What are the greatest difficulties you face as a Christian educator?
Whether in the church or in seminary, remaining faithful to the unchanging truth of God’s Word in a faithless world remains a challenge. I live and minister in California, where most people we meet are unchurched, de-churched, or anti-church. But this is not just in California. Like the first-century church, we regularly witness the hostility of the world toward Christianity and the God of the Bible where God is exchanged for mere created things, evil is often called and accepted as good, and absolute truths are rejected. We pray for faithfulness in the midst of cultural, intellectual, and legal challenges to Christianity.
Moreover, a trend in churches that gives me pause is the growing lack of commitment to the idea of an educated pastorate. I understand that seminary education seems contrarian and anachronistic. Seminaries are asking people to spend precious time and money to slowly, purposefully, and deeply study the Word of God when immediate needs are great. Yet, I believe that what this ever-changing and tumultuous time needs is not less education for our pastors but more.
How can the church support theological education?
First, pray for and support seminaries and Christian institutions. Your prayers are invaluable because theological education is not simply academic or professional but is ultimately spiritual. It is a spiritual battle. We need the prayers of all believers and churches as we lead and teach. Moreover, your investment in theological institutions is much needed. Healthy churches need good pastors, and I’ve heard that good pastors do not grow on trees. We count on your prayers and support to sustain the ministry and continue the work of training workers for the kingdom.
Second, encourage young and gifted men and women to consider ministry for their future. Our young people are often inundated with ideas about what they should do in the future. As a son and grandson of ministers, I still believe that ministry—in all its varied forms—is one of the highest and most fulfilling paths to take. As we see young people with gifts for ministry, we should encourage them toward and nurture them in a life of service in the church.
What are the greatest challenges that pastors face today? What are some ways that laypeople can pray for their pastors?
Like all who teach at WSC, I served as a pastor before I started teaching at the seminary in 2005, and I continue to find great joy in serving the local churches. Yet, this question is difficult since I am not on the front lines of pastoral ministry as many of my friends are. So, the following are things I pray for my pastors and pastor friends.
I pray for faithfulness in the midst of all the temptations and challenges. I pray for humility to know and believe that all success belongs to the Lord and that the difficulties they face are in the Lord’s hands. I pray for protection over the pastor and his family because the evil one is lurking, and there is nothing more effective in undermining the faith of believers than pastors and leaders who fall and fail. I pray for grace, because it is easy for us to become religious professionals, and we daily need God’s grace to forgive, replenish, and strengthen us.
As the son of Korean immigrants, what do you want other people to know about the Korean church?
Some might be surprised to know that the largest denominations and churches in South Korea are Presbyterian and Reformed. The largest denomination is the Korean Presbyterian Church (Hapdong) with nearly 2.8 million members and more than twelve thousand churches. This conservative Presbyterian denomination is only slightly larger than the more progressive and similarly named Korean Presbyterian Church (Tonghap) with similar numbers of members but fewer churches, totaling almost nine thousand. Just as a Christian in the United States might often run into a Dutch Reformed church in the Midwest or a Southern Baptist church in the Bible Belt, it would not be difficult to find a Presbyterian church in South Korea.
What accounts for this prominence of Presbyterian churches in South Korea? Although many reasons can be given, a partial reason is history. Horace G. Underwood, a Northern Presbyterian from the United States, was one of the first to arrive in the peninsula of Korea in 1885. The growth of Christianity was so remarkable especially in the city of Pyongyang that the city was called “the Jerusalem of the East,” a model of success in missions and the center of a growing Christian church in Korea. It is worth noting that Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, was the site of the first Presbyterian seminary in Korea, established in 1901. Though it is now associated with brutal dictatorship and human rights violations, many of us pray that one day Pyongyang will once again be known for its faith in Christ Jesus.