Third Generation

August 13th, 2012
Joseph Yoo

My parents are first generation Koreans, or immigrant Koreans. While, technically, I’m Generation 1.5 (because I was born in Korea and moved to the States when I was young), I consider myself a 1.8(ish) Generation. For my definition of 1.5ers, someone has to be born in Korea and live a significant part of their formative years there, then move to America. Then they have a good understanding of the Korean culture (and Korean education) and a grasp of the American culture as they get immersed and grow in it.

I moved to America when I was 6. I barely knew how to read Korean then, and my Korean education level is probably that of a kindergartener. I don’t even know how the Korean government works. So I can’t say that I’m a pure 1.5er. My brother is a second generation Korean. He was born in South Carolina. When God finally heeds my fervent prayer and blesses us with a child, that child will be the third Generation.

My parents would probably consider themselves Korean or at best (...worst..?), Korean-American. They are through and through Korean. Their worldview is still based in the Korea of the 70′s and 80′s. Sure, they have adapted to some of the “American” ideals and culture. But push come to shove, they’re more Korean than American.

I consider myself American-Korean. I've lived in America for most of my life. But there’s a distinct Korean-ness in me. You can take me out of Korean contexts, but you can’t take the Korean out of me. Some of my values are grounded in the Korean culture I received from my parents. But most of my values, thoughts, ideas and dreams are formed by the American culture (that I received from MTV). My language of preference is American… er English. In fact, my Korean is getting worse and worse. If it weren’t for my parents, I think my Korean would be all but gone. I notice that I’m stammering more when I speak to my parents. I see that the words are harder to say and find… but I have no problem listening to Korean. I can translate from Korean to English, but for the life of me, English to Korean is next to impossible.

And that’s my worry. I believe that cultural identity is heavily wrapped in language. My wife and I communicate with each other in English. The only time we use Korean speaking to one another is when we need to say something (usually something bad) without anyone understanding a word that we say.

When we have kids, outside of a few Korean words and phrases, they most likely will be English speaking. Their worldview and values will be completely shaped and formed by American culture.

Where am I going with this? While I could touch on many aspects of church, for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on worship.

The “First Generation” of church leaders like the highly liturgical worship services. They feel the presence of God through liturgy, organ, robes, choral music… they prefer what we would call the “traditional” worship services.

My generation of pastors, “the Second Generation” have been a part of both traditional worship services and contemporary worship services. From as formal as being robed up on Sunday mornings to as casual as having devotions around a camp fire—and we value both experiences deeply. We’ve been part of and designed worship services that are liturgical and formal but also worship services that have beating drums and a driving bass line.

I know many of my fellow “2nd Gen’ers” who prefer the highly liturgical worship over the contemporary, and just as many (myself included) who prefer the drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a bunch of hipster Christians leading worship. They can go either way.

In the summer of 2011, our church hosted an intern. He did a fantastic job and I knew he would. He was one of my kids when I was a youth pastor in Hawaii. He has a strong sense of calling in ministry. You meet him and you can see and hear his passion for God and God’s people. He's now 20 years old, and until he interned at our church, he had never (read: never) been in a traditional worship setting. (And our first service isn’t “traditional” traditional, either).

He shared how it was different from all the things he’d experienced in his church lifetime.

“It was good. But different. Weird. But not in a bad way.”

There are other kids I worked with who are now exploring their call into ministry. None of these kids have ever truly experienced traditional worship. They’re definitely not accustomed to “Open your hymnals to…”

David Kinnaman in You Lost Me writes:

The first generation speaks only the language of the country of origin. The second generation is fluent in both languages. The third generation speaks only the new language and has little esteem for the cultural traditions that have been lost in translation.

When I was between the ages of 12 and 14, my dad had the opportunity to move back to Korea. He thought long and hard about it until he realized that it would totally mess me up. He felt it would be feasible to move to America from Korea at that age, but not the other way around. He was worried not just about all the language difference, but also just the life of being a Korean teenager and the culture shock I might receive from it. He worried that things would be so different that it would stunt my mental maturation. Basically I was too Americanized to ever feel comfortable or be productive in Korea. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to move back to Korea. Though I can’t put into words why, I do agree with my dad that I wouldn’t have fared well there.

But that’s what we may be guilty of doing to these upcoming young pastors. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we may have monopolized the idea that worship has to happen a certain way and during certain times.

We have these young, gifted, God-called people stepping into ministry, but instead of thriving in a world where they can make a difference and where they can be fully utilized by God, they could end up struggling to find a place (and meaning) in a world that doesn’t exist outside the walls of the local church.

As Kinnaman wrote, these pastors may have little to no esteem for the traditions that is strongly held by the “first generation” church leaders. Yet, we try and fight to get these "third generation” pastors to accept and uphold the model and values of the “first generation” church. So these young people become disenchanted with bureaucracy and the seemingly inflexible polity of a denomination and find other ways to be utilized by God.

Tradition is good.

Tradition is important.

But tradition is man-made and not of God.

Once tradition gets in the way of God, it’s no longer holy and we end up fighting against the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I know the time will come when I realize that the young kids are messing everything up and confusing what is holy and what is not—what is worship and what is not—what is church and what is not. But hopefully, I’ll remember how I feel now in 20 or so years. Instead of trying to fiercely hold on to what I know and love, essentially forcing younger generations into a box, I hope God will use me to help them articulate their vision and chase the dreams  that God placed in their hearts.

I’m thankful for the mentors that I have now who give me freedom to explore my call and help me chase God’s dream for me. I only hope to be given a chance to return the favor to the next generation.

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