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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Thank you, Brooklyn, for the reminder. Umm, @jlin7 is a Christian but he wasn't very Christlike with me on the basketball court. He muscled me into the paint, dunked on me, mentioned my momma, and then said, "Stick with preaching." Just kidding. Kind of.

If you haven't heard, Jeremy Lin is donating his one games wages (approximately $140,000) and an additional $100 for every 3 pointer made to support Girls' Empowerment and Education through @onedayswages. That game is this Friday vs the Boston Celtics!

Join his campaign as he's inviting his fans to donate just $7. - http://onedayswages.org/jlin

Did you know that 32 million girls of lower secondary school age are not enrolled in school.

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Did you know that if all girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia had a secondary education, child marriage would fall by 64 percent.

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#jeremylin #jlin #linsanity #onedayswages Don't be held captive to either praise or criticism.

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The answer to who you serve makes all the difference... It's the day after International Women's Day - and it's still important to celebrate the contribution of women in our lives, society, and world. As we honor women all around the world, I'm also reminded of how women and children are those who are most deeply impacted by injustice - especially poverty.

Sadly, I have witnessed this reality in too many places. ​In 2012, I traveled to a remote area in Eastern Kenya as part of a @onedayswages response to a famine that struck the Horn of Africa region. This famine impacted nearly 13 million people and according to some sources, took the lives of about 250,000 people. During my trip there, I had the chance of meeting many people but the person that still remains in my memory was a Muslim woman named Sahara.

She was so hospitable in inviting us to her small and temporary home. During our conversation, I learned that ​Sahara traveled 300 kilometers (a little under 200 miles) – some by cart and some by foot – as they sought to escape the worst drought that has impacted East Africa (Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia) in the past 60 years.

This is not a misprint.
200.

She traveled about 200 miles on cart and foot. ​And all along, she was ill. If you look closely ​at the photo, you might notice the large lump in her throat - likely a large cancerous tumor.​ She did not travel alone. She traveled with her husband who I was not able to meet because he was staying with one of his five other wives in this polygamist community.  She did not travel alone. She also traveled with her six children – the youngest being about 1 and the oldest being around 8. She had just given birth to her sixth child when they began her journey. Her youngest was severely malnourished when they arrived to this new settlement in a town called Benane. 
Sahara and her children all survived this journey. They survived because she persisted. 
In honor of Sahara...and so many other women who keep...keeping on. I have to remind myself of this every day...because I can forget every day:

Don't be lazy and make assumptions about people. Ask about their story. Then listen. Be humble. Be teachable. Be human. Be a good neighbor. It's a sad reality but our society runs on the currency of fear. Don't feed into this frenzy.

Rather, invest in faith, hope, and love.

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