missing in missional: we need more stories like these…

blog we need more stories like these* a few months ago chris chappotin asked a question to a few of us on twitter–”what’s missing from the missional conversation?” i’m not the best twitter-er, but i responded with the first thing that came to my mind: more real stories.  he asked if i’d write a post about it for a missing in missional series and here it is.  it’s kind of funny that both of these re-posts today have the word “missional” in them.  i’ll still go with incarnational any day!  also, if you think of me this weekend, send a little computer love my way.  my mac hard drive crashed & i am hoping, praying, begging they’ll be able to recover it.  i had been working on a few really big projects–with no backups for a while–so i’m really bummed!   

* * * * *

There is much being written about why missional living is important, the theology behind it, the reasons why we are compelled to be Christ’s hands and feet. This is awesome work and not to be dismissed because it is motivating people to get out of the pews and actually live the Bible instead of talk about the Bible.

At the same time, as someone who’s been living in the trenches for a chunk of years now, sometimes I wish I heard more real stories about what it’s really like down here. More honest stories about the cost. More raw stories about what it feels like to live in messy, incarnational relationships that are tiring, hard, and make us want to run for the hills.

I’d love to hear more stories that addressed:

The pain of incarnational living. How confusing it is when people who are already down and out and struggling to make it through the day get dealt brutal blow after brutal blow related to their health, finances, and circumstances. What it’s like to sit on the edge of our friend’s bed after being hospitalized yet again as they cry out “Kathy, why does God hate me so much?” What it feels like when our friends die, taking their own life or dying suddenly, leaving behind orphan children and we’re their only family. What the ravages of mental illness can do to beautiful children of God and how little tangible relief they get this side of heaven.

The frustration of incarnational living. How hard it is when we know the resources exist in our local community, but they are being channeled to church building campaigns and pastors’ big salaries. How we don’t even need money, we just need other brothers and sisters in Christ willing to be advocates and friends and journey alongside hurting people but they’d rather not get their hands too dirty. How some days you wonder if it really matters, all the time and energy and love being invested in change.

The cost of incarnational living. How some friends wish we could be more normal and not care so passionately about the ways of love. How much money and security we lose when we choose this path. How our families and children are affected by all this pain so up close and personal. How much it hurts when we love deeply and freely and then people just walk away from us without so much as a thank you.

These stories need to be told more freely, more honestly. I don’t think we hear enough of them. They are not a sign of our lack of faith or calling or mission. They are not something to be ashamed of or hidden. They are about real life down here in the muck and mire and beauty and glory of incarnational living. These kinds of stories would help a lot of us feel less alone, less crazy, less doubting-it-is-all-worth-it. These kinds of stories would help sustain and encourage us because they are the kind we can relate to.

But alongside these hard stories, I’d also love to hear more stories that flesh out and honor the beauty and hope of incarnational living.

Stories about what it feels like when we see God’s image restored in our friends, when heads are held higher and shame loses its power.

How glorious it is when broken marriages are reconciled and families are strengthened.

The beauty of men and women finding their voices for the first time in their lives and advocating for themselves.

The hope that comes when faith is renewed or people begin to believe that maybe God really does love them.

What it feels like when a woman leaves an abusive relationship and chooses life and freedom for her family.

When hope begins to be more present than despair.

When needs get met in community without anyone having to ask.

How having a safe space to tell our real story can heal broken hearts right before our very eyes.

How it is all worth it when we see friends shift from selfishness to serving others, too.

There is so much freaking beauty down here. I have days where my breath is taken away, where I witness miracles right before my very eyes (I have developed completely a new definition of miracles in these past few years and now I see a lot more of them!)

Where there’s no place I’d rather be.

When I believe in Jesus like I’ve never believed before.

Where I am overwhelmed with gratitude and hope.

Stories remind us we’re not alone. Stories remind us God is working despite the costs. Stories remind us that this is what following Jesus really looks like, feels like, is.

Yeah, I think the Missional conversation needs more stories like these.

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.

10 Comments

  • Most Christians don’t want to hear more real stories. They want to hear fantasy stories – Because the Smiths sent their teen on a one week “missions” trip, an entire nation is probably going to become Christians, and then the Smiths discovered that grandma’s old trunk is full of ten million dollars worth of old stock certificates.

    Most Christians don’t want to hear what really happens down here most of the time. Nor do they understand when they hear about what we call miracles.

    But there are those of us who do want to hear real stories – yours and ours. We need to hear each others stories, so we know we’re right where we’re supposed to be. There really, truly are those of us who don’t even want to live in FantasyLand.

    Reply
    • i think that is so true, we love fantasy stories, neat & tidy ones, 180 degree stories. the real stories, while we see them as beautiful, many see as “failure” or definitely not worth telling. but they are exactly the ones we need to hear more of….thanks, sam!
      —————————————-

      Reply
  • For many American Christians the gospel goes something like this: Do something sacrificial for God and you will receive 1. visible fruit that seems to justify the sacrifice 2. some reward in terms of emotional satisfaction, recognition from others, some sort of protection around you and those you love. It is a strange amalgam of the theology of Job’s friends, the enlightenment myth of progress and notions of the American dream. It is made worse by secularism that deeply doubts and undercuts public embrace of most-life narratives. It has little to do with the life of Jesus, the life of Paul or a New Testament vision.

    My best read of what Jesus suggests is 1. you can’t secure your life in the age of decay so 2. spend your life loving your neighbor, all the way up to and including your enemy 3. you will in this life begin to realize the life of God (your wellbeing at my expense) 4. it will cost you everything you have (but you can’t keep it anyway, see pt. 1) 5. if you are united with Christ in his mission and his death you will also be united with him in his resurrection.

    We don’t like to face the idea that Jesus died alone while his friends cowered in fear and were mostly lost to despair. Not a one showed up at his tomb just in case what he told them might happen. That’s how little they/we believe him. The women showed up out of faithful service but still could barely grasp the message of the angel. This is our story too.

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    I can so relate to exactly what you have written. Nearly five years ago, God led me into a ministry to the down and out in Colorado Springs. I had a steady job, a nice house, and things were pretty good all around, you might even say I was blessed. About a year into this ministry, I lost my job, and was led to purchase a business which I run today. My construction company does not pay me nearly enough to support my family, my ministry while incredibly rewarding does not pay me anything, and my wife and I (and our four kids) literally live month to month on little to no income.
    The amazing thing is that we see God move nearly every day. We are not behind on our mortgage, we have plenty of food and share constantly without needing anything. We have seen god provide over and over agian often without explaination. We do not spend time asking for support we just take what we are given and look for ways to use it for the kingdom.
    Some of our friends think that the struggles are a sign that we are outside of God’s will, but I know better. When I had a secure job, and a quiet life, I never got to really see God working.
    Now, I seem him working in all sorts of amazing ways, through all sorts of unlikely people. I see him in addicts who are now 3 weeks clean, in hardened criminals who can’t stop preaching to anyone who will ilsten, in broken, hurting people who are just learning to open up and trust again, and in a thousand other ways.
    Believe me I can relate with pain, frustration, and sacrificial cost. I have experienced all this and more on a near daily basis, but I wouldn’t, no, I couldn’t go back to the life I had before with little risk, and little chance of really meeting God on a regular basis.
    Edwin “FedEx Aldrich
    Pastor, Set Free Ministries
    President, Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
    Colorado Springs, CO

    Reply
  • I have been thinking about this post all afternoon, I finally decided that I just had to comment and I find that my hubby beat me to it. I guess great minds do think alike, LOL. He told of the life we live in seeing God provide day by day and I have to say that it is an amazing ride! Job 42:5 says it best ” I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” I never know where God will show up and I am learning that it really is the smallest chances to serve that give the biggest “holy moments”. I get to see people understand real love for the first time in their lives and it is awesome to watch them begin to peel away the layers of hurt, hate, addiction, self-protection and begin to embrace the grace Jesus gave His life to show them. I get to watch precious women, who’s entire identity is wrapped up in how others see them, grasp for the first time that they are beautiful because God made them so, not because someone else appreciates their outward appearance. Incredible!
    The other edge of this sword, however, is that the wounds and judgement we experience comes only from within. When we left the life of pretty good church folks (actually we were kicked out, but that is another story:), I was not prepared for the shots taken at us by other believers. I always assumed that they would see God in the places I did and would rejoice with me. I have tried to explain how I see God using our own financial issues to open doors to minister to the poor. Instead of rejoicing, people sigh and want to figure out what we did to cause God to stop blessing us. I have had to let go of my expectations of others (still working on that one). Thankfully, we have also found some wonderful kindreds who share our journey. I appreciate you so much for that, although we have only met once, I know you are there with us and your blog has often been a source of encouragement to me. Please keep battling, seeking, fighting for grace and bringing back the praises.

    Reply
    • thank you so much for taking time to share. for some reason your post made me cry this morning, in a good way. i love that scripture, too, and hadn’t heard it in a long time. it is so true, the smallest moments, definitely nothing to so many people, are actually the most holy-of-moments. last week i observed someone advocating for themselves in a really clear and beautiful way. most people looking in would go “so what’s so great about that, they’re still a mess” and i have been smiling all week every time i think about it because it is nothing short of a miracle. i am glad we can be connected out here; it gives me hope, too.
      —————————————-

      Reply
      • God’s Word is an amazing thing! In all the times I have read and studied Job, I never found that verse until a couple weeks ago when Fedex was preparing a message on struggles and evil in the world and who God is in the midst of our messed up lives. That was the key verse. God has written it daily on my heart since then. I am glad that you got to see someone live out of their true identity this week, even if it was just a moment. That is so wonderful, the other day, I walked into our little church and a friend ran over to to announce “27 days since I had a drink”. We embraced and did our happy dances and shared a moment. To the world looking on, this isn’t much, and she certainly doesn’t have it all together, but to her it was a God moment and I am glad I was there to share. We definately need to bring the bikers and come visit you again :-).

        Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *