Eugene Cho

my identity crisis

Quest gets its share of external visitors wanting to check out the church and the cafe.  They’re mostly local (the Pacific Northwest) but at times, folks are actually silly enough to spend money to fly into Seattle.  Although, I need to be honest here.  Quest is usually an ‘add-on’ to peoples’ church visitation agenda.  People fly to Seattle to usually visit Mars Hill or a few other known commodities.  I hate being a jerk but the visits take so much time and energy, we usually say, ‘Sorry.’   We occasionally do meet with folks – churchplanters, pastors, cafe starters, reporters, authors, etc. – and they usually fish from the same pool of questions.  One prominent question in some form or another is: “What’s been the most significant highlight in your ministry this past year(s)?”

And so, by now, you’d figure I’d have some nice prepared answers but I really don’t.  People ask so I share a little about the church growth (we’re still a fairly ‘small church’), the non-profit cafe, the live music venue, the likely merger with another church, a nice recent ‘portrait’ in the Seattle Times, and these are all good things to talk about and share.   But at the end of the day, the things I remember most as highlights all deal with PEOPLE.  My favorite story – and it’s so random – is a story [this past year] of a young man and woman at Quest.  They don’t even know this and I don’t think I’ve shared it with anyone but this incident sticks out to me as one of the most memorable moments since planting Quest.  Long story short:  I get a phone call one night and this young woman is flowing with joy and excitement.  Her boyfriend had just proposed to her.  And after sharing with their parents, they chose to call my wife and me to share the good news.  We were so moved; so humbled; so privileged and blessed that they would call to share this news with us.  I would say that this is one of the most significant moments of my personal ministry. 

And this all leads to the joy and struggle of my personal season in ministry.  The church = people.  Not buildings, not programs, not creeds, not strategic planning, not multi-sites, not CCM songs, not conferences, not emergent language, not blogs, etc.  But as a church grows, balance becomes an increasing issue.  As much as I know these things, I also know (in our context, culture, and model we’ve chosen with Quest), the element of organizational structure is as important as organic fluidity.  Structure does not entail death to Spirit.  At least, it doesn’t have to.  And yet, I find myself engaging areas that I once used to vehemently criticize.  I find myself behind my desk and computer way more than I want to.  I find myself as glued to my outlook calendar as to the rhythm reading at church.  I find myself needing to embrace another aspect of my ‘job description’ as a spokesperson for the church to the larger community.   I find myself having to actually determine and communicate an ‘end time’ to my appointments as to guard my schedule and physical/emotional exhaustion.  I find myself having to email folks to say, “I’ll email you back in the next two weeks” so as to find time to write something substantive rather than my infamous 3 line haiku responses. 

I was naive six years ago.  I was idealistic.  Idealism is good and honestly, I never want to relinquish that.  But I’m going through this season where my idealism is confronted by ‘realities.’ 

As I shared earlier, I’m learning about this ‘balance’ and learning about what it means to equip, empower, and trust those around me.  At Quest, we’ve been blessed by the presence of those who invest in the larger mission of the church – but particularly, our members, community group leaders, ministry leaders, and pastors and elders.  While I love the opportunities to DO LIFE with all that call Quest their church, I’ve come to terms that I can’t be the personal pastor to each and every single person.  And for that reason, I’ve shared with our church community that the past couple years have been a time of both rejoicing and grieving.  Rejoicing because God is working.  Greiving because at times, it’s very uncomfortable. 

I’m learning to embrace my morphing identity – not only to be a pastor to this church but a pastor, in a sense, to the larger city of Seattle and beyond – in some shape or another.  I know that I must work alongside and invest (and be held accountable) in our leadership, elders, and pastors, so that they can do what I simply can’t do very well – love and shepherd the PERSON.  I’ve come to terms that my changing role at Quest is to be mindful of the PERSON but to also speak to the PEOPLE.  And so, together, we’re all working together to honor one of our values of ‘the human soul.’

I want to ask Questers to be patient as I serve you as one of your pastors and continue our journey in the ‘priesthood of believers’; for your understanding about the complexity in this season as Quest (and I) endure through growing pains; my fellows pastors, elders, and leaders to be gracious as I/we stumble along; and other external pastors in blogosphere to share any words of advice as they have or are struggling in this balance between his/her role as pastor to the person and/or/both/vs/huh/what people.

Filed under: church, emerging church, leadership, quest church, seattle

14 Responses

  1. James says:

    Thanks Eugene for your honesty. My wife and I are newer to Quest and we respect you for your passion and care for the church.

  2. Reyes-Chow says:

    Eugene, we must get together the next time you are in The City. We and I are going through very similar things right now as we experience growth, almost to our own surprise. What DOES that mean for pastors, leaders and community beyond all the hype. Thanks!

  3. BK says:

    God is clearly blessing you, your family, and this church ministry. Take heart and press on.

  4. djchuang says:

    Sorry to have been yet another one of those people who pings you for trite answers to what’s happening at Quest. I do genuinely appreciate you for what you’re allowing God to do in you, and to share some of your raw feelings about being a pastor, and not only writing and speaking as if you had to hold the party line. I hope it’s a little bit therapeutic for you to let it out a bit here at this blog.

  5. e cho says:

    dj: no, not at all. enjoyed our short conversation over the phone. i very much appreciate what you and the foundation is seeking to do. ping this way as often as you want.

  6. djchuang says:

    Eugene, thanks for graciously receiving my call and your comment back. I think the lesson here for bystanders and church gawkers is one of (basic?) etiquette: ask for permission and request time to talk by phone or in person, and to be gracious enough when it is declined.

  7. paul says:

    great reflection; thanks; it’s exciting to read about effective ministries and leaders that continue to grow.

  8. e: I am not a pastor, and I don’t know all of what it takes… I have worked on staff at churches… few things that strike me in your confession… 1. this is very natural 2. like me and all the other humble brilliant people in the world (insert chuckle) we are control freaks 3. I just found out that God isn’t crazy about control freaks, apparently that can get in the way of faith and trust, He is big on that… 4. If you were not concerned about these things, you wouldn’t be as good as you obviously are at what you do… your awareness proves you are not only alive, but aware and therefore, wise…
    all that to say, I feel your pain, I will pray you through it,
    if I weren’t so content with where God has me, I would be moving to Seattle to be a part of what you have got going… I am encouraged that there are leaders like you out there…
    sj

  9. Blake says:

    P.E. your honesty, transparency, and utter passion for the cause of Christ are a daily inspiration to me, my walk, and my relationships with those who don’t know Christ. Thank you for the excellent job you do and for your likewise excellent leadership of our church as we’ve enjoyed the explosive growth of the past year or so.

    “The Lord bless you and keep you, The Lord shine his face upon you. And give you peace. And give you peace, forever.”

    Bless you, my friend.

  10. e cho says:

    sj: hey, thanks for the note. i’m definitely learning to ‘let go’ of some things. i’m glad you’re content where you’re at. that’s a gift in itself. don’t be so quick to jump to seattle to join us here. we’ve got more people leaving this church than minorities leaving denny’s retaurant in the 90s. peace man.

  11. jbaker says:

    Eugene: I’m new to your blog and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated reading this. I can ‘feel’ both your rejoicing and grieving and understand very well that tension as a fellow pastor. Love your people and you’ll be OK.

  12. s.lim says:

    Eugene, take heart. You are doing a wonderful job. Quest is one of the most honest and unique churches we have experienced in a long time. I love the fact that it’s clearly not perfect and that’s what makes it so beautiful.

  13. Dennis says:

    Eugene, you can’t please everyone. If you try to please every single person, it’ll kill you. I’ve learned that again and again and again.

  14. zdk says:

    I’m honored to be a part of this greater story, PE. Thanks for the words and your heart in this most difficult of times. You bless me and others greatly!

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One Day’s Wages

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People often ask, "How does one stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much. I like the rain. Keeps everything "evergreen" and clean. Keeps our air fresh. What's challenging is the gray weather. Give me a few more sunny days. 99 more days to be specific. 
Regardless, still love this city. Checking out Canada in case I need to move up North after the presidential election. Just saying, eh.

Downtown Toronto. Fascinating architecture. Amazed by the diversity of this city. We desperately want our children to not just be captivated by the beauty of creation...but more importantly, to the actual Creator of all that is good and beautiful.

Actually, we want and need this truth for our souls, too. What a privilege. This isn't possible without all those who give, pray, and support the work of @onedayswages. This week, I signed and mailed grants to three partner organizations totaling over $170,000. These grants will empower people by supporting maternal health care, refugee relief efforts, access to clean water, provide education, etc.

Sometimes, the brokenness of the world feel so overwhelming but let's keep running the race with endurance. Let's keep pursuing justice, mercy, and humility. Let's be faithful and may we be spurred on to keep working for God's Kingdom...on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, thank you so much for your support for @onedayswages! My wife, Minhee, and I stand on the shoulders of praying mothers. I'd like to take a moment to honor my mother-in-law. It's hard to put words together to embody her life but she is a very special, anointed person. I'm so blessed to have her as a mother in my life.

She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

As she'll soon celebrate her 80th birthday, I'm especially grateful for the ways that she poured into and prayed over Minhee and her other children.  Even though she's officially retired, I'm inspired that the concept of retirement is not in her vocabulary.  She continues to serve the local church, evangelize and bear witness to Christ, and goes to the early morning prayer meeting at 5am everyday to pray for our family, our church, and for others. 
Jangmonim, we love and honor you. 어머니, 사랑합니다.

Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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