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Largely-Korean church seeks to unite despite differences

TACOMA, Wash. (BP)–Tacoma First Baptist Church in Tacoma, Wash., lives out its global vision on a community level.

About 1,450 people participate in Sunday morning worship services there, and it’s the largest church in the Northwest Baptist Convention, which includes Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho. Tacoma First’s pastor, Chang S. Moon, is a former president of the Korean Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Tacoma First was stop No. 53 for SBC President Bobby Welch, who is making a bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across North America. In kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign, Welch is urging heightened evangelistic efforts to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Two services at Tacoma First are in Korean and one is in English. Three services are geared to English-speaking youth, a contemporary service ministers to the college/career crowd, and one service is specifically for children from preschool through the sixth grade.

In time-honored Korean style, there is a Sunday afternoon meal for about 850 people, prepared by 16 dedicated women who believe they are called to that particular ministry. Another Korean mainstay is a morning prayer time six days a week with church members arriving as early as 4 a.m.

“It’s tradition now in Korea to pray early in the morning,” Moon, pastor since 1981, said. “But even now, though we live in an affluent country, yet we have to depend on our God still, seeking Him in prayer. And also I believe we pray for spiritual growth and power.”

Discipleship training takes place Sunday afternoon. Tuesday is visitation. Wednesday is prayer. Friday and Saturday are kept open for house churches and cell groups such as the Korean-speaking groups that meet weekly and the English-speaking groups that meet monthly.

About 50 youngsters attend a church-sponsored day care center at the church. More than 100 children participated in Korean Language School this past summer.

Tacoma First’s mission activities include at least 10 years in an East Asia nation with intensive Bible training for pastors and lay leaders and bread-making to ease hunger needs as two facets of its involvement. Each of Tacoma First’s 60 cell churches sponsors a house church in East Asia. The church has also sent evangelistic/medical mission teams to the Philippines for the last seven years.

Locally, Tacoma First started two churches in the Puget Sound area within recent years and it owns a 10-acre retreat center near Mt. Rainier.

“We encourage our members to share the Gospel,” Moon said. “It seems to be harder now for our members to go out, maybe lack of time or lack of commitment. This is a challenge for us.

“I would like to have more cell churches,” the pastor added. “We only have 60 now. [Cell churches] are the New Testament way. They take better care of each other. We have many people in our church, and it’s hard for them to have fellowship and care unless they are in a cell church.”

Moon also sees a great challenge to have unity in Christ between the people who were born in Korea and those born in the United States.

“I’d like to see a smooth transition between the first generation of Korean immigrants and the one-point-five generation and the second generation,” Moon said. “Maybe within five or 10 years, more and more of Korean churches in the States will be integrated.”

Tacoma First was a Korean Sunday School department at First Baptist Church of Lakewood in Tacoma when Moon was called nearly 24 years ago as pastor of what then was a 120-member group. Today the challenges are different and yet the same, he said.

“I’m pastor of one church that has different cultures and that speaks different languages,” said Moon, who preaches in Korean and in English. “I preach, motivate, serve and shepherd. That’s my role. I have to take care of the people God has sent my way.

“The purpose of a church is to reach out to the lost and help to grow spiritually, and to equip them to serve the Lord,” Moon said. “The more people learn to serve together, the more effective the ministry. Look at the Cooperative Program to see the value of working together. This is an honor to God.”