Alumni Spotlight: Dr. S. Steve Park

Dr. S. Steve Park
MAR, 1988 

Guided by her institutional bylaws and ideally positioned with her unique location in Southern California, Westminster Seminary California has sought to be globally minded in her work of preparing men and women for ministry in Christ’s Church since her founding. The early commitment of WSC to the service of Christ’s global Church is evidenced every day by alumni who currently serve in more than 35 countries worldwide. The school’s continued commitment to this founding principle is shown by her classrooms, where today you will find individuals from over 10 different countries in the student body.

This global mindedness is also evidenced in many of WSC’s Stateside alumni, particularly in someone like Dr. S. Steve Park. In his own words, Dr. Park “belong[s] to that time in the Korean American immigrant church when there was a pretty tumultuous transition from generation to generation.” He attributes this tumultuousness to the “challenge of a growing generation who quickly lost the Korean culture and language” and, as a young WSC student just beginning his church work in 1986, found himself squarely in the thick of this complex challenge.  As part of the first generation of English-speaking Korean pastors in the United States, Dr. Park found himself faced with the crucial issue of intergenerational continuity and the enormous question: “How do you minister to these growing-up Korean American youth who seem so detached from their parents’ generation, struggling with an identity crisis in the U.S.?”

After graduating from WSC with his MAR degree in 1988, Dr. Park went on to earn both an MDIV and a PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. Over the years, he continued to carry this question of intergenerational continuity within the Korean American immigrant church and, in 1998, he consolidated on a vision to start the church that he continues to serve to this day – Jubilee Presbyterian Church in West Norriton, PA. Reflecting on his early vision for Jubilee, Dr. Park identified two primary themes: intergenerational unity and a strong reformed foundation in both theology and practice.

As a Korean American church with a distinctive approach to the typical division between Korean ministry and English ministry, Jubilee seeks to maintain more than simply intergenerational unity. With a one church-two congregations model, Dr. Park and his team of elders aim for a “Van Tillian emphasis on unity and diversity” that allows for distinction between the Korean ministry and the English ministry while remaining committed to unity as one church body. This model has opened the door for an English ministry that embraces a broader ethnic base than one might expect, creating opportunities for both multicultural and intergenerational unity. In Park’s words, the goal of the church is: “celebrating the uniqueness of each one, yet somehow connecting them generationally and familywise” because “the church should embrace little babies to the elderly.” By God’s grace, this is precisely what Jubilee Presbyterian Church does.

With Dr. Park’s leadership, the church also seeks to maintain that second theme that he envisioned at its planting: continuation of a strong Reformed tradition.  In many ways, he attributes this commitment to the “Reformed theological awakening” he had during his time at WSC. He remembers the impact of many professors such as Robert Strimple, W. Robert Godfrey, and Jay Adams, and how reformed confessional theology was “so deeply engrained in their teaching.” Dr. Park now seeks to pass on this impact to another generation of Korean American pastors and church planters, with Jubilee hosting annual pastors training events for their denomination (Korean American Presbyterian Church). However, his vision extends far beyond the state lines of Pennsylvania. Jubilee has also begun sponsoring global theological training work in places like China, and Dr. Park will be traveling to Korea later this spring to give a presentation at the Korean Evangelical Theological Society and speak at an Apologetics Conference.

Given his love for WSC and his passion for training future pastors and servants for Christ’s Church, it is no surprise that he returns to the seminary often, teaching a course like “Ministry in the Korean American Context” six times over the past 18 years. During his time on campus this past January, Dr. Park said he was delighted to find that our faculty remain committed to personal, intentional investment in students both inside and outside of the classroom. Speaking of Dr. A. Craig Troxel, a classmate of Park’s from his PhD studies, he observed that “there were students lining up to see him outside of his office” and was encouraged to see that “[Troxel] embraces that personal conversation piece as a major part of his ministry – it’s the kind of thing you don’t really see in other schools, unfortunately.”

When asked if there was anything he wanted to share with the WSC community, Dr. Park gave the school both an encouragement and a charge.

To the students and even to the faculty, he said: “Keep up the good work. I think there are times when we really doubt, ‘Does it work?’ And my answer is yes. It does provide a solid ground for you to not lose hope in life. And it does change people. And it also consolidates a community as a great nurturing context for Christians, and that’s what church is and should be.”

He then charged WSC with a reminder: “This has got to go global. And what I mean is not passively global, but actively global. How do we do that? That’s the work, I think, that Westminster has. Because the Christian population is shifting, we need this kind of theological excellence…translated into the language of the global community.”

Grounded in the bylaws which have emphasized this global mindedness from the very beginning, WSC aims to respond wholeheartedly to Dr. Park’s charge and continue her work on behalf of Christ, His Gospel, and His Church.