three things about one word: church

church definition jpeg

i first started going to church on a regular basis when i was in high school. my boyfriend’s family became born-again christians while we were dating and i went with them. i loved it. the inspiration, the music, the challenge. it didn’t change everything for me but it opened me up to a world that i knew little about before. since then, i have been in all kinds of churches–big ones, little ones, weird ones, cool ones.

each of my church experiences have shaped and formed me. it’s where i’ve learned things that i need to learn. it’s where i found new ways to intersect with God. it’s where my soul has become stirred in ways it needed stirring and probably wouldn’t have happened sitting home watching TV.

even though some of my jacked-up-ness related to God has come from church, so much good was born there, too.

i’ve written before on why i love the church. yeah, no matter how hard i’ve tried to escape it, i love the church because i love people. to me, that’s really what the church is–people gathered together to live & learn & love together. we learn things in community that we can never learn on our own. i also think that the word and the idea behind it has become hijacked and that we need to re-frame what church actually means.

this year i started a here-and-there series called “three things about one word” and have talked so far about power & serving. i always think a lot about church, but this week these three things came to mind:

1. church is about people gathered in all kinds of beautiful & crazy shapes and forms (and a service is one small sliver of what that means). services are helpful to people and create an intentional space to connect with God in all kinds of ways, but a service alone is not church. church is people who are connecting eye to eye, heart to heart, sharing life together, breaking bread together, carrying each other’s burdens, being known, making ourselves vulnerable, praying light into darkness, discovering passions, empowering, encouraging, and calling out God’s image in each other. sometimes that happens at all sizes of services, but often church happens one on one, in coffee shops, in hospitals, in support groups, in houses, in shelters, at parties, in 2’s and 3’s and 4’s.  i really wish this kind of church got more credit because it seems that those thin places are where more sustained healing happens, where the great loneliness subsides, where we feel alive and purposeful, where we feel loved & heard, where the holy & the human intersect. we can’t  let the rules of the system define what is church and what isn’t.

2. the end product of church should be vulnerability, not inspiration.  of course, i think part of gathering is getting inspiration & challenge, but that’s only a little piece of what it was meant to be. we can be inspired and never make ourselves vulnerable to another human being. we can get all revved up about God and never actually practice what we intend to. we can become intoxicated with good sermons & liturgies & podcasts & music & ideas but never really expose our hearts. Jesus stuff is vulnerable. it’s practical, not theoretical.  it’s risky not comfortable.  it requires us to give ourselves to others in ways that don’t necessarily make us feel “good” but transform us into God’s image. one of the biggest reasons i haven’t given up on “church” is that it makes me vulnerable in ways i sometimes can’t stand.  and usually, the things i don’t-want-to-do are the things that are often the best for my soul in the end.

3. the world isn’t desperate for another service, but it sure does need the body of Christ, the church, to be what it’s supposed to be.  i always notice it, but after my israel-palestine trip, i’m even more painfully struck with how much we have failed when it comes to bringing peace & hope & love & justice & mercy to this broken and messed up world. the things we perpetuate & spend our money on, the things we are arguing about, and what we are known for are so distant from Jesus’ message that sometimes i wonder if we can ever turn it around. but then i hear your stories and your hearts and see the on-the-ground-work many dear friends are doing and i remember that we’re not completely done for yet. you give me so much hope, not for the system but for the living reality that there’s nothing prettier than God’s spirit flowing through our flesh & blood.

i have said all of these things before. really, these three things are nothing new. but i often write so i can remember, too. sometimes i feel a little dumb, all this passion i have for something that so many people have come to associate as either a country club for the judgmental or a waste of time.  when i revisit it, i seem to always come back to this conclusion: church matters because people do.

there’s too much loneliness, too much depression, too much darkness, too much shame, too much brokenness, too much poverty, too much hunger, too much abuse, too much grief, too much ugliness in this world to ignore.

and no matter how we slice it up, Jesus gave us the great responsibility–together–to reflect his image in his physical absence and to be the bearers of beauty & hope & mercy & peace & justice & kindness & compassion & love here, now.

so here’s to creating little pockets of love & spaces & places & ways for human beings to be with each other–to grow & share & fail & seek & wrestle & create & try & practice & find hope & gain courage & learn-to-love-and-be-loved–no matter how messy or weird or dumb or crazy or small or insignificant it may look or feel.

* * * * *

ps: speaking of “church”, i wanted to let you know, too, that we are running our next walking wounded: hope for those hurt by the church online class starting monday march 4th.  registration details are here.  each time we’ve done it, i am reminded how important it is to have safe spaces to intentionally process some of our pain related to church & faith shifts. it’s a messy process, finding our way out of the muck and mire, and this is a way to get some traction and hope. feel free to email me if you have any questions.

 

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.

19 Comments

  • Church means many different things to many different people. We no longer allow anyone else to define what it must look like. Some love worship songs, sermons, stained glass windows, proper theology, Bible verses scattered on the walls, in the sermons and in people’s conversations. We love following Jesus, which takes us outside the walls to the streets.

    Jesus walks with us as we walk the streets, as we mix with the people, people we try to love in the name of Jesus. If Jesus does not love these people, then we have no reason to think he loves us. We find church almost everywhere we go. It’s a matter of learning to see what is there.

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  • My spirit craves this!! I think back to all the most satisfying, life living in abundance, most passionate moments in church have been in having vulnerable conversations with friends. THIS is part of the power of living in community and church. 🙂

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  • Why do I get surprised when God is moving in my life? That He puts people in my life right at the exact time I need it. As I read your blog this evening and soaking your thoughts, it got me chuckling at how they fit right into my day today. Earlier today a young friend came over to work on our music as we are leading worship together this weekend at our retreat. not much music got worked on, but alot of “church” did. She was struggling with family issues and so we “churched”. She talked, cried, snotted, and went through alot of kleenex. I listened, asked questions, held her wet with tears hands and 2 hours later held her and prayed over her. What a blessing to do and be the church. Loved reading your affirming words of what I had just experienced! I shake my head, chuckle and then praise God for His faithfulness!

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  • I was touched by this. Thank you Kathy.

    Just yesterday, I was talking with a friend who just came out with sharing that he smokes hash. And that it’s been unusual for him that he hasn’t had a smoke for a week. Superficially he appears “cool” and socially he is very able. But he buries a lot of stuff with internalised anger and I guess maybe the hash numbs that. Unfortunately, it appears that paranoia that goes with the habit might be taking hold. He talks of having “no freedom in Christ” as he put it. At least he admits to being addicted, so at least he is not in denial.

    I remeber you taking the courage to risk being judged and not liked Kathy when you talked about the “high feeling” and being “smart, cool, progressive” and getting “away with things that weren’t really OK or right”. With the fruit or “church wounds” or being “worn out” and the need to “repent & change & embody a better way”.

    I love the passion for the hope you show in God and the beauty of God’s spirit flowing. Kind of similar to the thirst and the living water discussed recently? Please whatever you do, keep going and don’t give up on that hope.

    We’ve talked a lot about freedom. We know, don’t we that with freedom comes choice, and with choice comes responsibility. We can either use the freedom available to us to oppress or do good?

    For me, it doesn’t stop with being aware of problems, but what active part I can play in what God is doing or wants to do. If I choose to do this, I know that firstly I have to surrender my ego and take the courage to face any fear I expereince, knowing it is all the work of the Spirit that I choose to be involved in and that perfect love cast out all fear. This makes me vulnerable and it not being about how clever, strong, popular etc I am but releases Gods Spirit of power love and sound mind to me. Others are vulnerable with me if they do similar. Or I can put up “walls” that keep people out and others can do similar with me that keeps me out without having vulnerability.

    When I read what you have writtend Kathy, I recall CS Lewis saying that about love coming with vulnerability. I’ll leave him with the last word:

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid
    all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis.

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  • Great! Church as community in whatever shape or size…life loving and people being people.

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  • AMEN! Sometimes we get caught up in putting down and forever moaning about the Church, but I think we are losing sight of what it really is. I LOVE Church, I really can’t get enough, I love meeting with people and laying my heart and soul bare, and yes sometimes they do hurt it, whether intentionally or not, but often they help to heal and minister and love me in my vulnerable places. Thanks Kathy!

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    • thanks for taking time to share. i am glad you are in a place where you can be honest & safe & risk your heart in all kinds of healing ways. beautiful!

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  • Kathy,

    Loved this post. I am not a big fan of what the institution of “church” has become, but I love the church. I cannot get enough of seeing the body of Christ act like the body of Christ. Sometimes we lose sight of just exactly why we are still doing “church”, and reminders like this bring it back into focus. Its not about the meetings or the sermons or the songs, its about connecting with people and relationships and sharing and letting little pieces of God’s image shine through us and to us through others that really makes the church. Bless you, Friend.

    Pastor FedEx,
    Set Free Ministries,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry,
    Colorado Springs, CO

    Reply
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