-Prioritizing the Word
In South Korea, church membership and loyalty is a serious thing. It is common that church members of one congregation never speak to church members of another congregation. Churches rarely meet with other churches, and within these churches questions are often discouraged. From within this environment, God gave me a unique opportunity to lead Bible studies completely unaffiliated with a particular church. These Bible studies were a middle ground where there was no pressure, no risk and no fear to speak openly about one’s faith or lack thereof. The focus and priority of God’s word in the Bible was the only thing we had in common with one another. We were often of different backgrounds, ages, churches and nationalities. However, by meeting at the cross and in the word of God we were able to leave our church loyalties or restrictions at the door and discuss the word of God genuinely and critically.
By prioritizing the word of God above any and all other commitments and loyalties, the word of God was allowed to address and expose an individual’s true understanding, or lack thereof, of God’s word. Also, as I was unaffiliated with any specific church or group, my investment in these groups had only one objective. That objective was always to reveal God’s word directly to the needs of the specific people present. In reading of God’s word, all members present were able to approach God with only his eyes on them and their faith, and not the eyes of a church or church pastor. In doing this, members came to a realization that without being honest about one’s faith or doubt, nothing would ever change for the better. Instead of acting well and moving forward in an elaborate Christian pantomime, there was no better time than the present to ask the question, seek the answer and be healed.
-Prioritizing Personal Faith
The search for answers in God’s word from a place of unobstructed honesty allowed individuals to seek the answers to their problems as they related to their faith. In personally seeking out answers in God’s word, openly confessing and addressing the state of their faith, members found that the only faith and belief of any value was their own. It had nothing to do with their church. It had nothing to do with a pastor or teacher. It had nothing to do with their family legacy or tradition. It had only to do with them and God. Nothing else. In a place where there was no obligation to attend, no obligation to agree and no obligation to believe, people were able to address their faith personally and subsequently grow into a personal faith in God, and not on the backs of someone else’s faith or experience. Having an experience and faith of their own then equipped that individual to move forward into a position of true evangelization, as someone who has seen and not simply been told.
-Prioritizing Personal Needs
While churches often have many members, the experience of the individual member often contradicts the definition of the word member. Member means to be joined together, united and supported. Many church members feel that the pastor or leaders of the church address needs of the church members only in the collective and not in the personal. While a church congregation does have collective needs that the pastor must address, there must be a system in place in the church so that the members feel joined together, united and supported by other members and the overarching leadership. This is no easy task and it is understandable why many churches struggle with this. However, difficulty is no excuse to not get it done. A church must be aware of the members, care for the members and address the members personally. While my job with a Bible study of 6-10 members was much easier than in a large church, the root and foundation is no different. Simply knowing the member’s name and acknowledging them directly and specifically had a profound impact on some members. I could tell that this simply didn’t happen at their church. However, this gave me the perfect opportunity to show them God’s desire to have a church that acted like this naturally, without the spurring on of leadership to love more and think about one another more. These members were not used to someone addressing them directly and taking their personal faith and faith issues seriously. During the Bible study they were allowed to address the needs pertaining to their own faith and receive direct attention. During the Bible study their needs became our needs, and while we came from and went to different places on Sundays, in that place, for those two hours, we were church.
-Prioritizing Church Unity and Growth
As the Bible study leader of up to 12 Bible studies each week with over 50 different members at any given time I had the unique weekly perspective of witnessing the interconnectivity of all of the groups in their collective needs, beliefs and experiences. Thus, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, God provided opportunities for the members to meet or learn with one another. They realized that they were not alone. They came to realize that beyond the walls of their church existed a world of other believers who shared more in common with them than they’d originally thought. As God’s will ordered it, these members were given opportunities to meet and share their lives with one another. Through a Bible study that had no commitments except to Jesus and the Gospel, people felt comfortable to share their experience with the word of God without fear that their loyalty to their church was being threatened or challenged. The church members could return to their respective churches weekly with the knowledge that there were other people from other churches who could empathize with their faith life. Through this community God could accomplish far more with open doors than with doors welded shut. Over five years of leading Bible studies in South Korea, there was steady growth in fellowship and contact between members, while always acknowledging and respecting each member’s loyalty to their respective home churches. God always desires unity and growth, and through these Bible studies the Church of Jesus Christ as his body was allowed to grow and be strengthened in its understanding and faith in Jesus Christ alone.