FACES Marathons and ministry

Men’s pastor Tom Kang interviewing former New York Yankee Andy Pettitte at Saddleback Church’s Man Up meeting. (Saddleback Church)

The crowd roared with cheers and encouragement as Saddleback Church men’s pastor Tom Kang made his way to the small patio table on center stage. This isn’t the first time Kang has been on stage in front of thousands of people, but tonight, it was just men, and it was the largest attended men’s event in Saddleback Church history.

“How are we doing tonight men?” Kang says.

With his large square framed glasses and wide giant grin, this Jersey boy looks like he is a California kid. Kang proceeds to interview five-time World Series champion Andy Pettitte, not hiding his inner fan, but rolls through his questions like he’s been there.

This is the second year of the monthly men’s group Man Up. The usual attendance is around 400 men, according to Kang, but that night, over 2,000 were in the crowd.

After the lights turn off, you can always catch Kang on the church’s patio, fist bumping anyone in sight, offering words of encouragement or telling a story about his family, past, or the latest crazy thing he’s experienced here in California. For instance, apparently he’s running marathons now.

Running is new for Kang as he committed to running the LA Marathon as well as the New York City Marathon.

“I run at least 20 miles a week,” Kang says. “You see, I’m not exactly built for speed or distance.”

Kang is 5 foot 8 inches tall with a stocky, low center of gravity body build. His body type would be great if he was in martial arts or a tug-of-war competitor, but that is not the case.

He averages 13 mi. per run, venturing all the way to Laguna Hills from Lake Forest.

The longest Kang has ran in a single session is 15 mi. from his home in Rancho Santa Margarita to Dana Point, where his wife had to pick him up.

“I’ve never run a marathon before,” Kang says. “I’m not fast, but I just go.”

26 mi. is a great distance, but it isn’t the hardest thing Kang has faced.

Kang is the former lead pastor at Liquid Church in New Jersey, and according to him, it was no typical church. In a section known as the “60” sector where no churches had more than 60 people and the median age was around 60, the church thrived in the thousands with a median age of 35.

Saddleback Church  reached out to Kang two years before he moved his five member family across the country, making the whole experience like the Bible story of the disciple Peter walking on water.

“I’m in this boat called Liquid Church so to speak,” Kang says. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come because I’ve got it good. I love what I do and I love the people who I get to minister with.”

He lived in New Jersey his entire life, never more than 30 min. outside of Manhattan. What seemed to be his final job at Liquid Church, he accepted Saddleback’s offer and moved his entire family of five to Lake Forest.

“The girls cried when we told them we were leaving Jersey,” Kang says. “Erica cried too, but the littlest one stopped after a bit and was excited.”

Moving was only one part of the problem, not knowing who was he was replacing. Former Saddleback men’s pastor Kenny Luck had previously served with Saddleback for many years, but transitioned to Crossline Church in Laguna Hills in 2014. For many church members, this was a big deal considering Luck wrote books, created teaching material and taught the  Thursday morning 6 a.m. men’s meetings which consisted of  several hundred, a new men’s pastor wasn’t very ideal.

“I didn’t even know who the guy was when I came here,” Kang says. “They mentioned his name like once during interviews, but it wasn’t the biggest thing on my mind.”

The Kang’s have weathered financial struggle and the treacherous process of buying a house, considering their living cost has risen exponentially.

“It was a significant salary cut to come to Saddleback,” Kang says. “It is also a 18 percent higher living cost.”

Two years after the move, the Kangs have settled into their new California lifestyle, often spending their off-time at Disneyland or the softball fields.

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