Advice from the North Korean Underground Church: Stop Making it Easy for People to Become Involved in Your Church or Nonprofit

Last week we had a handyman, Jeff, at our house giving us an estimate on some home repairs. We quickly learned he was a Christian seeking a deeper experience of church. I spent more than two hours with Jeff talking about our .W congregation. He was clearly fascinated, and we ended our time with him pledging to come on Sunday.

Of course he never showed up.

On Sunday, however, I read the following excerpt from the third century document. The Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus. It sheds light on the practices of the young, underground, persecuted church in the generations shortly after the apostles. The following section in particular caught my interest:

Let those who will be brought newly to the faith to hear the Word be brought first to the teachers before the people arrive. And let them be asked the reason why they have given their assent to the faith. And let those who have brought them bear witness as to whether they are able to hear the Word. And let them be asked about their life: What sort is it?

It reminded me of how underground NK Christians respond even to family members who express an interest in learning more about Christ. In NK, as NK scholar Marcus Noland notes, “Newlyweds will not be informed about their spouse’s family’s religious practices for some time until sufficient trust has developed.”

What a far cry from how I approached handyman Jeff! Imagine how different our conversation would have been had I said, “Jeff, in the early church, before individuals were invited to worship with a particular congregation, congregation leaders would visit them and talk about their lives and why they wanted to follow Christ. If you are interested in getting involved in our church, the first step would be me dropping by your house to meet you and your family and to learn about your lives and your interest in Christ.”

  • How might our churches change if instead of begging people to come, we treated attendance at the assembly as a precious privilege and examined those professing an interest to ensure they were really serious about following Christ as part of our congregation?
  • How might our nonprofits change if instead of begging people to give, we published a gift acceptance policy that said, “We only accept donations that arise out of a larger discipleship process you are undertaking in this cause – either with us as the nonprofit or through your church”?

This post originally appeared in the Prayer Partner Update that Mrs. Foley and I do bi-weekly for the people who donate to our Seoul USA nonprofit for North Korea. If you want to get added to that list, of course, the next step would be for you to email me just so I can verify with you that this e-newsletter will be fitting into a wider discipleship process for you related to the Work of Mercy of visiting and remembering, either with us or with your church…  

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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One Response to Advice from the North Korean Underground Church: Stop Making it Easy for People to Become Involved in Your Church or Nonprofit

  1. Pingback: The Biblical Way to Get Church Freeloaders to Give | Rev. Eric Foley

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