church refugees part 2: "life outside the bubble" – a video conversation

this is the second part of a 3-part-conversation i had with my friend phyllis mathis, who is a therapist-life-coach-church-refugee.  if you haven’t watched the first video, check it out here.  i really appreciated the comments & especially loved this quote about the real church attributed to tullian tchividjian (thanks sam & doug):  “if we’re the church then we’ll attract the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted.” most people i know didn’t leave church because it was attracting the desperate, marginalized, oppressed, sick, lonely, and outcast.  most people i know left because it wasn’t.

when thinking about church refugees, i thought it was interesting that the definition of a refugee is:  “one who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.”  church refugees are somehow displaced out of the system for all kinds of reasons–disillusionment with God, hurt by leadership/system, just-can’t-do-the-grind-anymore-and-long-for-something-different and a whole slew of other things. one of the problems, though, is there aren’t that many refugee camps–safe places–for church refugees. this video fleshes out a little bit more about “life outside the bubble” and the importance of respecting the wide range of emotions and fallout of making these shifts.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts.


ps: coming up in a few days–church refugees, part 3: spiritual practices

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • it seems so ironic, to me, that the system that many church refugees are leaving was originally started by a refugee, himself, named martin luther. although the protestant movement is incredibly different than the one he started it was, none the less, started by a man who would have been labeled, by his church, as a heretic, at worst, or a malcontent, at best. i hope history will prove to be as kind to me, as it has been to martin, in the pursuit of the freedom to follow the teachings of Jesus and not, necessarily, those of the institution of the church.

  • I believe I might be a new refugee…I’m definitely on the outside feeling alone, disoriented, confused, etc. BUT, I just may be in that in between place…feeling the tension of SOOOO wanting ALL of us to be in one place…together…no bubble. It’s because I “look” at the system and see all these beautiful people and hearts…THEN, I “look” at the margins and see all the same…VERY beautiful people and hearts! I’m not sure what is right but, I am thankful for the encouraging words that my soul is okay and I’m not going off the deep end. It is, for me, feeling like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff…thinking about jumping, but I can’t see anything…it’s all dark, but for some reason, I believe the Lord’s hand is there and well, obviously I am struggling with TRUSTING that it is there! Do I trust He’s stirring me to the right place? I want to say yes but, I know right now, it’s hard for me to say that. Maybe the tension is His “clank, clank, clank” as He molds me…maybe I need to stop resisting, hesitating, second guessing…thinking that He IS mad at me?! Phyllis, thank you for your encouraging words that He is NOT mad at me and that my soul is not at risk. I’m pretty sure I thought that…or at least believed I was doing something wrong! And, Pastor Kathy, thank you for all your prayers and encouraging blogs! Please keep praying for healing…and GRACE to the maturing…or the possible “baby refugee’!? 😉 God bless you both!

  • I find myself frequently coming back to your post on this series to see who and how others have commented. I feel at a loss for words myself these days but I will say…

    These conversations are stirring up a lot in me and helping to give voice to several areas I have and am currently walking through.

    Oh and I love that I fell asleep last night imagining a big plastic bubble and Phyliss (or others alike) on the outside, in their tents, throwing rocks at it. Very interesting image.

    What a gift you both have in each other to be able to engage in these helpful and healthy conversations.

    Thank you for letting me drop in and listen 🙂

  • Another thought-provoking conversation!

    There are moments that we later look back upon and see that they were defining moments in our journey. One of mine was the Sunday morning I stood on the church steps and watched a gaggle of eight or teen key people from the “in” group of leaders in that “church” surround and fawn over – do their best to befriend- the new couple (who had attended three times), who the group had just learned were a medical doctor and a university professor. Obviously (Duh!!), these were the kind of people the church needed (literally translated, these were the kind of people the “in” group wanted to join their circle to raise the status of the circle.

    I stood talking to another similar-aged new couple (who had also attended three times). Everyone walked past us. My friends were Hispanic – kind, honest, working people, but apparently lacked the perceived status of a doctor and a university professor.

    Those were not the only people the church ignored. Minorities, gays, the poor, outspoken women, people with “incorrect” theology and the list goes on. Those people knew they weren’t accepted, and very few hung around long.

    We all really know this is SO wrong, and so unlike Jesus, but pretend somehow that it is o.k. The conventional wisdom is to hang around and bring about change. In my experience, change rarely happens. As long as the money comes in and the “in” group is happy with the status quo, nothing much will ever change.

    You’re right. When we leave we are all infected with the disease. It is so difficult not to take it to another setting and basically repeat what we have seen in the past. It is so insidious.

    Whether we’re part of a church or not, we can determine not to play these games. For some of us that means distancing ourselves in one way or another from the people and clubs (some have the word “church” as part of their name) who can not give up the games, and follow Jesus and love our neighbors, including the Samaritans (those generally despised by our culture). If we feel we must surround and fawn over someone, perhaps that could be Jesus and His friends, as depicted in the Gospels. Correction – Change the word “fawn” to “love”; delete the word and idea of “fawn” from our lives.

  • These thoughts from Tim Keel seem to fit into this conversation….

    “…We need men and women who have previously been on the margins to come forth and lead us. In focusing so exclusively on our cognitive capacities, we have lost our imaginations. We need mystics. We need poets. We need prophets. We need apostles. We need artists. We need a church drawn out of the margins, drawn from the places and filled with people and shaped with competencies formerly thought to be of little account. In fact, perhaps it is from such ‘marginal’ communities as these that influence will begin to spread outward into communities that have been domesticated in a modern world and thus rendered docile. We need a wild vine grafted into the branch. We need alternate takes on reality. We need a different kind of leader – one who can create environments to nurture and release the imagination of God’s person.”

  • mike – thanks for sharing. the whole issue of “heresy” is so funny to me, especially when so many amazing beautiful people who love Jesus and just don’t buy into the long list of “these are the for sure requirements of what i have to believe and do and be part of to be called a Christ-follower” are labeled heretics, albeit with a far less life-threatening consequence as martin luther, ha ha.

    tammy – i am so glad you are reading and listening and trying to tune into what God is stirring up in you. it is scary to make these kinds of shifts and risk being persecuted for “not towing the line properly”…i am so with you there’s so much beauty in the body of Christ and i don’t like to use the analogy of “in” and “out” in terms of my day to day but for the sake of this topic i think i resonate most with that feeling like so many people have to choose. they either have to play with this team or don’t get to play at all. that’s not fair & seems so silly to me in the supposedly-free-church-built-upon-the-gospel-of-Jesus-Christ but it’s just that there aren’t a lot of options if you don’t play by all the rules. i hope that keeps changing so more and more people can be free and connected at the same time. thank you for sharing!

    esther – i am so glad that you are here and that it is stirring up some good stuff even when it’s hard and gives you bad dreams, ha ha. well it sounds like not bad ones, just funny interesting ones. honestly, though, it is a weird place to be and a lonely one and a confusing one. but a good one, too. i have been thinking a lot about this because even though i have a new life, a free life, a good life (& a beautiful church!) outside the confines of traditional church it still feels lonely sometimes. the big events, the newest books, the hoopla, the exciting groove, sometimes it’s hard not to be part of it. less hard than it was, but still once in a while i get a weird pang that it was fun to be on the winning team. not sure exactly what everyone’s winning, though, ha ha–well, maybe just the comfort and security that comes from being on the winning team together.

    sam – oh i can see that scene so perfectly well. the gravitational pull toward margin is so strong. i really do agree with you that for the most part the “well, i’ll just hang around and it will change” mentality doesn’t ever really change things. it sounds good. it sounds nicer. it sounds easier. but in the end, the pull the other way is so strong it rarely happens. i love that you have found a way out and a beautiful free way to live out your faith without the confines.

    martin – amazing quote. loved it. thanks for sharing, i hadn’t seen it. that’s a keeper for sure & a very powerful, prophetic word.

  • Was bouyed by hearing that those on the outside of the bubble just might have been lead out. I am blessed to not have the anger I feel be directed at God. For me leaving is truly about cleaving.

  • Hmm… I think the only reason I survived growing up in a very dysfunctional system – and being a leader in what I now recognize as a cult – was that underneath all the teaching – the trying to box God in, I knew Him from tiny & recognized His voice. Hmm…. I need to go. I will try to come back later and say more…

  • Okay, I’m back. Hmm… recognizing that from the time I was very small, I have know him, know Jesus, heard his voice deep inside… that in the middle of the physical abuse from parents, the spiritual abuse from parents and church, the sexual abuse… in the middle of all that, he was there, in the dark hours of the night softly singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with me (I was 9).

    I have struggled with knowing how to separate out the Jesus that I knew deep inside from the one I was taught about in the system. I don’t much care for the God the system teaches about. He is abusive and neglectful and harsh and very much like the parents I grew up with. And I don’t want much to do with that. But the God I know deep in my bones…. the one that has never left me alone… the one that has walked with me through all the crap and is still here with me now. Him I never want to let go of.

    You talked about trust. That is a HUGE issue. I have a great deal of difficulty trusting church people – especially male leaders. I have no histroy that suggests to me that they can really be trusted. So…. I am ‘outside’ the bubble. I still occasionally throw rocks, but mostly, I just try to move forward with what I have and get the help I need to get healthy emotionally and psychologically. And the church has not been in favor of that. So… they can shake their heads and call me back-slidden and whatever else they need to. I am getting better. I am moving on. And I finally understand that I don’t need that system to know God. And one of hte biggest fears I have had – that my mother would be proved right and I would have to do things her way in order to be right with God – that fear… ah, that fear is fading away.

    And I have seen God show up and do amazing things in my life and the lives of friends since we got out of the bubble that we never saw while we were in it.

  • I hesitate to say anything since the last post was 6 years ago. Will anyone hear? Anyway, I am so grateful to have found you. I hit the wall hard and every belief I was so sure about lays at my feet, shattered. I’m not sure of anything anymore. Thanks for sharing this. I really was worried about my soul. I am a work in progress and am seeking a real relationship with my God. I will keep reading what you post and try to find my way in the darkness. Thank you again for being part of the light.


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