Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

McClure Lecture, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s World Mission Initiative explore leadership in a time of disruption

Bread for the World’s the Rev. Eugene Cho says he’s heard this expressed frequently during the pandemic: ‘This, Lord, is not what I signed up for’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Eugene Cho (photo courtesy of Bread for the World)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Eugene Cho says that during the pandemic he’s frequently heard this lamentation from pastors and other church leaders: “This, Lord, is not what I signed up for.”

“As people of God, is there a word for us? What does missional leadership look like in disrupted times?” asked Cho on Friday during the two-day W. Don McClure Lecture, part of the World Mission Initiative conference held at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The theme for the hybrid conference was “National Leadership in a Time of Disruption.”

The first thing to know, said Cho, the president and CEO of Bread for the World, is that this is not the first period of disruption in our history, and it won’t be the last.

“It feels like the foundations underneath us are moving, but consider the context when Jesus entered into the human story,” Cho said. “We knew there was so much abuse and injustice division then. We know Herod ordered the murder of all boys 2 and under because of the paranoia of his power.”

And yet this was the world into which Jesus was born, the place where he completed his remarkable public ministry of inclusion, healing and teaching.

“Even in times of apparent silence or chaos or disruption,” Cho said, “may we not forget God is still at work … May we not forget that Jesus Christ is alive and that the tomb is still empty. We aren’t wearing our Easter best right now, but every time we gather together may we rejoice and place our hope in this good news.”

The hope and the togetherness we’re called to in the letter to the Hebrews and other scriptural passages “isn’t blind optimism, nor naivete or ignorance. It doesn’t call us to be clappy clappy, giddy giddy,” Cho said. “It sees suffering and yet believes in the future.”

As people of hope, “It’s important to live with eyes and ears open to the disruption and pain around us and even inside us,” Cho said. “Lament should be an integral part of coming to God. Jesus’ last days are full of lament.”

One thing Cho has long lamented is a prominent sign welcoming worshipers to a church he once served as a youth leader. “Leave your worries outside,” the sign suggested, “before you enter the house of God.”

“If the church is only a place where we fabricate happy giddy clappy messages, where do people go who are struggling with the realities of life?” Cho asked. “I’m very confident God can handle our words and our sense of chaos during these times. If you’re feeling ill-equipped, join the club. Discouraged and despairing? Join the club. If you said, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for,’ I am president of that club. Join the club.”

“We are vulnerable,” Cho said to the gathering of church leaders, “and we give others space for that vulnerability.”

Cho delivered his remarks, part of the McClure Lecture, in Hicks Memorial Chapel at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. (photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

For his text Friday, Cho used John 21, the story of post-resurrection Jesus coaching a few of his male disciples, many of whom were experienced fishermen, on how to fish.

“This story is comical. Jesus asks, ‘Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?’ That’s the worst question to a fisherman who has caught nothing. It’s a ridiculous question,” said Cho, himself an avid angler. “Anytime Jesus asks a question, we should assume it’s not for his benefit. When he asks a question, Jesus is trying to give us a glimpse of the kingdom of God,” similar to the “who touched me?” question Jesus posed after a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years reached out the fringe of his cloak to receive healing. “Jesus wanted this misogynist culture to know that in the kingdom of God, the king stops and says, ‘I see you.’”

Cho said it was his great grandfather who was among the first in his village near Pyongyang in what is now North Korea to say yes to Jesus, more than a century ago. “Crazy Protestant missionaries got in a boat, sailed around the world, and came to the peninsula of Korea. They had a conversation with my great grandfather who was so moved by the gospel that he said yes. My great grandmother also said yes, and our whole household came to faith,” Cho said. While “there’s been great harm done” over the centuries in the field of mission work, “faithful women and men have graciously shared the good news of Jesus Christ.”

“I don’t believe a self-made person exists. Someone prayed for you, encouraged you, loved you,” Cho told those in attendance. “I don’t know who they were, but I’m grateful for them. They spoke, and they embodied the whole gospel,” a gospel that far exceeds only the “Jesus saves” message emphasized by so many Christians.

“To reduce the gospel to that is a false gospel, a limited gospel,” Cho said. “In a country where there is so much individualism, we forget what it means that Jesus also cares about collective human flourishing. Justice matters. Reconciliation matters. The poor and refugees fleeing from harm matter to God. Black and brown bodies matter to God. Children separated from their parents at the border matter to God. That’s the whole gospel.”

“The work of justice is clearly messy,” Cho said. “But to extract it out of God’s character is completely antithetical to who God is.”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.