settling for crumbs

settling for crumbs* i wrote this last month & never got around to posting it.   i’ve recently been thinking about it even more, how awesome it would be if we had more help planting new trees.  but it requires people to bravely give up the old and begin actively participating in creating the new.

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“one hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. the first requisite is life, always.

– a.w. tozer

sometimes when i am in conversations with people about church i can go a little nutty. i am learning self-restraint. i am learning to listen and not put in my two cents. i am learning to respect that church stuff is so deeply embedded culturally that often we can’t see the weirdness of what we are even saying.

sometimes i hear accounts or stories about church experiences, and they often include these general strains of thoughts:

i don’t really like that my church is so big and no one knows me and i don’t have any friends there, but there’s nowhere else to go so i guess i just have to live with it. 

my church has a policy that the pastors will never email or return any phone calls so i don’t expect a response to my question anyway.

i know that pastor mistreats people right and left but he is a really good speaker. 

when i asked for a little extra support during a hard time i couldn’t even get an appointment.

i know women aren’t really valued, but at least they get to do more things than a lot of other churches allow.

my kids need something, so i just go for them.

i am excited about this dream or that idea or to have a place to use my gifts but no one at my church really cares about it.

the saddest part for me is that one of the reasons the wheels keep spinning around on weird and unhealthy systems is that people just keep participating in them, giving their money and time, thinking there aren’t other options.  and it’s true–there aren’t a lot of great alternatives when we’ve become so accustomed to certain comforts!

it is hard to step out of what we know into something new when the experience of church as usual is engrained in us “this is what we do, this is what church is like, this is what i can expect.” or, what we’re getting at church is enough of a benefit to keep going, even when somewhere down deep it doesn’t feel quite right.

i feel clear that these examples are not how Jesus-infused community is supposed to function.  if we are going somewhere where no one knows us, we can’t get any help when we are hurting, and there is no space to explore what we might have to offer in terms of giftedness & passion, then something is seriously off.

these simple elements shouldn’t seem like a long-shot when it comes to what we would hope for out of christian community.  but alas, there is a difference between cultivating communities & building churches.  and there is a difference between going to church & being part of the church. most of all, there’s a difference between settling for crumbs and eating a good meal at the table.

when we think that crumbs is what we deserve, that’s what we’ll eat.

when we think there’s probably no other food available, we’d rather sit & be undernourished than look for something more satisfying.

our stomachs have become accustomed to something far different than the kind of community we read about in the Bible and dream about in our hearts.

church stuff is tricky. every church can’t be all things to all people. churches are made up of human beings and we are far from perfect. and church hopping with a “consumer” mindset doesn’t help, either.

however, the big idea of the gathered body of Christ wasn’t about going through the motions, remaining unnoticed, uncared for, unnurtured, and unempowered.

systems will never change until we stop contributing to the madness.

there are options other than continuing to roll with the way things are. they just might be a little scarier!

but wasn’t that the way living out the ways of Jesus were supposed to be?

i believe the world would be a much better place if those who fundamentally know something is wrong with the systems they are in stopped using that hour and a half every week sitting in a church service and focused their energy in a more productive others-centered direction.  we could spend that time hanging out with someone else who’s lonely, inviting a neighbor over for dinner, gathering with friends to share life & laughter together, volunteering at a ministry or organization in desperate need of more hands & help, or checking out some other church expressions that might feel foreign but could open up new possibilities.

there are so many other possibilities for “church”!

also, i respect there are many who are fine in these systems and are thriving & happy there.  this isn’t about them.  i am talking about those of us who know something’s wrong, that it feels cruddy, that it’s not-right-somehow, but just keep going…and going..and going…anyway.

i love the church.  it’s meant for so much more than it often is. it is supposed to bring life, not loneliness, complacency, and disconnectedness.

we can be the change we want to see.

we can stop “spending money on food that does not give us strength and paying for food that does us no good” (isaiah 55:2).

i believe God’s got some really tasty food for us!  but first we have to quit settling for crumbs, scoot away from the table, and open ourselves up to new ways to live out our faith.

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 am so glad I finally got the courage to listen to a few of those voices in the back of my head telling me that there might be more out there.. That I might actually deserve friends and a chance to have a voice (and i’m not talking about just singing). It hasn’t been exactly easy, but it is worth it. This post really reminded me of that old feeling I got a year or two ago when I would read your posts and something in my chest would tighten because I knew I needed something different, but I wasn’t ready for change. I can’t wait to see what else there is to pour myself into once my babies get a bit older..

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      • karl, i really like that “courage is often needed to step into peace…”

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    • i am so glad you listened to that stirring and bravely took the plunge. “it hasn’t been exactly easy” 🙂 it’s hard, the shift, and dissonance & uncomfortable-ness is definitely part. i have felt it, too, and even after all these years, still feel it. but oh how much can be learned here and how much freedom can come. so thankful for you and privileged to be part of cultivating our community together.

      Reply
  • I spent years on staff at or attending churches that had many of the things you just wrote about going on. At one church, I knew it was time to leave when at a staff meeting we used the white board and made a list of the things that our church valued and wanted to focus on and the things that were less important to us as a church, and everything I valued was on the not important list and everything that drove me crazy was on the important list. I worked at a different church where I was basically doing the work of an assistant pastor but we had to come up with something else to call me because the group of churches we were affiliated with didn’t allow women pastors. I was at several churches that were battered by the pastor’s infidelity to their wives. And in those cases their wives were some of my best friends. Eventually I reached the point where I would have an amazing week of ministry and meaningful encounters with people while I was teaching music and living. Then I would force myself to go to church on Sunday morning. I realed that church had become this tremendous point of pain for me. I reached the point where I didn’t have it in me to go, sit there, have someone talk at me for an hour, and leave without connection any more. I try to cultivate an environment with friends and students and people I meet along the way of safety and community. I would love to be a part of a tribe of people again with that common heart. And I agree it is time to plant new trees and do life together a new way. I’m not sure exactly what the next phase will look like for me. Reading your book and your blog has been encouraging to me to see that I’m not alone in that desire. I would so hang with you guys if I lived around there. 🙂

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    • thanks, linda, for sharing. oh, i can feel that feeling in the meeting you were in. sometimes the skies part and we see, “uh oh, we really believe totally contradictory things here”. recently i received an email about a church planting network & every single item on it was about ascent & growth & marketing & it made me feel so sad on one hand and very thankful for the space i’m in on another. so glad that you are here & yeah, we’re definitely not alone! thanks for reading. peace to you from colorado.

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  • Kathy, I love this post! Thank you!

    After a disastrous and painful relationship with a fraudulent con-artist “pastor” and how the church leadership handled the whole situation, I found myself having a very hard time investing in another church. I love the church dearly! I love ministry! I had been on church staff for years. I have become intimately experienced with the very ugly underbelly of a couple of churches that have sold their souls to stay in “business”. I have spent the last year on my face asking God…So how then shall we live! I am also aware that there are some in the church that seem to be very happy and content with things just the way they are. I was amazed when I saw the title of this blog post because the bottom line for me is that God has shown me that He “God” was not in the mix of all the years of “ministry” I had been involved in and that I had accepted the “leftover crumbs” of several people that I had loved very much. I do not want to invest another minute of my heart and mind in Godless “ministry”. God is showing me that I don’t need an organization to validate my personal ministry. He is showing me how to be much more spirit-led and intentional in ministry. I am feeling a new freedom in Christ to serve where I feel led by God instead of trying to keep a specific church in business. Please understand, I am not saying all churches have sold their souls for personal reputation and business purposes, but some have, and if you are a truly spiritual individual and you are immersed in a spiritually dead environment it is painful and poisonous to your soul. There are Godly and loving communities and churches out there, I need to be much more discerning where I invest my heart. I appreciate that there are people that are talking about these issues. I don’t know what the answers are, but something in my spirit is stirred up and passionate for the real relationships and love that God intends for us and others. I deeply want other people to know the love of Jesus on a deep and personal level and maybe there are better ways of doing that than what I have experienced in some mainstream churches.

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    • laurie, thanks so much for taking time to comment & share a bit of your story. so much pain and weirdness out there in church stuff, i am always amazed at the ways that so many wonderful people survive it and rise out of the ashes and continue to live out their faith despite the obstacles. it is so beautiful and brings me hope. and it is so terribly discouraging, how many unsafe, ascent-driven, programs-over-people places there are that leave so much carnage along the way. peace and hope to you on your journey of healing & finding ways to pursue your passions.

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    • yeah, that is so true, laura, that tricky balance, when to try to stay & help influence change and when it’s time to go and plant new trees…i did find the article interesting, although i didn’t read it carefully, but i got the highlights. especially because i recently had a conversation with a friend about membership & the issue of baptism being required for membership. argh. i don’t think Jesus was about membership, i just can’t reconcile that one.

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  • Last Sunday, I took a struggling young single mom out to breakfast, then went to have tea with a newly-widowed friend. One of the best, most satisfying Sundays I’ve had in a long time … I still battle the need to “use Sunday” for a purpose like these, and want to seek the Lord in the same way Monday-Saturday.

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  • “there is a difference between going to church & being part of the church.” You nailed it right there. Our experience has been that those “places” people go to and call “church” are often better described as organizations, clubs, systems, entertainment venues, etc. While we understand that these are the “things” some people want, for us that does not define church.

    For us, church is not something we go to. We “are” the church. We think of living our lives in community as “being the church”.

    Yep, most people expect buildings, music, entertainment, a “message” (which most immediately forget), stuff for the kids, comfy chairs, coffee and donuts, etc. etc. We think of that as religion. Unfortunately it often becomes religion full of that stuff, but “following Jesus”/”being the church” is often missing.

    We choose not to support those systems with our time, money or attendance. From what I read, lots of others are making similar choices. Since many are unable to find alternatives (we have found numerous alternatives), they just drop out.

    Reply

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