the new ways are way harder

i am a “get-it-done” kind of person.   a confessed striver, i really like to dream, build, create something from scratch, make things happen.    not all of this is for the wrong reasons (as in feeding ego, making me feel valuable & validated…), but i am honest enough to say of course in weird wacky ways it is all mixed up in the same pot.  most of my crazy-i-want-to-be-part-of-creating-and-nurturing-this-refuge-faith-community thing is because i believe passionately that there’s a need for new voices, new ideas, new models in the kingdom of God.    some close friends think i’m just a masochist.  they’re probably right, but at least i’m a masochist with idealistic dreams that a new way is possible. 

the bummer is i live a little too close to a system that i respect “works” but is really no longer consistent with some things i deeply value.   although the refuge is not a typical church by any means (we are really more a faith community-missional agency-weird eclectic band of ragamuffin brothers & sisters), we are actually technically a “church” and when we compare ourselves to other “churches”, it pretty much freaks me out because i see all the ways we are not doing the things that really do still “work.”  let’s face it, money continues to flow into lots of church coffers, one powerful-put-together guy on top is still highly valued, creating protected-we’ll-find-you-some-sanitized-ministry-comfort zones has become more and more popular as missional became the new buzz-word, and the professional corporate model continues to pervade an awful lot of church structures, emerging or not.

so sometimes i get confused.  i want to give up the dream.  i want to throw in the towel.  i want to get a nice comfy job with a real paycheck i can count on cashing.   i want ease, cushion, margin.   here in the trenches, trying to advocate for a different way, i sometime find myself secretly slipping back to old thinking, modern thinking, because it seems to “work” so much better than this crazy way we are trying.  where power is diffused, all have a voice, messy people aren’t required to clean it up, relationship supersedes strategy, experiential trumps comfort.   where the journey is far more important than the destination. 

i’ve been sort of in the tank this past week. the demands of the refuge sometimes sneak up on me.  people move in and out of communities all of the time, but when you are small and fragile and unpredictable it really takes its toll.   over the past two years, some people have left because they want to be around healthier, less messy people (this one gets to me more than any other), others want a squared away children’s program, better music, all the things they were “used to getting” and were secretly wondering if we’d ever deliver the goods.   others were probably longing for the typical weekly pep talk.   others, maybe because we make them feel more uncomfortable than they feel comfortable with.   i respect and understand all of these decisions. they are just hard on my soul, that’s all. 

and here’s what i realized this week, two years into planting the refuge:  i sometimes miss the old ways.  you see, the new ways are way harder. there are so many subtle ways that the road we’re on is so much trickier to pull off. i keep waiting for smoother sailing, greener pastures,  someone to  swoop in and say “we believe in you, we want to do this with you, what do you need?”  and i’m starting to realize, it may not come.   plus, i’m pretty sure the life of following Christ was never about ease, comfort, success, numbers, budgets, earthly relief.   i’ll say, though, part of my human condition always seems to be longing for it.

one thing i have observed is that many “new” churches are really still relying on old ways and that’s why they probably will get a lot further than we will!    i look sometimes at them and think “what are we doing wrong?” and then i realize we really are talking apples & oranges.  church as compared to this thing we’re doing that’s better described as a faith-community-missional-agency-Christ-likeness-relational-training-ground.   old & new.  (note: i did not say good & bad. i recognize that many ‘old’ systems are working, impacting the world for Christ in amazing ways). 

anyway, in my craziness these past few weeks i keep wishing for the good ol’ days, the good ol’ ways, but of course knowing i can never go back.

the old way says “if you give people what they really want, they’ll come….”

the new way says “our responsibility is to give people what they really need,” and this means they probably won’t stay because what we really need is to be known, loved, valued in intimate interdependent relationships with each other, and most of us know how hard and scary that really is.  many are chicken of that kind of connection.

the old way says “we need to give people opportunity to serve “the poor” or “other” people so they can get out of theirselves, their self-centeredness.”

the new way says “we will do more than reach down and offer a hand up here and there to make ourselves feel better.  we will go down and experience how much we actually have in common, how desperate we both are.   we have more to learn than we have to give.”

the old way says “figure out how to be self-sufficient as a community as quickly as possible (maybe even before you start). do what it takes to build an infrastructure that will support itself and feed into it to keep it humming along.”

the new way says “feeding infrastructure usually means sacrificing people, relationships, to build a structure that now needs to be maintained.  feed your people & community with love, care, respect, and beauty and understand this will probably never pay the bills the way you had hoped.”

the old way says “go find people that can fulfill specific roles, individuals who can get the jobs done you need to get done to strengthen your infrastructure.”

the new way says “who is here as part of this community and how can their gifts and passions be best expressed here even if there are gaping holes in the things we think should happen?”

the old way of measuring success is “numbers, financial viability, baptisms, and a good-looking list of programs.”

the new measure of success is “not really measurable because we’re talking about matters of the heart, places where people have have experienced Christ’s touch and love, but their circumstances are exactly the same.  where feeling loved and accepted changed everything underneath.  where a person’s dignity got restored. where an artist felt the freedom to express.  where someone came and went but took with them a taste of a different way.  where some never set foot into a weekly gathering but read something online that gave them hope, made them feel less alone.”

i’ll be honest.  i like the old ways better for only one simple and dumb reason:  it is was so much easier to pull off.   this new way is harder than i ever imagined.  but there’s no turning back.  so, for now, here i am, alongside beautiful friends who are dreamers like me, on the road filled with obstacles, insurmountable issues, and all kinds of reasons to give up even though we can’t seem to.  yeah, the new ways are way harder.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

13 Comments

  • I’d like to arrange a ride to your gathering…it sounds pretty authentic. Is there anyone coming in from Virginia?
    Truly beautifully spoken. I want the dirty, the ugly, the free thinking, the new way. Been there and done that. Loved it too. Then moved out of state to a very politically correct region 20 minutes outside DC. I crave the un-businesslike, un-organized, un-bulletined, gathering.
    I raise my glass to you for going forward into places where the rubber meets the road and you’re left breathing in the stench of burning tires. Major Props. You inspire!!!

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  • Great post. A lot of this resonates with me because of struggles our church is having. The new way is hard indeed, and not successful as the world, or even the “old way” measures success. Thanks for the post, and I’m gonna link it on my site.

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  • True, Kathy. I described what we do at the Refuge to my friend who used to be a Methodist minister (and who suffered under the downside of the old ways). He said that it seemed very Christian, but didn’t sound much like church.
    I think that in the last few decades we (in this culture) have become really excellent shoppers. I like a good deal as much as the next guy. yet this shopping mindset has become tied to church. “Got Jesus?” is close to “have you bought Jesus yet?”. Once we “buy Jesus”, then it is nice to go back to the mall and buy faith accessories every week. We want it to be a pleasant shopping experience. This is not entirely bad- It reaches many people who have come to love God this way- people who are also bombarded with worldly ads and gut-pounding entertainment on their big-screen TV’s every day. So attractional makes sense in the consumer culture of today’s America.
    I think that it is a recent thing to think of faith in this way. Most Christians (including ones in the consumer church) understand that it is Jesus who BOUGHT US. With that transaction complete, we belong to God, and we are free to invest in one another the love which we have been given.
    The Refuge is fertile ground for this kind of love exchange- grounded in daily life, integrating into action the ways of Jesus. We’re good at that. We love and help and encourage and share and keep each other going, like the Acts church in our own fledgeling way.
    But it comes at a price… you don’t get this kind of community off of the shelf. Silver-haired elderly people who went thru an economic depression know what it takes. people used to make gifts for each other. folks used to be much better at taking as much of the load as they could to pull off a festive gathering of loved ones- the Quinceañera is an example of how this is still done.
    At the Refuge, we are perpetually temporary, setting up and tearing down every week like a traveling tent ministry. I think we bring beauty to each other in that setting. but we all know that the greatest beauty is sharing our love of God thru Jesus with one another and being the “bride of Christ” to one another.

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  • Very nice post, Kathy. I wish there was a gathering of folks in my area who felt the same way. But then, I think, is getting together with another group of people simply looking for the old way again? You wrote:

    “i keep waiting for smoother sailing, greener pastures, someone to swoop in and say “we believe in you, we want to do this with you, what do you need?” and i’m starting to realize, it may not come. plus, i’m pretty sure the life of following Christ was never about ease, comfort, success, numbers, budgets, earthly relief. i’ll say, though, part of my human condition always seems to be longing for it.”

    I don’t want to ever “do” church again. There’s comfort there that reeks and rotten underneath all the perfume and nice clothes and songs sung in perfect harmony. And yet, I want to be able to get together and talk about stuff, make new friends, chat about music and movies and books, and feel that a connection is being made and minds are being awakened and challenged. I don’t want a pep talk. I want a discussion. I don’t want to ever hear another sermon. I want to interact.

    Interesting food for thought. Thanks.

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  • wow, yeah, that’s some heavy stuff.

    It’s a very Biblical idea, I think- the prophets are always the ones who have the hardest time of things. Being a Pharisee seems like a nice life, but that’s not who we are…

    sadly, the current USAmerican Church structure lacks any sort of mechanism for prophecy… I can’t stand outside my church talking about a new way… there’s no forum for me to share these thoughts. To me, that in and of itself is reason enough to give up on the old way, at least as a primary mode of being the Church.

    Maybe it’s not an either or situation. A while back I heard a professor at a seminary talking about a group of people he meets with one a regular basis- like a “faith-community-missional-agency-Christ-likeness-relational-training-ground”
    sort of thing – but the people are members of different churches, and this is something they do in addition to working (and changing) in their “old way” churches. It was especially encouraging to me since it seems it seems my family will always be a “church staff family” at an “old way” church.

    keep on preaching… strike that… prophesying!

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  • keep pressing into the difficulties i believe that right now, right here this is what it’s supposed to be like…not easy, not neat and tidy, but beautiful more beautiful than we can see.

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  • Loved the post. i have the dream of a place like that. Also know that if I abandon the old way totally there will never be growth for those who are there. I have a dream of leading in the old way but also having some of the new way at another place/time.
    would love to hear more of the refuge.
    WaynO

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  • been out of town & just catching up…

    tara…you are welcome to come hang out with us in colorado anytime! and yes burning rubber smells…love your metaphor!

    karen, thanks for stopping by and the link. i’ll head over there and check it out. what community are you part of?

    sage, couldn’t imagine anyone else i’d rather have alongside this journey. your faithfulness, your encouragement, means more than you know. keep reminding me.

    brian – well wish you lived closer. there’s a lot of interacting going on here, that’s for sure. i am glad you are joining these conversations…

    ted – yeah, ever since i posted this i have thought what a downer i have been sounding like, but i hope what comes out is just the passion for something different. i sometimes get so discouraged but you guys all remind me that i’m not stupid or crazy. the informal network that we have created in this past 2 years through some friends we met through off the map & a few others has been encouraging, but boy do i wish that more of them lived here!

    amber – okay, keep reminding me.

    wayne – welcome! and thanks for stopping by. it is a delicate balance when you are trying to shift a culture and sometimes the older ways may be the wiser thing for a current moment or an existing structure? in our situation, we are all ruined for the new way even though i get nostalgic now and then!

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  • I really enjoyed this post. I didn’t know much about you although I had seen your comments in other places. I am an inconsistent reader and commenter on blogs as I don’t really use an RSS feeder or anything – I tend to just go about when I have the time, but I know I have been to your site before and enjoyed what I read. This is the first time, however, I’ve gone a bit further, read a bit more, and even gone into the Refuge website. It all looks very exciting, and, yes, hard. I appreciate the sacrifice you are making. If it is in obedience to the leading of our Father, then charge ahead and don’t look back. Enjoy the blessings of obedience. You won’t be able to define success by the measures of the world, but you will know you have obeyed and are successful because you have joined Him in His mission for your life.

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  • Keep at it girl! There are some things that are worth fighting for. Change and innovations are good because they lead people to new places which are challenging and filled with growth. Adventures are rarely easy, because if they were, then they wouldn’t be adventures.

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  • bryan – thanks for your encouragement! it means a lot to know there are others looking in that encourage us to keep at it.

    urh – thanks for your cheerleading, too. my hope is to learn to enjoy the adventure, notice the beauty, the growth, God’s work…

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  • At the risk of being different … why isn’t it OK to get a job with a dependable paycheck that gives you stability and some peace while you live out your beliefs, be a great example, and impact the people you meet in the course of your everyday life?

    Even God only did ministry for three years!

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  • susan, i hear what you are saying and my response is “of course it’s okay!” there’s nothing wrong or right about it, we all live in different situations and different circumstances with different passions and different stirrings and different ways of living out our faith. that’s the beauty. i think it’s just helpful to honor and respect what may be hard, may be easier, in each of our different situations.

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