Sarang Kang and Jae Cho are Korean American young adult leaders living out their call to minister with young adults in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Kang came to the United States to attend seminary and now serves as the director of Christian education for college students and young adults (ages 18-30) at the New Hope Church of Michigan in Southfield.
Cho grew up in Los Angeles and attended a Presbyterian church there. Like Kang, he says denomination wasn’t the most important thing to him. In his first year of college, he attended a Baptist church. He later went to seminary, and it was there that he felt God was leading him to ordination in the PC(USA). He graduated two years ago and now works with the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis.
Support from Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries, through events like the Pan Asian English Ministers Pastors’ Conference (held in June 2014), has provided a network for first- and second-generation Korean Americans who feel called to ministry.
“There are challenges for youth and young adults within both the first and second generations,” Kang said. “Many are torn between two worlds. One [is] a Korean way of teaching where the Bible is forced into your head, but now many are looking for fellowship and want to grow organically. It’s a struggle to find a balance because the youth need to feel called to be a part of the church, but many in the older generations want to feel connected to the former, something they know and understand.”
“It’s true that generally denomination doesn’t matter,” Cho said. “It’s more about the church and the viewpoint of the church. Many young adults who grew up in really conservative families and even liberal families feel as if they’ve been manipulated by groups who have used the Bible to suit their purposes. So there is a negative perception of the church and what it represents. It’s what we’re trying to overcome right now by sharing and asking, ‘What did Jesus really want?’ That means for young adults, it’s not just about attending worship. It has to be how the church serves other people and how you love other people. If we miss that piece, then we miss them. So you try to help reestablish what the real church meant, and why Jesus loved the church enough to sacrifice himself on the cross.”
“I think the bigger issue is that people are comfortable and they want to grow, but they don’t want to grow uncomfortably,” Kang said. “It must start at the grassroots level to help the church begin getting into the motion of changing and being uncomfortable. We’re made to be relational, so having a person who ignites that excitement or becomes that driving force within the congregation is often best.”
Cho added, “The church is lacking a prophetic voice, guidance on a way to grow. How do we name those idols that are hindering us and causing apathy? How do we help other pastors not to be afraid to challenge young adults, youth, or even our elderly groups? So we’re looking for more of a prophetic pastor.”
“He finished my thought for me,” Kang said. “The sad thing is, even people like us who work for the church have become so comfortable with the present. It’s almost impossible to see how this can change. At times, it almost feels like there is no hope when practically every little suggested change is met with challenge.”
Cho noted, “There is a cross-cultural gap. It’s a double divide that happens as second-generation Koreans try to understand their parents’ perceptions of faith and even why they immigrated. So we must ask how to do ministry in a multigenerational way. At Church of All Nations, I learned the importance of how my personal, family, and Christian history make a difference in who we are today as a church in the society.
“I really think the next 10 to 20 years [are] going to be very tough as we challenge the church into renewal,” he continues. “There needs to be more of a structural understanding of Christianity in order to really see the church and the world more accurately. We need to start by repenting of the ways the church has not conformed to Christ. Only then can we have a real vision for transformation, not only for a few churches but a transformation of the larger church and society, which means to be a light to the culture and not the other way around. As we pray for and seek God’s discernment, we need to just continue to live out our calling by loving others as Christ showed us in the gospels.”
Kang and Cho both believe in accepting one’s gifts and using them to serve others through God.
“Each person, whether Korean or not, needs to recognize that you’re loved as who you are by God.” Kang continued. “Find a faithful community who is willing to get to know you so you can truly grow to love God and neighbor by serving others. Korean Americans have gifts to share with the church and the world, which gives us hope to serve and love God wherever we are.”
“What are my last words of wisdom?” Kang asked, pausing to think. “I’m an advocate for serving God where you are and how God has made you to serve, not the way that you’re told. There are many ways to serve — from simple words of encouragement for others, to working through your regular job, to the physical challenge of reaching out to others — not just through the church. We all have gifts that are different and should be affirmed. Don’t wait to serve God; serve where you are and in any way you can.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of The Racial Ethnic Torch magazine.