Article Response to
Minho Song, “Constructing a Local Theology for the Second Generation Korean
Ministry.” Urban Mission Vol. 15:2 (December 1997): 23-34.
Much like Asian-Americans who have been regarded as the leading exemplar among immigrants in the United States, Korean immigrant churches were viewed as the model churches with regard to successful church growth. There has been even a saying, “If three Chinese get together, they will open a restaurant; if three Japanese, they will establish a company. If three Koreans, they will start a church.”1 As a place of welcome, fellowship, and networking for the immigrants, Korean churches have been playing a vital role in the lives of immigrants. The number of Korean immigrant churches as well as church attendees had long grown and Korean Christians called themselves as “God’s Chosen People” in their Promised Land, America.2
The number of Korean Christians in the United States and Canada, however, started declining. The absence and/or decline of 1.5 and 2nd generation Koreans in the church became so visible that this phenomenon is called “the Silent Exodus” and demands church leaders to evaluate what went wrong with their ministry for the next generation. Rev. Dr. Minho Song’s “Constructing a Local Theology for the Second Generation Korean Ministry,” is helpful in this regard, because his article tackles this issue and presents possible solutions for the 2nd generation Korean ministry.
In the first section, Rev. Song analyzes the context of the 2nd generation Korean ministry. He points out that the 2nd generation-English-speaking Koreans mostly live in the urban ethnic setting. Many used to be members of Sunday school and youth group as children of parents who went to the Korean-speaking mother church. After entering college, however, many leave church and never comes back. Rev. Song calls them “the most unreached peoples in our very neighborhoods of North American cities.”3 He asks “What did the immigrant church teach them, when they were in Sunday school and Youth Group?” “How can the church fill the spiritual needs of the 2nd generation Koreans?” “Can the Korean immigrant church continue while 2nd generation no longer comes to church?”
In the second section, Rev. Song presents reasons for “the Silent Exodus.” First, Korean immigrant churches give too much emphasis on Korean ethnicity. Though Korean immigrant churches succeeded in maintaining self-identify for first generation Koreans, it failed maintaining the faith of 2nd generation Koreans. Second, the postmodern culture turns the hearts of 2nd generations from Asian virtues, such as strong family ties and loyalty to group, to new cultural values, such as individualism and relativism. Third, since 2nd generation Koreans barely participate in decision making process in the church, this structural limitation results in the lack of ownership within the church. Old 1st generation Koreans within the church still see 2nd generation as kids, even if they are full grownups. Fourth, many 2nd generation Koreans are unclear with the future of the Korean immigrant church. They criticize Korean immigrant churches barely paying attention to the multi-cultural context of North America. Fifth, because of the church split and other negative experience in their youth, many walk away from church.
In response to these problems, Rev. Song provides in the third section three strategies for the next generation ministry. First is radical discipleship. He emphasizes that Korean church failed to convert 2nd generation’s “borrowed” faith from their parents to a “personal” faith: “The future of the second and third generation ethnic churches depends not on the continuation of immigration, but on passing down the real faith of radical discipleship.” He points out that total devotion to God’s Kingdom and life commitment to Jesus Christ should be valued more than fulfilling the American Dream. Second is the reform of church structure. The Korean church should allow 2nd generation Koreans to have leadership roles and participate in decision making process. Third is expanding the scope of church’s mission. Unlike the dominant mission paradigm of many Korean immigrant churches – reaching out to the same ethnic group – Korean immigrant churches need to open their ethnic boundary and reach out to the wider community in their mission regardless of ethnicity, race, and language.
Rev. Song’s insightful article has practical limitations. For example, the 2nd generation often does not want to deal with old 1st generation Koreans in the church, because they are too old-fashioned. Some 1st generation Koreans simply do not want to give up their leadership role in the church, and they are happy with not giving it to the next generation. In the midst of this plight, Rev. Song’s question at the end of his article, “What is more important, ethnicity or the gospel?”, still brings us back to the most important issue in the life of the church. What matters most? Is it my ethnicity or position in the church? Or is it faith?
Hyun Ho Park, PhD Candidate
Graduate Theological Union
- Soo-Young Lee, “God’s Chosen People: Protestant Narratives of Korean Americans and American National Identity” (PhD diss., University of Texas, Austin, 2007), 99-100. ↩
- Lee, “God’s Chosen People,” 3. ↩
- Minho Song, “Constructing a Local Theology for the Second Generation Korean Ministry.” Urban Mission Vol. 15:2 (December 1997): 24. ↩
Categories: (M) Book Review