Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
—Heb. 11:1 NIV
Will we be able, in 2015, to hold the Korean Global MissionLeadership Forum (KGMLF) in Korea for the first time?”“The Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC) does not have sufficient resources to cover the cost of KGMLF 2015, so how will we secure finances for it?” These were two of the questions that I faced as coordinator for KGMLF 2015. In looking at the circumstances, it was uncertain whether this forum, planned to deal with the theme
“Megachurch Accountability in Missions: Critical Assessment through Global Case Studies,” would be able to convene, let alone be successful. Believing, however, that problems are really blessings in disguise, I would wake up at dawn and confess my unbelief.
Remembering the men and women in Hebrews 11, I would pray that the third KGMLF meeting, to be held in the mountains of South Korea, would be as beautiful and wonderful as the Korean autumn. Each year in mid-fall the beauty of Mount Seorak, near which KGMLF was to meet, is at its pinnacle. Was it a mark of God’s blessing that in 2015 the scenery was its most beautiful during the week of KGMLF? God responded. All the financial needs of the forum were fulfilled and everything went smoothly.
Through this event I saw the vision and faith concerning KGMLF that God had given me in 2008 become a reality. Some people have misunderstood, thinking that KGMLF is a forum only for the Korean church and its missions. The case studies from around the globe and research on twenty-first-century mission trends carried out by persons associated with missions throughout the world proved otherwise. Participants got to know each other and challenged one another, making it clear that KGMLF deals with topics that concern all churches and missions everywhere.
To plan for the forum, twenty people gathered on November 28, 2013, at the Seoul Club, in Seoul, South Korea. This meeting was made possible by the support of Young Hyun Jung and his wife, Sook Hee Kim, who had made similar meetings possible in 2010 and 2012 at the same location. The participants from OMSC were Jonathan J. Bonk, executive director emeritus, J. Nelson Jennings, then executive director, Dwight P. Baker, former associate director, and myself. Attendees from megachurches were Jae Hoon Lee, senior pastor of Onnuri Community Church, Peter JaeHyeok Chin, senior pastor of Global Mission Church, and Dong Whee Lee, emeritus pastor of Antioch Church and founder of Paul Mission International.
Also in attendance were Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, executive director of Korea Research Institute for Mission (KRIM), various mission organization leaders, and missiology professors who have worked in close partnership with KGMLF since its first meeting in 2011. Several scholars expressed opposition to holding a forum in Korea focused on megachurches. In light of several Korean professors who were known to have a negative view of megachurches, the group feared that the topic would be too contentious. Nonetheless, Jae Hoon Lee stated his humble desire to learn how Onnuri Community Church is doing in mission today—as viewed by outsiders— thirty years after it was planted. Furthermore, OMSC’s leaders observed that, since social trends have figured in the worldwide rise of megachurches, a presentation of case studies from around the globe could provide fruitful insight into the range of factors significant in their growth and thus suggest ways of conducting their ministries with greater accountability.
In preparing for the KGMLF 2015 meeting, I kept in mind the questions (really, they were criticisms) voiced by one Korean American megachurch pastor: Do megachurches really need to work with mission organizations? Since many megachurches have their own ideas about people, finances, spirituality, and missions, is it necessary for them to view mission organizations as significant partners in mission? Furthermore, why don’t mission organizations discuss important decisions concerning missionary personnel or change in mission field direction with the churches that have sent the missionaries?
In his book The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, Patrick Johnstone of WEC International writes about the relationship between churches and mission organizations. According to Johnstone, the priority of the local church should be world missions, but mission organizations often shoulder more than their fair share of this work. He suggests that these organizations should humbly serve local churches and work closely with them.[i] Another unsettling question: Can there be world mission if local churches are not growing? All observers agree that the growth of Korean missions has been a consequence of the exponential growth of the Korean churches. In 1989 in the church in Seoul where I was a missionary candidate, a person who did not give any mission offering could not hold an office in the church. In addition, any church that did not send or support missionaries was considered to be failing to fulfill its role as a church.
According to Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, in 1979 there were only 93 Korean missionaries serving in countries outside Korea, a number that jumped to 1,645 by 1990.[ii] The continued growth of the Korean church in the 1990s led to a 25 percent annual increase in the number of Korean missionaries. But then in the 2000s, the Korean church experienced a decline in its rate of growth, with a corresponding drop in the increase of Korean foreign missionaries to 7.6 percent per year. From December 2013 to December 2014, the increase was only 1.9 percent. In terms of total numbers, between 2002 and 2004 the Korean church sent out 2,452 new missionaries; between 2013 and 2015, only a little over 1,000.[iii]
During research for my recently completed dissertation, entitled “Rethinking Retirement and Creative Aging among Korean Protestant Missionaries,” I found that more than half of Korea’s missionaries are in their fifties, and 10 percent are in their sixties or older. Moreover, more than 90 percent of those who completed the survey answered that they would like to retire between the ages of sixty-five and seventy. In other words, many Korean missionaries can be expected to retire in the near future, with more than half of the present Korean missionary force returning home by the year 2030. The missionary outreach of the Korean church will be only as strong as the Korean church itself. An enormous influx of new missionaries will be necessary to sustain the present size of the Korean missionary force. Unless a radical change occurs and revival and
growth come to the Korean church, it is difficult to envision that the Korean missionary force will be able to sustain even its present numbers through the coming decade.
In this important time of change, with the demands it imposes, not only did many megachurch pastors and missionary pastors attend KGMLF 2015, but so too did several pastors of middle-sized and small churches. Furthermore, the presentations, discussions, and group debates by leaders of mission organizations and missiological scholars were animated. The rapid changes taking place in Korean society certainly provide part of the reason for the high level of engagement. But even more important may be the concern of churches and mission organizations around the world to reflect on missions from a perspective that is objective, open to the input of other churches and mission agencies, and ultimately pleasing to God.
KGMLF 2015 was held November 3–6, 2015, in Kensington Stars Hotel, Sokcho, South Korea. God responded to the pleas and prayers of his children in remarkable ways, and the forum was a success. Seventy-seven persons attended, coming from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. The presenters and respondents dealt with thirteen subtopics. Each morning opened with a Bible study, led by presenters from Japan, Australia, and Ghana; in the afternoons the participants divided into eight small groups for discussion. During the final afternoon, presentations by six panelists stimulated discussion and questions. Overviews of the conference by Hyung Keun Choi and Dwight Baker concluded the forum. Thus, this third KGMLF book has been made possible, thanks to the effort and dedication of the forty-three authors who have contributed to it.
I often hear that KGMLF is unique and special. The reason can probably be found in the respect that the participants have for one another. The forum did not showcase some famous mission scholar from the West trying to teach the Korean church, nor was it an occasion for well-known megachurches to boast of their achievements. Attenders from all over the world came to humbly learn from one another. In the words of one, “This was a forum anointed by the Holy Spirit.” I concur; the success of this KGMLF is to be credited solely to the grace of God.
God works through those who believe and obey his Word. When I was worried and did not know what to do, God provided many spiritual mentors and coworkers. In particular, the leadership of Jae Hoon Lee, senior pastor of Onnuri Community Church, which joyfully cohosted this convention, and the thoughtful cooperation between Onnuri Community Church and OMSC struck me as God’s personal and encouraging gift to us all. The many details of this KGMLF were cared for through the dedicated efforts of Onnuri staff and volunteers under the leadership of Hong Joo Kim, head mission pastor of Onnuri Community Church, and mission pastor Il Young Kang. The service that Sonia Yim and Jeong Joon Kim provided to facilitate communication with foreign guests must receive special acknowledgment. Steven Cha, lead pastor of Onnuri Community Church’s English ministry, and his team set aside their busy schedule and willingly served at the forum. I would also like to thank CGNTV for filming the entire forum and preparing the program “Global Talk” with five of the attending scholars. Finally, the Lord’s blessings be on the “EZER” team, who prepared gifts, snacks, and drinks for all who attended the forum.
I would like to thank Nelson Jennings, who chose the KGMLF 2015 topic and invited most of the non-Korean participants, and for whom I have the deepest regard. Additionally, I would like to thank Jonathan Bonk. He has always been available as a spiritual mentor to help and encourage me, as has Won Sang Lee, my spiritual mentor. I appreciate the encouragement and support of all the pastors in the Connecticut Korean Church Council and their prayers on my behalf so I might better be able to serve the KGMLF. Especially I note the encouragement and advice of Sun Man Kim, senior pastor of the First Korean Presbyterian Church, Hartford, Connecticut. He and First Korean Presbyterian Church have sponsored the KGMLF since its beginning in 2011.
Many churches and organizations united in support of KGMLF 2015. I cannot list here all the ways in which they have helped, but I thank them by praying that God will bless them abundantly. These include the New Haven Korean Church (Dae Joon Roh, pastor), Harrisburg Korean Presbyterian Church (Song Joong Kang, pastor), Hong Kong Korean Exodus Mission Church (Hyung Joong Yoon, pastor), Yoido Full Gospel Church (Young-hoon Lee, pastor), Hwangji Presbyterian Church (Jong Eon Kim, pastor), Asian Mission (Jae Chul Chung, director), and the Mission Board of Korean Methodist Church (Dong Hwa Tae, vice–general secretary).
My thanks go to Ho In Choi, who joined OMSC’s staff part time to help out with the preparations for KGMLF, and to Pastor Chun Lee and his wife, Sook Young Chang, who came to OMSC as residents, for their help. I would also like to thank the staff of OMSC for its great effort and dedication in support of KGMLF. Support provided by the mission experience that had been accumulated over the years at OMSC and the cooperation of OMSC’s staff made it possible to launch KGMLF, a new type of international forum. I also wish to thank my wife, Soon Young Jung, who has helped me in many ways behind the scenes.
An important consideration in starting KGMLF as a new type of forum was the publication of a well-edited book that would present the contents of the forum, a volume that could take its place, for example, in the library of Yale Divinity School, located near OMSC. Dwight Baker, Craig Noll, Rona Johnston Gordon, and Lois Baker, long-time members of the editorial team for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, worked with dedication to turn this vision into reality. Special mention should be made of the advice and help Dwight Baker gave me concerning the preparations and progress of KGMLF. My sincere thanks go also to Abe Kugyong Koh, who translated the English edition for simultaneous publication in Korean.
Since 2011 the First Korean Presbyterian Church, Hartford, Connecticut (Sun Man Kim, pastor), and SaRang Church, Seoul (Jung- Hyun Oh, pastor), have generously sponsored publication of each of the English books (2011, 2013, 2015). Also, with the sponsorship of Onnuri Community Church, which began in 2013, we have been able to publish the Korean editions for 2013 and 2015 through Duranno Press. This press is a precious gift for the world mission enterprise.
I would like also to thank Debora Nam, Mi Young Song, and Joo Sun Park for their extensive, though hidden, efforts to edit, publish, and distribute previous Korean editions of KGMLF books, and to express appreciation to Pastor Yong Bum Park of the copyright team. I especially wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Hyung Ki Lee, who is in charge of Duranno Press, for his encouragement and cooperation.
Thanks to God above All
By God’s grace, plans are for KGMLF 2017 to be titled “Migration, Human Dislocation, and Accountability in Missions.” The forum is set for November 7–10, 2017, again in Korea. May the most recent KGMLF and its two published volumes be instruments in the hands of the Lord for furthering these worthy aims! Soli Deo gloria!
Director of International Church Relations and Coordinator of KGMLF
Overseas Ministries Study Center
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
[i] See Patrick Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think (Fearn, Ross-shire, U.K.: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), chap. 19.
[ii] Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, “The Protestant Missionary Movement in Korea: Current Growth and Development,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 32, no. 2 (April 2008): 59.
[iii] See Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, Hee-Joo Yoo, and Eun-Mi Kim, “Missions from Korea 2015: Missionaries Unable to Continue Ministry in Their Country of Service,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39, no. 2 (April 2015): 85; and Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, “Missions from Korea 2014: Missionary Children,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 2 (April 2014): 85.