Society and culture in South Korea changed rapidly in the last generation. Economic growth was remarkable, but global success also exposed corruption in politics and industry. A wide gap now separates the rich and poor. Korean society was traditionally conservative, but positive modern developments also brought new problems such as more suicides, Internet addiction, the fast-growing sex industry, high use of cosmetic surgery for vanity, and less sensitivity to violence in the media. Pray for wisdom for leaders, and justice for the most vulnerable. South Korea leads the digital revolution. Digital ministry is widespread for both evangelism and discipleship. Pray for the gospel to impact the many spiritual needs of this society.
The looming spectre of North Korea must not be ignored. With Seoul only 30 miles from the demilitarized zone, any conflict would immediately affect millions. More likely than an invasion is the collapse of North Korea's state structure, bringing with it massive humanitarian needs and a huge challenge to the South. Pray that political and Christian leaders may be ready for such an occasion and make wise decisions for the healing of all Korea. Mission to the North is almost impossible, but many in the South prepare and pray for reunification and for the opportunity to share the gospel. OMS/KEHC is pursuing ministry among North Korean refugees as a first step. Other initiatives include the Open Doors prayer campaign, CCK's Save North Korea campaign and initiatives by OMF, the Methodists and others.
The Korean Church has major spiritual challenges to face if its credibility before the world and effectiveness in ministry are to be at their maximum:
- Stagnation and saturation. Numerical growth in the Church has all but stopped despite continued evangelism and prayer. Exaggerated membership claims and double counting are common enough that up to 45% of all "claimed" Christians might be counted by two or more groups. This is especially true of the younger generation, which some claim is drifting away from genuine Christian faith and practice.
- Divisions and schisms sadly typify the Korean Protestant scene. At the end of the Japanese occupation, there was only one Presbyterian denomination; now there are over 100 and growing. While some splits were actually healthy, domineering leadership patterns and personality clashes have been at the root of much division; Jesus' prayer for the unity of His disciples needs more attention. Yet some work has been done to address this: 2009 was A Year of Prayer for Unity, adopted by Catholics and Protestants alike. Pray for humility, reconciliation and a new spirit of cooperation to be evident in every part of the Church.
- Patterns of leadership. Leadership is sometimes too authoritarian. The elevated status of pastors hinders biblical servant-leadership, promotes division and personality cults and stunts discipleship, since too many depend more on pastoral guidance than on celebrating the priesthood of all believers.
- Church structures are not always conducive to practical holiness or effective discipleship. Christians have at times condoned low ethical standards, bribery and corrupt practices, and they have not addressed the wrongs in wider society. Megachurches can gravitate against effective discipleship and integration of new believers into the body of Christ, which in turn causes "church hopping". With many new Christians from Buddhist/Confucian backgrounds, solid teaching and discipleship are essential.
- Lack of transformational impact on society. The large, influential and affluent Church has not yet fulfilled its capacity to have a transforming effect on the social problems affecting Korea today. Poverty, corruption, moral drift and unreached segments of society in particular could be more directly addressed. Christians would have remarkable potential to shape society were the churches mobilized to act in concert.
Student ministry remains crucial to disciple young Christians and to share the gospel with non-believers. Pray for more workers among university students. Korea has the world's highest proportion of adults with post-secondary education (83%). There are 3.6 million students in 408 universities. Several agencies have large numbers of workers involved: UBF, Cru, Navs, IFES/IVCF, SFC, Joy Mission, YWAM and others.
The missions vision of the Korean Church continues, remarkably, to grow and mature. Over 170 agencies are sending Korean missionaries cross-culturally. The larger Korean agencies are: Global Mission Society, University Bible Fellowship, PC(T-hap), KMCBM, Korean AoG, KBC, InterCP, Paul Mission, Tyrannus International Mission, Korean Evangelical Holiness Church, GMF, GP.
- Mobilization of young people for missions keeps gaining momentum. God has used Korean young people to spearhead the missions movement in other Asian nations. Mission Korea is a coalition of 24 mission agencies and 11 campus ministries working together for the common goal of mobilizing young Korean adults and college students for world mission; they hold a nationwide conference every two years, attracting over 5,000 young people. Pray that these young people may be at the forefront of missions - by going, praying or giving.
Pray for the Korean diaspora. Waves of emigration and extensive business ventures have multiplied Korean communities around the world to an excess of 6 million, many in the USA. Around 70% of diaspora Koreans were reported to be Christian - many become believers shortly after arriving in their newly adopted land. Their own role in supporting and sending missionaries is formidable. Recently, KODIMNET (Korean Diaspora Missions Network) and the World Korean Diaspora Forum (including Korean Research Institute for Diaspora) were established to support the Korean diaspora's contribution to cross-cultural missions.
Christian literature has been a key ingredient to growth. The Bible in Korean has gone through several translations and has become a treasured part of the culture. The Korean Bible Society prints over 2 million Korean Bibles/NTs annually in Korean and even greater numbers for other countries and languages. Additionally, there are six other major Bible production companies. Christian publishers are likewise producing increasingly diverse and helpful books; more than 150 different publishers are part of the Korea Christian Publication Association. Pray that these ministries might have a powerful impact in getting the Word of God into non-Christian hands and helpful in shaping a biblical worldview among Christians.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.