This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who serve, think, and write about faith, family, and ministry.
This week we hear from parent and pastor Danny Kwon. Danny has been serving for over 20 years in youth and family ministry at Yuong Sang Church outside Philadelphia. Along with his love for sports, eating, and making people laugh, he is married to Monica, and together they parent three teenagers.
Danny, you’re someone who has served within Korean-American culture for years. What trends do you see in the ways Korean-American families are living out their faith these days?
I would say that the Korean-American church is evolving. My parents were immigrants who spoke very little English. Church was not only a place of worship and faith, but also a social institution where they got to fellowship and network with others like them. Then these parents came to church and sent their teenagers to youth group because it was a social institution as well as a place of faith. Students came because their parents came, and it was a place to have interaction with others like them.
While there are still immigrants from Korea in the Korean-American church, due to the effects of globalism and greater English skills, parents are often more acculturated to America. Korean-American parents now have choices outside of church to socialize. Church is not the center of their life. Whereas in the past many parents would make church a higher priority, now I see that priority lessening for both parents and students.
How has your own recent doctoral research on innovation impacted your parenting?
I am a youth pastor and parent of three teenagers. When I studied innovation and innovative churches and how they are practicing youth ministry, it was very interesting to see that many parents do value their youth ministry. Many like it. I know that implementing Sticky Faith, and in particular moving to a more intergenerational ministry paradigm, can be hard. But one thing I have realized from my research is that parents seem to like youth ministry the way it is.
As far as how that has impacted my parenting, I would say that as a parent/youth pastor, it has made me be more empathetic to parents as we nurture change in our youth ministry. I need to understand that change is hard. I need to find ways to implement innovation in ways that are sensitive to parents.
I find myself saying as a parent that it is a lot harder getting my own teenage kids to come with me to an intergenerational worship service rather than just send them to the youth group. Moreover, just sitting with them during worship and discussing the sermon afterward—that takes a lot of effort! It is not easy implementing an innovation like Sticky Faith, and in particular for parents like me, it takes time to get used to change.
Living on the Northeast coast, what are some of the regional challenges and opportunities you see when it comes to building faith in families?
My son just entered 12th grade. When we visited colleges this past summer across the Northeast, I noticed the kind of schools he liked and disliked. The schools he liked were the ones that seemed more laid-back and seemingly less "cutthroat." Living in the Northeast, there are stereotypes that people are more driven, Type A, and competitive. Many of the stereotypes ring true.
I think about families who are super busy and stressed out. The pressure to succeed in sports or academics is intense. Conversely, those who don't seem to “make the cut” struggle with feelings of failure.
Of course this is not only a Northeast thing. But perhaps the biggest implication in all this is where faith and family come together. Families and youth group students miss church all the time for travel sports teams, required community service, or just because they are overwhelmed with homework. And for parents, engaging faith through the church is just one of the many "activities" for their kids to choose from.
One opportunity that has arisen out of all this is that as our church has a very active summer short-term missions program, we have made it clear to parents and students that they can serve God and get community service hours for school. Most of the time they can get approval to complete required hours through our trips. Ultimately, this has been a great way to help students serve others, to spend time with them as they grow in faith, and to reduce some of their stress about staying on top of the pressures of high school as they serve others.
For more ideas from real families like yours, get the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family.
Photo by Yan Liu
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