I haven’t actually heard anyone say this of course, but the sentiment is there. As I have been part of an English congregation (EM) at a Korean church, again and again I’ve observed small and large ways that the folks in the EM chafe against the strictures imposed on them by the Korean Ministry (KM). As a cultural outsider, I can only get a partial picture of all the complexities involved, but I’m a savvy enough observer of human nature to see some things that certainly give pause for thought.
Observation #1: The KM controls the resources and therefore sets the agenda.
This in itself is not a stunning revelation. The KM is much larger in number and, by and large, has many more financial resources to contribute to the ministry. But the issue goes beyond dollars and cents. Why should the EM have a larger part in setting the agenda for the church when their financial contribution is smaller even than their membership percentage in the church would indicate? In other words, the EM simply doesn’t carry its own weight financially, or in other ways. It isn’t only in giving that the KM outstrips the EM, but it is the KM that shows up early and stays late to pray, to prepare food, to maintain equipment, and to do all the things that are necessary to the running of a church. Of course to many in the KM, this isn’t done with an eye towards serving the EM, which leads to my second observation.
Observation #2: EM is an afterthought.
By this I mean that no Korean congregation sets out to minister to English speakers (the same could be said of other ethnic immigrant churches). Rather their primary missions thrust is to serve first generation immigrants and to provide space for them to encounter the Lord in a culturally “safe” way. EM develops only as a corollary to “real” church, and usually has its roots in children’s church which is set up to care for the kids while their parents worship God. Over time the kids grow up and increase in number and the church has to hire a youth pastor (if they’re lucky) to keep them occupied and hopefully to impart some measure of spirituality and Bible knowledge. These children grow up, and if they don’t leave the church outright – BAM! – an EM is born. But this newly emerged EM didn’t develop with any intentionality or ministry focus. In the minds of the KM, it is still a place to keep the “children” occupied while the adults worship, event though some of these “children” are full grown adults with children of their own. Consequently there is very little genuine appreciation on either side of the others needs.
Observation #3: EM congregations are often spiritually (and otherwise) immature.
This is a blanket statement to be sure, and the same could be said of many in the KM as well. However, a cursory survey of the prayer life or Biblical knowledge of many EM congregants would likely reveal a significant disparity between them and their parents. Prayer and Bible knowledge alone don’t make one mature, but the simple fact that dawn prayer is such an integral (if cultural) part of KM and that so many in the KM are part of cell groups that have Bible study and fellowship compared to the virtual lack of either in the lives of the EM says something. This immaturity can be traced back to the fact that for most of their formative years, the KM’s chief concern for their children was not their spiritual development, but their academic and economic success. Also due to the nature of KM’s ministry focus, there is no urgency in preparing their children to take over the financial, spiritual, or social leadership of the church.
Observation #4: The two congregations don’t see each other.
Not literally, of course, but figuratively the congregations don’t recognize one another’s spirituality, love for God, or heart. Some of this can be blamed on language barrier, but I am coming to believe that this is a scapegoat. After all it is not language that prevents parents from talking with their children about spiritual things or taking them to prayer meetings. Language barriers certainly do not prevent parents from encouraging, providing for, and moving to a better school district for, harassing, shaming, and browbeating their children into academic success. It seems to be more a matter of priority than of inability. Of course the full blame cannot be laid at the feet of parents, but EM members must also take responsibility for their own unwillingness to speak the spiritual language of love to their parent’s generation… which is usually service. How might each groups perception of the other change if EM folks decided to attend morning prayer, or when there are opportunities sing songs in Korean? Sure it would take effort, but much less effort than is required for someone like me who is a complete stranger to the language and culture. If EM folks volunteered to serve rather than serving grudgingly, it could go some distance towards bridging the gap. And even if it didn’t, it would still be a good step in their own maturing process.
Observation #5: Neither group really wants the other to change.
This is probably an overstatement on my part, but maybe not. After all, if the other group changed then that would necessitate change for us as well. As much as EM folks complain about the dominance of the KM, they really benefit quite significantly from it. The KM retains the power, but they also retain the responsibility, and so EM is let off the hook for their own spiritual development, growth in concern for the church, financial accountability, and other markers of being “adults.” As for the KM, as long as EM doesn’t change, they won’t have to be intentional in broadening their missions focus, there is no need to share power, and they can retain a feeling of spiritual superiority. Unfortunately both sides win in this downward race towards spiritual mediocrity.