with a nod to david park over at next gener.asian church and his series of posts on unique korean virtues that em’s aren’t teaching our kids, i will share a couple of things that i love and/or appreciate (though sometimes from a distance) about the korean-american (k/a) church.

like many pastors in the k/a setting, i experience a sort of delirium every weekend. the weekend is, of course, the only time many congregants have available — and so we squeeze every minute out of it with meetings, practices, Bible studies and various other programs (but let me stop before this devolves into some kind of rant about the potential counter-productivity of such an approach).

my weekend begins, as it does in many other k/a churches around the country, with early morning prayer.

there is something strangely romantic about early morning prayer (emp). maybe it’s the idea that we are following jesus’ example in going to a lonely place at the crack of dawn to pray. i’ve heard many people describe emp as the foundation of the k/a church. there really is something amazing about a church that prays so faithfully — gathering in community every morning to seek God.

i must admit, though, that i appreciate the practical reality of emp far less than the concept of it. there are numerous reasons for this: laziness (i think the “loves suffering” gene must have skipped me), my inability to speak korean (it’s hard enough getting there by 5:30 am, let alone sticking with a thirty minute sermon in which i can only glean about ten percent of its meaning), and my growing introvertedness (i had no problem praying myself hoarse in group settings ten years ago, but i’ve changed since then)….

i wonder, though, if my biggest struggle with emp doesn’t come from my westernized perspective. our senior pastor recently asked our second-generation staff about how we, as second-gen people, experience spiritual growth since emp doesn’t seem to be a large part of the equation. while i’m pretty sure this was a not-so-subtle suggestion to start attending emp more than the twice-a-week i’ve been going, this gets at some key issues.

the daily devotion/quiet-time model for spiritual growth is perfectly suited to the highly individualized western mindset. i’ll take my bible and my ipod and spend some quality time with jesus – alone. for many first-gen believers, the value of community is so deeply ingrained that the idea of spiritual growth apart from the community is almost unthinkable. thus, the emp model fits well in the community-minded first-gen perspective.

to be certain, we need balance. spiritual growth requires careful cultivation in both individual and corporate settings. i wonder if there is a way to capture the best of both worlds. it’s sad that, in the past, when i have suggested to second-gen people that we gather for emp (even once a week), they laugh out loud. and then, after realizing that it was not asked sarcastically, they start listing the reasons why they cannot do it.

i don’t think this is an issue of forcing second-gen people to set up more emp meetings. i’m not sure that would be the most effective model for building community and fostering spiritual growth in our churches. but we cannot afford to ignore the values that go into emp: earnest belief in the power of prayer, valuing the community so much that we’re willing to sacrifice for it, making the church community a part of everyday life.