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New Wine

We don’t need another Korean church that does the same old thing, that is, a church that preaches the same old moralistic, fear-based or principle-based messages and leads us in singing someone else’s songs.

We don’t need another place where the excuse is that people there look like us, but we don’t talk about what we look like and who we are and who we were made to be. And then talk about going multi-ethnic – Why? So no one else can acknowledge their own culture/race/ethnicity too?

We don’t need another outlet for the distribution of Christian materials. We don’t need to keep up with the Joneses and the Kims and whatever “40 Days…” they’re pitching.  We’re tired of consuming whatever the industry is producing. Sure, you say we need “daily bread”, but we still leave hungry because we’re tired of processed food.

We don’t need the “church is a hospital” mentality. We’re sick of seeing doctors who are great at diagnosing but doesn’t treat the problems. Or you know what? We’re even more sick of seeing doctors who are sick themselves.

We don’t need a new building or a new cause. We’d actually like to see some collaboration and sharing between churches. And I’m not talking about a basketball league or a softball tournament.

We don’t need marketing. Quit creating things that we “need”. We want to see some organic growth. We’ll spread the word ourselves if it’s valuable enough.

We don’t need another program. Missions is not a summer event – it is a lifestyle. Welcoming is not a team – it is a posture. Small groups is not a department – it is a circle of friends.

We don’t need hard answers from the pulpit. We need to be asked tougher questions and to think through our faith more. We are great do-er’s and thinkers, but our souls have grown cold. We have become consumers and not producers of the Word. We are moral, but sterile. We are educated but ignorant of how to apply the power of the Gospel in our lives. We complain because this had the look of a performance, but we didn’t realize that we were the ones being asked to bear the fruit.

We don’t need a younger pastor who is drinking the same old Kool-Aid. Often a new church for Korean-Americans is like dressing up an old woman. At some point, the most expensive makeup will not cover her wrinkles.  I’m not disrespecting young pastors or old women or Kool-Aid, I’m saying we tend to put old wine in new wineskins and call the whole thing “new”.

We need new wine.

We need to learn to live in the tension between ancient and future, already but not yet, motherland and fatherhood. We need to learn how to dream again and get dirty. We need to learn to take risks again, and we need to see that risktaking as a value in our churches. We need to see maverick pastors teach us, not leave us for the next big thing. We need to hear about how we are wired as sons and daughters of immigration and of Christ, and then how we can be re-wired, or perhaps disarmed if the wires in our hearts are connected to bombs. We need you to acknowledge the materialism in our midst – the alcoholism, the workaholism, the addiction, the pornography, the loneliness, the depression, the racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the homophobia, and whatever else you and all of us are all aware of and afraid of talking about. We need courage to address the taboo.

It’s OK if it’s not the same as before. It’s OK if you’ve never been there before either. It’s OK if we make mistakes and you make them too. Let’s quit pretending that no one should.

This is not a youth group thing. This is not a mid-life crisis thing. This is an acknowledgement that what we have is a failure to communicate the gospel to this generation. What we have is a judgment call that the same old church is never going to attract people who are sick of the same old church. What we have is a wonderful systematic theology that hasn’t dismantled the systems of corruption and evil in the zip codes around us. What we have is this strange notion that we are in our own worlds, and not of the world – but we have not really entered into “the world.” Thus, we have aging churches, and aging members arguing over aging parking lots. And to the next generation, it’s old wineskin talk.  It’s all old wine.

We need new wine. Not just talked about, but planted, harvested, fermented, and fit to drink.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

13 responses to “New Wine

  1. Pingback: wonderful pages » Brand New Same Old Same Old

  2. elderj

    Well said brother… and I’m glad you’re not disrespecting old women, kool aid or makeup

  3. jadanzzy ⋅

    sigh… for some reason this entry made me really sad…

  4. chris

    but… people in the old wine paradigm look at the dissatisfied as ones who might talk a better talk, but fail to come up with something that lasts longer than a frustrated rant, or a good night’s sleep, or a few weeks of devotion, then tiredness and then atrophy. and meanwhile, the korean american church continues to serve faithfully, even if that means excluding a portion of culture – i’m speaking in generalities. is it that when we finally have the right words, or have pointed out exactly where the korean american church went wrong, we’ll be able to move forward? or are we just in an awkward time of inevitable transition?

    i don’t think talk is ever cheap, and i wholeheartedly agree with the content of what u say. but the frustrating thing is – i’ve heard this all before, and nothing seems to change. what’s it gonna take to get some new wineskins to go along with the new wine?

  5. chris, thanks for the comment.

    i agree with you in terms of being frustrated, however i’d have to say that not enough people are actually discussing their frustration or as you noted, turning that criticism into something constructive. i will note that this is an indication of how systemic our problems are. the notion of holding our korean identity and our american identity and our identity in Christ together creates an incredible tension that most of our churches do not address holistically. Meaning that we spiritualize the notion of finding our identity in Christ without exploring the questions of how he created us as we are, all of which contributes to the destiny and purposes for which he created us. And by and large, we subscribe to White American Evangelical Christianity, which is to say that we suppress ourselves at the very least and at the very worst, we become co-oppressors of those who stand in the way of White American Christianity. again, don’t get me wrong, i’m not hating on white christianity, i’m just saying it’s forfeiting our own contribution and nuances to understanding who God made us to be. this is why we ignore our fellow Asian and minority churches, but work very hard to emulate white forms of worship, preaching, and church models.

    the inability to hold these things in tension is why korean americans are disillusioned with the church. we believed that the products and programs of the dominant majority church culture could address our problems, but they don’t. you say that you’ve heard that talk before, so i’ll leave it there, but i assure you that until we do the hard work of tying all three of our identities together, we in essence deny ourselves a fuller expression of who God made us to be. the inevitable transition that you speak of will be more than awkward, it will be disenchanting.

    i’d also like you to elaborate on your statement, “meanwhile, the korean american church continues to serve faithfully”. what do you mean by that?

  6. elderj

    The disillusionment among 2nd gens is significant and sadly when many leave the “ethnic immigrant” church they don’t necessarily end up any where else. The christianity to which they’ve been exposed is often so neutered of its power that it ceases in any way to be attractive or compelling.

  7. chris

    your reply gives me a much more specific context to what you’re talking about in the original post – i do appreciate that. thanks for your extensive reply.

    what i mean by my comment is that there are some in the korean american church who do more walking than talking. or thinking. when i think about the church i came from, there were church leaders who, like a wartime soldier, would trudge forth, faithfully obeying and faithfully leading. for them, there seemed to be no dissatisfaction that their ministry sponsored white american evangelical christianity, or that the korean american christian identity wasn’t totally addressed. in other words, they don’t really care about what we’re talking about. that seemed wrong to me… but looking at their personal lives of devotion and their attitudes towards serving, i can’t really knock them. they’re just faithful workers for the Lord.

    so my comment originated from my own skepticism of my dissatisfaction with the korean american church. are we really onto something when we think/talk about these issues, or do our dissatisfactions stem from some sin-tainted motive? i guess i use the faithful, satisfied korean american church goer as an anchor that helps ground my sometimes extravagant thoughts about what korean american christians could/should do.

    also… elderj – i’m totally going through that right now. or i think i am. thats crazy.

    and… by the way, david, i’m a friend of jadanzzy and i just left atl. i’m sorry i missed you.

  8. elderj always has this way of distilling my thoughts into a single sentence. thank you brother.

    chris, we’ll have to meet up if you’re in the atl again. i’ve really enjoyed getting to know jadanzzy recently. but let me say that there is a place for sanctified discontentment especially when you look at the breadth of korean american churches, the range of presentation is so narrow. they look and feel remarkably similar regardless of denomination. when i look at that landscape, we are either all right or all wrong, but we definitely need to incorporate extravagant thinking in that midst. i recently heard a john reuben song where he playfully mixes up the idiom, “familiarity breeds contempt; familiarity breeds content; are we content?”

    secondly, i will make the statement that faithfulness does not equate to faith. as one of the most churched, best educated, and highest income-earning demographics in america, we have a greater responsibility to speak to the culture at large. tending our own gardens is not enough. german churches who supported the nazis had the same mentality. churches in the South who supported slavery were faithful, but they were not acting out of their faith. again, i’m not saying that this is the pitfall for the korean american church, i’m merely asserting that faithfulness and our prolific church planting does not indicate true substantial faith.

  9. daniel so

    David — Where do I begin to comment? You have expressed, succinctly and with passion, so much of what has been brewing in my heart over the last several years. Actually, I do not think I have heard these thoughts before — at least, not put together in such a compelling way.

    If we could awaken in even one of these areas you have identified, our churches would be utterly revitalized. I can only hope that God is stirring up a holy discontent that will lead to a genuine revolution.

  10. tfrank

    David, I believe this is one of the most poignant, poetic and profound pieces I have ever read of yours. I think you have hit the nail on the head, and I believe this is not limited to an Asian American point of view. This is every church, every Christian to some degree. This is good. Really good. I want to chew on this some more.

  11. daniel, tim –

    thanks for the kind words. this entry was one of those posts that i wrote in one quick sitting. i don’t know what came over me…but i do want to make sure, more than anything, that i can embody this vision.

    tim, you’ve helped me so much over the last couple of years helping me chase out some of my own demons that i can write these things with integrity. thank you for your friendship. i’ll call you soon…this week’s a doozy!

  12. Pingback: For such a time as this: the salvation of the American church « InterSection

  13. steph

    lovely- prophetic and moving. i bet this has been building inside you for awhile, glad it all came out at once.

    thanks, david.

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