well-behaved women won't change the church

well behaved women wont change the church * most all of you have already read this post. it was part of ed cyzewski’s women in ministry series and got a lot of love.  there are some really great comments over there.  i had so much fun writing it and had no idea it would strike such a chord.  it’s so encouraging!  i am just posting it here now for my blog archives.  here’s to all kinds of mis-behaving…

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Years ago, if you looked up the definition of “Christian Good Girl”, I swear my picture would be right next to it. I was so good at being good! I knew how to keep the peace. I knew how to give people what they want. I know how to put my needs last. I knew how to say all the right things at the right time to sound really spiritual. I knew how to be nice.

Although I was not raised in a Christian home, when I turned my life over to Christ and joined his team, I found that all of the people-pleasing, peace-making, good-girl skills I had learned as a child of an alcoholic raised in chaos worked perfectly in the spiritual realm as well.

I earned all kinds of praise in the churches I was in for my good-girl-ness. Kathy’s so nice. Kathy’s such a team player. Kathy’s so easy to get along with.

None of these things were hard for me to do. They were like reflexes, a natural and immediate instinct to assess the situation, and then adjust to keep the peace and maintain whatever status quo needed to be maintained.

Over the years, though, as I started to do some personal healing work and begin to look at the unhealthy patterns in my life, something profound began to shift. I started to tell the truth about my own story. I started to not worry so much about what people thought. I started to advocate for others who couldn’t use their voices yet. I started to disagree. I started to use my voice and stir the pot about change in the church.

I started to worry more about pleasing God than pleasing man.

And guess what happened? Leaders didn’t like it. They liked me a lot better when I was following the rules, playing the good-girl game. A weird and subversive shift occurred when I started showing up more honestly, more passionately as a leader. The best words I can use to describe it are: “painful silence.”

In my situation, the painful silence lead to me losing a pastoral ministry job that I loved. The reality was that I was just not “good” enough, submissive enough, to be part of that system anymore. Honestly, if I could have switched back to the Good-Girl fast enough, I might have been able to save my job. Temporarily.

But I was too far gone. My soul and passion had started to come alive and I couldn’t turn back.

As difficult as that season was for me personally, professionally, and spiritually, I am so grateful for it because I learned the most important lesson of my life as a leader:

Well-behaved women won’t change the church.

We just won’t.

Well-behaved women will keep the wheels spinning on systems that keep working, keep growing, keep moving. We will do good and honorable work that matters and helps people and makes a difference in their communities.

But we won’t change the church.

Some people think the church doesn’t need changing; they’re fine with the way things are because it works for them. But I think there a lot more of us out here than even we ourselves know–passionate women who believe the body of Christ needs much more than a face-lift to become all it’s meant to be.

Yeah, well-behaved women will not change the church.

Instead, change in the church will come from not-so-well-behaved women who are willing to risk their pride, reputations, and “being liked” to stand for what God is stirring up in their hearts.

Change in the church will come when women who are called to lead, lead, even when others don’t think they can or should.

Change in the church will come when women refuse to squelch their gifts and begin to unleash them without asking for permission first.

Change in the church will come when women passionately follow Jesus, not systems-made-in-his-name-that-do-not-reflect-his-image.

Change in the church will come when women bravely use their voices, power, and any influence they have to inspire others to be brave, too.

I admit, it’s still sometimes hard for me to not be the good-girl. I miss the safety. I miss the praise. I miss the security, even if it was false. Some days I wish I could make nice like I used to because it was so much easier then.

But the Kingdom of God was never about easy. It was never about comfort. It was never about maintaining the status-quo. It was never about playing nice.

The Kingdom of God Jesus called us to participate in creating–here, now–isn’t well-behaved.

That’s reason enough for us not to be, either.

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.


  • I loved this post so much the first time around! It was great to read it again this morning.

  • ROCK … ON … KATHY!!

    This is going to be such an awesome ride. Leave the stiff-necked horses behind. The image in my goofy head is one of a horse rearing up, and with a snort, a neigh, and a whinny whipping the carriage around and down a hilly, rocky path … a shortcut … towards the road we should have been on all along.

    I’ll try my best to keep up with you.

    • awesome imagery. glad to be on this beautiful road with you!

  • Hi Kathy-
    My wife sent me to this post. Even though I’m a dude this article completely resonates with me. I did happen to grow up in a Christian household and it’s interesting to me that we seemed to develop similar behaviors. I too was the nice person, did what I was told, followed the systems set up for me and avoided getting in trouble. (I apologize if I am assuming too much about your childhood here). Now at 30 years old I find myself feeling like I missed out of a huge part of my life because I was so concerned with following the rules. I still believe that God sent Jesus to die for all of creation to be reborn, but my views on “the church” have drastically changed. Sparing all the details I have found myself at a point where I have essentially deconstructed my faith and am holding on to all the good things that produce fruit but am continually dumping those things that are rotten and grosse. This, especially lately, has left me (and my wife) feeling alone much of the time and even sometimes feeling ostracized because we do not fit in with the system anymore.

    • josh, thanks for taking time to share. so glad you are here. did you read any of the rebuilding after deconstructing posts? i really want to write some kind of post about well-behaved christian men, too. so many of the same dynamics, just manifested differently. the loneliness factor is one of the hardest pieces, so hard when all that once worked just doesn’t anymore. peace and hope from colorado.

  • you are the nicest, poorly behaving woman i know. i appreciate that i don’t find you combative as you use your voice, always kind but truthful.
    also, it helps the rest of us people pleasers to watch and learn- everything in the kingdom is upside down, when you are “bad” you are good? ….

    • “the nicest, poorly behaving woman i know” , ha ha. let’s work on a post together about well-behaved men. i can’t do that one but i think we need to talk about that, too!

  • Oh my word Kathy your experiences are almost exactly the same as what I experienced. And I soooo identify with your struggle of occasionally wanting some of the secure warm fuzziness of being the “nice” woman in the church. But you know you can never go back. And you don’t really even want to because you know it isn’t pure, it isn’t clean, it isn’t true, it isn’t real, and most of all…it isn’t what God wants. Once your soul has been convicted of the ickyness of the big church machine there is no going back! I desire to be a part of a church family again, but I know it has to be different than the ones I have been involved with in the past. I do not expect perfection from any group of people anywhere; I do however expect a church to be egalitarian and more focused on loving people than the finances. I have noticed that the churches that consider women as “something a little less than a man” have the same attitude toward other groups of people and in their “outreach” ministry people are seen as projects to add to their portfolio. I believe that our motives matter a great deal to God, and that He wants us to invest in a real relationship with other people and not just throw resources at them. It is nice to feed the homeless, but I think God wants us to get to listen to their story, know them, value them, and love them. I think God wants us to do more than give them the cans of food that we have in the back of the pantry that are kinda outdated anyway…and the clothes out of our closets that are worn out and out of style. Is anyone else convicted about the fact that we are giving these people scraps while we spent tens of thousands of dollars of theatrical lighting, three projectors, smoke machines, and a new soundboard and speakers that would make a Las Vegas entertainment venue envious! And what about the other groups of people that churches “tolerate”, but never let them into their homes. I think God calls us to something higher than “tolerating” people! Oh don’t get me started…ok…sorry… I am stepping down off my little soapbox now.

    • oh it is so true, the no going back part. once you’ve tasted freedom, egypt won’t work. but it does leave a lot of loneliness because the options aren’t great. tracking with you!

  • I still have so much to unlearn — for many years I lived in a world where ‘nice’ was the only way to survive. But I want ot be a woman of change, and that means I must first be changed myself

    • thanks, lynne, for sharing. yeah, it is a lot to unlearn and as we are changed, we can can become change-agents. i’m glad it’s an ongoing thing, though, we don’t have to be completely changed and then be able to do something. it can all happen simultaneously. transformation is a beautiful thing!

  • Is it wrong of me to comment on every article? I’ve been hearing about you from Angie and Donna and Todd and Crystal…pretty much everyone at The Bridge. Now that I’ve had a chance to experience you…well, I get it. I get the hoopla about you. You are speaking freedom and action to people who have been silenced and shut down for so long. That’s precisely what I want my life to be about. Thanks for giving me courage to do it, and loudly. Who am I kidding? I do everything loudly.

    • ha ha, i am so glad you are here and it was so fun to get to meet you on monday. i am so thankful for the bridge & angie and donna and todd and crystal and now you, too. you all bring me so much hope and yes, we are in the thick of it and need each other, otherwise it’s just too $*#^!^$& hard. look forward to being connected out here & on facebook. you’re awesome.

  • Hey, in case you feel you are now lacking in praise for ditching the “good girl” image. Praise to you Kathy!good piece. :¬)

    • ha ha, thanks aran. for reading & being here & sharing your story. it is always so encouraging and reminds me why all of this nuttiness is worth it.

  • So true! I am just now learning to step out and stand up for what I believe even though it may go against the crowd. I’m still in the early stages of stepping out but someday, I’ll be at it full force. It’s so freeing and I feel God more than ever! Thanks for sharing your experience…I only wish it could be easier but easy isn’t always best.

    • thanks, jen, for sharing and no question this is hard and incremental. one thing i keep learning is that every little baby step toward freedom, no matter how small (or how big) matters so much. you are in good company, i know that for sure, so many of us trying to bravely step out and into new life.

  • Good article… I find it interesting that popularity in a church is often a false popularity built on maintaining the status quo. That it’s those who are willing to give up such popularity that gain an audience, when the ones who never had that ‘popularity’ have already been living out and speaking out about the same things, but rarely have ever been listened to. They are more often than not, ignored and dismissed as rebellious and/or clueless.

  • While reading this Abigail in the Bible came to mind. How if she would have held her tongue and been a good girl and allow her husband to continue with his foolish ways. Most likely she would have died. I am not saying we should always speak up against authority. But when we are being lead of God and pleasing Him in some cases we will need to speak up. So many run from their calling or can’t fulfill their calling because they are afraid or their church or the members are hindering them.


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