Eugene Cho

not an island to yourself

The post and video is not meant to sound like a commerical but to ask the bigger question why we as Christians have such a hard time working together.

So, what do you think? Why do we find it so difficult to work together?

The video is a glimpse of my story.  In short, I think I was going through a mixture of anger, righteousness, disillusionment, and frustration and wanted to do it alone.

After being affiliated with a “denomination” for over a decade, I went through a season where of much anger, frustration, and disillusionment and chose to forsake all things institutional.  I was burnt out. I was weary and extremely cynical. I became an angry deconstructionist pastor. ‘Rage against the machine’ was a common theme in my life in the late 20s into the early 30s.

This was one of the reasons why I planted Quest Church in 2001 and why it was specifically a non-denominational church.  But then, I emerged into a place where I also did not want to be an island to ourselves.  I didn’t want to be a maverick [take a drink here]; I didn’t want to do things alone. We felt we could do more in partnership and relationship with other like minded and like hearted followers of Christ – even if that relationship wasn’t perfect since no perfect pastor, church, and certainly, association or denomination exists. So, after some months of intense research, conversations, and reciprocal interviews, we decided to partner with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Here’s an article I wrote several months ago for Fuller Seminary’s publication entitled Theology, News, and Notes about why an angry deconstructionist, rage against the machine, anti-instutitional pastor, etc. chose to affiliate with the ECC – which I often describe as the most undenominational denomination. 

I know that this may sound like a plug for the Covenant and in some way it is but the bigger question I want to raise is how we as the body of CHRIST work together in the here, there, and everywhere as part of the MISSIO DEI for the glory, fame, and honor of God.

In short, I want to work with you.  I want my partnership to go beyond my gender, my city, my culture, my denomination, my tribe, my perception of hegemony…

I want to see God glorified and honored.

How can I help you do what God has called you to do?

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16 Responses

  1. Capt Ralph says:

    ………..and we are equally happy to have you.

  2. Steve says:

    Amen, Eugene. The community God imagined and created for his people is always mutual, and I appreciate your desire to be part of a larger community in which God is at work. What it means to do ministry together, to do mission together (even in the church) is to cross boundaries. To do so involves crossing known boundaries that one is used to living inside of. And yet this enterprise is also one that requires us to hold on to the timeless truths of the person of Christ, that he’s both man and God, and his life, death, and resurrection and his Spirit is continuing its work in and among us.

  3. Debbie says:

    I never thought much about denominational oversight until I had to go to the district office of a particular denomination during an internship I was doing.

    The person who spoke with us there talked about all the ways the denomination supported pastors and congregations. He also talked about all sorts of difficult situations that pastors and congregations get into and how the denomination works to help get them back on track. He then talked about how many non-denominational churches call their office when crisis hits because they have no plan for dealing with such things.

    I left that day with great appreciation for the oversight of the denomination and a firm commitment to never belong to a church without it.

    The church is a body. We need each other.

  4. Don Bryant says:

    I guess this is why I wonder about starting another non-profit charitable organization. So many good organizations to give to that are doing amazing ministry but lack for resources. The typical, Protestant response is to start our own just because we can. And what it takes to do it all on our own is the redupliction of overhead, administrative costs, time, PR and effort. And that means a lot of stuff that could get done, won’t get done – because we have to do it on our own.

  5. Michelle says:

    How can you help me? Stay faithful to the gospel and the word of God and continue your journey and keep sharing it on your blog because it’s obvious God is using you. I totally hear what you are saying and we need to let God use our frustration to bring us to place closer to him and then we will be able to minister to others.

  6. eugenecho says:

    @don bryant:

    but that’s what they said to the same folks that started the “many good organizations” you speak of.

  7. ryan says:

    Good word Eugene – I appreciate that your path has not taken you out of denominational affiliation in a time when so many have. There’s something to be gained through the struggle and support of that relationship. I think you can help myself and others by modeling this commitment to denominational affiliation. BTW, I nominate the Vineyard as the most undenominationl denomination! I think the vineyard now calls itself “a community of churches” having moved past “an association”. Getting closer to the D word…

  8. Rick in Texas says:

    I like it. I was in Chicago just for Monday, having very productive conversations with a number of people. I am an ECC pastor who has sojourned with a different Christian body for the past 8 years. I have found them very welcoming and we have labored together for the larger cause of the Kingdom, but I sense God’s stirring back to the ECC – thus my day in Chicago. But I was swept up in the energy of Monday evening with Efrem and Judy and an all-embracing ministry imperative in the ECC that is so compelling and heart warming and is different from the ministry with which I am connected here – much as I have loved it, I sense it is time to begin coming home. What can you do? Pray that we will discern God’s leading as we anticipate a change that will be disruptive to our comfortable lives – pray for boldness to follow.

  9. chad m says:

    great seeing you in chicago…great thoughts here as well…i’m glad you’ve found a home in the ECC and i look forward to participating in God’s mission alongside people like you and your staff…

  10. steve says:

    Thanks for posting this Eugene! I found that it is harder to work/be friends with people inside a church/ christian organization myself. I don’t know if it is a layer of fakeness on people who suppose to be christians… or all the good christians have felt the need to be on a mission trip somewhere in the third world countries… so we are left with the “leftovers”.

    I have also met more stuck ups and racists inside the Christian community than in my neighborhood/school. Maybe not the same topic but yeah, I am struggling with the choices.

  11. Sue says:

    Great post Eugene.

    @Steve: Great comment.

    “What it means to do ministry together, to do mission together (even in the church) is to cross boundaries. To do so involves crossing known boundaries that one is used to living inside of. And yet this enterprise is also one that requires us to hold on to the timeless truths of the person of Christ, that he’s both man and God, and his life, death, and resurrection and his Spirit is continuing its work in and among us.”

  12. Benny Salas says:

    Eugene, I really appreciated your time to sit down and help me reflect on some things. I have realized in the past 2 years or so about Covenant pastors that they really do care. I’m sure they all don’t, but at least the ones of have met thus far like yourself are genuine and really see the kingdom of God in a healthy way. I hope to connect further with you and stay connected more because I need that which you have spoken of because I feel like an Island sometimes, and it’s not by choice.

    Keep you, the familia and la Iglesia in my thoughts and prayers. Peace out.

  13. Tom says:

    Thanks, Don. You sound like somebody who’s been around the block a few times that wants to make resources count.

    ‘So many good organizations to give to that are doing amazing ministry but lack for resources. The typical, Protestant response is to start our own just because we can. And what it takes to do it all on our own is the reduplication of overhead, administrative costs, time, PR and effort. And that means a lot of stuff that could get done, won’t get done – because we have to do it on our own.’

    Amen :^) Your take is especially important when resources for non-profits are scarce and about to get a lot more scarce. The old ways of doing things aren’t going to work in the future if we’re serious about blessing poor people or doing other wonderful service ministries in a sustainable way.

    I’m one of those folks who have started up a number of non-profit Christian works (Servant Partners, etc.) but have come to understand and embrace your point of view more deeply over time.

    Here’s the trouble with implementing your wise take. Creative people want creative control over the work they do, and should–in general–have that kind of creative control. But given the way the traditional non-profit world operates here in the US, the only way to retain that creative control is to ‘create your own’ organization which means reduplicating all the stuff you mention. Big waste of resources in order to give creative people the room they need.

    Shameless plug alert here :^)

    Some friends and I are developing a new kind of non-profit that will allow lots of creative projects to develop under a single ‘sponsorship organization.’ Basically, we’re aiming to create a single legal, fiscal and admin structure/umbrella that will give creative leaders wide creative control while consolidating effort and taking advantage of economies of scale. There’s a relatively new category of non-profits called ‘fiscal sponsorship’ organizations (the kind of all purpose umbrella I’m talking about) pioneered by the arts community and wonderful secular organizations like Community Partners (in LA) and The Tides Center (very large national fiscal sponsor incubating and supporting a wide variety of cool stuff). As with too many things, Christians are behind the curve but we’re trying to help us catch up so we can do more while wasting less. We’re calling the whole thing Visions Made Viable. Still in very primitive stages but ready to get rolling relatively soon.

    You’re comments, Don, are like our mission statement :^) As we’ve been spreading the word we’re finding the same kind of feedback among lots of Christians regardless of backgrounds or denominations. Everybody sees the wisdom in doing good while wasting less.

    Forgive me for hijacking your blog, Eugene. But you did ask how you could help…. :^)

  14. eugenecho says:

    @tom: you’re welcome here. you didn’t hijack the post at all. thanks for sharing and i’m excited to see the fruition of the vision you speak of.

  15. […] I personally roll with the Covenant denomination, I am advocating that we never be an island to ourselves.  I spent most of my early years in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches including two years in […]

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One Day’s Wages

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As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory) May our hearts break for injustice and exploitation - whether abroad or in our own backyard. Spending a few days for @onedayswages in Thailand. Along with one of our board members, I'm traveling with a group of 10 others to learn, listen and visit a few NGOs including one of our partners, @thefreedomstory. Couple days ago, we spent an evening walking through Soi Cowboy. On a given night, about 10,000 people are in the ring of prostitution in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and Patpong. Much of this is driven by the consumer demand. Approximately 70% of male tourists go to Thailand for the sex industry.

Human trafficking is complex. Anyone that says otherwise is lying or selling you something. 
To reduce it to simple terms, or simple problems, or simple solutions…cause harmful consequences. While we can all agree that it is sinful, egregious, evil, and wrong…there are many nuances and complexities. It would serve all of us to grow deep in the awareness not just of the larger issue but the nuances and complexities.

When people speak of human trafficking, they tend to be ‘attracted’ to the issue of sexual exploitation. Dare I say it, human trafficking has become trendy as a justice issue.

Clearly, it’s evil and egregious. But to reduce the entire issue of human trafficking into one form is not helpful. Because the mission is to fight the entire injustice of slavery. And if that’s the commitment, we have to not only combat sexual exploitation but engage in issues of poverty, forced labor, commercial exploitation in tourism, land rights and power abuses, organized crime networks, cultural and economic realities, etc.

Oh, it's so complex but we have to be engaged whether in Thailand or in our own backyards. May our hearts break for the things that break the heart of God... More thoughts to come.

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