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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It appears I brought a little Seattle to the NYC. Drizzle fest. 24 hour gathering with a small group of leaders from around the country. Learning. Listening. Asking hard questions. Head exploding. Heart trying to have hope. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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