Let’s face it: in the immigrant narrative, the first and second generations generally have a hard time understanding each other. The first generation always seems to find the second generation doing things wrong or being too unrealistic; and the second generation always seems to wonder why the first generation is so trapped in archaic traditions and won’t let them explore new grounds. Korean Christians living in America usually find this happening in two main contexts: the family and the church.
Pastor Jim-Bob Park, who is now the senior pastor at Oriental Mission Church (OMC) in Los Angeles, has experienced this firsthand in the context of both the first generation and the second generation, and as a result of that, he has a lot to say about these inter-generational conflicts.
He experienced the second generation’s pains and hurts as he served in English ministry (EM) for 20 years in various churches.
“Much of the second generation struggles with disillusionment of the spirituality of their parents. They saw Sunday Christians in their parents, and they don’t want that. They were exposed to church fights, splits, and politics. The wickedness of one generation is killing the next,” he elaborated.
Despite the things they’ve seen in the first generation, however, Pastor Jim-Bob says that those in the second generation who are devoted to the Lord have a genuine and authentic faith—but again, the first generation doesn’t make that devotion easy for them. Many first generation parents are unwilling to let go of their children, and tend to worship “a golden calf idol of success”.
As the first generation invested so much in their children, they often have high expectations for success and fail to tell their children what to do after the success, which is living for God’s glory and His kingdom, Pastor Jim-Bob explained.
“The first generation suffered so much for their children, and they subconsciously or consciously want a payback or a return from the second generation. But I tell the first generation to not overinvest in their children, because children bring the worst return. Children are supposed to leave you and become one flesh with someone. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t come back to take care of you,” he said.
He also explained that sometimes, KM (the first generation) is so protective of EM (the second generation), that they are handed everything on a silver platter, and are not given the opportunities to take responsibility.
“We need to let EM make mistakes,” he said. “That’s how they grow, and that’s how they become more responsible and have more ownership.”
Pastor Jim-Bob has been trying to apply that in his own church. The EM pastor of OMC recently left, and as a result, Pastor Jim-Bob has been preaching for EM services until they find their new full-time EM pastor. He won’t have any part in this process—the current part-time EM pastor and EM leaders have been given the responsibility to find their new pastor. The EM also manages their own offerings.
Lack of ownership combined with too many choices may be the cause for EM pastors choosing to leave a church when it becomes difficult, or for EM members choosing to “church hop”. But Pastor Jim-Bob encourages the second generation to cultivate endurance and patience, and “to seek a life of holiness rather than a life of comfort.”
Leaving a life of comfort is what God led him to do when he was first called to leave EM and serve in KM 8 years ago. Pastor Jim-Bob came to the U.S. when he was only 10 years old, so he felt that his Korean wasn’t good enough to be able to preach in Korean, and the first generation was an entirely unfamiliar culture to him.
“But I felt the Spirit saying to me, ‘You didn’t go to KM to be comfortable. You went to KM for reform.’”
Since then, Pastor Jim-Bob said he committed to speaking a message of repentance to the first generation Korean Christians. One of the main things he tries to help them understand is that the KM cannot expect EM to be a continuation of KM and everything that KM did.
“They need to look at EM as a mission field, not as a continuation. You can’t expect EM to do everything the same way as KM because they live in a different culture with a different language,” he explained.
He shared a story of a missionary in the Amazon to clarify his point.
“I grew up in Brazil for a time, and when we were living there, there was a missionary sent to the Amazon to live with and minister to the tribes there. But the people in that tribe live almost naked with only a small cloth covering their private areas. So our church would ask him if he preached with all of his clothes on, or if he also took clothes off, and he admitted to us that he began to take one clothing off at a time each week, until he was only down to his underwear—he couldn’t bear taking his underwear off too. But everyone at our church applauded him for that. No one criticized him or mocked him, because we knew that he was contextualizing himself to be like the people there. That’s what our EM and EM pastors are doing. The KM can’t criticize EM pastors for not wearing a full on suit, for example, because the attire that they wear is appropriate for their culture.”
He went on. “KM wants to dress up EM in their own spiritual attire, but it’s not appropriate for them. It’s like when Saul encouraged David to wear his armor into battle. David didn’t like the armor because it was too heavy; so he took it off, and he went into battle as he was—and he killed it.”
Ultimately, what is needed between the two generations is a better understanding of each other, but Pastor Jim-Bob encouraged EM pastors to not take the KM and EM relationship too seriously.
“It’s not as bad or as rosy as you think it is, so just let it go.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
This is one in a series of interviews with southern California pastors who either serve in English ministry (EM) or have a heart for the intergenerational relationship within the Korean church. As the generation of the Korean church leadership is shifting from the first to the second generation, what are the obstacles that are hindering the English ministry from flourishing? How can EM and KM pastors work together to build up the second-generation church? These are among the many questions that these pastors grapple with, and that Christianity Daily is hoping to wrestle together with through these interviews.