang mentions in Christianity Today that some 71% of Korean Americans are churched. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/november/9-things-about-asian-american-christianity.html) . If both are true, then we face the reality that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of Korean Americans have already been churched yet do not join worship on Sunday. Either, Sunday attendance is a poor measurement of Christian faith, or we have to look at what the Korean church is about that has turned away more people than those who have stayed. My hunch is that both are true.

I sincerely hope that we can discover this together. We need both 1st gen and next gen Korean Americans. We need both female and male clergy. If we really believe we are "in this together," then it must be all of who identify has Korean in one way or another. When we are yoked together, then we compliment all parts. I am aware that the Korean National Caucus will be convening in the spring. What will we see there? Will there be space for every generation and gender of Korean Americans to come together? Are we willing to do the hard work of coming together and being vulnerable once we are there? I pray it will be so.

I found GCC to be refreshingly heartwarming. It was heartwarming because of the vulnerability I could sense in our conversation. Let us not stop short of this amazing movement of the Spirit. The truth may be that all of us, clergy, laity, 1st gen, and next gen, male and female, are in need of a profound sense of affirmation and edification. My hunch is that those outside of our group feels the same. Let us do that work together.

글쓴이: 조형(Paul Hyung Cho) 목사, 투산연합감리교회, AZ
올린날: 2017년 2월 23일, 연합감리교회 공보부, TN