Thirty three years ago, my father landed on John F. Kennedy airport with a phone number, a crisp Andrew Jackson bill, and an America-sized dream. He was a parachuting church planter, a green beret.
A year later, my mother came, with three boys in tote (7, 5, and 3 yrs old). We lived in a roach-infested apartment for 5 years, mother punched the cash-register for longer. We rode old automobiles that got sick frequently, vomiting oil and other dark liquids. I wore hand-me down clothes that hung large on my bony shoulders making me look like a scare-crow. And I loved it! I did not know any better (or perhaps knew better by knowing what was important by knowing less) and enjoyed going to church, where our dad got up every Sunday and looked important.
But growing up, I saw how the work hours and stress of a church plant will try to rip a family apart. We did not have the luxury of vacations to runaway from the problems. Prayer held our family together. We were stronger for it. But I said to myself “I don’t want to plant a church.” When I said yes to the CALL, I imagined pastoring a large white liberal congregation that would freak out if I visited them too often and keep me as long as my sermon quoted articles from New Yorker with a sprinkle of scriptures.
On August 3rd, New Life Triangle is launching, and I will be a church planter while raising three young kids (8, 6, 4 years old). Frankly, the similarity is scary. So striking I did not even see it until this past July when all of our family (God’s providence) got together. The three little boys dragged by my mother were now middle aged men (40, 38, 36), and it was Daniel, the second one, who said “Hyung (Korean for older brother), do you know we are planting a church around the age of our father?” He launched April and I think that similarity dawned on him only as he was saying it. I think if I had seen the similarity earlier, I would probably have started searching for that dream liberal church.
As I was driving back to Raleigh I considered the similarity more carefully and saw that the details were different. The age and the three kids, I admit is almost on the dot, but they are superficial.
For one thing, I did not want to be a church planter. This is an enormous difference. My father had a vision. I did not have a grand vision (is this terrible for a pastor to confess?). New Life community became diverse naturally. It just happened the way it sometimes suddenly rains on a sultry North Carolina day and cools the air. When I saw non-Koreans wanting to become member, I realized that New Life is the work of God. If I was not convinced of this, I would be blogging about my experience being a barista for Starbucks.
I am not your typical church planter. And I am not going to go through the steps of the church planting manual, though I have read many of them. I am not an entrepreneur. If any of the lessons stick in my head, then I am sure it will be useful. But I am going to do something crazy. I am going to pray and read the Bible. I am going to pray for the miracle of baptism and changed lives, and I am going to encourage them to tell others about Christ and invite them. Let’s see what happens when we keep it simple and spiritual and not use all the wizardry of modern marketing.
In medieval period, some chose to make cathedrals, other chose to build monasteries. Everyone has their own calling. I think New Life is called to be a witnessing monastic community. Boldly declare Christ’s lordship, practice spiritual disciplines, and invite others to join.
Though I am planting a church at nearly the exact age when my father called the number on the crumbled paper on his first day in New York, I am not a church planter like my father. He had gumption! I can’t fill his shoes. But that is okay. I am just a kid who is saying yes to what God is doing, and only because of that am I planting a church, in my own way.