Tim Keller traveled to Seoul for some special events and I went with him. It’s my job. I love my job.
Three things to know:
- Redeemer City to City helps start churches in global cities, and City to City Korea helps start churches in Korea.
- City to City Korea hosted these events.
- Korean hospitality is real. I seriously didn’t pay for a thing. All my meals were covered. City to City Korea gave me a hoodie, a fancy pen, and a Hangul stamp with my name on it so I can stamp things back at my desk.
On our first night in Seoul was a welcome dinner for traveling guests.
One of the pastors there, a CTC Korea board member, spoke of how reading a Tim Keller book introduced him to the gospel (the message of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection as the way to be right with God and foundational for personal change) in a new way, how he didn’t need to earn God’s favor, and how he’s not focused on growing a big tree (his church) anymore, but growing a big forest (a bunch of churches that aren’t even his).
I help churches start new churches in cities for a living and I’ve never heard it put like that. We talk about 200–300 being an ideal size for a church to start thinking of starting another one. But after that, growing bigger is just what happens right? I go to a church in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that’s at 400 people and I’m thinking, “Why did we stop growing?! Let’s get HUUUUUGGEEE.”
So, theoretically, I believe that churches should be around 300 and then BOOM new church—but in practice I want my church to have 3,000 people, a gospel choir and a rock climbing gym.
But Korea has many churches like that (well, not the rock climbing) and they have been growing over the last 40 years. Now a group of these megachurches is going to try doing things a little differently.
New churches. Smaller churches. Many churches. Churches for the city and not being an actual city themselves.
The first event we attended was a book concert for the release of the Korean translation of Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.
I have never been to a book concert. It was exactly like I imagined: 5,000 people in an pro volleyball/Buddhist university arena reading a book together with a cinematic score as background music and a Gandalf-like disembodied voice reading aloud to keep everyone on track. Nonfiction has never been so exciting. Amazon should do book concerts.
Tim Keller spoke about suffering, how different belief systems deal with it and how Christians find meaning in it. There was also a panel of experts in suffering, including a North Korean defector and a comedian who lost her husband.
Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a must read, but please don’t go and buy a copy for your friend who is currently going through a tough time. It’s a good read during non-suffering times to help when those suffering times come. Because they will.
We were able to interview a couple of twenty-somethings after the event because it was raining pretty hard and the options were either be interviewed by some Americans or get drenched. If you’re ever interviewing Koreans after a Tim Keller event, the question that will get you the best results is, “What message do you have for Tim Keller?”
The second event we attended was a conference about the book Center Church for people in full time ministry and those who dedicate a lot of their free time to the church.
Tim Keller and leaders from City to City Korea spoke about the concepts introduced in Center Church: Gospel (mentioned above), City (how the world increasingly lives in cities and cities are a key to human flourishing), and Movement (starting new churches and nonprofits that are changed by the gospel and work to see the flourishing of the city).
This event was a little different than I had imagined. First, it was in a megachurch that was kind of like its own little city. They had a cafe that served me multiple lattes (jet lag hellooo) AND a cafeteria for after church lunches. They had a 7 level parking garage under the complex. They had a seminary. They had a 7 story Jesus mosaic. They had a 7 tier pipe organ. That’s not true. I just wanted 777 which is a super holy number, apparently (and the pipe organ was massive). They picked this venue for the event for two reasons: 1) it can hold 1,200 pastors for three days and 2) you can keep your shoes on.
We interviewed a bunch of attendees, but my favorite was a church planter who started a church made up of primarily minimum wage workers.
Our translator and friend Sam told me that church planting in Korea is suicide because new churches just can’t compete with the resources of a megachurch. So you’d have to be super crazy to start a church for the poor. What kind of crazy person would start a church for people don’t have disposable incomes to help pay for rock climbing?
This church planter had experienced bankruptcy years before, and the gospel tells him that his identity is not in financial or even church success, he’s already beloved by God. He’s got nothing to lose!
So this guy started a church by listening to people. He hangs a banner in the space where this church meets that says “We’re here to listen.” What a great motto for a church. We’re just here to hear. Love it. Hey Trinity Grace Church Park Slope we should steal that.
The last day of the conference I had to fly out to Tokyo to make it to a meeting of church planters. I went from a conference of 1,200 to a room of 30 people who were thinking about what church planting in Japan will look like over the next 10 years. The largest church represented in that room has 150 attendees every Sunday and there are 2,400 churches total in this city of 13 million. That’s not a lot.
I told a friend at this meeting, “Imagine if Tokyo had a conference of 1,200 church leaders? Wouldn’t that be great?!”
But through my experiences in both Seoul and Tokyo, I know that things will look different.
Both places desire forests of churches to grow in these cities. In Seoul that might look like megachurches working together to create new smaller churches. In Tokyo that might look like churches of 30–75 working together to create more churches of 30–75 people.
In Seoul, Tokyo, and cities around the world there are groups of people who are gathering together to be for the city and not to create their own separate city, and they’re there to listen. That’s really what starting new churches means. And that’s my job: to help that happen. I love my job.
Tim Cox is the Director of Marketing and Communications at CTC. He manages web, social, email, and technology.
His work in recruiting and web marketing for three Christian universities prepared him for this role. His degree in music did not.
Tim and his wife Karen live in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their four cats.
Follow him on Twitter at @TimnCox.
Cover image by Jake Gee.