This Korean-American Church is Making Faith and Work Integration Work

Editor’s note: James Kim is a lay leader at Open Door Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia. Open Door welcomes an average of 2,500 people each Sunday, with the majority being Korean-Americans. Kim helps lead Open Door’s 9to5 ministry. Below is an interview between Kim and Amy L. Sherman about the church’s outreach and work to integrate faith and work into the fabric of their congregation and community.

Amy L. Sherman: Can you tell readers a little about the background of 9to5 and what Open Door hopes to accomplish through it?

James Kim: The 9to5 ministry started around late 2013 when a few congregants saw the need to talk more about the integration of faith and work at our church. They approached me early on to join a team to provide leadership over this endeavor. In the early days, we were mainly focused on teaching and equipping, starting with ourselves. We needed to understand more deeply what the gospel has to say about work.

ALS: What kinds of activities has the 9to5 ministry sponsored?

JK: We kind of feel like we’ve gotten a good handle on the faith and work material now that we’re a few years old. And we’ve found that the more we’ve gotten into this, the more we’re recognizing the centrality of the gospel in all of it and our understanding of the gospel has expanded. So now we’re trying to get our congregation to mobilize and engage. We want to see people applying this theology. We hosted a summer small group using some materials from Redeemer’s Gotham Fellows program and then followed that up using the For the Life of the World video series. We had some group members who were new to the faith and one asked, “Ok, now that I’m a Christian, what am I supposed to do?” And that series was perfect for them because it goes into a deeper gospel understanding and it brings in the work element.

ALS: What else has 9to5 been doing?

JK: We’ve been doing an annual commissioning service during Labor Day weekend. It’s similar to what we do in commissioning our short-term missionaries. We have a service and we pray over people and we charge them into whatever field of work they’re going into. We’re saying to marketplace people: “This is your calling and we want to commission you.” This year we hosted one of our non-traditional missionaries from a closed country as the guest speaker. He operates a chicken business. He felt compelled to lead this business and he shared stories about how God’s been faithful in all kinds of ways.

We also sponsored an art initiative. Open Door commissioned several artists to create art for the church building. This was the first time in the church that we acknowledged artists and the art they produce. It was really a way to say, “God has given you these gifts, this natural ability, and the church is partnering with you to acknowledge that this is where your talents lie and where your work is.” We commissioned these artists, paying them for the materials and their time, and then we asked them to present the artwork and talk about the motivations and thoughts behind the pieces. It was testimonial and personal. It was a really exciting event.

ALS: What influence has 9to5 had on the preaching and teaching at Open Door?

JK: From the pulpit, I wouldn’t say that there have been more sermons on faith and work. There have been some short series on it. I would say that what changed is more subconscious, in the way things are presented. There might have been more of a sacred/secular division before. But now the leaders are more conscious and cognizant to be careful with what they preach and what they say. So, for example, the workplace is no longer cast aside as a forum for you to evangelize. Now we try to help people understand that work is important, the workplace is a place for relationships, a place for discipleship. The importance of the workplace has been elevated. And I think this more subtle but pervasive influence is what we really should be aiming for. Our mission for 9to5 is not to be a separate ministry entity; we want to be more inclusive of the ministries that exist, integrated within our church to keep faith and work — and the gospel behind it — as the foundation of all the ministries.

ALS: What advice would you have for other congregational leaders who might be interested in operating a similar ministry?

JK: Patience in the big thing! It’s tricky because you want to see “results.” But what exactly are the results? What I’ve noticed is that it takes a long time to see things with a different perspective, or maybe a wider perspective — especially if they’ve seen it a specific way for so long. So for some folks who’ve grown up in the church, they have a fortified view that’s influenced by that sacred/secular divide. It’s so ingrained in them that when they hear something trying to break that divide down, they don’t necessarily push back on it, but it doesn’t compute. I think it takes time for people to understand. I’ve had to learn to have patience with people, and I would tell someone else trying to start something like this that it just really takes time.

We’ve also found that partnering with our local outreach ministry, Love Herndon, is effective. For example, Open Door hosted a group of homeless people back in March. There’s a local organization that has a project where they ask different churches to provide housing and meals during the cold months for a week at a time for homeless people who need shelter. So it’s great because they are right there and we have the chance to get to know them. One time we simply asked them, “What is the one thing that will break the chains of homelessness? What is the one thing you could point to that would help end homelessness?”  And without batting an eye, they said, “jobs.” It wasn’t social services. It wasn’t donations. It was jobs; it was work. And that just goes to show that work — like we’ve been saying all along — has this dignity. We were created by God to work. So one of our longer-term, really big visions is to work with Love Herndon and help create jobs or help people with employment or job training. We might be able to make the Highlands Ability Battery available to them and then offer career coaching or resume writing. I think this kind of work and partnership fundamentally reinforces the idea that what’s behind all of this is the gospel broadly understood because the gospel informs everything. God’s sovereignty is over everything. So 9to5 is not a separate program. We want to feel more like the DNA of the church.

Topics: Church and Ministry, Mission & Outreach, The Gospel

About the Author

Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).