Journey Toward Ordained Ministry Profile: The Rev. John Mark Wang, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Placentia, California
March 24, 2021
JTOM scholar/mentor credits The United Methodist Church with guiding him “through classes, workshops, trainings and colleagues to serve God and the world.”
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Preacher’s kid John Mark Wang didn’t hear how passionately God was calling him to ordained ministry until his father recruited him to lead fellowship games with teenagers and provide a Bible message each Saturday. At the time, John was studying psychology at the University of California, Riverside.
“I served as a youth leader for the Chinatown Children’s Choir, formed out of the Chinese United Methodist Church in downtown Los Angeles,” John recalled. His father was the senior pastor there for five years.
“Throughout my undergraduate years,” he said, “I was mentored by the Rev. Mamie Ko through the [ministry] exploring process, but never took it quite seriously.”
Then one of the teens with whom John worked invited him to attend her baptism at a neighboring church. “She referenced one of my Saturday messages about the importance of baptism,” John said, “and made the decision to commit herself to Christ in the sacrament of baptism.” At that moment, John realized he was making an impact.
Growing up in a tightknit family, John and his brother – just a year older than he – were best friends throughout their childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Rowland Heights, California.
“I am Taiwanese/Chinese American,” John said. “My father was born and raised in Taiwan, while my mother was born and raised in China.
“We attended Cincinnati Chinese Church regularly, allowing me to experience a Chinese community. Growing up, I was often the only Asian student in my grade level in a school where only 4% referred to themselves as Asian.”
John remembered the joys and challenges of his early years. “The joy,” John said, “was having a lot of fun with Christian friends from church through sleepovers, game nights and movie outings. The challenge was having self-esteem issues from being the only Asian person in my classes and the stresses of excelling academically.”
After years of resisting God’s call to the ministry, John decided to pursue ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church. He headed to Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina (2010-13), earning a Master of Divinity degree.
John’s father told him about the Journey Toward Ordained Ministry scholarship and mentor experience. JTOM is open to undergraduate or graduate racial/ethnic minority United Methodist students who are at least 30 years old and pursuing a career in ordained ministry.
The $5,000-per-year scholarship and mentor support also includes an annual retreat at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Nashville, Tennessee, headquarters, where participants learn more about the ordination process, self-awareness and interview skills.
“I was fortunate to receive this scholarship over my three years of seminary training,” John said. “The greatest benefit was receiving funds that helped pay off some of the debt of attending seminary. Colleague relationships and the mentor experience were a close second.”
John’s favorite part of the annual weekend retreat was building friendships, community and relationships with other colleagues in seminary. “Now I’m grateful to network with friends in ministry who also received this scholarship,” he said. “The in-person retreat was something I looked forward to every year of the scholarship. We have been able to stay connected and check in with each other over the years and be an encouragement to one another.”
Another bonus, John said, was the mock interviews with mentors and small groups. “We were able to practice oral articulation of our answers to the District Committee on Ordained Ministry and Board of Ordained Ministry questions,” he noted. “This helped prepare me for the real interviews and was a great source of feedback.”
The Journey Toward Ordained Ministry scholarship, John said, changed his life “by decreasing financial debt and reducing stress,” allowing him to focus on his studies. “My mentors helped me immensely in navigating the ordination process of The United Methodist Church and gave me the tools I needed to become an ordained elder of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference in June 2019.”
John’s first pastoral appointment was to Highland Park United Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington. Today he is senior pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Placentia, California.
“I continue to serve as a mentor in the Journey Toward Ordained Ministry scholarship and give back to seminary students the knowledge I received as a scholar,” John said. “My gifts of discipling young people have been further developed by participating in JTOM. I hope to mentor more young adults to better understand their gifts and graces to serve God.”
John strives to transform his own little corner of the world in Orange County, California: “I am changing the world,” he said, “by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in my local church and pouring into my church leaders and the congregation through relationship, Bible study and teaching. I plan to implement a greater emphasis on mission work, caring for the impoverished and sharing the faith to make more disciples of Jesus Christ.”
He stressed the importance of the Ministerial Education Fund. “The church should support the Ministerial Education Fund,” John said, “to continue raising up pastors and deacons for the ministry of Christ in the world. The local church’s financial support is vital for future ministers called to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. The financial support empowered my journey to ordained ministry and has been a major blessing from God in my life.
“The United Methodist Church,” he added, “has guided me through classes, workshops, trainings and colleagues to serve God and the world.”
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