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¹æÄÛÆ÷·³ 2018-7: A Reflection on the Future of Korean Missions(Chong H. Kim) ÇÁ¸°Æ®   
Á¤À¯¹Ì  Email [2019-01-17 18:08:33]  HIT : 24503  

A Reflection on the Future of Korean Missions

With Special Emphasis on Grassroots Missions Movements

Bangkok and Seorak Forum


Chong H. Kim

April 25-27, 2018



This paper is intended to be broad stroke, expansive, and intuitive in nature. This is mainly because the title of this paper forces me to paint a big picture, conjecture, and muse different possibilities and options. I am for the most part content to raise issues and potential problems to solve in order for evangelical missions efforts to move forward and make significant contribution toward kingdom flourishing, especially where the kingdom isn¡¯t. I do so by identifying and raising awareness of foundational barriers to overcome. I do not necessarily have clear (knowing well that clarity is often overrated) solutions. However, I do have inklings as to what not to continue and replicate. I also am painfully aware of my own blindness and limitations. Thus, I am very open for differing opinions and convictions. I continue to be committed to lifelong learning and development of my own.


What I hope we will do in this paper is to be inter-disciplinary and to exercise ¡°lateral thinking.¡±[1] I will also draw from my own life experiences and learnings. As a notable minister and theologian Frederik Buechner said, ¡°Theology at its heart is autobiography.¡±[2]


What I hope toward the end of this paper is to bring disparate points together and make some sense of a better future.


Lastly as part of my introduction, I¡¯d like to highlight the ¡°Cynefin Framework¡±[3] developed by David Snowden. Its origin and application lie in problem solving in the business context, but I believe it is packed with missiological significance. We can agree that we live in a world of intensifying complexities. What do we mean when we say ¡°complex?¡±


¡°Complex¡± is different from ¡°complicated.¡± ¡°Complicated¡± is a state where there are known multiple answer; the relationship between cause and effect is difficult to find but not impossible. ¡°Complex¡± is when there are no known knowns. The difference? According to the Cynefin Framework, developed by David Snowden, ¡°complicated¡± is about ¡°known unknowns¡± and ¡°complex¡± is about ¡°unknown unknowns.¡± A good example of ¡°complicated¡± is an exotic sports car. If you are a qualified exotic car expert, then you can disassemble the car and put everything back to together. It is a complicated process, but it can be done and is predictable. An example of ¡°complex¡± is a deep ocean. Living species go extinct, weathers and pressures change, different species interact differently to surroundings, etc. The elements all contribute to this crazy conglomeration of unknown unknowns that it is downright mysterious.[4]


Missions is a downright complex endeavor. One of the most significant problems occurs when we force complex problems to be simple or complicated. Let¡¯s face it. There is a propensity and pervasiveness in our attitude to manage missions as simple endeavors. We cannot and should not force fit simple or complicated answers with complex problems. There are countless examples of this symptoms. For example, thinking and believing that the category of world religions is a simple or complicated phenomenon would be a grave mistake. In other words, what neatly organized and simply (or complicated) explained ¡°textbooks¡± say about each of these religions—say, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism—just does not capture the real realities of the religions, much less the peoples inside these religions. Thinking and believing is one thing. Doing is another. If we act as if all ¡°Muslims¡± think and believe certain prescribed doctrines and beliefs, it leads us to paths that cannot easily be reversed in its negative impact.


Missions as a by-product of left brained favored orientation?

Some of the fundamental and persistent problems in missions cannot be solved by applying simple or complicated solutions as I have shared above. Solving complex problems often are not possible by only utilizing modernistic approach of left brained favored engagement. The domination of the left brain happened mainly because of the rise of human reasoning and rationale that is logical, sequential, and linear. Of course, there are the very gifts that left brain offered and we got where we are mainly because of its contribution in rise of science, philosophy, human development, and even religion that sided almost exclusively with logical and sequential thinking. Where science, life, art, education, and religion were done side by side with left and right brain approaches generations before, it quickly tilted one way. There was once an idea of ¡°lived¡± theologians and ¡°godly¡± scientists (not to say there aren¡¯t any now) but they were much more prevalent then than now. Of course, this goes further back to dualism and its impact on Christian theologies down through history. It has been with us so long we don¡¯t even question the validity of dualism and how debilitating it is.


Left brain is also very dualistic. It does not like both and. There is no room for both and. It naturally judges, divides, keeps drawing lines and separating things out. This leads to disciplines, both in strengths and limitations, that are parochial in perspective, digs deeper, and requires expertise. The development of ¡°systematic theology¡± is one such example. It has helped to push and pave the way to think deeper while at the same time lacking in thinking holistically.


The university tradition owes its existence to Christian scholars and theologians in its early days. To be specific, it is the monastic orders that proliferated not only the existence but also speedy development of university traditions in the late Medieval and early modern history. It eventually became a global phenomenon, engulfing the entire world in its lure and need for university traditions. The university as a model or a vehicle continues to this day as an integral feature of human development and betterment. However, the content of the university traditions was not spared by the onslaught of left brain dominated approach. Disciplines began to split and further split over time to a point where average students would not be able to put things back together to become more inter-disciplinary minded, connecting dots and thinking holistically.


If the university tradition stood no chance, missions showed no resistance. In fact, it didn¡¯t even know to put up a good fight. The current missions effort is solidly on modernistic ground which means it is naturally blinded to unhelpful dualism and left brained favored approaches. One of the first things we need to recover is awaken the right brain and furthermore utilize both right and left brains. I am certainly not in favor of using just the right brain to the exclusion of the left. There is a place for both. Einstein supposedly said the following. ¡°The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.¡±[5]


What does utilizing both right and left brain in missions look like? First, we need to become less dualistic. This leads to acceptance of mystery. Acceptance of mystery leads to humility. What if we were to approach missions efforts with less prescriptions but more descriptions? More and more I realize the account of early Christward movement captured in the Book of Acts written by Luke about the early church is not necessarily prescription for later generations to copy and follow but more in the spirit of description. This not only assumes there is humility but also grants an incredible level of freedom for us, all in the context of God¡¯s provisions and handiworks.


Learning to access and trust our intuitions which is primarily a right brain activity needs to be exercised. Creativity is also huge. Innovation spark happens in the context of connecting disparate dots. Missions cannot and will not advance by following simple or complicated methodical or prescribed way of engagement, but requires a great deal of creativity and innovation. How do we begin to unleash creativity and innovation? That is such an important question we need to wrestle with this day![6] Fundamentally, I would suggest that we view missions not as a task to be completed but as joining God to love the world as He does. I know this will fundamentally shake up missions in its roots.


Spiritual and Religious

That was a longwinded introduction! Let me switch gears. The label of ¡°Christianity¡± has pushed us as far as we could go. Generally speaking, the name, Christianity, was more favorable in the generations past than now. At present it is riddled with all kinds of misgivings whether we intend or not. There are more people today around the world who identify as being spiritual (genuinely) without being religious (without being Christians and/or joining churches). Our focus cannot be to reclaim Christianity and rescue the name and the brand of Christianity. Our mission focus instead has to be on Jesus and the kingdom. What this means is that if it means that the name of Jesus would be elevated by downplaying or even disassociating Christianity from Jesus and the kingdom, we have to be willing to embrace this. This will be an extremely perilous road ahead knowing that we all have so much to lose by letting the brand of Christianity go. Our natural predispostion would be to defend Christianity even to the detriment of losing sight of the real thing, Jesus and the Kingdom. While I am sympathetic with such defensive mindset and I have ¡°played defense¡±, we must seek God¡¯s kingdom and His righteousness first. Jesus did not establish the religion of Christianity.


To be sure, we also see people who are extremely spiritual and religious (Christians) at the same time. We rejoice over this and do not want to squelch this at all. Thus, it cannot be a one size fits all approach. Also, to be fair, we also have people who are religious (Christians) but not spiritual. They are merely going through the motions of being cultural Christians but there is no deep meaning or attachment as spiritually active Christians.


Can one be a follower of Jesus and the Kingdom without being labeled as Christians? Absolutely yes. The evidences are right there in the New Testament. How Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and how Jesus ¡°allows her to come to Him¡± without disassociating with her cultural and religious identity as a Samaritan must have blown the disciples mind at the time. And it still blows our mind to this day. What happened in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council decisively broke traditional understanding of people ¡°coming into the kingdom¡± by converting or adhering to Judaism. It was the best news the Gentiles could hope for that they did not have to become like Jews to enter into the kingdom. And they could remain who they are and to be in the kingdom and follow Jesus. Fast forward to the Reformation. One did not have to be Latin, trapped in Roman Catholicism, to follow Jesus. It swung the doors wide open for ¡°gentiles¡± to enter into the kingdom.[7]


Movements to Jesus and ¡°Alongsider¡± (or as fellow pilgrims) Missiology

The assertion above leads to the conversation about movements to Jesus. Right off the bat, it is movements as in plural, not one movement. This is critical, because nobody is prescribing what a movement should look like. It allows socio cultural contexts to play and shape their own movements—movements to Jesus. I see three things happening here. One is that Jesus will affirm what is already good and redemptive in every culture. God left His divine imprints and clues in every culture to seek and find Him. Secondly, Jesus will challenge facets or features of cultures that will need to be transformed. They may be downright evil and contrary to Jesus, His teachings, and Kingdom values. They simply need to be transformed. And lastly, there will be cultural features that will remain because they are neutral to begin with. It neither contradicts or affirms Jesus and the kingdom values.


The important thing here is that the kingdom is perpetually expressed and valued, thus fulfilling the Lord¡¯s Prayer in God¡¯s kingdom coming and God¡¯s will being done in all the earth now.


As alongsiders or fellow pilgrims, nobody from the ¡°outside¡± is dictating these transformational changes to take place. The fellow pilgrims can assist, help, coach, and ask questions. But they need to move away from the limelight of making decisions as outsiders. In this case, it is truly as ¡°partners and participants¡± not as ¡°parents.¡± If we as outsiders have to give input, we are giving input by qualifying and highlighting our contexts and coyly downplaying our wisdom in cultures that are not our own. This puts ultimate decision solely on the people who are ¡°inside¡± the movements.


Grassroots Movements

This section is the focal point of this paper. I will attempt to synthesize earlier points together in this section. What do the concepts like ¡°living on the edge of the inside¡±[8], ¡°voices of marginality¡±[9], ¡°the periphery of the ecclesiastical structures of the day¡±[10], and ¡°orbiting the giant hairball¡±[11] have in common? They are all talking about movements starting from not where the center of power resides (where the mass resides), but from the edges, margins, peripheries, and in our case, from the grassroots. The healthy tension is that we dare not cut ourselves from the ¡°center¡±, because then we lose credibility and thus influence. We maintain our relationship with the center as much as possible, but our eyes are fixated on the edges of the Kingdom.

We know that ¡°Christian¡± sect, an obscure sect of Judaism, started out as a marginal grassroots movement in Jesus and Paul¡¯s day. It was mostly of the poor and despised and for the poor and despised. The Constantinian edict, so called ¡°Edict of Milan¡± in 313 AD changed everything in that Christianity went from being in lowly catacombs to shiny cathedrals when comparing the late 1st century to the beginning of the 4th century.[12] It went from powerless to powerful, despised to classy, and grassroots to mainstream. Ever since then, Christianity has been associated with power and privilege that continue to steam roll other peoples and cultures from the high seat, forcing everyone to conform or even pay the consequences. The good news, though, is that Christianity spread largely not because of the high church but because of grassroots movements that came from the peripheries, margins, and edges. The cycle of decay, renewal, and flourishing, which Latourette outlines in his outstanding volumes, is one helpful grid to observe how God used grassroots movements in the past.[13] In the heart of renewal and flourishing was the major role played by grassroots pioneers and leaders. The single greatest impetus came from what Ralph Winter later coined as sodality movements. From early Medieval times to the beginning of Renaissance, it was a collection of enduring monastic orders—from Celtic monastic movement to the Jesuits—that not only saved the human civilizations but also advanced human civilizations as a whole.[14] One more lesson to ponder before we leave this paragraph. Notice over and over again, the flourishing stage didn¡¯t last forever and always led to the decay stage. I would point out that gradual transition from flourishing to decay involves a movement from grassroots to mainstream. At the heart level, the decaying process almost always involved mixed or impure ego saving and expanding motives whether they were political or economical.

One slight digressive comment here. One key factor where we reside (whether in the center or in the periphery) is largely dependent on the funding model. This is extremely sensitive, because one¡¯s livelihood is at stake and it affects everyone, from those who maintain ¡°center¡± of power to those who need to make a living as radicals and marginals. Based on my experience, for those of us who are on the edges need at the very least sympathetic donors who would support the activities at the edges. The donors do not have to understand everything on the edges but they have to be willing to support untested emerging grassroots movements especially when things are not clear and comfortable. One of the characteristics of grassroots movement phenomena is that it is difficult to qualify and explain what is happening as things are happening and one never knows whether it will even succeed or not. Grassroots effort, before it turns into a movement, is often risky, unclear, and challenging to the status quo. If the source or sources of funding starts dictating from the ¡°center¡± of power what needs to take place on the edges, it surely will stymie the advancement at the edges. A funding model (or models) that would allow us to continue to ¡°live on the edges¡± and fan the flame of the grassroots movements and not get sucked into the ¡°center¡± vortex will be critical for the survival of Korean missions.

Listen to Andrew Walls. I resonate with the phrase, ¡°fortunate subversion of the Church.¡±[15]

The voluntary society arose because none of the classical patterns of Church government, whether Episcopal, Presbyterian, congregational, or connexional, had any machinery (in their late-eighteenth century form anyway) to do the tasks for which missionary societies came into being. By its very success, the voluntary society subverted all the classical forms of Church government, while fitting comfortably into none of them . . . . From age to age it becomes necessary to use new means for the proclamation of the Gospel beyond the structures which unduly localize it. Some have taken the word ¡°sodality¡± beyond its special usage in Catholic practice to stand for all such ¡°use of means¡± by which groups voluntarily constituted labour together for specific Gospel purposes. The voluntary societies have been as revolutionary in their effect as ever the monasteries were in their sphere. The sodalities we now need may prove equally disturbing.

There never was a theology of the voluntary society. The voluntary society is one of God's theological jokes, whereby he makes tender mockery of his people when they take themselves too seriously. The men of high theological and ecclesiastical principle were often the enemies of the missionary movement.

How willing are we to be ¡°revolutionary¡±, ¡°equally disturbing¡± and be ¡°subversive?¡± Do we also catch Walls¡¯ phrases, ¡°he [God] makes tender mockery of his people when they take themselves too seriously¡± and ¡°the men of high theological and ecclesiastical principle were often the enemies of the missionary movement?¡° It is what I have been referring as the ¡°center¡± of power. If it is true (and I believe it is) that God used ¡°subverting¡± structures in the past to correct, grow, mature, and expand the Church of its day, then we need structures that would not only support but also to propel the grassroots movements forward. One word of caution here. The tricky thing is that we cannot start out with structures and create movements. Structures are there to serve and reinforce movements. Movements naturally organized themselves into effective and ineffective structures thus either propelling movements forward or killing movements that started.

Tension between being apostolic/prophetic and incarnational

One notable strong characteristic of grassroots movements is that it will ultimately challenge the status quo and to break rules or traditions of old. Depending on which side you are on, it can either be freeing or disruptive. Grassroots if and when they gain enough momentum will undoubtedly upset a strongly guarded set of principles and rules. Causing holy ¡°disruption¡± generally resides in apostolic and prophetic gifts. That¡¯s what apostles and prophets do. They cannot not do who they are not. At the same time, effective apostles and prophets who have upset the status quo in the past are also the ones that embraced and practiced living incarnationally. They knew the rules well enough to honor and knew how to break rules with honor and respect. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Orders, is one great example. He chose to stay within the Catholic Church tradition, but decided not to be ordained as a priest but remain as a ¡°lay¡± person.[16] Over time he brought changes from both within and without. He knew how to push the edges and knew how to honor the mainstream system. This is the active tension of apostolic/prophetic gifts and incarnational calling.

Another key notable characteristic of grassroots movements is the importance of orthopraxy over orthodoxy. Francis attracted followers not because of his teachings or doctrines or beliefs but precisely because of his life as an example. Ideas, doctrines, and good thinking don¡¯t necessarily change people¡¯s lives. They can aid or help explain things afterward. What propels and promulgates grassroots into movements is changed lives. We see this clearly in Jesus¡¯ teaching of how the Kingdom works. Biblical definition of repentance is about changing our lives. We have put too much emphasis on orthodoxy and our attachment to it. We¡¯ve taught ourselves and our children to vigilantly guard orthodoxy. Our ¡°going to heaven¡± is dependent upon it. There is a place for orthodoxy but when it is coupled with orthopraxy. I emphasize orthopraxy mainly because I feel that we are unhealthily focused too much on maintaining orthodoxy to our detriment.

When we study the teachings of Jesus on the Kingdom of God and how Jesus Himself lived, what gets communicated over and over again is the emphatic fact that the Kingdom living is righteous living. Of course, we can¡¯t live righteously unless we focus on following Jesus and His teachings. Thus, righteous living is simply following Jesus and His ways. The orthopraxy that Jesus prescribed for all saints how to live righteously is encapsulated and summarized in the Great Commandment—love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

Concluding Thoughts

As we considered the topics of complexity, missions as left brained favored orientation, people being spiritual whether in the context of being religious or not, and lastly the grassroots movements, a few unnecessary auxiliary items eventually will dissolve away. What we are left with are essentially the matter of the gospel and what and how we co-labor with God to expand the Kingdom. In order for us to keep pursuing and expanding the gospel, we first need to recognize what we are blinded by. This process of recognition and ownership requires bold, honest, and courageous steps. It will force us whether we are really defending the purity of the gospel or something else. If and when it is something else, then may God grant us courage to discard them over and over again. This is orthopraxy and orthodoxy at its best.

I believe the Lord¡¯s Prayer—especially the initial stanzas of God¡¯s kingdom coming and God¡¯s will being done here on this earth—is the reason why we do and obey the Great Commission. In other words, we make disciples of all the nations so that God¡¯s kingdom and God¡¯s will be done here on this earth now. And how we carry out the Great Commission is through by obeying and living out the Great Commandment. We make disciples who would love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and love their neighbors as themselves. Love is the ultimate trait of Jesus¡¯ disciples because the end destination of disciples¡¯ journey is to become love as God is love. Love is loving everything God loves.






[1] Edward De Bono, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970.

[2] Frederik Buechner, The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days, Harper San Francisco, 1991.

[3] David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, ¡°A Leader¡¯s Framework for Decision Making¡±, Harvard Business Review, November 2007. http://www.mpiweb.org/CMS/uploadedFiles/Article%20for%20Marketing%20-%20Mary%20Boone.pdf


[4] This quote from an article I wrote for Mission Korea publication in 2012.

[5] For more on this topic. I¡¯d recommend Iain McGilchrist¡¯s book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, 2012.

[6] I wrote an article in the International Journal of Frontier Missiology in 2010 on this topic. For more information, you can access it at http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/27_2_PDFs/27_2%20Kim.pdf.

[7] I published an article titled Another Reformation on the Horizon in the International Journal of Frontier Missions in 2006 on this topic. For more information. You can go to: http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/23_1_PDFs/17-19%20Chong%20Kim.pdf.

[8] The concept of ¡°living on the edge of the inside¡± is weaved throughout the book, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr.

[9] The ¡°Voices of marginality¡± is featured in the book, Chapter Three: Blessed are the History-Makers in Hope Within History by Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann writes, ¡°My thesis, thus, is that Jeremiah as a voice of marginality is a history-maker in the sense that the kings could not be, though he stands outside the time-line and outside every headline.¡±

[10] The ¡°periphery of the ecclesiastical structures of the day¡± is one of the summary principles of the book, The Historical Development of the Christian Movement by Paul E. Pierson.

[11] ¡°Orbiting the Giant Hairball¡± is the name of the book with its subtitle of A Corporate Fool¡¯s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon Mackenzie.

[12] It is worth noting that according to Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, ¡°Constantine¡¯s conversion would better be seen as a response to the massive exponential wave in progress, not as its cause.¡± He argues that Christianity grew from 1,000 believers in 40 AD to 7,530 in 100 AD to 6,299832 in 300 AD (claiming a little over 10 percent of the total Roman Empire population. This is a growth rate of 40 percent per decade. This means that in 350 AD, the number of believers would have been 33,882,008. Thus his assertion of Constantine was in fact responding to the growth of Christians holds, one might say. Even then, my point of early Christian sect movement being a marginal grassroots movement that turned into a mainstream force along with its political backing still stands.

[13] Kenneth Scott Latourette based on his A History of Christianity (volumes 1 and 2) has his epochs divided into first 500 years, 500 to 950, 950 to 1350, 1350 to 1500, 1500 to 1750, 1750 to 1815, 1815 to 1914, 1914 to 1945.

[14] Richard Fletcher¡¯s book, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity captures this well.

[15] This phrase is part of the chapter (18) titled as Missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church of the book, The Missionary Movement in Christian History by Andrew F. Walls.

[16] He often considered himself and other Franciscan brothers as ¡°little brothers¡± within the Catholic tradition as in Order of Friars Minor. He was later ordained as a deacon. 

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