Korean American pastors in primarily Korean American churches or multi-ethnic churches may not face language or culture barriers as they might in the Korean immigrant church, but they still face difficulties due to the differing obligations of different pastoral positions, as well as the differing life experiences of different generations.
For instance, the senior pastor’s role is to “drive the bus for the whole church,” while that of the associate pastor is to “drive a portion of it,” according to Steve Chang (54), the lead pastor of Living Hope Community Church. Chang was part of a panel of four Korean American pastors at a brunch event hosted by the SOLA Network, which took place at Living Hope on Thursday. The panel was centered on the topic, "Building Healthy Teams," and panelists discussed the challenges senior and associate pastors might face -- though they may both be Korean Americans -- in having a healthy team dynamic.
“Multiple times, I had to say no to Bang,” he added, referring to his interactions with Living Hope’s college pastor, Steve Bang Lee (31). Chang said he understood why Lee would make certain requests, and that even he would have done the same had he been in Lee’s position.
“But I had to think of all of the implications for the whole church,” said Chang.
Different expectations from being in different positions may also cause misunderstandings, said Lee. On the one hand, the senior pastor’s drivenness to mobilize the church toward its vision may cause the associate pastors to think, “Am I just a cog in your machine?” On the other hand, an associate pastor’s desire to learn and receive mentorship from the senior pastor may cause the senior pastor to think, “Am I supposed to be your therapist?”
Those differences also stem from differences in generation, according to Chang. When Chang had served in associate-level roles during his earlier years in ministry, he said, “I didn’t look for or expect emotional support from my senior pastor. I just wanted clarity and freedom.”
Jimmy Han (51), the lead pastor of Good News Chapel, shared that his experiences during his earlier years in ministry caused him to be more compliant, which affected the way he functioned as a lead pastor.
“When they wanted me to lead, I was compliant,” said Han. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, because for so long, I’ve always said yes.”
In terms of resolving differences, the panelists offered ideas on how to communicate more effectively and regularly. For the younger pastors, Eugene Park (26) of Gospel Life Mission Church recommended getting to know themselves better, as well as taking time to “figure out their senior pastor.” Lee encouraged younger pastors to get to know the “valuables” of the senior pastor — the things that the senior pastor values most — and communicate with him based on those valuables. And Han recommended pastoral staff to have regular times of fellowship not necessarily related to ministry, such as going on retreats and having monthly meals together where “not just business is talked about.”
“You have to lead, but you also have to love,” Han said.
The panel was the first event specifically for pastors hosted by the SOLA Network, which was formed as organizers of the SOLA Conference aimed to resource the Korean American community through a broader and longer-lasting reach. The SOLA Network also plans to launch a website in which articles, Q&A videos, and other resources from Korean American pastors will be posted.
The SOLA Conference, which has been organized by a partnership between Korean American pastors from various local churches since its beginnings in 2013, had also consistently featured a pastors’ luncheon with panels and Q&A sessions.