An Uncomfortable Ministry (Part 1 of 3)

I was both excited and nervous as I unpacked my boxes in the parsonage to begin my first year as a pastor. It had been a busy day with people coming in and out of the house, but after a while I was sitting alone and I looked around my new home trying to decide how I was going to arrange my furniture. As I moved and pushed my furniture about, I felt prompted to look out through the front door to observe the community in which I would be living. I peered out of the window and there was a house diagonally across the street that caught my attention. It was a small white house with an overgrown yard and a large yellow old school bus parked in the gravel driveway. I grew up in a semi-rural area of North Carolina for most of my life, and I was pretty sure that I knew what the yellow bus was all about. However, I did not know that this discovery was going to lead to something that would forever change my life, not only as a pastor, but also as a Christian.

I became curious about the bus across the street, and so I began to observe it. During most days, the bus was gone and would come back to the house around 9:30 or 10:00 at night, and I awoke early to discover that the bus would leave around 5:30 in the morning. Each day, a fairly large group of Hispanic men would get on this bus in the morning, and then return late at night. I knew from my short observance that these men were working very long periods of time, and in the evenings they looked very tired as they got off the bus and slumped into their house for the evening  As I watched this, there was something inside me that troubled me. It was a deep feeling that stirred within the bottom of my soul that convicted me from the core of my bones. Jesus said in the gospels that the greatest commandment is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).”

It so happened that I found myself in a situation where I did not get to choose who my neighbors were, and so I knew that the stirring within my heart and soul was God calling me to go over to that house and speak with these men. This calling that I felt in my heart terrified me, not because I was worried that these men would hurt me, but I was terrified because I had no idea what to say and even if I did, I would not know how to say it because I do not speak any Spanish.

The calling that stirred in my heart persisted, making me uncomfortable and troubling my heart to the point that I could no longer resist. So I called some friends of mine, one who was another pastor and fellow student in seminary from Mexico, Ernesto, and another who was a good friend from my first year of seminary, Cindy. Both of them agreed enthusiastically to come and so I prepared a dinner and my two friends came. We ate our meal and then sat in my living room waiting for the Hispanics to return for the evening.  At about 9:30, I watched as the bus pulled into the driveway and the Hispanic men started spilling out of the bus and they quickly went into the house to settle in for the night.

Having Fellowship with Migrant Workers

Having Fellowship with Migrant Workers

Ernesto, Cindy, and I walked across the street. In some ways it seems that the house of my neighbors was so near, and in other ways it was so far away because I doubt that anyone from my side of the street had ever ventured over to welcome our migrant neighbors. My nerves fluttered like butterflies in my stomach as I knocked on the door. There were two men who answered the door.  They looked confused, and anxious about our presence. I said, “Hello, I live across the street from you and I just wanted to meet you and say hello. “ Ernesto translated for me and they nodded their heads and smiled a little, but it was clear by their expressions that they were still anxious about our being there. I pressed a little further, “Another reason why I wanted to come by is because I know that you work very hard, and I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate the work that you do. Thank you for what you do.”  Ernesto translated again and then they began to loosen up. In fact, they started having a conversation with Ernesto and they started laughing a little. I have no idea what they were talking about, but while they were talking I felt God laying it on my heart to go beyond just greeting them at their doorstep. So I interrupted the conversation and said, “I was wondering if I could serve you lunch one day?”  Ernesto paused and then translated for me. They stared at me for a few seconds as if in some sort of disbelief, and then they nodded their heads. Ernesto gathered some information for me, he told me that there were fourteen migrant workers living in this house, that they were all from different parts of Mexico, and that they come home earlier on Sundays. I asked if I could serve them lunch the following Sunday, which was only a few days away, and they nodded their heads and told me that they would be home by three o’clock.

After agreeing to be there at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, I felt the panic sink in because I had just promised to serve lunch to fourteen people, and I did not want to bring Stouffer’s or sandwiches over. The microwave and spreading peanut butter is about the limitations of my cooking, but I knew that I needed to give them something good, something that they would remember. Ernesto gave me a few Hispanic recipes and we went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients. I recognized my need for help so in the following days I made phone calls to different people in the churches I serve, and on that Sunday I preached on mission challenging the congregations by inviting them to be in mission with our Hispanic neighbors. I was blessed to meet very little resistance, and five people showed up at the parsonage after church to help me prepare lunch for the Hispanics. The ladies from the church took over the kitchen and kindly asked me to get out of their way, while I wrote a prayer ending with the Lord’s Prayer.  One of the church volunteers happened to be a Spanish teacher and she graciously translated my prayer into Spanish, along with a few greetings. I literally wrote an entire script for my visit, and the first words were “Hello, I am really sorry but this is the best that I can do with speaking Spanish.”

We boxed the food up and when my neighbors arrived on their bus, two people (one of them was a very enthusiastic and willing youth) helped me carry the food over to the house. We brought it inside, the men gestured us to their kitchen and I sat the food down on their table. I pulled out my script and started reading to them. Some of them laughed a little. But when I invited them to pray with me, all of them bowed their heads and removed their hats. I prayed my prayer asking God to bless them and their families, to protect them, and to sustain them through the days that they toil in the fields. And then when I began praying the Lord’s Prayer I experienced one of the most powerful things that I have ever witnessed because each and every one of these men began to pray with me. In that moment and in that place, we were not Mexicans or Americans, white or Hispanic, privileged or underprivileged, legal or illegal… we were Christians united together in one voice praying the same prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us. We were experiencing a glimpse of the kingdom of God in which “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female,” we were all “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Having fellowship with Migrant Workers

Having fellowship with Migrant Workers

It wasn’t long after that when my neighbors left to return to Mexico. The harvesting season was over, and after the harvest they return home. I wasn’t sure when they would come back, or even if they would come back at all. I prayed for them over the next year, and then summer came. I watched everyday for several weeks waiting anxiously to see if the yellow bus would return. I had also gained an interest in learning more about the lives of my neighbors, so I went on a trip to Mexico to learn about the border and immigration. I walked on migrant trails, met people who had been deported, prayed with people who had been separated from their families, saw the fence, and had lunch with legal and illegal immigrants in the United States. I was moved by my trip and what I had learned. By that point I was worried that my neighbors were not going to return at all. I was praying about this on the flight home, and God placed it on my heart to bring water to my neighbors on a regular basis because Christ said, “whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again (John 4:14).”

And so I returned from the airport, pulled into my driveway and as soon as I stepped out of my car, I noticed that the yellow bus was back. Chills ran down my spine. It was as if God was saying, “Here they are, now what are you going to do about it?”  So, I got back in my car and went to the grocery store to buy them bottled water. I walked over and brought the water to them and I was very nervous, as I had been before.  This time I did not have the luxury of a translator so all I could say was, “Hola! Como Estas? Agua!” which literally translates as “Hello! How are you?  Water!” I felt like an idiot, but my neighbors seemed to appreciate it.

My own idiocy, inadequacy, and helplessness remained a terror for me, but somehow God worked through the struggles of my own shortcomings to bring about a powerful ministry. I consistently brought water to my neighbors, and over time my neighbors became friends. We began spending time together, and our time together developed into a relationship of discipleship building. Our times together gradually progressed into times of Bible study, Holy Communion, and worship. We broke bread together and prayed for one another, we talked, laughed, and we cried. The power of God was moving through us, both when translators and experts were present (by the grace of God), and also when it was me alone having no idea what was going on or being said. The fact is that God was somehow present, even when it seemed that my friends and I had so little in common that we really had little to offer one another, and little common ground to stand upon.  Because of God’s moving Spirit and grace, we became very close friends. I will never forget when one of them said with teary eyes, “People here think that we are bad. But you have shown us that we can have friends and because of that, you have shared the Gospel with us. Thank you!”

I never really thought that I had anything to teach them, and this was never my approach. But I always felt that I had something to learn from these men who had traveled long distances with the hope of helping their families, wives and children, to survive in a place rotting with poverty and starvation. Their scars and pain was much deeper than my own, and I found within those scars and pain an image of Jesus like I have never seen before. Perhaps they were the ones sharing the power of the Gospel with me and I was being transformed alongside my friends who I (with the help of others) shared about the scriptures and the story of God’s love for all of humanity. Their faces and willingness to receive is the story of God’s love and it is people and experiences like this that make the words of scripture come alive in a world that is in need of God’s healing. We can have opinions about immigration and politics, right and wrong, legal and illegal; but let us never forget that as a people of faith we are called to live into kingdom that is intended to be shared with all.

Communion with Migrant Workers

Communion with Migrant Workers

The time came for my friends to leave because the season of the harvest was over once again.  The night before they left, I heard a knock on my front door. It was Salvador, one of my new friends. I let him in and he handed me a book. It was tattered and beaten, and by the title I could tell that it was a book for learning English written in Spanish. Salvador handed me the book and said in broken English, “A gift for you.  I wanted to come and say goodbye. You are our best friend. You are my family, and when you come to Mexico you can stay with me and my family. Thank you friend.”

I did not expect this kind of ministry when I started my appointment as a local pastor of a rural two-point charge in the United Methodist Church. When we are willing and humble enough to listen to and follow the movement of God’s Spirit, God will always lead us to surprising places that bring us to the heart of the Gospel. Jesus said before ascending into heaven, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…I am with you always, even to the very end of the age (Mathew 28:19-20)!” It may seem overly idealistic to carry out a ministry based upon the belief that the kingdom of God belongs to all people, but as a people of faith in Jesus Christ it is an ideal that we place our hope in. Maybe the ideal of Christ’s kingdom belonging to all people is an ideal worth standing for and furthermore, worth staking our lives upon.

-Rev. Brock Meyer
Pastor of Stem-Bullock’s United Methodist Church
Rural Fellow Alum

This article first appeared in


Ferguson and the Rural Church: Moving Forward (Part 3 of 3)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:1-5)

Hauerwas’ reflection on this passage offers helpful insight into our struggle of understanding racism and its implications. He writes, “Jesus has called his disciples not from the elites, but for those without status. Those so called are, like any of us, tempted to turn the gift of discipleship into a status. Status seekers ask, ‘Who is to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ But that question itself is a stumbling block suggesting the need for a status that the kingdom does not invite.”[1]

As disciples of Jesus, we are not called to order ourselves in the church based on our status. The kingdom of heaven that is present on this earth does not call us to set ourselves apart from one another. Status should not exist among Christians, no matter the social expectations. So then why do we, as followers of Christ, try to distinguish ourselves with status? Why then do we justify “moral” status by judging people’s behavior during the fallout of Ferguson?

Photo Credit: Getty Images and Associated Press

Photo Credit: Getty Images and Associated Press

As you may have noticed, this blog series on racism did not seek answers, or solve the problem of racism, or explain the tragedy in Ferguson. Instead, the blog series attempted to ask more questions.

Is it then foolish to explore the issue of racism when there is no clear answer?

I do not think so.

If we put all our efforts into finding the truth, we are blinding ourselves to the truth. If we focus our energy on finding the truth, we will be hurt. We will be hurt because of sin. Sin prevents us from arrive at the truth. Because of sin, we must relentlessly ask questions to redirect our thoughts and our false truths.

It is possible to arrive at the truth by asking the right questions. But, to assume that we can correctly ask the right question from the starting point is ignoring our shortcomings and sin. First, we need to start asking questions so that we can ask the right questions.

Why do we ask questions?

We ask questions instead of coming up with answers because answers over stand the truth. In contrast, asking questions allow us to understand the complexity of the truth. Answers can only lead us to set our minds on one possible way of thinking, but asking questions can lead us to realize that there are difficult and complex issues at hand.

In rural churches, the discussion of racism can move forward by asking questions; moving forward not as moving on from the subject of racism, but moving forward as in digging deeper into the issue by asking the right questions. By asking questions, we are moving forward from our own prejudices and shortcomings….

-James Kim
M. Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Please be on the look out for another 3 part series on the Rural Church and the Outsider: migrant, undocumented, and refugee!


[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew

Ferguson and the Rural Church: Listen (Part 2 of 3)

Here is a terrific piece about Ferguson and the Rural Church written by Allen Stanton:

Rural churches dot the map of North Carolina. Because of our sheer numbers and locations, it is next to impossible to avoid seeing and interacting with some part of the rural church. People see and hear our congregants and our ministers at the grocery store, at town festivals, and at the post office. Because of this, the rural church has the unique opportunity to be a prophetic voice in our towns, in our state, and in our country.

But before we can be a prophetic voice, the church must be able to listen. We must be able to understand and comprehend the lives of the people to whom we offer a prophetic word. We must share in the heartache and suffering of all the diverse members of our community. Increasingly, it seems as if the church doesn’t want to simply listen.

The ability to speak loudly, to speak prophetically, also comes with the ability to overpower other voices. When we choose to ignore the narrative that we don’t see, we do ourselves a disservice, and we render our once prophetic voice invalid. If the people of Israel cried out, and the prophets – Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, even Christ – had simply refused to hear the stories of the people whom they were sent to serve and love, then the scripture we read and the faith we profess would not be a love story, but a tragedy.

Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Consider this: the greatest mark of power is the ability to render someone else’s voice useless – to muffle a protest, and to ignore cries of suffering. When we as the church write off the cries of pain and heartache, we do not write love story of the gospel. When we halt complicated and intense conversations of race and racism by saying, “Wait for all the facts,” or “Don’t play the race card just yet,” we mute the ability of our neighbors to focus our attention. We lose our prophetic voice, because we do not write the hope of the gospel. Instead, we write a tragedy.

The church must sit with the complaints and cries in our communities. We must understand those voices, hear the stories, and sit in the uncomfortable questions that will be asked of us. Before we speak as a prophet, we must sit, listen to, hear, and understand the stories that we have failed to hear.

Prophetic witness starts with hearing the stories of those who mourn. Who are the mourners? Where are their voices? What are they saying? Have we muted them by saying, “Let’s wait for the full story,” as if that particular perspective is not part of the story? When we listen to the people of God as the people of God, we can prevent the world from telling the tragedies of Ferguson, Durham, Nash County, Cedar Grove, and Oxford. Then, and only then, can we begin writing and performing the healing story of our Gospel.

-Allen Stanton
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow

Ferguson and the Rural Church: Starting Point (Part 1 of 3)

“I hope he doesn’t have an accent like the guy in the Chinese restaurant. I don’t understand his accent at all,” a lady commented in a noticeably southern accent before I got up to talk. Needless to say, the blissful ignorance of racism is an unspoken struggle in most rural churches. However, recently, avoiding conversations about race and racism has become rather difficult. Every news channel seems to be constantly mentioning some kind conflict based on the racial or ethnic differences.

In this current situation, how can pastors, in rural areas, begin a constructive discussion of racism? More specifically, how can we, the rural church, discuss the event of Ferguson, Missouri, without choosing sides?

Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty

Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty

In rural churches, conversations can begin by first acknowledging one truth: Jesus Christ has died for all of us, regardless of what they did or who they are. As a result of His death and resurrection, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. A Christian family that Jesus took priority over his own earthly mother and brothers.

Why can’t we first see and realize that everyone is our brother or our sister, regardless of color or social economic status? By being followers of Christ, we must see one another as a brother or as a sister, who are valued more than our earthly brother or sister.

God created us all, and God blessed us all. If God evaluated humankind as good, then why can’t we see each other as good? Why are we so quick to speak hate and evil to others who have different racial or ethnic backgrounds?

If we are able to see others, who are racially or ethnically different, as our brothers and sisters who are clothed in Christ, what can we then do to show that they are our brothers and sisters?


God created us to serve. In Genesis 2:15, God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till [‘ābad] it and keep [šāmar] it.

Ellen F. Davis notes that in Genesis 2:15, the words used to describe the work of humans in the garden are not words derived from the fields of horticulture and agriculture; in fact only rarely are they used to describe the cultivating of land. Instead, they are words that are primarily related to human activity in relationship with God: to serve or work on behalf of or worship (e.g., Exod 9:1, 13). Thus, to serve the land would imply “that we are to see ourselves in a relation of subordination to the land take clear precedence over our own immediate preference.”[1] In addition, the verb šāmar [keep, observe] has a primary reference to keeping the Torah (e.g., Exod. 13:10; 20:6). It’s used in Genesis 2:15 to mean, “to keep the land”, or protect the land, as well as later being used to mean, “to keep the commandments”. Keeping the commandments namely promotes the well being of others and to restrain violence and the misuse of others.[2]

Expanding on Dr. Ellen Davis’ point, when we were created, we can point out that we are to serve not just the land, but also the creatures created by God, including all human beings.

By serving, the Earth comes to order. By serving, the Earth finds peace.

Therefore, oppression is evil because we are misusing our brothers and sisters whom God has created. Also, equally important, oppression is unnatural because humanity is created to serve, not to rule.

Are we able to serve one another as a brother or a sister clothed in Christ? What is holding us back from seeing each other as children of God? Are we able to see one another as God’s creation first before we judge one another by height, weight, race, or clothes?

Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris

Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris

A constructive and honest discussion of racism has to start with the belief that God created humankind and that God saw it as good. A genuine conversation can begin when we grasp the truth that Jesus Christ suffered and died for all humanity – regardless of color, or their social economic status. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we all become brothers and sisters in Christ, not someone who is labeled by clothes, height, weight, or race.

By accepting that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps we are then able to serve all, regardless of what they have done or are doing. Perhaps then, by serving, rural church can start discussing, seeing, and realizing the unnoticeable evil of racism. Perhaps then, by serving, the rural church can see the same humanness that we all share, instead of race or social economic status.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1]Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament commenting on Ellen F. Davis insight found in Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament

[2] Ibid.


Discussing rural ministries with others can easily lead one to romanticize about the ministry. While talking about ministry, one can largely overlook the tremendous time, energy, effort, struggle, and sacrifice needed to do ministry. One of the struggles that we, as pastors and particularly rural pastors, tend to overlook is loneliness.

This loneliness is not caused by lack of social interactions, but this loneliness is finding oneself without a confidant and/or an advocate. Sometimes, this is an area in our lives that even our own family members cannot fill. We feel lonely because we can’t seem to find people who can honestly listen to our struggles and our vulnerability. Yet, we find ourselves in situations where we continually give. For example, we find ourselves listening and caring for parishioners who are struggling to get their life on track. Or, we find ourselves being present with those who have lost their loved ones.

Some days we feel like we are giving everything to others, but we do not get back much in return. Worse yet, we feel like we are running on empty. We do not have much energy to give because we have been constantly giving and offering ourselves to others. In sum, we seem to give a lot more than what we are able to give.

Photo Cred:

Photo Cred: janetavoid.jpg

As a result, we wish to have something that can fill us back up with energy and love. Because we give so much without having much, we often wish that we possessed more. For instance, we wish to have more wealth so that we can give more financially. Or, sometimes, we wish to find a confidant or a mentor so that we can care more for others.

However, we need to realize that we are able to offer ourselves to others because we have little. We are able to care and love our parishioners more because we do not have much. Because when we have less, we are able to give more freely to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The idea that we can give more when we are in position of great wealth of money or wealth of relationships is a dangerous capitalistic thought that needs a careful re-examination.

More importantly, even though we feel empty, we can give and offer more in our relationships with others because a loving God sustains us. Through God’s love, we give and offer our significant time and effort into caring and loving for others, even though they may not replicate that same effort and care back to us. Somehow, when we feel like we are giving from our emptiness, God transforms that empty gift to make that gift worth more than what we could have imagined it to be.

Whenever we find ourselves in this loneliness, let us remember that we are able to give and offer more that what we have because we are grounded on hope, a hope was made possible through Christ. Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ gives us the hope to continue on in our ministry even though it seems like we are giving everything while we are receive little in return.

When we are facing this loneliness, let us remember that old traditional hymn:
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.[1]

When we are facing this loneliness, let us take it to the Lord in prayer. Prayer where we confess our sins, our weaknesses, and our shortcomings. Prayer where we admit that we need Christ to sustain our lives.

I cannot guarantee that this feeling of loneliness will ever go away in our ministry. This feeling will haunt us from time to time. However, there is one thing we can do: we can praise God for our lack of possession because it allows us to care for others more. We can praise God for having little because it allows us to rely on that hope, which Christ has provided to us.

May God strengthen you throughout your ministry.

-James Kim
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow


[1] “What a Friend We have in Jesus” written by Joseph M. Scriven, 1855.

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

Photo Cred: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:

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.