The Role of a Peer Learning Group in My Preaching Journey
God’s message of inclusiveness reaches past the walls that divide us, says Deborah Jungmi Kang, a Korean pastor serving a largely Anglo-American church in Illinois. As Kang develops her preaching voice, a peer learning group provides support.
In this Strengthening Preaching blog series, preachers from a range of Christian traditions and denominations reflect on their growth as preachers through their involvement in the Strengthening Preaching initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc., which is coordinated by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the heart of the initiative are preaching peer groups, sponsored by various seminaries, which engage preachers in reading, discussion, preaching, and feedback—all within a collegial circle of support. Deborah Jungmi Kang participated in a peer learning group sponsored by sponsored by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
I am a Korean pastor serving a United Methodist congregation in Illinois. In this church, as in my previous assignment, my preaching project is to embody the good news by expanding my interpretive strategies and cultural awareness. I focus not only on the context of Scripture but also on the century in which we live.
In my journey as a preacher, I have found that belonging to a pastor peer learning group contributes to my growth. Participating in the group helps me see how God calls us to be who we are, beyond the limitations of conflict, fear, or vulnerability.
Embodying the good news
Regardless of the gap of time and space between the past and the present, there are common features in all human lives. As my pastor peer learning group meets together, we seek to understand what Scripture suggests to us today and how God calls us to be who we are.
We ask: What does the text reveal about God’s work of creation and providence? What does the text reveal about God’s work of salvation as a gift of repentance and faith for hearers? How can we find, feel, and see God here and now, across time and space?
These questions that we raise and discuss are intertwined with the next step: developing a critical hermeneutic and cultural awareness concerning both the biblical text and the contemporary community.
Hermeneutics and cultural awareness
To speak about the current world situation, we need to recognize that globalization enormously impacts our lives. We see increased economic gains for already-powerful countries, a more homogeneous global culture, and a host of negative environmental and societal effects, such as addiction, gun violence, and dehumanizing events.
Such harmful effects yield not only physical poverty, but also spiritual poverty and wandering—losing who we truly are. Thus, my pastor peer learning group discusses how we can thrive in finding ourselves but also in building the kingdom of God. As preachers, we value seeking the faith that leads us to find our identities and to proclaim the kingdom of God, which is present here and now but is not yet fulfilled.
Here is an example. On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, leaving 58 people dead and hundreds injured. Before these shocking images had faded, another shooting happened in a small city in Texas. A man opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, killing and injuring multiple helpless people, from babies to the elderly. As we discussed these shootings in my pastor peer learning group, I searched for ways we can explore the hope of Christ in our lives through our response to senseless gun violence. For example, we need to increase mental health services to focus more on people’s anger, alienation, anxiety, and depression. Predicting violence is hard, but seeing that someone needs support is not so hard. This is where we need to concentrate: helping people in distress.
Exploring possible solutions can motivate us to make a difference through our actions toward others rather than remaining in the fearful tragedy. The love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit raised Jesus Christ in the midst of the holy darkness. God’s holiness may be hidden from our sight in the darkness, yet we can still experience God’s healing and hope, particularly when our life is in chaos. I can see God’s presence in the midst of life’s joys and tears. Rather than running from the violence and terror, God embraces the victims and calls us to act on their behalf.
The journey to who I am
As an ethnic minority and a non-native English speaker, I sometimes doubt what I am doing in the pulpit. Mispronouncing words is not simply a language problem—it can take away my confidence. Whenever I share my struggles with my peer learning group, my colleagues empower and encourage me to follow my call by providing input, feedback, and critical insight.
Working with a pastor peer learning group has greatly blessed me on my journey as a preacher. The group has helped me recognize the distinctiveness of women’s voices. God’s message of inclusiveness is proclaimed in intercultural communication between a Korean pastor and an Anglo-American congregation, reaching past the walls that divide us. For this reason, I continue to develop my identity as a preacher, working to find my unique, God-given voice.
Preaching that envisions God’s personification in diverse ways—for example, as a father, a mother, a grandmother, or an uncle—can enable Christians to hear what God truly wants us to do instead of sticking with what we want to do. I wrestle with how we can transcend society’s biased and gendered barriers through the good news of Jesus Christ. To act out of belief and to find God’s calling in our daily lives, I continue to cross spiritual, sexual, and social boundaries. I continue to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ from the text to the community, and from faith to praxis.
Read So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, an examination of the impact of pastor peer groups.
Explore preaching and ministry resources from the Center for Excellence in Preaching.