BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Pastor David Chang first visited ODPC during his candidacy weekend in mid-May when he delivered a riveting sermon (“Elephant in Chains“) replete with stories of cloud-walking to school, living with his menagerie of exotic animals, and distributing food ninja-style to the poor and homeless. Now, after a cross-country move from Southern California, Pastor David joins us once again as a permanent fixture on ODPC’s pastoral staff. The Threshold takes a moment to welcome Pastor David into the fold and finds out who has the greenest thumb, loves the Chicago Cubs, and encourages everyone to join a small group.
THRESHOLD: Your online bio mentions that you were born in Bangladesh and grew up in Dhaka and India. What was it like growing up as a missionary kid living overseas? How did God lead you into full-time ministry?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: I was born in Daejeon, South Korea. My father left for Bangladesh soon after to begin his ministry in Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) and my mom and I joined him after I turned one. So basically all I knew of the world was Bangladesh. Growing up, life was so much fun. I had lots of pets. Six German Shepherds, two monkeys, ten rabbits, ten cats, parrots, and lots of fish, just to name a few. I was always out playing, either with my pets or climbing trees (my dad had built a tree house of sorts) and riding my bike around the neighborhood. I attended a school for missionary children, which happened to be walking distance from my home. I don’t quite remember studying much, but I do remember playing soccer all the time.
After 5th grade, my parents started to worry about my education and because our options were limited in Bangladesh, they decided to send me to an international boarding school in India. So by the time I was 12 years old, I was on a plane by myself traveling to and from India. It was beautiful at my boarding school, Kodaikanal; we were approximately at 10,000 ft. in elevation and the scenery was breathtaking. I spent the next four years living in a dorm and making friends from all around the world. Then, after my freshmen year of high school, my family immigrated to Chicago, which is where I consider home now. I have a younger brother who is a high school math teacher and a younger sister who works at Northwestern University. My father still goes back and forth to Bangladesh, but my mom lives in Chicago working as a nurse.
Growing up, I always thought I was going to be a doctor. I think some of it was from watching all the medical mission teams that visited us in Bangladesh. I soon realized, however, that one, I’m not smart enough to be a doctor, and two, I’m somewhat squeamish around blood, so I thought twice about becoming a medical doctor. As I got older, I noticed that people fascinated me. In particular, I was so intrigued by the human mind; what made people think the way that they do, and what causes an individual to act or behave in a certain manner. So I decided to become a psychiatrist. I even worked at a mental institution upon graduating from college. It was a residential unit for teenagers and it would be an understatement to say that it was some of the most difficult years of my life. I was confronted with so much suffering and there were nights when I felt completely overwhelmed by it all. Looking back, I believe God was showing me the extent of human brokenness. But it was there God confirmed my calling into ministry because I realized amidst all the suffering there could be no hope without God. To truly help those in need, all I could do was to point them towards Christ. Soon after, I decided to go to seminary and I’ve been in ministry ever since.
THRESHOLD: Your bio also mentions that you love all Chicago sports. Does this mean you’re a fan of both the Cubs and the White Sox? Ever see yourself following Washington DC area teams?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: I don’t think my bio does justice to my loyalty to Chicago sports. And no, my heart only has enough space for my beloved Cubbies. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I believe the curse will come to an end; soon and very soon. Honestly, it would be difficult for me to root for any DC area team, especially if they were playing against Chicago. But hey, we can all be cordial right?
THRESHOLD: Last question about your bio, can you elaborate on your love of horticulture?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: I love taking care of plants. I’m not sure exactly when this started but something about watching a plant grow gives me satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve planted and grown all sorts of plants, fruiting, indoor, outdoor, succulents — you name it, I don’t discriminate. If I had it my way, my office, living room, in fact, pretty much every room I spend time in would have plants. Some of my favorites to grow are the money-tree and plumerias.
THRESHOLD: You were serving at a church in San Diego, CA before moving to Northern Virginia. Any first impressions after coming back? What do you think is unique or different about ODPC? The Washington, DC area?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: I’m amazed at how much more developed the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area has become. When we used to live in NOVA, places like Ashburn, Aldie, and Gainesville were really under-developed; there was not much other than open land, but to see all the new housing and buildings is surprising.
One of the first things I noticed about ODPC is the potential our church has to make an impact in NOVA. Not just because of the size of our congregation, but really because of the unique group of people we have represented here. We have very professionally talented people and folks that are so eager to be more than just a social gathering. As someone coming in, it’s undeniable that God has been grooming us as a church for something greater, and I’m just so excited to see how God will lead us in whatever the next phase is for us as a church.
THRESHOLD: Tell us a little about your family. What are your kids into these days? How about your wife?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: My son, Matthias (7), is crazy about LEGOs and most recently got into Pokémon. He’s so full of energy and just loves people. You’ll probably see him at church, he’s the energizer bunny that hugs and greets everyone. My daughter, Kyla, loves to color, draw pictures and jewelry. I don’t know where she gets it from but she’s always dressing up and loves to accessorize. Should I be worried? She’s only 5. For her next birthday she asked for a phone. I should be worried.
My wife, Hanna, is the heart and soul of our family. She was a cheerleader in high school and she still carries that cheer with her even to this day. She’s always full of joy and lives life to the fullest. She loves to go running, needs and LOVES coffee (she’d take it intravenously if she could), and loves to dance.
THRESHOLD: So we understand that one of your charges is small groups. What does the ideal small group look like for you? What are some signs or hallmarks of a healthy small group?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: An ideal small group for me would be a place where everyone feels at home. Regardless of who they are or where they come from, a small group should be a place where folks feel safe, accepted, and loved in a way that God has demonstrated for us on the cross. Perhaps because I grew up moving from place to place, home isn’t necessary one specific location for me, but rather it is a sense of belonging. When we experience true acceptance and love, we can feel at home anywhere. Ideally all of our small groups would be a place everyone will feel at home.
Secondly, an ideal small group is one that is life-giving, meaning that rather than leaving us feeling drained, it should restore and energize us. Especially after a long week of taking care of our responsibilities, folks should be looking forward to the fellowship in small groups to recharge them. During my sophomore year of college, I remember being a part of a small group like this. Each week I could not wait to go to small group and, in some ways, I felt like I could not afford to miss small group because of the life I was receiving through it. In fact, the busier and more stressful my week was, the more I looked forward to spending time with my fellow brothers and sisters. How awesome would it be if all of our small groups were this way?
Finally, healthy small groups are ones that are growing. And I mean that in both the spiritual and physical sense. Our vision statement is to be an open door to a life changing grace. If we truly believe that, then our small groups need to extend the beauty of what we have to our neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, emphasis added.) A lamp that is lit need not do anything additional to expel darkness. It is my hope and prayer that our small groups will be lamps that are lit in this world and that many will be attracted by the light of Jesus in us. I dream of a day when all of our small groups will be growing and multiplying because of the joy of Christ that is overflowing from within us. It’s time for us to be light and to let our light shine.
THRESHOLD: Alpha is a relatively new small group to join this season’s lineup, what would you say to someone who is interested in joining a small group for the first time?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: I would encourage them not to be intimidated by the thought of joining a small group. One guarantee about doing life together is that you realize that you’re not alone. We all have struggles and flaws. Small groups are not about gathering together perfect people; it’s quite the opposite, actually. It is about coming as we each are and growing together to become more like Jesus. Moreover, I believe it’s important to remember that there are others who are also new to the small group experience. When trying something new folks often get worried about what to expect: what to wear, prior bible knowledge, the group dynamics, etc., and people who have been a part of small group for a while forget how intimidating that can be. But just know that there will be others who also have those questions. You should join a small group and come as you are, relax, ask, and expect to journey together with fellow brothers and sisters.
THRESHOLD: Who are some of your favorite Christian authors, missionaries, theologians, etc.? Why? Any interesting books that you’ve recently read or recommend?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: Some of my favorite authors and their books – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Revival), A.W Tozer (The Pursuit of God, The Knowledge of the Holy), C.S Lewis (Mere Christianity), Jim Cymbala (Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire), John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, Charles Spurgeon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Cost of Discipleship, Life Together). What draws me to each of these authors and theologians is that they are so passionate about what they believe. To them, it’s not merely about an intellectual ascent, but they really believe in what they teach.Recently I’ve been going through two books: “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and “Ministries of Mercy” by Tim Keller. With our trip to India just around the corner, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my own past and my understanding of poverty. Both of these books have been helpful in putting things into perspective and have been challenging for me, both personally and as a pastor thinking about our church. I recommend you pick them up when you get a chance.
THRESHOLD: OK, final question – any passage or verse in the Bible that you personally adhere to? How do you see yourself growing in your faith as a pastor over the next few years?
PASTOR DAVID CHANG: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7. This is my life verse. It is remarkable to me that the Apostle Paul was able to say this towards the end of his life on earth. When my time comes and all is said and done, my only wish is that I will be able to say that I have fought the good fight, that I have finished the race, and that through it all, I have kept the faith.For the past year God has been challenging me from Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Emphasis added.) So often it is easier for me to think only in terms of the “major” aspects of my faith but I am in a season where God is teaching me to be faithful all the more in the “minor” things that get overlooked. In the years to come, I want to learn what it means to surrender all of me, both big and small, both public and private. As the great theologian Brad Pitt says in the remarkably profound movie World War Z, “Movement is Life.” I am constantly a work in progress and I desire to move with God as he leads me through this season.
Pastor David Chang joined Open Door Presbyterian Church in late August.