Pastor Sung Chang is the lead pastor of Charis Mission Church, the English ministry (EM) of Choong Hyun Mission Church. Charis consists of some 300 members out of a total of about 1,200 members as a whole in Choong Hyun, and is currently financially independent from the KM, though legally the English and Korean ministries are still together. Chang has been serving at Charis for five years now, and has been in ministry for over 20 years.
One of the concerns that some EM pastors have voiced is a lack of decision-making power in the church. What are your thoughts on that? Do you or your colleagues experience that?
I do hear concerns like that from other pastors. I think many Korean churches are guilty of infusing their culture over their faith. Many EM pastors are respected in all other settings, but in the church, they’re still treated like children. It’s because of the hierarchical nature of the culture. The KM knows in their minds that they shouldn’t, but it’s hard for them to practice not doing so.
Reverend Peterson Min (the senior pastor of Choong Hyun Mission Church) is very understanding -- he understands the nature of the Korean American church, and he’s able to execute what he understands about it. He’s willing to yield, and he gives us so much freedom. We have that trust between each other. There’s no power struggle. He understands my heart, and I understand his -- that we’re family. So he values my opinions on what we need for the EM.
We [the EM] have also hardly ever encountered rejections from the church leadership. The deacons board and elder board, who are all members of the KM, have given us the green light for pretty much everything.
How do you think that trust between the two ministries, and between you and Reverend Min, was built?
My philosophy is, being an EM pastor is not about becoming independent. Church is a family, so we should operate like one. Parents work hard and make sacrifices to provide for the children, and then it’s the children’s responsibility to take care of the parents.
This year was our church’s 30th anniversary, and we as an EM had a great opportunity to set our identity. We changed our name to Charis Mission Church to be able to reach out to the community more effectively (it’s difficult to say Choong Hyun if you aren’t Korean). And every year, we have a joint worship service with KM. This year, the leaders asked me to preach. And I spoke on church unity, love, commitment, and loyalty. And after that, the KM members saw me so differently. Any remaining doubt or mistrust was gone after that.
I also try to infuse that vision of being a family to the pastors in the education department. Being in departments shouldn’t be a territorial thing -- we’re all brothers and sisters in the church.
Do you and Reverend Min spend time together regularly?
We actually don’t get to spend that much time together one on one. But despite that, I respect him so much because I see his character, and I see his heart in the way he leads our church.
Have the EM and KM done any activities or ministry together other than the joint worship service?
We went on missions together in the summer and the fall last year. The first time I went to Mexico with the KM, it was so great just to see their hearts to serve the native people. If I had had any sense of prejudice toward the KM, it was all shattered when I went to missions with them. Many of them spoke Spanish because they learned it through having their businesses here in LA. They were so humble, and I was so touched seeing the way they interacted with the natives.
Is there any encouragement you’d give to other EM pastors?
Have the humility of Jesus Christ. Empty yourself. Serve your pastors. When you have the heart of humility, God honors it and raises you up. It’s not about EM or KM first -- it’s about Christ first.
This is one in a series of interviews with pastors who either serve in English ministry (EM) or have a heart for intergenerational relationships within the Asian American church.