When a White-Majority Church Invited an Asian-American Pastor to be its senior pastor
Tim PARK | FEBRUARY 27, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
The Death of a Vision
In 2000, my wife, JoAnn, and I left an immigrant church, a church where I had served as a youth pastor and an English Ministry pastor for nine years, in order to plant Living Faith Community Church with the hopes of reaching a multi-ethnic community. But after the first couple of years, it became apparent that we were going to remain a predominantly Korean-American Church.
We loved our little church. We loved the members who labored with us. But after ten years, we knew it was time to close our doors and bless our faithful members to find new church homes. So in the summer of 2010, Living Faith Community Church closed its doors.
The Rebirth of a Vision
For the next year, I found myself in transition, waiting to see what ministry God had planned next for my family. We started attending a church in Chino Hills, and it was the first time in my life that I found myself at a predominantly white church for an extended period of time. Our whole family got plugged into the church over the next year.
During this time, my wife and I continued to sense that God was calling us to serve outside the immigrant church context. So when a pastor neighbor of mine told me about an opening at a church in Diamond Bar for a family pastor, I applied.
After an extensive interview process with the senior pastor, Mark Hopper, and the board of elders, I joined the staff at EFree Church of Diamond Bar as the Associate Pastor of Family Ministries on November 1, 2011. This was a whole new kind of ministry for me. As a child, I grew up in an immigrant church and then later served in an immigrant church. And now I was on staff at a predominantly white church.
My three-and-a-half years at this new position was a rewarding time. I grew in so many ways while ministering to people from diverse backgrounds and many different life stages.
I may not have known it when I first joined our staff, but God was preparing me for something beyond my role as associate pastor.
A Vision Fulfilled by God
On August 30, 2015, I became our church’s lead pastor. As I took the stage on that memorable Sunday morning to thank our congregation, I was greeted by Pastor Mark Hopper. He handed me an engraved baton and gave me a big hug. The passing of the baton was a milestone moment in the history of our church. After all, Pastor Hopper had served as senior pastor for twenty seven years.
When I arrived at our church in 2011, the thought of being the lead pastor wasn’t even on my radar. I was happy enough to be serving as an associate pastor in a predominantly white church for the first time in my pastoral ministry. But as each month passed in my associate role, it became more and more clear that God was preparing, not only me, but our entire church, for this transition.
EFree Church has always had a strong community presence in its 51-year history, and in the now-seven years that I’ve been at our church, I’ve seen our church increase in its diversity and begin to reflect the demographic makeup of our city and the neighboring cities. When my family first arrived at our church in 2011, there was a small percentage of non-white congregation members. This number started to grow steadily in the first couple of years after my arrival, and since I transitioned into my role as lead pastor, this number has increased significantly.
I often tell people that one of the characteristics I most appreciate about our church is the fact that on any given Sunday, you can walk into our church and will most likely see others who look like you, no matter your age, ethnicity, or cultural background. I love the fact that an 80-year old Caucasian grandmother can worship alongside a 25-year old Asian-American millennial, or the fact that an African American family can worship next to a married Hispanic couple.
It’s great to know that our church members can freely invite their neighbors, coworkers, and classmates to our church .Many people who have joined our church express to me how thankful they are to be part of a local church in which their kids can see their friends, not only at school during the week, but also at church on Sundays! We continue to get a steady flow of first-time guests because of connections to the local schools and community groups.
The Vision In Action
When it comes to church, I don’t believe there’s a “one-size-fits-all” model. I believe there’s a place for the immigrant church. I believe there’s a place for the majority church. And I certainly believe there’s a place for the multicultural church.
I’ve witnessed firsthand our church gradually making the move from a majority church to a multicultural church over the past seven years. This isn’t something that happened overnight, but it also wasn’t forced . One big factor for the success of any multicultural church is that it must led from a multicultural church perspective and not simply from a majority church perspective. I believe we do that here at EFree Church.
But what works for one church in a particular geographical setting may not work for another church elsewhere, and that’s okay. That’s part of the beauty of diversity, not only within a church, but also from church to church. I’m thankful that the leaders of our church, both past and present, recognize that we are strategically located in a place that can reach so many cultures.
The world, in many ways, has come to Southern California, and Diamond Bar and the neighboring communities are a clear example. As our church continues to “do church” from a multicultural perspective, I’m confident that EFree Church of Diamond Bar will continue to live out our mission, which is “To Know Jesus and Make Him Known.”
I thank God that He has placed me in a church context that once seemed unrealistic. If God did that with me, perhaps He can do that with others.
Tim Park grew up in Fountain Valley, California. He earned his B.A. in Sociology from UCLA and his M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology. Tim is passionate about equipping the body of Christ through God's Word and seeing people grow in their faith. Tim and his wife, JoAnn, have two children, Andrew and Amanda. In his free time, Tim enjoys running marathons and finding fun places to eat.