When it comes to church growth, numbers never tell the entire story. But sometimes numbers say quite a lot. During the Rev. Dr. Won Sang Lee’s 26 years as senior pastor of Korean Central Presbyterian Church (KCPC) in Centreville, Virginia, church attendance grew from several hundred to more than 3,000.
The late Dr. Lee never published a best-selling book, and those who worked with him admit that his preaching was good, but not outstanding. He barely spoke above a whisper most of the time. But his ministry was marked by humility, prayerfulness, and a relentless commitment to the church.
Lee died Dec. 5, 2016.
He was born in Korea in 1937, and earned his bachelor’s degree from Keimyung University and a master’s degree in philosophy from Kyungpook National University. He then moved to the United States to further his education and received his Th.M. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After his retirement, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wales at age 72.
After his retirement from KCPC in 2003, Lee worked with several international missions agencies, including as international director for SEED International. In this role, Lee trained missionaries and visited them in their mission fields to offer them encouragement.
Throughout his ministry, Lee was known as a pastor who prayed with and for his congregation. Hank Hahm pastored the English-speaking congregation at KCPC under Lee’s leadership; he said Lee not only attended every weekly prayer meeting at 5:30 a.m., but he sometimes came in an hour early to pray alone first.
When KCPC’s English-speaking congregation particularized as a daughter church of KCPC, Owen Lee became the English-speaking congregation’s senior pastor. He said the elder Lee (no relation) memorized the names of nearly every KCPC member, and he did it by praying for each church member.
As a pastor of a church of immigrants, Lee created a culture where visitors quickly felt they belonged. “He created a space where people immediately felt like family,” Owen said. “He went out of his way to show individual care to every member of the congregation.”
Lee’s humility set him apart. Lee was happy to share power and see the Gospel advance, even if he never earned recognition for his efforts. Hahm said Lee refused every salary raise the church tried to give him, and he lived in the same modest house for his entire ministry.
“From the moment I met him to the moment I said goodbye, he was the same gentle, humble, loving man,” Hahm said. “It really was the grace of God.”
Numbers might not tell the whole story, but the fact that more than 10,000 people attended the three memorial services for Lee offers a glimpse into the impact his ministry had: a humble, faithful ministry of prayer and service to the sojourners in his midst.