April 21, 2017

Just in Case, Train Them Young

While Seventh-day Adventist church regions usually offer training opportunities to their leaders once they are elected to senior leadership positions, one of the church world regions is taking the road less traveled. The Northern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD), based in South Korea, is adopting a proactive approach by offering to train young church workers years before they are tapped for top administrative or ministerial positions.

As of 2016, the NSD has trained over 100 leaders and leaders-to-be since 2008, thanks to the Communication and Leadership Advancement Program (CLAP), a specially-catered training session which offers English classes, principles in leadership talks, and fellowship opportunities. So far, four cohorts have taken part in the training, with a fifth scheduled for next June. While the group includes a few seasoned church leaders, most of the participants are young leaders with a potential to take over greater responsibilities.

“We don’t wait until they become senior leaders to train them,” said German Lust, NSD treasurer. “We provide the training so that they may become effective leaders.”

Summoned to the Program

“A couple of years ago, I got a phone call from the Youth Director of my local church region,” wrote James Baik, pastor of the Osan Adventist Church in Korea, in a message to Adventist Review. “He asked me to join my home division training program for leaders. Since I wasn’t sure what to say, I told him I had to discuss it with my wife first.”

Students engage in classroom learning as part of the CLAP program. [Photo: Northern Asia-Pacific Division]

Baik’s Youth Director, however, didn’t buy it. “He demanded an immediate answer, so I hesitantly said I would attend the training,” said Baik. As it turns out, the program proved to be “a great opportunity and a blessing” for him, and what he calls an “unforgettable moment in [my] ministry.”

Baik’s positive feedback is not uncommon, as most participants in the program had the best memories of the time spent at the CLAP training.

“I had stopped using English after college, and there are few opportunities to speak the language in Korea,” said Jae Soon Ahn, current Women’s and Family Ministries Director of the Korean Union Conference. “Thanks to CLAP, I overcame my fears and began to feel confident communicating in English.”

Ahn shared how she learned tips about church leadership and was retrained to communicate in English. “Now I read a devotional message in English every morning,” she said. “And I watch Hope Channel,” she said referring to the Adventist Church TV network.

Tips from the Program

In its fourth run in Jeju Island, South Korea, in late 2016, 28 pastors, accountants, elders, and church workers coming from China, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan met for 17 intensive days of study and fun.

“The session was organized with a multidimensional approach to each student,” said Nilde Lust, CLAP Coordinator. “Emotional, social, physical, and spiritual aspects were included.” Students were not only encouraged to develop their skills in the English language, but also to take care of their health, as they spent time walking, drinking abundant water, and enjoying nutritious food.

“Journaling was required at the end of each day,” said Nilde Lust. “And every day provided repeated opportunities for fellowship and social interaction.” She shared that field trips, birthday celebrations, and Friday dinners added to the members’ opportunities of interacting in English. “Participants were also organized to lead daily worship services and collaborate in group work, both during class and Friday and Sabbath activities,” she explained.

The CLAP program includes day trips and other opportunities for socializing and practicing English. [Photo: Northern Asia-Pacific Division]

This comprehensive approach to language study proved to be a novelty to many participants.

“Since my graduation years ago, I had felt a constant burden to improve my English,” said Nak Hyung Kim, current NSD Youth Ministries Director, who completed the CLAP training in 2008. “For years, I thought that studying English implied just memorizing vocabulary and internalizing grammar. But I found out CLAP was based on interaction and discussion. This new approach proved to be a real motivation to me,” he said.

Shigeru Ito, Pastor of the Hachioji and Kofu churches in Japan, who took part in the last training session, concurs. “I had given up on studying English,” he said. “And the first day I joined CLAP, I regretted it because I could hardly understand the language.”

Ito, however, shared how he changed his mind as the training progressed, and how useful it has been for his pastoral ministry. “Since I began as an intern pastor years ago, the Japanese society has been changing; there are many more foreigners now, and the church is no exception,” he said.

“Not being able to understand a word is painful and creates a feeling of isolation and loneliness”

Ito wrote that in the church he ministers there are members who do not know Japanese. “Not being able to understand a word is painful and creates a feeling of isolation and loneliness,” he said. “Seeing [foreign members] attending church faithfully is my motivation to keep learning English to communicate with them.”

While Ito acknowledges that leadership lectures and English classes were at first difficult for him, he enjoyed his progress as they days went by. “It was exciting to gradually understand what I didn’t know before.” Ito also highlights the fellowship component of the program. “When singing hymns together, sharing the words of the Bible and praying for each other, I often felt like being in heaven,” he said. “When the session was over, it was hard for me and everyone to say goodbye to each other. The CLAP experience created a very special bond among us.”

And what about Baik, the reluctant CLAP recruit who tried to use his wife as an excuse not to attend CLAP? “When I think of CLAP, I often remember Romans 5:8,” he said, referring to the verse where Paul wrote that Christ died for us even when we were sinners. “God showed me His love through CLAP while I was not aware of its worth,” said Baik. “I cannot but thank the Lord for such an amazing opportunity!”

Nilde Lust contributed to this story.