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‘Build the church that we are sent to serve’ (UM News)

May 19, 2021

There have been several recent reports concerning disputes over bishops’ authority of appointment, a topic that fills me with mixed emotions.

I specifically remember a moment 10 years ago where I had vocally protested an appointment that, in my humble opinion, would go on to impact the Korean clergy community negatively.

I was frankly confused and disappointed by the appointment, but I was advised by a Korean-American colleague to acknowledge it eventually and practice a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. 

After the above-mentioned episode, coincidentally or maybe not, I got appointed to a church far from the Korean community from which I had continually been drawing strength and support for my ministry.

In all honesty, I struggled to come to terms with the appointment and, seeing me struggle, my eldest son agreed to accompany me to the meeting with the staff-parish relations committee of my new church.

After returning home from the meeting, my son said to me, “Mom, as I was sitting there, I could sense their deep hope and anticipation for a good pastor who will love them. So, whatever the reason your bishop is sending you there may be, can you just go there and be the good pastor they are so hoping to have?”

That night, I shed tears of repentance. I could hear God speaking to me through my son: “My beloved, have you forgotten why I called you?” I was also reminded of my vow as an ordained United Methodist clergy to go wherever I was sent. I remembered singing the words of the hymn, “Here I am, Lord, I will go, Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart” with such passion and thrill many times.  

As it turned out, I would be a great beneficiary of the bishop’s authority of appointment. It was through these appointments that, I, as an immigrant Korean woman, received uniquely amazing opportunities to serve churches that were both culturally and racially different from myself — experiences that definitely helped stretch me as a pastoral leader.

It should be noted that it most certainly isn’t always easy for Korean clergywomen serving cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments.

In the instance of one of my friends, the predecessor of her new church remarked to the congregation, “See? Since you haven’t been good to me, God is punishing you by sending a Korean woman!”

However, despite such sentiments, my friend would go on to become the longest-tenured pastor in the church’s history, successfully growing the worship attendance and even completing a $1.5 million building project. I would be hard pressed to find many people now who would think that appointment had been a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming that bishops and cabinets are infallible in their appointment decisions. As human beings, we are all susceptible to misjudgments and mistakes.

But I strongly believe that, as “descendants” of John Wesley, we should proudly uphold the spirit of the itinerancy.

We pastors, as circuit riders, come and go. At almost any church we are appointed to, there will have been pastors before us and there will be many more after us. And if, in any instance, the appointments made by the bishops are not pleasing to God, they will be held accountable before God for it.

In my journey, God reminded me — through my son — that it is not me but God who is at the center of Kingdom work. I learned that while appointments can be interpreted in a million different ways through the eyes of us humans, God always works through faithful servants.

Our job as pastors is to build the church that we are sent to serve. And those who break down the church instead of lifting it up will be held accountable before God.