Eugene Cho

ministry is messy

Ministry is never pretty.   More poignantly, life is not pretty.  It’s messy. Our idealism will never be met.  It’s the simple and brutal truth.  The reality:  Quest Church is a failure.  It sucks.  The reality:  I am a failure.  I suck.  But the good news – it’s OK.  Everyone just breathe. God is gracious.  God’s grace is sufficient.   As for Quest:  it’s too big, too small, too disorganized, too institutional, too Asian, too White, too educated, too young, too modern, too postmodern, too emerging, too un-emerging, too biblical, too liberal, too conservative, [insert your thoughts here].  After six years, while I can honestly acknowledge that Quest is a failure of sorts and has disappointed many people, I can also rest in knowing that it’s beautiful and has ministered to many people – by the grace of God.  I feel so very privileged that God called my wife, Minhee and I, to be the visioneers of this church and hopefully, a movement to come.

So, while there are disappointments and I might will never please each and every single person, I’ve learned that there’s great value in just showing up.  There’s great value in simply DOING ministry, sharing life, and just trying.   While the product might not be polished and the process is messy, it’s humbling – even if it’s very rare – to know that redemptive things can and are taking place.  Here and there, I’ve wondered to myself if the church, the cafe, the programs, the sermons, the counseling, the Live Music, the community groups, the whatever…does it matter?  Now, more than ever before, I’ve realized that being messy is where the gospel is often  manifested.

Couple weeks ago, I was so encouraged [I really needed to be reminded…] to receive this email from one of our church pastors who oversees the To The Streets ministry at Quest with about a dozen volunteers. 

…I’ve always wondered to myself: what kind of change or transformation does this work bring to people? In fact, more often than not I’m questioned by people in our community about the work we are attempting to do through ‘to the streets’. They are good, valid questions about what kind of ‘real’ impact are we making, what we should expect in people’s lives after a certain point of helping them, etc. These are questions I often ask myself. In the past few months I’ve been reminded of the small steps sometimes it takes to love people. I am reminded of Christ’s ministry and how he pressed forward to care for people regardless of the outcomes, especially those outcomes we can only measure with human eyes.

Then today a man who’d we worked with for the past two years came out to volunteer his time for ‘To the Streets’. Ken is someone who has struggled for years with a variety of layers of homelessness– some of the struggle having to do with chemical dependency, mental health/illness, unemployment and more. He shared how he was clean and sober and has housing in South Seattle and how the people at Quest has impacted his decision to get his life back on track. He proclaimed how he desired to get baptized and become a member of the church and how it was an opportunity for him to give back in some small way. Beyond his words the transformation in his life was so evident and clear and a testimony to all of us of Christ’s work in his life. I am blessed that we had a small impact on this transformative process, but more importantly I am excited to be on the other side with him to celebrate this wonderful work. It is a testimony to me that we just don’t know the work of the Spirit in every human heart. We must be faithful by believing and showing up to extend our lives in service, but not because we’ll have any way to measure the work but in humility as we remember that God’s Spirit is working on a level we can’t sometimes see or understand. The testimony of our friend, “Joe,” is evidence of that work. Who knew that a pair of socks or small tube of toothpaste could be such a window into the larger work of God?

Take heart.  Don’t be discouraged.  Fight the fight.  Run the race.  Show up.  Keep living out and working out your faith. Keep preaching.  Keep loving.  Keep on keeping on…

Here’s to messy ministry…and the men, women, and children that live and serve by the grace of God.

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Filed under: church, churchplanting, emerging church, justice, pastors

10 Responses

  1. David Park says:

    Thanks E, very encouraging.

  2. Don says:

    Yahoo to the mess! Thank Eugene for the reminder to those of us perfectionists who think we can get there from here on our own. Yikes!

  3. Katherine says:

    Eugene,
    Been following your blog for a few months now. Enjoy it and very much appreciated your thoughts here. I wonder if this is why people often leave the Instituional Church -because it seeks to create complete Order out of stuff that’s just Messy.

  4. Thanks Eugene for bringing it all in to perspective. When you’ve been in the church for a long time and you are now starting a new community, it’s good to hear people like yourself speak those truths and not hide behind the ‘church’ facade but be open and honest about what it is really like and what it is really about. It is very freeing and encouraging! thanks bro! -rock on – jeff greer h.

  5. Todd says:

    Reminds me of a sermon by Tim Keel of Jacob’s Well where he talks about our need to do a little better at forgiving each other for not being Jesus. We need to forgive the church for not being the same…. thanks for your words.

  6. Blake says:

    Wow… Ain’t that right. We’re all just a mess, and our ministry is nothing but a bunch of hair-brained ideas that God somehow uses to further his kingdom. Kinda makes you scratch your head at times.😉

    Seriously though, I was a YoungLife middle-school leader for several years until I got too busy with college to continue. During that time I remember hearing over and over again that we never feel like we’re being productive, that our work is actually doing something. When we do, we often are wrong. And we we don’t, well, we’re wrong as well–but in a good way.😉 This came to mind a few months ago when I received an email from one of my old and favorite YL kids, a dude by the name of Jovan (I got permission to use his name). He’s an African American brother and an awesome guy. As his leader, I walked with him all the way through middle school. Those were rough years and I definitely didn’t feel like anything I had done had made any sort of difference whatsoever; until I received his email, this last bit in particular:

    “i know im going to be a [YoungLife] leader somewhere. maybe my old middle school where you change my life and i met GOD. thank u bro.”

    How awesome is that?? I just about cried the first time I read it. God humbled me and showed me that he can and does use everything we do. Jovan is now getting his GED and going to college in Landscape design, which is a huge turn from when I met him. He never thought he’d get any education past High School. Praise the Lord.

  7. Dear Rev. Cho,
    This does not sound like a failure to me.
    At least, not if the task was “preaching the gospel, loving God and neighbor.”
    Blessings to your church and ministry to come.

  8. Messy it is brother. The Church is messy, people are messy, relationships are famously messy, and it makes you wonder why God calls us to lead/participate in such a thing. To make us ever mindful of our complete dependence upon Him?

    Peace

  9. Esther says:

    Genesis 1: 2-3 The earth was formless and a chaos… And God said, let there be light…

    Whenever God the Creator is creating some masterpiece, there is first mess and chaos. It all causes us to draw to the Creator and give HIM all the credit.

    Each tiny step towards light and life in the church continues to amaze me and causes me to praise God, the Master builder.

  10. e cho says:

    blake: very cool story!

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One Day’s Wages

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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. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer. Seattle. 7:00pm. Desperately holding on to summer. #goldengardenpark #nofilter Happy Birthday, Minhee! I'm so grateful for you. You radiate faith, hope, and love.  No...you don't complete me. That would be silly and simply humanly impossible but you keep pointing me and our family to Christ who informs and transforms our lives, marriage, family, and ministry. Thanks for being so faithful. I love you so much. (* And what a gift to be in Korea together.)

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