Tampa Speaker Mobilizes Jesus-Followers to Join Forces, Change the World

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention

By Carl Stagner

Encounters with persons of a wide variety of Christian backgrounds ultimately readied the soil for Walter Kim to claim Christ as Lord when a love-driven youth pastor met him outside a showing of Star Wars at the movie theater. Fictional character Obi-Wan Kenobi’s self-sacrifice was compared symbolically to the willingness of Jesus to lay down his life for the good of all, and that cultural connection was enough to start Walter Kim on a journey he could have only imagined. That providential encounter at the cinema occurred a few decades ago, yet the president of the National Association of Evangelicals still finds himself at the intersection of a variety of denominations—forty, in fact. When he rises to the platform at the Church of God Convention in late June, Walter will no doubt bring a wealth of experience, knowledge, biblical insight, and encouragement to the Movement.

Just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the country to a standstill, Walter Kim took the reins of leadership for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Looking back briefly at the past few years of challenges, opportunities, growth, and chaos, he describes the road so far as “interesting, complicated, but deeply rewarding.” Fascinating to note, the origins of the NAE in the early 1940s tell a similar story.

In a podcast episode of All That to Say, with host Jim Lyon, Walter Kim mentions the global pandemic in the early part of the 20th century. He cites the Great Depression and both World Wars. Such “seismic challenges” were “unsettling the world,” and the church was not immune, he insists. Deep theological and ecclesiastical challenges and conflicts led to clashes between denominations and affiliations. But in 1942, a group of Jesus-centered leaders convened in St. Louis, Missouri, stressing the need for a third option. Recognizing one option as total retreat from a world spiraling out of control, and the other a capitulation to the changing culture, these leaders concluded that believers should not pattern their lives after popular culture, but should also engage the culture and the world in action. The goal wouldn’t be to lobby for a cause, but to love the nation toward Christ.

“Despite the differences, we’re deeply committed to what holds us together as followers of Jesus,” Walter Kim asserts. “We are better together.”

Walter Kim preaching

One especially visible manifestation of their mission is World Relief, an international humanitarian organization committed to help, in the name of Jesus, the most vulnerable among us. This holistic understanding of the gospel means salvation is still of utmost importance but so, too, are the good works we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10). When the baggage carried by the word evangelical is removed, the Good News behind the word is clear. We even recognize Jesus as the first evangelical, Walter posits.

“Let’s look at the first evangelical, Jesus,” Walter Kim says. “The first Good News person, who is, in fact, the Good News, not just the proclaimer of Good News. How did he introduce himself to the world? Certainly, from the gospel of Mark, he went around the countryside proclaiming, ‘Repent and believe, the kingdom of God is at hand.’ Which, as Americans, we would read as, ‘I need to personally repent and believe.’ And that is true. We absolutely need to do that. But in Luke 4, he goes to the synagogue in his hometown Nazareth and has a chance to introduce himself in an inaugural speech, so to speak…. What does he choose to do? He opens up the scroll of Isaiah [reading that he’d come to bring good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…]. There was, in his mind, no difference between the personal implications and the public applications of the gospel. They were all a part of this glorious message that he would give to the world in a full-orbed way. It’s personal, but it’s also social.”

In the United States, the term evangelical has become complicated, largely due to the association of evangelicals with certain political leanings. But, in his All That to Say discussion with Jim Lyon, Walter unpacks the fascinating history of the term and its global implications. Some of Christianity’s most renowned leaders historically referred to themselves as evangelical, which presumed a bent toward radical social change not limited to personal transformation.

Another complaint against evangelicalism has historically been its lack of visible diversity. White men have long dominated its leadership, including at the NAE. But today, the scene is quite different. Not only does the president’s role represent Korean American ethnicity, but the chairman of the board is also a prominent Black pastor, and the vice chair is a woman (very familiar to the Church of God—former Convention speaker, Jo Anne Lyon). But the necessary refinements of the National Association of Evangelicals toward a more diverse landscape didn’t happen overnight, nor were they without Church of God influence.

Diverse NAE leadership today, L to R: John K. Jenkins Sr., Walter Kim, Jo Anne Lyon

Among other notable areas of great influence, Ed Foggs also spoke vital truth and life into the direction of the NAE a few decades ago as the first African American (and, of any minority) to chair the board. “When I went to the NAE,” Foggs recounts, “I said three things to them—this organization is too white, too old, and too male. There were some in the Church of God who opposed my involvement with them, but today they’ve come a mighty long way. I’m grateful.”

Walter Kim served as pastor for a decade-and-a-half at Park Street Church, a historic ministry in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. He then served for four years at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He serves on the boards of Christianity Today and World Relief. Walter Kim received his PhD from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, his MDiv from Regent College in Vancouver, and his BA from Northwestern University. He is a licensed minister in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.

Ahead of Church of God Convention 2023 and General Assembly, Walter Kim expresses excitement to participate. “As followers of Jesus,” he explains, “we live and navigate between brokenness and beauty. I’m eager to be with pastors who enter this reality with faith and seek to offer a renewed vision of the Christian life. It will be great to explore together not just what we are saved from—saved from sin, separation from God, from dominion of Satan—but what we are saved for—what are we saved to do in this world and in the world to come.”

Listen and watch Jim Lyon’s entire discussion with Walter Kim at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPH8pujzCNU.

“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.

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