Much like the name of the church he is leading, Pastor Leo Rhee of CityLight Seoul hopes to see a movement of Christians in Seoul who aim to be a “light” in the city, proactively loving the city and sharing the gospel – for the good of the city and to see God’s kingdom come. It’s also made evident in the church’s slogan: “A church in the city to love the city.”
Rhee’s commitment to and passion for Seoul came at a later stage in his life. As a Chicago native, most of Rhee’s earlier years in ministry were in the U.S., serving in cities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. A visit to Seoul in 1999 led to a pastoral position in the English ministry of Onnuri Church, one of the largest churches in Seoul.
After seven years of serving at Onnuri, and another seven years at a church back in Chicago, Rhee returned to Seoul and traveled to various places in Asia during a two-year sabbatical period. This period grew Rhee’s passion for Asia and Seoul even more.
“I was traveling all around Asia, and I realized that the center of Christianity is no longer Europe or North America, but it shifted to Africa and Asia,” Rhee said. “And Korea is somehow in the midst of all of that. This little country became the hub of Christianity, entertainment, business, technology, culture, and has so much influence over the rest of Asia.”
“Korea is a key component of what God is doing in greater Asia,” he added.
Hence, CityLight Seoul, which began in May of 2015, was launched with the vision to serve Sinchon – the region of Seoul in which the church is located – and to raise missionaries who would share the gospel to all nations.
Rhee’s experience in Seoul over the past several years have made him hopeful that this passion to see a greater kingdom movement happen in and through Korea is not only his own. When Rhee had been serving in Korea more than ten years ago, he said, much of the buzz in the church community revolved around the megachurches. Today, Rhee sees more and more smaller churches having a desire to collaborate with one another for a greater kingdom impact.
“There’s this new generation of young Korean pastors who are tired of the megachurch scene,” said Rhee. “There are these smaller churches of 100 to 800 people that are like battleships that move quickly and make decisions fast.”
“They want to see change happen, and they have this kingdom mindset. The leaders don’t want to see their church to be just another empire. They’re willing to let go, and want to partner with other pastors,” he continued.
This desire for collaboration is also apparent among the English-speaking pastors in Seoul, according to Rhee. About 70 to 80 English-speaking pastors are a part of the Association of International Ministries (AIM) in South Korea, Rhee said. Many of these pastors’ churches gather several times each year for joint worship services, and the pastors of AIM gather on a monthly basis to share and pray together.
Many in the English-speaking community also share Rhee’s desire to practically serve the city and community in which they are located, he said.
“A lot of churches are trying to give back to Korea and make a difference in Korea,” said Rhee, adding that many are trying to be a part of combating social issues such as sex trafficking, poverty, and homelessness.
CityLight Seoul in particular joins other international ministries in a monthly homeless outreach called Nanumi Homeless Outreach. And the church’s most recent collection of its monthly missions offering will be given to the Women’s Hope Center, a care center for women and expecting mothers who have experienced abuse.
“Jeremiah 29 talks about praying for the prosperity of the city – ‘if [the city] prospers, you too will prosper.’ God tells the Israelites in Babylon to make gardens, settle down. Don’t use the city for yourself or abuse it to just pay off your debt, suck out all of the resources and go home. While you are here, make a difference.”