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

My Instagram

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.

my tweets

  • People often ask, "How do stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much.… instagram.com/p/BF2giXwyWTY/ || 17 hours ago
  • Don't obsess about your platform.Just do your thing with passion, humility, integrity. We do what we do for God's glory, not human applause. || 1 day ago
  • Someone tell Steph Curry that he's the MVP because he's playing a lot like me in my rec league. || 1 day ago
  • .@SeattleQuest recently hosted Kenneth Bae (Prisoner 103). He was detained in DPRK for 735days. WATCH his testimony: vimeo.com/167680426 || 2 days ago
  • RT @seattlequest: Suffering is a short cut to God's heart. Even if your circumstances don't change, God is always w/ you. - KennethBae http… || 3 days ago
  • Oh Lord, You love North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Congo, Nigeria, Turkey and ______. You love the nations. Give us Your heart for the world. Amen. || 4 days ago

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