2024 English Ministry Forum Connects Leaders “In The Shadows”
By Larry Hoop
Attendees at the 2023 English Ministry Forum

Attendees at the 2023 English Ministry Forum

On Feb. 6-8, 65 pastors, elders, and friends of the PCA gathered at New Church of Atlanta for the 2024 PCA English Ministry Forum, an annual gathering for English speaking PCA pastors and leaders who minister in churches or presbyteries where English is not the first language. 

The Forum began as part of a PCA EM Pastor’s Conference for second-generation Korean pastors begun in 2000 and led by Henry Koh, then MNA Coordinator of Korean American Ministries. In 2012 the Coalition of Korean Churches, a network of PCA Korean language churches, asked Billy Park to organize an English-speaking program for their second-generation pastors during their annual CKC conference. Participants in the second-generation gathering enjoyed meals and fellowship with the larger conference, but attended separate teaching sessions. Beginning in 2016, the Forum met independently from the CKC conference to develop its own identity. 

By 2018, leaders of PCA permanent committees and agencies became involved and helped sponsor the Forum. That same year, the Korean-American Leadership Initiative (KALI), a ministry of MNA designed to develop future Korean American leadership in the PCA, became a major backer of the Forum. The two ministries merged in 2019, but COVID concerns led to canceling the Forum from 2020 through 2022. 

When the Forum resumed, it returned to its operation as a separate organization led by Billy Park, Paul Bang, Paul Chi, and Soosang Park, supported by PCA committees and agencies and other sponsors. This year’s Forum was supported through the sponsorship of MNA, MTW, Geneva Benefits, the Administrative Committee, and Covenant Seminary. Great Commission Publications, Reformed Theological Seminary, and a few churches also helped with costs. 

The 2024 Forum featured three speakers: PCA Stated Clerk Bryan Chapell, RTS Professor Carl Ellis, and Billy Park. But the Forum is not a speaker-driven conference. Park, lead pastor of Grace Community Presbyterian Church and Korean Relations Representative for the PCA Administrative Committee, says the heart of the Forum is its unstructured time. 

“The Forum is an interactive conference,” he says. “It’s the time in between our sessions — the conversations over meals, getting to know new people, and reconnecting with old friends — that make this Forum special.” 

Park also emphasizes the importance of the contact participants have with the 14 representatives of various PCA committees and agencies. 

While the Forum is designed to connect PCA EM leaders with each other in peer-to-peer and mentoring relationships, it also promotes their involvement in the denomination.

“This opens the door for greater participation in the life and leadership of the PCA for Asian American pastors and leaders,” he says. 

While the Forum is designed to connect PCA EM leaders with each other in peer-to-peer and mentoring relationships, it also promotes their involvement in the denomination. This is especially important for young leaders, Park says. It makes the PCA a more vital part of who they are and how they minister. He goes on to point out that even though there are nine Korean language presbyteries with over 200 churches making up some 12% of the PCA, many Korean pastors feel as though they aren’t “seen.”  

“Belonging to the PCA hasn’t meant that much,” Park says. “They feel as though they’re functioning in the shadows.” This lack of a strong connection not only impoverishes the Korean language presbyteries, Park says; it impoverishes the entire denomination. 

This sense of isolation is even more acute for those involved in English language ministry within Korean language churches. These pastors operate in the “shadow” of the shadows. But Park believes it is these English language leaders who can become a bridge between the Korean and Anglo presbyteries. 

“We can advocate for the Korean presbyteries and help the Anglo presbyteries understand this branch of the church better,” he says. “We have much we can learn from each other.” 

Park hopes that the Forum will help more Korean and other Asian Americans understand the denomination’s structures and participate in its leadership. 

The Forum has also facilitated important connections between individuals and denominational leaders. Through the EM Forum, Ed Dunnington, president of Geneva Benefits, met Forum participant Paul Chi. Chi now serves as a financial planning advisor for Geneva. 

Jonathan Lee attended the 2016 Forum where MTW Coordinator Lloyd Kim was one of the speakers. After the conference Lee approached Park and told him, “I know what God wants me to do. He wants me to be an MTW missionary.” A year later Lee was commissioned as an MTW missionary to South Korea. 

Park says, “These are just a few of the examples of how someone in the shadows was connected to the PCA.” 

Park believes the PCA’s distinctive “brand” of Presbyterian polity is partially responsible for helping the Forum to flourish. The grassroots nature of the PCA allows individuals and groups the freedom to take initiatives without being hampered by denominational bureaucracy, as might be the case in more hierarchical denominations. 

“The coordinators and presidents have been very supportive of the Forum,” he says, “but no one has tried to take it over.” This freedom has allowed the Forum to develop organically.

One particular aspect of that development has been the inclusion of participants from outside the Korean community. “While we want to maintain our distinctive target — English language leaders in Korean churches — we don’t try to be exclusively Korean or even exclusively PCA,” he says. Park reports that five Vietnamese pastors attended last year, and this year there were two Chinese pastors and one Eritrean. 

Park says, “We want to embrace friends who believe they can fit in and learn from the Forum.” He hopes the Forum could inspire these participants to apply the same model to their contexts. This, he says, is part of the effort to help people “in the shadows” to establish connections for soul-nourishing fellowship.

For more information about the EM Forum, click here. 

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