During university, I enjoyed reading a book called “Letters from the Countryside,” written by Reuben Archer Torrey III of the American Episcopal Church. What stood out was his redefinition of the church. Torrey argued that the ancient Korean term for church, 敎會 (kyoehoe), meaning “a gathering for teaching,” should be replaced with 交會 (gyohwe), meaning “a community that interacts.” He believed in viewing the church as a community, not just a place of instruction.
The Apostle’s Creed echoes this sentiment, declaring faith in the “communion of saints,” highlighting the church as a distinct and holy community. This uniqueness lies in the special fellowship among believers. Acts 2:41 illustrates this through the early church in Jerusalem, where members selflessly shared possessions with those in need, creating an unmatched sense of communion.
In essence, the church is a sacred and separate community, distinguished by the special bond and fellowship among believers. This idea is deeply rooted in the Scriptures and reflects the essence of the church as a place of unique and meaningful relationships.
Therefore, my preferred definition of a church is a “community of individuals who build relationships through sacrifice.” From this perspective, church life goes beyond attending the collective worship service every Sunday. It involves forming connections and friendships with the people who gather there. Consequently, participating in small groups within the church community is where genuine church life truly begins.
Recently, I met a UK-born, second-generation Korean pastor in his late thirties. He transitioned from a financial career to ministry, bridging cultural gaps in a predominantly British congregation over two years. While British churchgoers excel in Bible study, cultural barriers due to British individualism can hinder deeper connections, often taking years to overcome. Preaching “The church is one family” resonates with Koreans but less so with the British audience.
A stark cultural difference is evident in hosting practices. Koreans offer elaborate meals and hospitality, while the British take a casual approach with simple refreshments. Surprisingly, adopting a Korean-style approach, even as a second-generation UK-born pastor, led to British church members appreciating it, highlighting the power of Korean culture in building connections.
Considering the multicultural direction churches are taking, it’s essential to incorporate British culture while valuing the Korean emphasis on community. This approach could create a more appealing church not only to the British but also to family-oriented Asians and Africans.
While some may contemplate attending a Korean church when they come to the UK or experiencing a local church, it’s vital to recognise that church life should revolve around building deep relationships, sharing thoughts and emotions, and dedicating oneself to the community. Church is not a place for seeking new experiences; it’s a place where people share profound thoughts and feelings, sacrificing and committing themselves to one another.