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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    Perspectives: South Korea Trip 2017

    Expectations of the church in Korea

    July 26, 2017 / By Rev. Aaron Bouwens, Director of Vital Congregations

    Every moment I was in Korea, the people as a whole, and certainly the people of the church, demonstrated a level of hospitality uncommon to many church experiences in the United States. Each detail was given attention as to how someone who is new to the life of a congregation would experience the people and space. Preference was given to welcoming new people, not just Americans, over those who were regular attenders. The greeting and welcome was only the beginning of understanding what it was that has made the Korean Methodist Church vital and fruitful through the years.

    In one of our lectures, Rev. Hong Eun-Pa, Senior Pastor at Bupyeong Methodist Church, shared some of the core principles at the center of the ministry. Before I share the list Pastor Hong offered, there are two things that undergird all of the life of the church. First, there is a relentless focus on Jesus Christ. Everything about the life of the church was geared toward growing ever-deeper in a relationship with Jesus and to the work of evangelism. Second, prayer is the engine that drives the Christ focus of the church. Prayer for the people in the Korean church is far more than a component to the Sunday service; it is a way of being. As for the core principles Pastor Hong shared:

    1. Good tree produces good fruit. In the words of Pastor Hong, being a good tree and producing good fruit begins with salvation in Jesus Christ. If a person desires to produce good fruit with their life it begins with the justifying grace offered only through Jesus Christ.
    2. Love the Church. For the most part in the United States, we organize the church around the life of the members. This is an outlandish thought to the Korean Methodist Church. The members of the church organize their lives around the work of the church. This is especially true of the pastors.
    3. The Church at Work. It is not acceptable to merely be a member of a church; great expectation and accountability is at work. Members are expected to be at morning prayer, engaged in mission, participate in a class meeting (Small group), and give sacrificially of their time and money. Sunday morning worship is done with excellence and is very important; however, it is only a portion of the work of being a member of the Korean Methodist Church.

    As my head was swimming in the above thoughts, I was ready to take some time and process; however, Pastor Hong was not done. He moved my focus from the church as a whole to what is expected of a member of the church in greater detail. Hearing these points I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit along with the realization of why the church in the United States is struggling. Here is what Pastor Hong offered:

    • Prayer - Praying for the grace of God to be known in fullness, and that without prayer there is no way for the church to be fruitful. Pastor Hong offered a statement that continues to convict and encourage me, “Members that do not pray are dangerous. Pastors who do not pray are even more dangerous.” It was clear to me that my prayer life needs an upgrade.
    • Sacrifice - All too often when it hurts we stop our giving of time and money. For the people of the Korean Church there is an amazing willingness to give up time and resources for the sake of the Christ and the church. People reorganize their lives so that they can fulfill the mission God is calling them to.
    • Sharing - Connecting others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is almost sacramental to the people I encountered in Korea. This was more than providing food, clothing, other needs, while that is done, it is making sure the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared.

    Upon first arrival home I felt myself romanticizing the Korean Church. If only I could help congregations here in the United States be more like the Korean Church, then we might get traction. Quite simply, that is not going to work as we are not immersed in the Korean culture, and our Church is in a much different place. What I am convinced of is there is much to learn and adapt to our time and place from our Korean co-laborers. The principles shared will have different applications, yet they are principles and therefore have valid application in our context.

    No matter the context, it is clear the Church is at its best when there is a relentless focus on Jesus Christ, and high-capacity Christ-following leadership. I will spend my summer continuing the work of sorting out what that looks like in the various regions of Upper New York.  

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    With more than 168,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 867 local churches and 65 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."