Faith without coffee shops

On quiet afternoons over the past summer, I found myself in coffee shops doing work. I love the atmosphere. I love the smell. I love coffee. Coffee shops are inspirational places to do work. Glancing around my immediate surroundings, I noticed two middle aged women sitting across my seat. They had their own bibles open and were intensely discussing a particular passage. Their conversation sparked fond memories of college when I would often go to coffee shops and met with my peers to explore how we can live more faithfully in this world. The conversations were sometimes encouraging, inspiring, or even heated. In all, I liked these coffee shops because they created friendly environments or open environments for us to talk about our struggles and our faith.


I know for a fact that I will miss these coffee shops when I start my ministry in rural areas. And I started to wonder, where would I meet with people in rural areas? Where can I find a place that provides a friendly and/or open environment? However, as I thought about this more, this turned out to be a foolish question.

It is not that rural areas are lacking in meeting places. There are plenty of popular local diners in the area that people meet, eat, talk, and fellowship. But, beyond that there are more meaningful places that pastors could meet people to have deeper and rich conversation about our faith in God. In other words, pastors could meet their parishioners in a more effective and more relevant place, a place where we can explore more about faith. That relevant place is the mission field.

Rural areas may not have the most convenient places, which offer open and inviting spaces, but it does have places such as food pantry, community garden, retirement home, or other volunteer-based agencies. For example, meeting people in a food pantry to explore more about our faith may lead to more fruitful and enriching conversations. Serving others while we try to address our own issues and thoughts can enable us to be more introspective. It can actually force us to ask better questions concerning the things that we are struggling with. For instance, a person struggling with the concept of a loving God can meet with Christian brothers and sisters at a local food pantry to see how God’s love is being shown to those who are hungry: the volunteers and staff are empowered by God’s love to serve the needy. These mission places expose us to the reality of where we are, instead of sitting comfortably in a coffee shop trying to convince ourselves that God loves us.

Meeting with others to talk about God in coffee shops is a luxury. But, when our community does not have such convenient places, we, the rural church, can do something more fruitful: meeting at the mission field. By doing this, we are reacting fittingly around our surroundings, not just seeking out something that we want or desire. It also seems more meaningful to be serving our neighbors while wrestling with our own faith.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


All You Who Are Weary (including the young)

This blog post is a continuation of the previous post discussing of the popular question, “why aren’t we, the rural church, able to attract younger generations?” This question again is the wrong question to ask because it exposes two assumptions that can cause a ministry not to be fruitful: 1) the “young people” we envision in our minds tend to be a part of the perfect, societally accepted, typical young family, and 2) we assume that once the younger generations begin to join and become a part of our church community, we can shift our church work responsibilities onto them, passing the mantle, so to speak.

In the rural church, these seemingly “perfect” young families are, in actuality, unrealistic families. These perfect young families would work from 9 to 5. They would maintain a perfect relationship with one another. They would have perfectly mannered children. Yet, because we focus on searching for and seeking out these unrealistic families, we simply forget the young people who already exist in our congregation and our community. We tend to over look young families who are struggling with managing night shift work schedules and childcare[1], young families who have gone through a messy divorce[2], and young families who are not equipped to show proper love and affection to their children.

The church has lost touch with the reality of its community and the world. Meaning, the church blindly expects to attract these perfect young families. As a result, we have lost our ability to meet the needs of the young people and families who are actually around us. Again, after reframing the question, we can ask ourselves a better question, “how can we, as the church, serve these young families and young people in our community? Are we equipping our young adults so that they can navigate in this world more faithfully?

Once we start thinking about how we, the rural church, can serve young people, we tend to get discouraged because we think we don’t have enough resources to please the young families and young people in our communities. Rural churches typically are not able to provide things that we think young families seek out, such as reliable childcare, an active youth ministry, or exciting praise music. Or, in some cases, rural churches may not be interested in exchanging their traditions for a “contemporary” service. In sum, the rural church may not be able to or may not wish to cater to the generation-specific qualities that we think define young people.

However, one congregational study points out that young families and young people are not seeking a certain type of worship, or a certain type of program. Instead, they are looking for worship experience that is authentic.[3] This gives us, the rural churches, hope. It answers to our question: “how can we serve young families and young people?” We can start serving by providing them with worship experience that is authentic. They desire music that feeds the soul, regardless if it is contemporary or traditional. They desire preaching that teaches and feeds the deep void in our souls. It is not about chasing the latest trends, but having authentic worship.

Image found in

Young people in this time and age are burdened. They have to work to take care of not only their kids, but also their parents. They also have tremendous amount of debt to pay off (e.g. debt from their own higher education, their children’s education, or medical care for their parents). They are sandwiched. They are stretched in every possible direction. They do not desire to be in a position to ‘carry the mantle of the church’ or ‘be the workhorse of the church’. Only by being aware of the realities around its community can the church change its approach when it comes to young families and young people.

If churches can step back and truly understand their relationship to the community, they will be able to reach and serve the “young generations” that they seek to include. The churches’ responsibility is to react fittingly to its surrounding. For instance, as mentioned before, the churches can serve the young people and young families by preparing authentic worship services that properly feed their hunger, as well as their spiritual and emotional needs. This is the first step that we can take to serve the young people and to witness to the younger generations. There are more creative ways that the rural churches can minister for the young people. But, we have to remember: these young families and people are not our “ideal” young families or young people, and we have to remember to serve them, not them serving us.

Let’s create a serving ministry, an equipping ministry, a ministry where we can say to the young people in our church what Jesus said to his followers, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

[1] As the rural places lose employers, most people living in the rural areas have no choice but to commute to nearby cities to work second or third shifts.

[2] It has been recorded that the South struggles with having a higher divorce rate. You can find the article:

[3] This research can be found in the article:

Technical Difficulties Part 1

I am sorry to bother you with all these emails. I ran into serious issues when I lost the application that handled the email list serve for this blog. I have found another application (hopefully more reliable). Because I lost the email list, I have added everyone back to the new application. I hope you don’t mind.


I promise to put up more contents as soon as possible, and I encourage you to email me if you have something to share!
I apologize for any inconveniences!

James Kim

Invisible Ministry

Many older congregations across rural North Carolina ask themselves the same question: how can we bring younger generations in to our church?

The question itself is the wrong question to ask. Before even talking about “bringing young people”, the church must ask itself how it is witnessing God. And the church typically responds that it is witnessing God through serving the community through various outreach events.

But, these outreach events, designed to reach out to the community, tend to become “self-service outreach events.” The outreach events actually become “insular” – catering to the people who are like us. Ultimately, we suffer from the limits of our own expectations.

While we are limited to our own expectations, I think we can develop outreach ideas by observing and understanding what is happening in our community. We have to follow Karl Barth’s slogan: Christians should always have the bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Specifically in these times in North Carolina, the church can do something about the rising number of hungry children and the limitation of the public education.

Today, North Carolina is in a heated debate concerning teacher’s salary. Yet, just raising the salary of the teachers will not alone improve children’s performance in the classroom. Teachers need more than just a salary increase. In North Carolina alone, roughly 28 percent of children struggle with hunger.[1] Hunger easily creates a toxic learning environment. Teachers need help filling the needs of the impoverished kids who are struggling with just surviving life.[2]

One of the ways that rural churches can witness God in this situation is by sponsoring a backpack ministry for a local school. A backpack ministry provides a needy child with a backpack filled with food each Friday that will help them cover one weekend. Another way for the rural church to witness is by sponsoring a school. The church can assist a school in buying the school supplies that the school needs in order to have a somewhat functioning classroom. The church also can provide volunteers to assist teachers and their students, in order that children may have a more effective learning environment.


I refer to these ministries as invisible ministries. By invisible ministries, I mean that these are thankless ministries. All the work is done behind the scenes. However, to me, these invisible ministries speak volumes. In fact, these ministries are prophetic in North Carolina. Instead of just expressing our opinion on Facebook or Twitter, we are putting our convictions into action. We are reaching out to the hungry. We are letting the children to taste and see the reality of the coming Kingdom of God.

The focal point is not to gain a lot of members through these local ministries. No, the important thing is that the church serves the community, and serves in a way that glorifies God. By serving rightly, the church becomes the church that the world needs, not what it wants. In other words, by serving in these invisible ministries, we, the servers, are learning what it means to serve God. Through this service, we ourselves unknowingly come to love Jesus more. By loving more, our eyes and our hearts open up so that the Spirit can move us to bring the people in need to the church.

When we serve, it is not just about achieving something in the name of the Lord, but it is about being closer to God. We are God’s servants. By serving, we are witnessing to God. By witnessing to God, we are unleashing the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that captured the attention of Israelites from the nations around Jerusalem (Acts 2).

We can’t just attract people to our churches on our own strength. Well, we can, but I do not believe that is not how we should grow. Instead, we can witness God through these invisible ministries. Through these invisible ministries, we are then able to unleash the Holy Spirit. And by unleashing the Spirit, we, the servers and the receivers, taste and see the goodness of Jesus Christ. Through tasting the sweetness and the goodness of Jesus Christ, we are then captivated to accept His invitation to the table to “come and see.”

We can’t just sit and ponder why the “younger generations” are not coming to our churches. We just don’t have time for that. Instead, we have to witness Jesus Christ to others by serving the broken world around us. And by witnessing and serving in invisible ways, we are unleashing the Holy Spirit to those who we serve. In other words, by serving rightly, we are letting God move powerfully in their lives.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

[1] Statistic from

[2] Moreover, by reaching out to children in rural schools, churches can reach the “younger generations” that they seem to lack.


A Glimpse


For those who have never experienced or watch a loved one go through cancer treatment, it’s a difficult concept to grasp.

Cancer will kill you. And yet, the most pervasive treatment for cancer, chemotherapy, can also kill you.[1] It works by targeting and killing cancerous cells in the body, but at the same time, the treatment also “accidentally” attacks healthy parts of the body. It is a treatment that is toxic to the body and it comes with a deluge of painful side effects.

Fatigue. Constant aches. Grogginess. Sleepless nights.  Nightmares. Simultaneously feeling hungry and nauseatingly sick of food.

These side effects last for a week or more, as the body tries to recover from the onslaught of drugs it has taken in.

The concept of chemotherapy is strange one: destroy parts of your body to a point so that it can recover itself cancer-free. This treatment concept seems counterintuitive, yet I believe it can help us understand the workings of our own resurrection in Christ.

Many of us question the concept of resurrection. Why do we have to die in order to have a new body? Why is death involved?

We cannot completely answer the mystery, but we get a glimpse of the mystery of the resurrection by looking at how modern medicine relies on our bodies: nearly killing a person so that the person can recover cancer-free. Through the near-death experience, we hope to be healthier and better.


In the process of being resurrected in Christ, we must kill or reject of ourselves, parts that are obviously bad, as well as parts that seem good. The process may feel painful or fruitless. It may feel much worse to go through the process of rejecting our sinful ways rather than going on living in ignorance of our diseased and dying bodies.

But do not forget that cancer and sin alike, no matter how much we try to avoid the pain and consequences, will slowly shut down our bodies and souls. Only when we are willing to let go of it all, when we are ready to place our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, can we be rebuilt and restored into good health. And that, is the beautiful part; in Christ, we are strong enough to grow and become more like our resurrected selves.

Being resurrected through death is a counterintuitive concept, but at the same time it makes sense. We see a glimpse of this mystery through painful chemotherapy treatments. The medicine places its hope in this concept of nearly killing a person so that the person could get better and healthier.

However,  sometimes, people lose their battle from the difficult chemotherapy treatments, and  people struggle to recover completely from the side effects. While our “pseudo” method of resurrection does not guarantee full recovery, we believe that our resurrection in Christ will certainly lead us to a new perfect body. We believe that we will truly be delivered from sin in our resurrected bodies, which frees us from pain and suffering that is present in this broken world.

- James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Church is the mission


The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

These were the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he ascended into Heaven. And in this statement, we, as the church, are tasked with being the witnesses of Jesus Christ as the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.

The church exists because Jesus Christ commanded it, and the church exists because God has a mission, which is revealed through Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ told us that we, with the Holy Spirit, will witness Him through all the ends of the earth. This mission from God can be found in a powerful narrative, where we learn that God rescued the lost and the broken world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The church and its mission are completely part of God. According to Richard Hays, the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purpose for the world.[1] The church is an extension of God’s mission – nothing less and nothing more.

If this is the case, then the mission of the church is not something that the church does in order to show the world, nor is the mission some sort of checklist in order to win an accolade or recognition. Instead, the mission is like the account of Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit arrests an audience’s attention and makes them receptive to hearing the Gospel. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian martyr, suggests, Christianity is not primarily about a person’s own concerns, interests, or mission. Rather, it is about being caught up, swooped up, in the way of Jesus Christ.

The church serves because God empowers us to serve. The church reaches out to the needy and the poor because God exposes us to feel the pain of the poor and the hungry. We do not serve others in order to somehow“win them” to Christ  through our own actions, but because God taught us to serve through His perfect Love. God is the primary actor who moves us so that we can become the church, which is the mission.

This concept of mission is somewhat different from what we may think of as missions. But, thinking of the church as the mission may be more fruitful for the rural church. Instead of focusing on what the church should do, the church can focus on witnessing Jesus Christ, which is the mission that we are already tasked to do. In what ways are we witnessing Jesus Christ to the world? In what ways are we led by the Spirit? Are we witnessing Christ?

We, as ministers, must leave some sort of room for the Holy Spirit to lead us to be the church. We, as ministers and leaders of the rural churches, have to be patient. We have to fervently wait so God can transform us and move us without us knowing how!

The number of different mission committees a church decides to form does not define the church doing missions. Instead, the church is the mission. The mission that invites everyone to experience God’s saving love, which empowers us to participate and witness the Truth and Everlasting Love.

- James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] Richard Hays. The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

As a chapter ends, a new one begins

Graduating Rural Fellows! Missing Nate and Adam.

Graduating Rural Fellows with Director Brad Thie! Missing Nate and Adam.

Last week, we celebrated the rural fellow graduates. We celebrated the achievements of finishing their degrees. But more importantly, we celebrated their calling, a calling to serve in rural places using their gifts.

For many, entering into ministry is not attractive. Entering into the “dwindling” rural ministry is even more unattractive.

Yet, somehow, we are drawn to rural areas. No matter how we articulate our calling, we are convicted that we should serve those rural people whom the church tends to neglect because of their perceived arrogance, indifference, and lack of “worldly” experience.

While others flee the sinking ship, we take a deep breath and stay on board hoping that we can stabilize the ship. While many people escape the burning building, we take courage and go in to put out the fire. Will we succeed—who knows? Is it our place to determine success? How can we say we have succeeded in God’s ministry if the ministry belongs to God? All we can do is to proclaim that we are humbly led to serve the rural churches with our best of our abilities.

We hold onto our faith like Moses. Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land for 40 years but he himself did not reach the Promise Land. Even the great prophet could not set his feet on the Promise Land, but still, he did not blame God. Moses understood that he was a servant of God doing God’s ministry. Being the servant of God was more important to him than achieving something for God’s ministry. Likewise, we celebrate with the graduates that calling, the calling to be the servant of God.

A new chapter begins not only for lives of the graduated fellows, but also for the Thriving Rural Community. A new chapter begins for the current rural fellows as well. We are forming our calling so that it is fitting to the theme of this book that is in the making, a book that tells a narrative of serving the rural ministry, a ministry that we all hold precious.

The Rural Fellows graduating this year ends one chapter of that book. May God bless their humble hearts. May God give them the strength to do His work in the rural areas. Lift high the cross! So that the love of Christ proclaim! May God bless you and keep you. May he make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May he lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Happy belated Easter!

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?”
“Where, O death, is your sting?”[1]

Happy belated Easter! We worship our Lord because He has risen from the dead and He has won the victory over death. But what does it mean that Jesus has overcome death? And what does it mean that death lost its sting?

Here, William F. May[2] helps us to articulate this powerful event. May suggests that we are terrified by death because death threatens to separate humankind in three ways: separate from its flesh, the community, and relationship with God. When death threatens to separate us from our flesh, it also threatens us with comprehensive loss of possession and control of our universe. Death takes us apart from what we have: our agency. Death also threatens to tear us apart from our community. Death takes away our husbands, wives, fathers, sons, and tears apart loved ones from one another for the rest of their lives. Lastly, death threatens us with separation from God. We are separated from our God, the comforter.


Image from:

However, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead shows us that death can still menace, but it can no longer make good on its threats. Through Jesus’ resurrection, we realize that that our flesh will somehow still exists with us. Jesus did not appear to his disciples with a ghoulishly divested of a body. Instead, he appeared in his complete and perfect form in a body that still resembled something of a flesh. Moreover, we will not be torn apart from our community. Instead, Jesus has shown us that there will be an eternal community filled with righteousness, joy, and peace. Lastly, Jesus has revealed to us through his death and resurrection that neither life, nor death, nor the failure of Christians, will be able to separate humanity from the love of God. Death will not separate us from God.

Thinking about death in these three ways helps us to understand just a part of what it really means for Jesus to take the victory and sting away from death. And, let us not forget to praise and worship Jesus as our Lord, as our Savior, and as our Messiah because he is the one that revealed to us that we should not be afraid of death.

-James Kim
M. Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:54-56.

[2] William F. May, “The Sacral Power of Death in Contemporary Experience.”

Precious Memories

Whenever there is an unusual long and cold winter, the Church tends to lose many of its faithful elderly members. I recently have witnessed a lot of saints leaving this world to rest in peace with God. These unfortunate and sad events have influenced me to reflect about death, the inevitable event that we all have to face at some point in our lives.

The passing of our loved ones brings immense grief for our family members and our church members. When our loved ones pass way, we are in grief because they will be physically missing from our lives. All the joyful times that we have shared with this person seem to disappear and vanish.

In this culture of being obsessed with “right now”, we have to remember that death, where everything ceases to be, is not the greatest evil. Allen Verhey urges us to remember that while death is evil, it is not the greatest evil.

Their absence from this world should bring memories. Memories that were precious. Memories that made us laugh and cry. Those memories are painful, but we have to grapple with these memories so that they become precious memories.

Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfolds.[1]

Certain places, things, colors, smells will remind us of the loved ones we lost. The process of making these reminders into precious memories can be painful and sad, as it requires us to live through them. It brings feelings of bitterness, which are inevitable. And yet, bitterness leads us to forget the precious memories that are hidden within us. Death cannot reverse itself. It is an eternal consequence. Without a doubt, there is pain. Without a doubt, we are never prepared for death.

Precious memories how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness, of the midnight.
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Though they maybe not be with us physically, they are with us spiritually. But what does that mean? Perhaps, the prayers that they have prayed on this earth are still with us. Their prayers help us to hold onto the precious memories. And their prayers shall be with us until we, ourselves, leave this world.

I remember Mother praying
Father too, on bended knee
the sun is sinking, shadows falling
but their prayers still follow me

Memories of our lost loved ones should not be stifled in bitterness, but the memories should be embraced and kept as our most valuable treasure. Even if their presence is absent from this world, their imprint on our lives through their prayers lasts and stays with us until we leave this world.

Precious memories how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness, of the midnight.
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

As we reflect on Good Friday today, we must somehow come to grips with the realization that death is real. Our savior died. It was evil. But, Professor Verhey’s spirit whispers to remind us. He whispers to remind us that death is not the greatest evil…

© Goerg

© Goerg


-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

[1] Precious Memories is a traditional gospel hymn first composed by J.B.F Wright in 1925.

Worship – its significance

As we re-launch this blog, I wanted to start out with one of the basics—worship. Worship is the heart of Christian life for all Christians – pastors, church leaders, and congregation alike. So, I would like to begin where we must all begin our Christian lives.

Worship is significant because it is our purpose in life. In other words, life is a rehearsal for worship within an eschatological perspective. Worship, then, is the universal claim that invites people to unite towards a common destination – not to dissent about where they are coming from. Worship becomes an act that Christians carry out together in order to witness to God’s world.[1] If we frame our understanding of worship in these ways, it helps us to remember that worship empowers us to recognize who we are in the world as Christians. Worship helps us to recognize that we are broken people who are yearning for God, the incarnate Son, and the Great Comforter.

However, in order to worship properly, ministers and leaders are tasked with tremendous amount of background work. First, ministers are to know their congregation in their context. Through developing relationships, ministers unearth the hidden brokenness that was underneath the masks of smiles. Developing relationships leads to trust, which creates space for people to bring their deeper problems and struggles to the Light. In other words, trust enables honest worship, which allows the congregation to properly worship God through having the right posture, the posture of humility and dependence.

In addition to the task of developing relationships, ministers and leaders of the church are also tasked to provide new insights with new languages to describe our broken world so that our worship becomes more faithful. As Dirkie Smit suggests that the worship impacts who we are and how we live. Worship is the primary place where many of us learn to see the world with our Christian eyes.[2] Therefore, worship cannot be a mirror of its culture, but it must be a different place where it provides a counter-narrative rooted in the gospel. Worship cannot reinforce our cultural belief, but worship should give new languages to problems and issues so that the congregation is empowered to see the world with their Christian eyes. And as ministers, we are able to do this task through our preaching. We should take time to deliver the message that speaks the language of the people to help them think more about God. We are to nurture our congregation’s conviction in order that they can live in a pattern of life that they already know are good, but resist.

Cross in the Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

Cross in the Goodson Chapel, Duke Divinity School

However, our preaching should not be sparknotes of right answers to our faith and struggles; instead, our primarily task is for our preaching to point to Christ. By pointing to Christ, the worship leads the congregation to focus on the communion table and remember the last meal. By pointing to Christ, worship leads the congregation to recognize the cross and realize the True Love shown by God through Jesus Christ.[3] By pointing to Christ, we let the Holy Spirit lead us to worship God in a way that transforms our lives so that we are able to live out our Christian journey more faithfully.

Worship is significant because our Christian purpose is to worship. Worship is significant because proper worship points to the Kingship of Christ that empowers us to live out the gospel narrative in the world. Worship is significant because worship transforms us to live our lives more faithfully.

Proper worship does not happen in one day. A proper worship happens when the Holy Spirit leads us into uncomfortable, painful, and fruitful relationships with our congregation, and when the Holy Spirit directs our message to point to Christ. A proper worship is only carried out when God comes into our lives and transforms us so that our lives becomes the worship – the proper worship that pleases God.

- James Kim
M.Div 2015, Rural Fellow

[1] This list is from the article, “Christian Ethics as Informed Prayer”, written by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells.

[2] From the article, “Worship – and civil Society? Perspectives from a Reformed Tradition in South Africa”,written by Dirkie Smit.

[3] From the article,  “Gathering: Worship, Imagination, and Formation”, written by Philip Kenneson.