The 3rd Generation

English: Three Generations

Image via Wikipedia

I’m currently reading David Kinnamin’s You Lost Me. He writes about how the 3rd generation is no longer aware the language, values and culture of the first generation.

My parents are First Generation Koreans, or Immigrant Koreans. While, technically, I’m Generation 1.5 (because I was born in Korea and moved to ‘Merica! when I was young), I consider myself a 1.8(ish) Generation. For my definition of 1.5ers, someone would have to be born in Korea and lived a significant part of their formative years in Korea, then move to America. That way you have a good understanding of the Korean culture (and Korean education) and a grasp of the American culture as you get immersed and grow in it.

I moved to America when I was 6. I barely knew how to read Korean and my Korean education level is that of a Kindergartener. Therefore, I can’t say that I’m a pure 1.5er.

My brother is a 2nd Generation Korean. He was born in South Carolina.
When God finally heeds my fervent prayer and blesses us with a child, that child will be the 3rd Generation.

My parents would probably consider themselves Korean or at best (..worst..?), Korean-American. They are through and through Korean. Their worldview is still based in the Korea of the 70′s and 80′s. Sure, they have adapted to some of the “American” ideals and culture. But push come to shove, they’re more Korean than American.

Me, I consider myself American-Korean. I lived in America for the most part of my life. But there’s a distinct Korean-ness in me (My body does still crave Korean food if I go without for a long time…). Some of my values are grounded in the Korean culture I received from my parents. But most of my values, thoughts, ideas and dreams are formed by the American culture (that I received from MTV).
For (a broad and general) instance, just because you’re older than me, doesn’t mean that I ¬†automatically have to respect you. Respect needs to be earned (regardless of someone’s age or position). That’s more American than Korean, I think. (Or, I’m just a punk.)

My language of preference is American… er English. In fact, my Korean is getting worse and worse. If it weren’t for my parents, I think my Korean would be all but gone. I notice that I’m stammering more when I speak to my parents. I see that the words are harder to say and find… but, listening to Korean, I have no problem. I can translate from Korean to English, but for the life of me, English to Korean is next to impossible.

And that’s my worry. I believe that cultural identity is heavily wrapped in language. My wife and I communicate to each other in English. The only time we use Korean to one another is when we need to say something (usually something bad) without anyone understanding a word that we say.
When we have kids, outside of a few Korean words and phrases, our kids most likely will be English speaking. Their worldview and values will be completely shaped and formed by the American culture (and yes, I’m a bit scared).
They’ll be American-American. They’ll just look Korean, but may not be a trace of the Korean culture and essence in their identities.
They may find Kimchi repulsive. They may have no interest in who Kim Sejong is or the significance of August 15 would be outside of history lessons. While many of my 1.5 and 2nd Generation Koreans went through a Korean Pride phase in our lives… this may completely be lost on the 3rd Generation of Koreans. They’ll just be Korean by physically, but American in everything else.

Where am I going with this?
I can’t help but relate this to Church (well, because of David Kinnamin).
While I can touch on many aspects of Church, today for the sake of this post, I’m going to just focus on worship.

(And these are generalization, I know. Bear with me.)
The “First Generation” of church leaders like the highly liturgical worship services. They feel the presence of God through liturgy, organ, robes, choral music… they prefer what we would call the “traditional” worship services.

My generation of pastors, “the 2nd Generation” have been a part of both traditional worship services and contemporary worship services. As formal as being robed up on Sunday mornings to as casual as having devotions around a camp fire. And we value both experiences deeply. We’ve been part of and designed worship services that are liturgical and formal but also worship services that have the beating drums and a driving bass line.
I know many of my fellow “2nd Gen’ers” who prefer the highly liturgical worship over the contemporary, and just as many (myself included) who prefer the drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a bunch of hipster Christians leading worship. They can go either way.

In the summer of 2011, our church hosted an intern. I wish we had chosen better, because this intern was just… boring and ineffective… I’m kidding. I had a blast spending the entire summer with Dae. He did a fantastic job and I knew he would. He was my youth kid when I was a youth pastor in Hawaii. (In fact, I think he’s a great writer too. Go visit his blog and “pressure” him to regularly update it.)
Dae has a strong sense of calling in ministry. You meet Dae, and you can see and hear his passion for God and God’s people. He’s called into ministry. Dae is, what… 20 years old?
He had never (read: never) been in a traditional worship setting until he interned at our church. (And our first service isn’t “traditional” traditional, either).
He shared how it was different from all the things he’d experienced in his church lifetime.
“It was good. But different. Weird. But not in a bad way.”

There are other kids I worked with who are now exploring their call into ministry.
And all these kids have never truly experienced a traditional worship. And they’re definitely not accustomed to “Open your hymnals to…”
In fact, they’re more the Hillsong United generation than the Hillsong generation. Even more, in fact, Dae the Intern doesn’t even like David Crowder (!!!!!) and prefers Jesus Culture and The United Pursuit Band. (It’s David Crowder, bro… and don’t get me started on your thoughts of the Dark Knight…)

So, David Kinnamin writes:

The first generation speaks only the language of the country of origin. The second generation is fluent in both languages. The third generation speaks only the new language and has little esteem for the cultural traditions that have been lost in translation.

When I was between the age of 12-14, my dad had the opportunity to move back to Korea. He thought long and hard about it, until he realized that it would totally mess me up. He felt it would be different to move to America from Korea at that age, but not the other way around. He was worried not just about all the language difference, but also just the life of being a Korean teenager and the culture shock I may receive from it. He worried that things would be so different, that it would stunt my mental maturation. (Thanks for giving so much credit…)
Basically, I was too Americanized to ever feel comfortable or be productive in Korea. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to move back to Korea. Though I can’t put into words why, I do agree with my dad that I wouldn’t have fared well in Korea.

But, that’s what I feel that we may be guilty of doing to these upcoming young pastors.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we may have monopolized the idea of worship; that it has to happen a certain way and during certain times.

We have these young, gifted, God-called people stepping into ministry and instead of thriving in a world where they can make a difference, where they can be fully utilized by God, they end up struggling to find a place (and meaning) in a world that doesn’t exist outside the walls of the local church.

As Kinnamin wrote, these upcoming pastors may have little to no esteem for the traditions that is strongly held by the “first generation” church leaders.
Yet, we try and fight to get these “3rd generation” pastors to accept and uphold the model and values of the “first generation” church.
So these young people become disenchanted with bureaucracy and the seemingly inflexible polity of a denomination and find other ways to be utilized by God.

Tradition is good.
Tradition is important.
But tradition is man-made and not of God.
Once tradition gets in the way God, it’s no longer holy and we end up fighting against the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I know time will come when I realize that the young kids are messing everything up and confusing what is holy and what is not; what is worship and what is not; what is church and what is not.

But hopefully, I’ll remember how I feel now 20 or so years later.
Instead of trying to fiercely hold onto what I knew and loved, essentially forcing them into a box, I hope that God will use me to help them to articulate their vision and help them chase their dreams and visions that God placed in their hearts, instead of forcing my dreams and visions on them.

Of course, only time (and God) will tell what kind of mentor I will be when I live in a world with flying cars, self drying apparel and self tying shoes. 

And let me just say, I’m thankful for the mentors that I have now who give me freedom to explore my call and help me chase God’s dream for me. I only hope to be given a chance to return the favor to the next generation.

Church Growth Doesn’t Mean You’re Healthy

I’m tired of people having church growth as their number one goal for their church.
Personally, I think that’s a lousy goal to have.
Why not focus on what Jesus said in the Great Commission and what the UMC motto is: to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

“But,” some will say, “Healthy churches will grow.”
Okay, I’ll give you that. But you know what? So will unhealthy churches. So will toxic churches. Maybe their growth won’t be for an extended period of time, but a toxic/unhealthy church will grow.
Look at the human body analogy. Healthy cells multiply and grow, but so do cancerous ones. And cancerous cells can grow and spread rapidly.

So, having church growth as your primarily goal… I don’t agree with that. We have better and far more important things to worry about as a church than increasing our numbers. Like feeding the poor. Clothing the naked. Standing up for the oppressed. Doing something about injustice.

While on this subject, a pastor from Korea, who is serving at a mega-church, was asked “How did your church grow so big?” He replied that church growth wasn’t his goal, but everyone morning of everyday was spent in prayer.
I think we pastors, myself included, often put prayer on the back burner. As a speaker once said “if you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.” I think we would do our church, ourselves and our family a favor by focusing on prayer and making prayer a priority, rather than focusing on what’s the next big thing we can do to bring people on to our campus.

Ministry happens one knee at a time.

Disturbing Stories

Where do we get this sense of entitlement from?
I’ve been collecting (horror) stories about things that happen in churches over in Korea. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m listening with a critical ear, but majority of the stories I hear are negative and I just can’t wrap my head around what is going on over there.
A pastor visits a dentist that is a member of his church, then leaves without paying. When the office called the pastor about settling the bill, the pastor is shocked and offended that he would even be charged because he is the dentist’s pastor.
Or, when a pastor wife needs to go shopping, she calls up parishioners to go with her, because of our culture, the parishioners would feel obligated to pay for the pastor’s wife’s groceries.
Or, purposefully going to parishioner owned restaurants for a free meal.
I met a pastor who dressed like an angel, with the most nicest ties I’ve ever did see in my life. He told me that his ties ranged from $500-$1000.

Now I know these stories bother me more because of the fact that I am Korean. I’m sure it wouldn’t really bug me had this been a different culture. I guess it’s like, you’re more embarrassed of a family member doing something rather than a stranger doing the exact same thing.

And, to boil it down in my mind, it all comes down to the sense of entitlement that exists in all cultures and in all pastors of every culture. Some people really do feel the best way they can serve God is to treat the pastor very nicely and give monetary gifts or purchase meals/groceries or even suits and so forth. Praise be to God for those people. But as a pastor, we shouldn’t expect people to do that for us. And we shouldn’t expect them to keep doing that if they did it once for us.

As a kid, growing up, the best part about birthdays and Christmases were that my dad’s church members gave me cash. Cash! I remember being disappointed when I’d receive a card with no money inside. But I’ve come far beyond that. (Thank God.) And I’m honestly grateful for cards that have words of encouragement and affirmation. And a Starbucks gift card/cash that may be included is always an extra plus bonus that I am not deserving of. ¬†I thank God and the people for their generosity.

But I’m not entitled to that. I shouldn’t expect that. When I start to do so, the people of the church no longer become the people I serve, but they become people that serve me.

We are called to serve, not to be served. Regardless if we are the pastors of a mega-church or leaders of a small group. Our calling is to serve.

Missing the Point

There are somethings that I hear about the churches in Korea that make my stomach turn. You’ll have to realize that this is not all the churches in Korea, but like they say, one rotten apple ruins the whole bushel. (is that what they really say? I feel like I just made that up…)

I recently saw a pastor, who is highly regarded in Korea, speaking at a church here in California.
He was immaculately dressed. I saw a picture of him on his website and he wears all white on Sundays.
He had really nifty ties. I mean, they were nice and shiny and reflected the lights beautifully. He shared that he spends about $1000 dollars on those ties. Are you kidding me??? What’s worse is that people that were hearing this was wondering why their senior pastor doesn’t have fancy clothes. I mean, c’mon! Isn’t that really missing the point? 1000 dollars on ties?

My father took this pastor out to lunch and my dad invited his associate to come down and eat with them. The pastor was displeased with this and advised my father minimize associations and interactions with the associate pastor. When the associate pastor arrived, the pastor had the gall to scold my dad’s associate for coming to lunch with senior pastors.

I asked my dad why the pastor was so adamant about not eating lunch with the associate. And he told me that it’s common in Korea. The senior pastors treat the associates as servants and there’s hardly and relationship there.

And one last thing.
Years ago, my dad had an opportunity to go back to Korea and pastor a church. The pastor of that church was wanting to leave and that pastor knew my uncle (dad’s oldest brother) and he sent the message to my dad.

The thing is, (I hear this is very common in Korea), in order for my dad to go to that church, he would have to pay the pastor a large sum of money. This pastor’s price was $100,000. Dad would have to pay the pastor, not the church, 100,000 dollars to replace him. In turn, that pastor would take that money as a payment to the pastor he was going to replace. The bigger the church, the higher the number. And ultimately, when dad retired or was going to leave the church, his replacement would have to pay that money to him.

That’s nearly the craziest things I’ve heard.
Korean churches are flourishing in Korea. I think they have one of the biggest churches in the world.
And I bet a lot of them are just missing the point.

Christianity is at its best when it’s small and peculiar. – Shane Claiborne.