Pastor of Largest Methodist Church in Korea
The following story is submitted by Rev. Keith Berry. Rev. Berry visited Korea with his late wife Marcia in 1991 while a member of the World Methodist Council.
Sundo Kim had been born in 1930 and was reared in a Christian home in a Christian city in the northern part of Korea. As a young man, he had entered medical school. But when the Communists took over, he was forced to become a medic in the North Korean army. He prayed for divine guidance; then miraculously escaped from his unit and joined the South Korean army. In gratitude to God, he changed his vocational goal and began to study for the ministry.
Sundo Kim became a chaplain in the South Korean Air Force. He wanted to work with young men who had passion and energy. He trained alongside them and gained their trust. He focused on the basic values which revitalize life: positive attitude, obedience, creativity, sincerity, and practice of love.
In 1971, Chaplain Kim completed his military service and became Pastor Kim, serving the Kwang Lim Church in Seoul, a congregation of 175 members. His mission was to equip these people for prayer and service. Soon the congregation reached 1,000 members and outgrew its facility. After a season of fasting and prayer, the congregation felt led to relocate. They chose a pear orchard, pitched a tent on the land, and began daily prayer walks around the property. Eventually, the owner agreed to sell.
In 1978 they broke ground for a new building on the new site. The purpose of construction was not for the present congregation of 1,600, but for the large numbers of new people expected to move into this growing suburban neighborhood. Pastor Kim expected every member to become an ambassador for Christ, so he equipped all of them with Bible knowledge and evangelistic skills. When construction was finished in 1979, the church had 3,000 members.
Pastor Kim said, “The more frequently the people went out to evangelize, the deeper became their confidence in the faith, and the more vibrant became their love of the church.” The congregation grew rapidly. In 1991, he told Marcia and me that the membership had reached 57,000. The congregation was divided into 22 districts. Each district had its own associate pastor and several evangelists. There were 5,000 small groups which met each week in homes. Six thousand people were enrolled in rigorous Bible study. There were 700 mission societies.
To become a member of Kwang Lim Church, a person had to be faithful in worship, tithing, small group life and mission service. Leaders were chosen from those who demonstrated faithfulness in these disciplines. Once chosen, these leaders were trained or retrained for 12 weeks, then assigned and supported. Every member was given a mission assignment and held accountable. Pastor Kim’s personal discipline was to spend Saturdays in meditation at the retreat center on Prayer Mountain.
The facilities of Kwang Lim Church extended beyond the sanctuary and Prayer Mountain to an education building with library, a nursing home with hospice care, a seminar house and a mission center. Satellite congregations were established in three other parts of the city. When Pastor Kim stood in his pulpit at the main location, he faced not only the camera which enabled people in outlying locations to see him preach; he also watched a monitor, so he could see the faces of the people in the other places as they listened to him preach.
During those years, Kwang Lim planted sister churches in New Zealand, Russia, China, Turkey, Estonia, Zimbabwe and Canada. Pastor Kim believed that the barrier between South Korea and North Korea soon would fall. So, Kwang Lim Church built a theological seminary in Manchuria, just outside the border of North Korea, to be ready for sharing the gospel with their spiritually starved neighbors at a moment’s notice.
In just 20 years, from 1971 to 1991, the membership of Kwang Lim Church, including its satellites, had increased from 175 to 57,000. By the year 2014, the membership had increased to 94,000. It is now the largest Methodist Church in the world.