Church on the Edge of the World — A Living Metaphor

Christianity | 0 comments

Written by Dan Armistead

November 6, 2019

The past twelve years have been the best years of my thirty five year ministry as a pastor. They have been spent off the grid, under the radar, and frankly, in virtual obscurity. Serving as pastor of an International church in Seoul, Korea isn’t exactly the way to make oneself visible and achieve upward mobility on the ministerial success ladder. Especially when the church one serves is so eclectic.

Seoul International Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist Church founded over forty years ago by a group of Baptist missionaries. (Please don’t stop reading after learning we are Southern Baptist and please don’t be angry with me if you are a loyal Southern Baptist.)

Anyway, I became the pastor of SIBC in 2008. Until that time the church was led by Southern Baptist missionaries supported by the International Mission Board (IMB)of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In their divine wisdom, the powers to be at the IMB decided that SBC missionaries serving as pastors of diverse international churches in large mega cities were not in alignment with the vision of the denomination.

Seoul International Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist Church founded over forty years ago by a group of Baptist missionaries. (Please don’t stop reading after learning we are Southern Baptist and please don’t be angry with me if you are a loyal Southern Baptist.)

Anyway, I became the pastor of SIBC in 2008. Until that time the church was led by Southern Baptist missionaries supported by the International Mission Board (IMB)of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In their divine wisdom, the powers to be at the IMB decided that SBC missionaries serving as pastors of diverse international churches in large mega cities were not in alignment with the vision of the denomination.

The reason? The missionaries should only focus on the indigenous people of the country in which they served. I should note that this decision was made as our world continued its march toward a global community with the largest world cities hosting people from nations all over the world. I’m also wondering (but not too much) how the apostle Paul, who targeted major world cities as a missionary to the “nations,” would have responded to this logic.

Whatever.

The point is that the mission board’s decision opened the door that led this “weary of the institutional/political church” pastor to what I like to call the church on the edge of the world.

I suppose that description deserves some explanation.

When I say I pastor a church on the edge of the world there is a sense in which I mean that more or less literally. Korea really is the edge of the world to many people. When learning that I live in Korea, people in the U.S. often respond by asking if I live in North Korea or South Korea. I smile, mostly to myself, and answer, “South Korea.” Also, it didn’t take long after serving here before I learned that my denomination’s leaders were completely unaware churches like ours existed. I know that seems to contradict what I said about their decision to disallow their missionaries to pastor international churches. What can I say?

Go figure.

Anyway, in spite of the fact that Korea really is the edge of the world in many people’s minds, the image has become, for me, a powerful metaphor. To live on the edge of the world is to live in relative obscurity. I do. Our church does. But here’s the good news — So did Jesus. “Galilee of the nations” is how the prophet Isaiah described the place of Messiah’s ministry. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” was a common saying in first century Palestine to describe the town in which Jesus grew up.

Jesus not only lived on the edge of Israel, the fact is he lived on the edge of the world. In the eyes of the world, Israel was a small and insignificant nation. Smashed into oblivion by the Assyrians and Babylonians, the nation never fully recovered. Even after resettling in their homeland in the sixth century BC, the centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus saw the nation batted back and forth like a ping pong ball between Egypt and Syria. It was the conquest of Rome that brought peace to this war torn country on whose borders Jesus carried out most of his ministry.

I think it’s safe to say that God loves living on the edge. God does great things on the edge.

This is the most important lesson I have learned during my twelve years of ministry in Korea. Jesus doesn’t need our churches to be in the spotlight. Jesus doesn’t need ministries of self-promotion. The crowds sought out and found him in the most desolate places. They still do. Some people who attend SIBC travel up to two hours to be a part of our fellowship. We are a small church and hard to find. There is nothing spectacular about our building, our worship, or our preaching. But there is something deeply genuine about who we are and the relationships we build with one another.

When God’s people learn the value of inconspicuous ministry, when we empty ourselves and stop seeking recognition and reputation, that is when we will be exalted by God. And that is when those people who are craving what is genuine, who are searching for authenticity will find their way to us wherever we may be.

And together, we will discover God’s goodness and beauty seen in Jesus, seen at the edge of the world.

 

 

 
 
 

Thanks to Paul Falgout.

Related Articles

Related
Join

Receive Updates from Dan

Over my life, I’ve discovered that Jesus often leads us to the edge. It can be a scary place, the edge. Join a community of Christians also living on the edge.