Ten Unique Korean Virtues That EMs Aren't Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be), Part 2

Here Pastor Foley outlines the "Ten Unique Korean Virtues" for us and gives a general overview and rationale for future articles…Good stuff here and more discussion to follow…

Today, many of the fastest-growing Korean EM’s are built on a “multicultural” model. So much do these EM’s reject what they see as the limitations of the Korean EM model that they often dislike even being identified as EM’s. Many of these “former” EM’s either already are or aspire to become independent congregations. Many of them see their purpose as drawing together people of all cultural backgrounds to worship God. They see being a second-generation Korean congregation as far too narrowly focused an identity, far too limiting a calling.

Consider, for example, the way one of the largest of these “former” EM’s describes itself:

“_____________ is a church designed to help you discover purpose, meaning, and joy in life. At __________ you can meet new people and get to know them in house churches, enjoy contemporary praise music, and hear positive, practical messages which encourage and challenge you each week.”

The description may seem radical for a “former” Korean EM, but it is identical to that of literally tens of thousands of American churches. The question is: Is this a good thing? Is this the kind of 2.0 “descendent” that first generation Korean churches should aspire to be birthing?

These “former” EM’s could argue that the answer is yes on the basis of their success. After all, these kind of multicultural EM’s are undeniably more popular than most of their traditional EM counterparts. Further, these churches could contend that they are more spiritually vibrant (or at least more lively) than many traditional EM’s. I, too, have seen more than a small number of spiritually dead EM’s. Shouldn’t we just be happy that our Korean kids are in church, even if that church has little obvious connection to a traditional Korean first generation congregation?

I would contend that the answer is, emphatically, adamantly, no. I would contend that exchanging the EM model for this increasingly popular “multicultural” model is equivalent to what Esau does in the Old Testament when he exchanges his birthright for a bowl of soup because he is hungry. There is no doubt that the EM model is broken and badly in need of transformation. Second generation Koreans are hungry. But feeding them warmed-over American church strategies only cheats Korean young people in the long run.

God has blessed Koreans with a unique spiritual heritage. That spiritual heritage is not to be found in Korean EM congregations seeing their Koreanness as a limitation and jettisoning it in favor of “emerging” American church models. That spiritual heritage is to be found in a deep spiritual examination and careful adaptation of traditional Korean Christianity into English and into a twenty-first century American context.

Consider this question: Let’s say you are a pastor and you are interested in making disciples and growing a vibrant church. Let’s say that there was one city where eleven of the twelve largest churches in the world were located. Then let’s say there was a different country where none of the one hundred forty largest churches were located. Which place would you visit in order to learn more?

Seoul is the place where eleven of the twelve largest churches in the world are located. The United States is the country that is home to none of the one hundred forty largest churches in the world. If this is true, then why are our second-generation Korean Christian leaders so certain that the path to spiritual growth for their generation leads out of their Korean Christian heritage rather than more fully, deeply into it?

Why shouldn’t second generation Korean American churches be more Korean rather than less?

As an American pastor, I am both shocked and deeply grieved to see how little appreciation so many second-generation Korean pastors have for their own spiritual and cultural heritage. They seem to see it as limiting and confining—something quaint for them to leave behind in order to embrace something more exciting and effective. I believe they are sadly mistaken. I believe they are too familiar with Korean Christianity to see how strikingly valuable, how unique, how powerful, how world-altering, how life-changing it really is. Every trip I take to Seoul I marvel at how much I can learn from Korean Christianity. Every book I read on Korean church history makes me realize how superficial much of Christianity is compared to the Korean branch.

This column is passionately devoted to the idea that traditional Korean Christianity is a treasure—one that second-generation Koreans and pastors should explore more and not less deeply. This column is devoted to the idea that the spiritual descendents of first generation Korean churches should not be multicultural churches but second generation Korean churches that enable Korean Americans and the wider American society to reach more fully and deeply in Korea’s rich and unique Korean history.

There are ten virtues that are especially prominent in Korean Christianity that are largely lacking in the American Christian model. In the months to come, we’ll explore these ten virtues one at a time in hopes that Korean churches and EM’s will intentionally develop ways to ensure that these traits are passed on to second generation Korean Christians.

The ten virtues are as follows:

Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people
Commitment to being a diaspora people
Respect for elders
Passionate, whole-being prayer
Preparing and eating meals together
Chutzpah
The ability to suffer well
Respect for the office of the pastor
Deep, holy reverence for God revealed in both worship and life
Sense of Korean history and connection to it; a conviction that Koreans are a people of destiny

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Comments

  1. djchuang says:

    I’m curious to hear more of how these Korean values can be of help to the churches of other cultures, other languages, and other nations. Where these values are helpful to strengthen the God’s Kingdom perspective of following Christ in personal devotion as well as living out the implications of the Gospel every day, in the work place as well as in how Christians can genuinely and vulnerably love one another, then these values should indeed be celebrated and learned by not only 2nd generation Korean Americans, but by everyone who seeks to follow Christ.

  2. Sam Shin says:

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts. There is so much to reflect on here. I’d like to note just a few quick points:

    1. Even apart from the exegetical implications, which are its own issue, I have a problem with this statement’s assumptions:

    “I would contend that the answer is, emphatically, adamantly, no. I would contend that exchanging the EM model for this increasingly popular “multicultural” model is equivalent to what Esau does in the Old Testament when he exchanges his birthright for a bowl of soup because he is hungry.”

    This assumes that being in an EM is like Jacob the loved and choosing a non-EM ‘model’ is equivalent to Esau the hated. I fail to see how the EM would have this ‘chosen’ status over ‘multicultural congregations.’ I am not a great defender of multiculturalism as an end goal to church ministry. However, I hope we’re not throwing out the baby with the bath water by stating that having a multicultural emphasis because it is rooted in our passion for Christ and the Gospel is somehow inherently lesser than having an EM.

    2. Pastor Foley notes:

    “So much do these EM’s reject what they see as the limitations of the Korean EM model that they often dislike even being identified as EM’s.”

    Being someone who has pastored in an EM, was part of an EM that became an independent church I do not think our church is not an EM because we rejected the model of being an ‘EM.’ I can’t help but think that the word ‘model’ also has inherent flaws. ‘Model’ assumes that we are looking at something that we deem worthy to emulate. So we as an EM, look at an independent church and say to ourselves, “Hey, we want what they have.” But I hope we dare never do such a thing. An EM is limited not because the model is limited, but because an EM is NOT a church. It is a ministry inside a church. Thus, as much as an EM pastor wants to say they are the pastor of their congregation, ultimately they are not. Their authority is only derivative which flows from the Senior Pastor, usually a Korean pastor.

    I used to think that Korean pastors were so authoritative (and they really might be). But they have the biblical authority to oversee their church and yes, the EM IS a part of that pastor’s church. Like it or not, an EM pastor is under that pastor’s authority and he has every biblical mandate to care for his flock, even at the disagreement of the EM pastor.

    I did not want to become a pastor of my church because I liked the model of independence for independence sake. I am a pastor of my church because biblically I can lead this church with the vision I believe the Lord has given me and this is my GOD-GIVEN responsibility as their pastor and not as their EM pastor, which biblically-speaking, is limiting.

    3. Pastor Foley writes:

    “Seoul is the place where eleven of the twelve largest churches in the world are located. The United States is the country that is home to none of the one hundred forty largest churches in the world. If this is true, then why are our second-generation Korean Christian leaders so certain that the path to spiritual growth for their generation leads out of their Korean Christian heritage rather than more fully, deeply into it?”

    I can see no greater fallacy than to think that having the twelve largest churches means that automatically Korea is a spiritual behemoth. In my conversation with many Korean pastors serving in Korea, the cultural tide of Korea is dominated by materialism and image. Surely, we cannot think that size means a heart hunger for God. The Catholic Church was for a long time a dominant and large entity within the Christian world. Adherents range in the tens of millions. But so many are culturally Catholic, and yet have no idea what they believe. The same seems to be coming true for Christians in Korea. Many are leaving their roots in their understanding their faith in light of persecution and now health and wealth is quite familiar as these large churches also spend millions on building upgrades. Christianity is very much in danger of being a social tradition of families, rather than the Gospel-driven Body of Christ. I am certainly not saying that there are no true churches in Korea. But I believe that Jesus’ 7 letters to the churches in Revelation would certainly apply to the large churches in Korea.

    Pastor Foley marvels at Korean Christianity. Yes, there is much to give thanks for. Koreans are respectful, sacrificial, giving, hard-praying and hard-working. But also embedded in all of this is an insidious works-based righteousness that at best undermines those works to be nothing but mere forms and at worst undermines the soul. I am reminded of Isaiah 58, where God is quite lucid in His critique of Israel as they came to Him with their fasts, but their hearts were far from Him. We are ALL capable of such hypocrisy, EMers, Independent churchers, and yes, Koreans in Korea. Pastor Foley, please do not give Koreans more credit than they deserve, because they should not receive such things.

    4. Pastor Foley notes:

    “Every book I read on Korean church history makes me realize how superficial much of Christianity is compared to the Korean branch.”

    Superficiality is judged as that which is exterior is not supported by that which is interior. Paul writes:

    Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Tim 3:2-5)

    I simply have rarely seen biblical elders in the Korean church that fit this description. I have seen Korean pastors and Elders love money through their continuing acquisition of things in order to gain status (and sometimes to even obtain eldership). I have seen rebellious children whose hearts are far from Christ. I have seen elders tell their kids that they should stay at home and study for their exams rather than go to church on Sunday (regularly). I have seen Korean elders and deacons denigrate the church, church ministry, pastors because they think of the ministry as a job for “losers” or “failures.” I have seen Korean elders and leaders cause the break-up of churches because of their irritability and quarrelsomeness. And this is not a deacon-elder-pastor problem, this is ingrained in a culture where dignity and respect flows from title rather than character and where shame and guilt drives ambition and ministry. And yet, the façade of church leadership and spirituality remains.

    Of course, there are those who genuinely pursue Christ as an elder and deacon and pastor in the Korean church. But I am addressing what I believe to be a fallacy. To think that Koreans are LESS superficial in faith than other Christians is simply not true.

    5. Concerning the 10 virtues:

    Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people
    Commitment to being a diaspora people
    Respect for elders
    Passionate, whole-being prayer
    Preparing and eating meals together
    Chutzpah
    The ability to suffer well
    Respect for the office of the pastor
    Deep, holy reverence for God revealed in both worship and life
    Sense of Korean history and connection to it; a conviction that Koreans are a people of destiny

    I would say that most are truly virtuous about Korean Christians. But I hope these are virtue that lead one to glorify God with all things (1 Cor 10:31). If this is true however, then I do not understand how virtue two, five, ten fit into this ideal. Number 10 is perhaps one that I have never understood. It generally flows from an allegorical ideal that is espoused by Koreans, as if the say that Korea is like an Israel or a “Chosun people” (a long-standing play on words that many Korean pastors use). Without going to much into the logic, this is a fallacy in that biblical Israel has no modern-day comparisons. It was absolutely unique in the midst of God’s historic-redemptive plan and thus any references to any people having this chosenness or Israel-like status is biblically tenuous.

    My note to Pastor Foley is that I am thankful for this article. It has made me reflect on my ethnic heritage as a Korean and my spiritual heritage as a Christian. I agree with him that multiculturalism is the new “trend” in emerging churches and that Koreans are rejecting their heritage by denying their Korean identity. But, I would also add that it is critical that we do not assume that the Korean church is representative of something more than it truly is: a people group, along with the thousands of others that will surround the throne of Jesus in worship to Him (Rev 4-5).

  3. Chris Cobb says:

    Sir,

    With all respect I must say that pastor Foley’s article is a pile of shite. If I didn’t know that sarcasm was never invented in the Korean society I would have thought this was an attempt of piss taking but of course I know better. It’s funny how some Koreans believe they are so superior, the worst racism I have ever met apart from the Boers in South Africa.

    Not that I believe in a God who is as vain as the one the Christians have inherited from the Jews but still I would suggest that you try to read the Bible instead of listening to some self taught men in Seoul if you want to call your self a good Christian.

    Just to put things straight, I think Koreans are just as good as any other human beings; it’s the sodding culture I can’t stand. Respect for elders you say. I’d say disrespect for women!

    Chris Cobb
    Leyton, United Kingdom

Trackbacks

  1. […] I say all of this because on David Park’s blog, Next Gener. Asian Church, I responded to an article by a Rev. Eric Foley that I thought raised many red flags in determining the place of EM (English Ministries) and independent congregations. So I’m reposting a few paragraphs of his article (you can read the rest at Dave Park’s site) and my whole response here: […]

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