Saturday, October 31, 2009


I find myself in the peculiar position of being an Anglo pastor in a congregation that is almost entirely Asian, and majority Korean. I'm fine with this, as I actually have a tremendous respect for Korean culture. Koreans are intensely passionate, creative, and musical people. They are, as I am fond of saying, essentially the Scots-Irish of Southeast Asia. They've got all the ferocity of the Celts, uncomfortably co-mingled with a convoluted system of familial hierarchy and a taut Confucian reserve. It's a tension that can be either radiantly creative or as explosive as a kimchi jjigae suppository. Whichever way, things are never, ever dull when you're around Koreans.

When my 1.5 and 2.0 congregation introduces me to Korean speakers, I am often introduced as moksanim, which means either "good shepherd" or "pastor," best I can tell. I'm fine with that. It's kinda cool. I always feel honored and humbled whenever I hear it. I'm never quite sure, though, whether my moksanim-ness is quite the same as the moksanim-ness of some of my Korean pastor co-religionists.

I got a sense of that one Sunday a few years ago when a toilet in the men's bathroom nearest to the sanctuary overflowed prior to a service. I was the one there early, so I immediately got a mop and started cleaning. One of the members of the Korean-speaking congregation came across me doing this, and seemed both amused and appalled. I wasn't supposed to be cleaning! That..well..wasn't my place. There were people I should be telling to do that. I explained, gently, that if my house had a mess, it was my duty to clean it up. That seemed to both surprise and register.

That line of thought has surfaced repeatedly over the past several years, as I've been chastised for not being sufficiently authoritarian. Just tell people what to do! Make sure they do it! You're the pastor! In some ways, it's a fair critique. My weakness as a manager and as a pastor has always been that I am too quick to forgive. Sometimes, a good butt-kicking is both necessary and efficacious.

But in other ways, I wonder if some of the hierarchical expectations of that particular culture don't resonate with the teachings of Jesus. There are strong echoes of the desire to have someone ordering folks around still stirring in my 2.0 church. That desire for a demigod pastor runs strong in Korean culture, which serves up authoritarian corporate megachurches that make Rick Warren look like the vicar of a little village.

In spite of that, I feel deep in my being that the calling to be a pastor is the calling to be a servus servorum, a servant of the servants. When you start being too important or too holy to slop a mop across the floor or get your hands dirty or run a simple errand, you stop living out Christ's servanthood.

He did wash folks stinky, crusty feet, after all.