Eugene Cho is the founder and Lead Pastor of Quest Church – an urban, multi-cultural and multi-generational church in Seattle, Washington – as well as founder and Executive Director of the Q Café, an innovative non-profit community café and music venue. He is also the founder and visionary of One Day’s Wages (ODW) – “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” ODW has been featured in the New York Times, The Seattle Times, NPR and numerous other media outlets. For his entrepreneurial work and spirit, Eugene was recently honored as one of 50 Everyday American Heroes. His recently released his first book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?
KW: Based on the theme of your book, what would you say is the greatest hindrance to a Christian’s ability to actually change the world?
EC: I don’t think there is really one answer to that question. The body of Christ is a mosaic of people in different seasons of their lives and different seasons of their spiritual walk so I don’t want to single out one aspect, but I do think there are a few significant factors to talk about.
The first would probably be apathy and a general lack of conviction that we need to do something and that God has called the church be part of his plan.
The second, which contributes somewhat to the apathy, would be an erroneous theology. Many of us have a theology that says that we just need to focus on Jesus and that the most important thing is bringing the most people to heaven with us. While I agree with the basic premise, it lacks a larger, more robust vision of the kingdom of God that we pray will be manifest on the earth, as well.
Lastly, I think fear is a significant factor. The world around us is so broken. Just think about what’s happening today: the border crisis in Texas, the continued conflict in Israel and Palestine, Nigerian girls still being held captive—these these situations lead to fear and paralysis because we just don’t know what to do about it.
But I think we also need to be careful about what we mean by changing the world. In our language and in our theology we talk a lot about this and that’s good. I’m glad that, particularly in the evangelical world, the language and issues of justice have been elevated by things like The Justice Conference, for example. But I think we need to be careful about our messianic complexes, about our hero complexes. It would be ridiculous for us to think that we are trying to change the world without understanding that that God also wants to change us.
Part of the title of the book is “Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World than Actually Changing the World?” If I could add another sentence to that already long title it would be: “and also be changed ourselves.”
As we’re seeking to change the world and bring about justice, for us not to consider our own complicity in a broken world, would be missing so much and would actually be a hindrance to the work we are called to participate in.
KW: Why do you think it has become so easy, and so commonplace, for well-meaning Christians to confuse the line between good intentions and doing good?
EC: Part of this is cultural. We live in a world where it’s easy for us to express our good intent. I don’t want to just slam our culture and our people because it’s partly the language of the world we live in whether it’s social media or the ease of getting and responding to information.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but if we’re honest, there’s always a cost to following Jesus, a cost to justice, a cost to taking good ideas and implementing them. We’re all in love with justice, compassion and generosity, but there is a ceiling to that. We love justice until there is a personal cost to us.
That’s the distinction between action and good intent. Action requires a personal cost beyond a tweet or Facebook post.
We have to remind ourselves that there is a cost to following Jesus.
KW: You talk about the reality of Christians being “called to the insignificant.” Why do you think we need to be reminded of this, and why is it so difficult for us to hear?
EC: I’m not suggesting that we have to be insignificant or invisible, but in a world where we’re attracted to glamor, popularity and significance we have to remember that this isn’t the essence of our following Jesus. The most important part of our calling is to be faithful. If we’re attracted to attention and bright lights it can compromise our motivation and good intent. And, ultimately, it feeds our hero complex.
The cover of the book is an unrevealed human being with a superhero uniform. If we’re not careful, we’ll be overrated because we’re more in love with the idea of being seen and being celebrated than we are of being faithful.
Nowhere in scripture do I see that God’s calling for us is to be glamorous, trendy or relevant. Our cultural context makes this so tempting so we have to remember what God’s calling is for us—to be faithful.
KW: You say that Christians ought to begin with self-examination. What questions do we need to ask ourselves?
EC: In the midst of our busyness and desire to be defined by our work, we need to stop and realize that how our culture defines heroism, is different than what Jesus modeled for us. For example, I think there’s something about being humble, being careful about our motivations and acknowledging that in the work of justice we need to ask ourselves the hard questions
How do I embrace silence and solitude in the noise and clutter?
Am I defining myself and finding my significance in busyness and in “good work?”
Am I in it to glorify myself or to elevate God and those that I’m serving?
Am I using people for the sake of growing our own influence and platform?
These are hard questions and questions I wrestle with as a person, as a pastor, and as a leader in somewhat of a public role.
KW: How would you encourage someone paralyzed with the overwhelming charge of making a difference in the world?
EC: I would begin by reminding them that it’s not our job to save the world, it’s not even our job to change the entire world—we need to be realistic. There’s no possible way we can change the whole world; it’s a phrase and a marketing slogan we throw around in the church.
All we’re called to do is be faithful, to live as faithful followers of Jesus. And as we’re faithful followers who study God’s word, as we grow in our understanding of God’s heart, as we learn that justice, mercy and compassion reflect the character of God, as we’re people that study the scriptures, pray and spend time with the Holy Spirit—not because we’re trying to produce certain things, but because we’re followers of Jesus—out of those things will well up convictions that will help us and sustain us. Out of this will spring up energy and guidance for more than one hit wonders, single events, or fundraisers.
I would love to encourage someone to consider what it means to follow Jesus in all of the wonder, in all of it’s scandalous nature, for the marathon of life.
God has begun this mission and I believe that Christ came, Christ died, Christ rose again, and that one day he will come back to restore all things unto himself. We get to simply be a part of this. The world, the mission of God’s salvation, and redemption of this world does not rest on me. I can rest in that and trust that God is at work.
KW: What do you believe the church in America most needs to hear?
EC: The most important thing the church needs to hear is the most important thing we’ve needed to hear from the beginning—it’s the reason we exist. We need to be a church where everything we do is in response to the gospel of Christ. And by the gospel, I’m not just suggesting that we earn our ticket to heaven. The gospel is so amazing and magnificent that it does give us the gift of salvation and reconciles us to God through Christ. But the gospel is also such that it also ushers forth the kingdom of God that was demonstrated by Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel that we need to be a part of and be about.
May we be about the gospel, and may everything that we do—including the pursuit of justice—be in response to the gospel of Christ.
KW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
EC: Go Seahawks!