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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Korean-American churches navigate cultural changes


Reaching the next generation

May 13, 2017

Sometimes it’s the small things that you remember in ministry.

Eun Joo Kim, a Korean-American Presbyterian pastor, recalls a moment when she was leaving the first Korean-American youth ministry position that she held while in seminary.

“I really hope the next youth pastor who comes, he or she, will be as awesome as you!” one youth said to her.

What stuck with Kim was the pronoun “she.” Kim was the first female youth pastor in that church, and she knew that being with these youth for three years had broadened their conception of a pastor. Many Korean-American Christian youth grow up with a pastoral image that is male, and the comment gave her hope that for this group of youth, their understanding of Christian leadership would be more holistic.

After ministering to Korean-American youth and young adults in the New York area, she says she knows that first-generation Korean-American Presbyterians are well versed in the Bible and are active in their faith.

But Kim also says Korean-American churches still need to find effective ways of reaching the younger generation—not just second- and third-generation Korean-Americans but also the so-called “1.5 generation” (those who immigrated to the U.S. during their teen years or thereabouts who are usually bilingual and bicultural).

“Korean-American churches do mission work well, but we need to do more effective ministry in our present cultural perspective, touching the lives of younger … Korean-Americans with the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that will matter to them here and now,” Kim said.

Korean-American families often experience discord between parents and children, because language and cultural differences challenge even simple communications, putting a wedge in the relationship.

“Often, the second generation takes the work of the first generation for granted. The first generation sacrificed so much for their children and for the church. But the first generation often is unable to understand the second generation and gets frustrated when they do not conform to their expectations. Often, the two communities lack healthy collaboration in ministry,” said Sung Kim, an English congregation pastor for the second-generation Korean-American ministry at Korean United Presbyterian Church of Chicago. He is encouraged by the growth of the English congregation (EC) over the years but acknowledges that some tensions exist between the Korean and the English congregations.

“My desire is for the English congregation to grow and mature. The Korean congregation is here to support the EC in every way we can, including giving them freedom to engage in their ministry,” said Eun Sung Cho, senior pastor of the Korean congregation.

But both Cho and Kim are confident that the growing pains that they are experiencing will be overcome through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“My vision for the EC is that they be claimed by the power of Christ in order to become a transforming community for this generation,” Kim said.

John Park, a young pastor in charge of a junior-high ministry at Korean Community Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, recalls a challenge when the junior-high group first separated from the high school group to form a new ministry.

“We didn’t have a usable curriculum. I soon realized that American Christian curricula for youth did not sufficiently speak to the experience of the Korean-American youth, and our teachers wanted a short, user-friendly curriculum that worked for their classes,” Park said.

So he started to make up his own one-page youth curriculum for his teachers and now produces a user-friendly weekly Christian education resource for his Korean-American junior-high ministry of about 120 students.

Eunbee Ham, a children’s ministry pastor at the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, has also drawn on existing resources to create her own curriculum.

Hak Joon Lee, Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, established the G2G Christian Education Center, which has produced a three-volume curriculum called Living Between, Living Together, Living Faithfully, 100 lessons designed specifically for Korean-American youth. Lee writes in the introduction to the curriculum:

“Many first-generation parents and pastors feel frustrated and even powerless because of cultural and generational limitations and lack of educational resources. … This curriculum responds to these dire needs of our Korean North American community. Contextually grounded, it is specially designed to address the issues facing and being experienced by Korean North American youths: salvation, prayer, body image, addiction, relationship with parents, friends, character, K-pop and so on. This curriculum assists youths to freely encounter, engage and explore the issues of their teen life on their own terms.”

Korean-American churches are a case study of how God’s grace is working through the generations through creative and resilient pastors and educators and through the first, 1.5, second and now the third generations.

Kevin Park, associate dean for advanced professional studies and assistant professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary

Today’s Focus:  Korean-American churches

Let us join in prayer for:

Korean Central Presbyterian Church Staff

Han Byung-Chul, pastor
Eunbee Ham, Children’s Department
Jae-wook Jung, evangelist

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Dana Dages, PMA                                                                         
Peggy Dahmer, PMA 

Let us pray:

O Lord, send a new song into our hearts that enables us to bring out the music in the souls of others. Together may we become a symphony of diverse voices that offers you praise. All to your glory. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 92; 149
First Reading Jeremiah 31:23-25
Second Reading Colossians 3:12-17
Gospel Reading Luke 7:18-28 (29-30) 31-35
Evening Psalms 23; 114