The Cultural, Generational Matchmaker
Joshua I. Kang sees his role as president of the Korean-English Fellowship of the Assemblies of God as a generational and cultural bridge builder.
The Korean-English Fellowship, one of two dozen ethnic/language minority groups in the U.S. denomination, formed in 2018. Most of its members belong to one of the two pre-existing Korean Districts in the U.S. Yet Kang notes that some are adherents of congregations in Assemblies of God geographic districts, while others aren’t even part of the AG — yet.
“There are so many resources in the Assemblies of God and so much is being done in World Missions and U.S. Missions,” says Kang. “There are great things Korean-American pastors could benefit from and contribute to the AG. Sometimes I feel like a matchmaker.”
Age-wise, the 54-year-old Kang is in the middle of an ethnic minority group, flanked on the one end by senior pastors who immigrated in the 1970s, and second- and third-generation U.S.-born offspring more interested in American ways on the other.
“Like the U.S. overall, more and more Korean-Americans are walking away from the church,” says Kang, who arrived in the United States at the age of 9. A lot of those who remain in churches are frustrated because they believe that leadership transitions have been delayed too long. In large part, the Korean-American Fellowship formed as a vehicle for younger churchgoers to gain ministry opportunities.
“They feel like they have been denied decision-making powers,” Kang says. “No one in his or her 40s wants to be treated as a youth. The Korean-English Fellowship wants to establish a platform that gives more of a voice to disillusioned second-generation leaders at this critical juncture.” While family ties traditionally are strong in Korean culture, disparate views of spirituality pose a threat.
For those who brought their faith with them to the U.S., hallmarks of the Assemblies of God in South Korea included a spiritual heritage that includes fervent prayer as well as massive church gatherings. Kang believes those could be replicated in the U.S., if the generations unite.
“But Korean-Americans need to be connected together,” Kang says. “God has a plan for this particular people group for His kingdom.”
Kang envisions Korean-Americans being a force in all of evangelicalism.
“I want to encourage them not just to be a minority in the background, but to step up, be courageous, and network, sharing vision and resources,” Kang says.
Kang straddles different worlds as pastor of Full Gospel Las Vegas Church, founded in 1979 by his father-in-law, Jongki Kim. After Kim died 15 years ago, Kang stepped in as senior pastor. He preaches in English and Korean at multiple different services.
The varied congregation includes U.S. military veterans (the church is near Nellis Air Force Base) who have married Korean women. There also are assorted first-generation Koreans drawn to Las Vegas for service jobs in casinos and hotels where fluency in English isn’t necessary.
Saehee H. Duran, vice president of the Korean English Fellowship, says COVID-19 actually has been beneficial in helping younger Korean-American Christians to seek new faith avenues. She says before the pandemic, many second- or third-generation churchgoers attended Korean-language services with their parents as a way to honor them, but also a different English-language church to be more spiritually relevant.
With the coronavirus shutting down many first-generation churches, younger Korean Americans have been searching the internet for other services to watch that might be more appealing.
“The second- and third-generation now are exploring other churches without a sense of guilt,” Duran says. “They are finding more opportunities to engage at easily accessible churches.”
Duran, who pastors Life 360 Intercultural Church in Springfield, Missouri, says the pandemic with social distancing protocols hasn’t devastated tech-savvy congregations.
“This is the best time for small churches to thrive,” says Duran, 36. “People long for real engagement and personal relationships, which are available.” As a small church pastor, Duran says she is spending more time than ever connecting with congregants via phone calls, texting, social media, and individual visits.
Duran is grateful for Kang’s leadership of the Korean-English Fellowship.
“He is a visionary bridge builder,” Duran says. “I admire him honoring the first-generation heritage and roots, but also understanding the challenges that younger generations feel.” She says Kang permits the other three officers: Secretary Jenny Rogers, Treasurer Jason Wolfe, and herself — all of whom are younger — freedom to speak their minds.
“Challenging other older Korean pastors would not be culturally permissible,” Duran says. “But the collaborative leadership culture within Korean-English Fellowship encourages and celebrates such intergenerational teamwork."
Photo: Officers in the Korean-English Fellowship are (from left) Jenny Rogers, Saehee Duran, Joshua Kang, and Jason Wolfe.