“Which is the best model for the Korean immigrant or Korean American church?” is a question to which pastors, ministers, and lay leaders have discussed possible answers for decades. But according to Reverend Steve Choi of Crossway Community Church, perhaps more important than an external factor like a church model are the internal factors such as the church leaders’ faithfulness to their work.
Choi and a group of some 40 people planted Crossway together eight years ago as an English speaking congregation commissioned by Sa-Rang Community Church, at which Choi previously served as the English ministry (EM) pastor. Today, Crossway has two church sites in Brea and Irvine, which together consists of some 700 members of various ethnic backgrounds, mostly pan-Asian.
However, though the context is different, some challenges Choi and the leadership of Crossway faced were similar to those of the Korean immigrant church. For example, people tended to naturally cluster together with the people they felt were like themselves, Choi said.
“When people first come to church, they look for, ‘Is there someone like me here?’ If you’re a 22-year-old female, then you’re likely looking for other people like that. People aren’t necessarily visiting a church looking for someone different from them – that’s kind of our human nature.”
To foster more interaction between age groups, Crossway has been taking some intentional steps. such as changing the small groups every few years to include members of different life stages. Crossway also has a women’s ministry that includes mentorship, as older women meet with three to four younger women each month to study the Bible. Once a month, members of youth group would join the adult worship service “so that when they graduate, [the adult service] doesn’t feel like a foreign place,” according to Choi.
Hence, Choi said, regardless of the model or context of the church, struggles and challenges are existent across the board.
“It’s not so much the model [that matters]. Younger pastors might think that – ‘If I could just get the right model.’ But the model is just that -- a model. It doesn’t mean it’s better,” he added. “All people are sinners. And the sin issue is the same and prevalent, no matter what church.”
Rather than focusing on the ideal model of the church, leaders must be willing to take initiative in whatever context they are in, and to be wholeheartedly faithful with whatever they are entrusted with, Choi said, and leave the results to God.
“You can create a culture within your ministry, whether it’s a Korean American church, multi-ethnic church, wherever. You can make it a positive place with a gospel centered message. I know a lot of guys who were in ‘bad’ churches, but their specific ministries were thriving,” explained Choi.
“If you’re leading a youth group with 30 kids, make that the best that you can do. Pour yourself into preaching the sermon for them as much as if you were preaching in front of thousands. Give yourself fully to it, and work on becoming an A-plus leader with the capabilities you have now. If you’re 28 years old, become the best 28-year-old pastor you can be … It’s God who opens doors and who allows people to have certain platforms,” Choi encouraged and advised younger pastors.
Choi said he, too, experienced the struggle to be faithful in each context, and trusting God in the process. Choi started out as a youth leader at Canaan Presbyterian Church when he was still in college, which eventually led him to become the pioneer of the English ministry at that church. Then, Sa-Rang Community Church asked Choi to come on board as its EM pastor, which he described “as a daunting task” for him at the time because most of the members were older than him. In retrospect, all of these experiences prepared him to plant and lead Crossway, Choi said.
“I had no control over what happened in my life, and I take no credit for the growth that our church had experienced,” Choi said. “It’s just God who places you in certain contexts, and the best we can do is to prepare ourselves before God and be grateful.”
“Give your life to presenting the gospel in the best way possible, and God will do the work,” he added as an encouragement to younger pastors. “He will make things change. Certainly it takes time – a fruit tree doesn’t bear fruit overnight. It takes a season. Don’t think you’re going to make big changes in a short period. Do it for the long haul.”