why i still love the church.

people God gathering

Yes, I call out unhealthy church systems all the time.

Yes, I rant and rave about equality.

Yes, I believe sometimes people need to leave church-as-they-knew-it to save their souls.

Yes, I am deeply disturbed by how power and control has hurt so many.

But I also still do love the “church.”

I believe in what it’s supposed to be.

I believe in its power.

I believe in its possibility.

I believe in its purpose.

Remember, though, I have a very loose definition of church. I say it all different ways:

The longer version: People gathered together in some way, shape or form to learn & practice the ways of Jesus and pass on love, hope, mercy, justice, and healing in a broken, weird world.

The short version: Pockets of people learning to love God, others, and ourselves & be loved by God, others, ourselves.

Church is so creative. Formal, informal, big, small, conversational, liturgical, in bars, in recovery meetings, in parks, in buildings, in houses, in sweet-space-next-to-food-banks, in coffee shops, in trailer parks, at dinner tables, at campfires.

However, there are a few constant key ingredients: people, God, and gathering.

And here’s what’s beautiful–there are all kinds of people, and all kinds of ways to intersect with God, and all kinds of ways to gather.

My sadness is that the church has become systemized and not spirit-ized. It’s supposed to be the best reflection on earth of heaven–oozing equality & justice & hope & authenticity & healing. But instead, it’s so often filled with hierarchy & control & power & hiding. It’s often stuck in the rut of certainty, conformity & affiliation instead of releasing people as they grow into a maturing faith of freedom, mystery & diversity. It’s often tame, controlled, manageable, domesticated.

That’s really never what it was supposed to be.

But, like humans from the beginning of time, we have always tried to shape things into what worked for us and kept us safe & protected.

I think Jesus turned all that upside down and like so many religious leaders and followers then, we still don’t like the message because it calls us to discomfort. It calls us to break down the walls between us & them. It calls us to clean our own cups first. It calls us to leave religion and find faith. It calls us to mercy. It calls us to practice.

Most of all, it calls us to relationship–with God, with others, with ourselves.

There are so many amazing things that happen through relationship with people when we gather in some way, shape or form to learn & practice together.

When we create little pockets of love and freedom in all kinds of unique ways.

To me, there are things that can’t happen in my life in my house all by myself. Left on my own, look out. I implode. I cave in. My eyeballs turn in and the only thing I can see is myself, myself, myself.

That’s why I still love church.

It helps me to connect with the beauty & hope of humanity. To look in eyes and share hearts. To reckon with my pride, my self-protection, my fears. To receive and not just give. To remember I’m not God even though I try to act like I am. To uncover the rubble in my own life and help remove some in my friends’ too. To practice friendship.  To participate with God to create little slivers & tastes of heaven here on earth.

Church–my life with people-who-don’t-have-to-be-with-me-but-choose-to-anyway–forces me to grow, heal, become more whole.

I don’t believe in going to church. Those days are so over for me.

But I do believe in being the church with other people who are growing, healing, becoming more whole, too.

And there are so many creative, wild, beautiful, unexpected, simple, amazing ways that is possible.

A new pastor friend in Denver shared the most soul-stirring sermon I have heard in a long time, centered on church and the state of Christianity. Please, read it. It rocks! It made me cry because sometimes I get so confused on what I feel about church and faith shifts and all of the ways I’ve changed over the years. I hear the voices of people who have criticized me along the way, telling me I was leading people astray or that the slippery slope was too dangerous.

I won’t restate everything in the sermon because it’s worth reading on your own, but the essence I gleaned is that we can trust God with the future of the church & Christianity.  He’s not proposing to take it lightly, but to hold it lightly…“to cling to it less, to let it go from the grasp of our certainties, to free it from our obsessive focus and our faithless worry that if we don’t protect it, preserve it, reinvent it, spruce it up, perpetuate it, it will somehow just disappear and we will have failed.”

That, like Moses’ mother putting him in a basket and sending him down the river not knowing where he’d end up, that we can trust the wild and crazy ways of God to supersede our biblical interpretations and our tendencies to manage and make-sense-of-things-in-a-way-that’s-comfortable. That Christ-alive is bigger and more powerful and more prevailing than our man-made constructs. That “church” will survive because the Holy Spirit isn’t going anywhere and will keep working in people’s lives instilling courage & love & hope. That the Jesus-infused call of justice & mercy will always inspire people to tangible love & care in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

That we’ve got a big creative God who’s with it no matter what.

Yes, I still love the “church.”

And I always love seeing it set free.

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

  • Thanks, Kathy. I love the points and your heart-centered, poetic way of making them. While you typically go that direction, and benefit folks like me (as well as the “right-brained”), I typically go analytical and past-present-future looking. So my little contribution of that nature: I increasingly see the NT as a very partial record that almost obscures the fact that the church never WAS really what you so well describe. We can’t know much what the “Jerusalem Church” really was, in its short 40-year history. (What Acts gives us has to be sorted and weighed carefully, and even in it there is not much detail.) But it apparently was still Torah-observant, as a sect of Judaism (not “Christian” as we think of the term). And if indeed people could be “spoken to death” (Ananias and Sapphira), I’m not thinking it was a place you’d want to be “open and vulnerable”.

    Perhaps the closest to your vision would have been Paul’s early communities, meeting in houses. But it seems like they never, in early stages, got past a raft of serious problems interpersonally and administratively (Corinth was a real mess!). Then pretty soon came the hierarchical, power-oriented, us-vs.-them situation (Pastoral Epistles, I John, etc.) To any traditionalists reading, this will sound like REAL heresy, but I’d suggest there is no “ideal” or “model” to look back to… it’s basically been a do-the-best-you-can-and-keep-trying-to-grow endeavor from the very beginning; and we ARE gradually getting it better, with the help of many “secular” brothers and sisters, some Buddhists, etc., etc.

    Reply
  • Just read the sermon… thank you. Because I’ve recently been wounded in church many well meaning people have implied I should cling very tightly to accepted (by them at least) Christian norms in order to recover, but it only seems to increase my sense of trauma. Reading this helps me to keep hoping that launching it all downstream in a basket might not be so crazy after all! It really costs a lot doesn’t it, but anything else seems false, thank you for shedding a bit more light on an unfamiliar path.

    Reply
    • thanks so much for taking time to share. yes, it sure does cost a lot but i think less in the end somehow over time in some other weird accounting-that-can’t-really-be-measured 🙂 peace and hope to you as you walk this bumpy path.

      Reply
  • I love what you said, “But I do believe in being the church with other people who are growing, healing, becoming more whole, too.” Since being out of the institutional church for at least 5 years I’ve found the freedom of being myself with my small group of people and to teach others without “lording over them” but truly relating and coming alongside them as a fellow strugglers. Love your latest book. Your blog reminded me of something I wrote in 2012: http://michaeljcraft.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/i-dont-want-to-see-people-hurt/

    Reply
    • thank you for sharing this piece. i love hearing about the freedom you have experienced loving people without control & power & systems-that-tell-you-how-you-have-to-do-it. it’s so beautiful.

      Reply
  • Kathy, I have been going through a faith shift for the past decade or so where going to church is not something I am interested in anymore. I am into being the church in the place I live in everyday life. Thank you for sharing that sometimes you have to leave the system to save your soul. That is true for me as I have struggled with my own spirituality to love myself while not getting trapped in the hyper emphasis on sin, guilt, shame and fear. So I have come to both love the church, but also hate it too. I guess it’s the paradox that I live in. My faith shift is leading me to despair, sadness and pain a lot of the time. It seems like a dark night of the soul where I have nothing to give anymore. I love the mystics who were often rejected, misunderstood and marginalized by the system of the church in their time. I think God has been cultivating in me a mystical imagination that is exploring the kingdom of God within myself. I have often times been discouraged to find Christ living in me in my own unique way by the church that wants to control me. I don;t like this and want to find myself by losing what I have learned from American Christianity. Often times I want to give up, but I think about people like Francis of Assisi who cried out for the church in his time with hope and love along with deep sorrow. Maybe the path to life is through deep suffering and vulnerability so that we can be expressions of love in the world. Thank you, Kathy, for inspiring a deeper freedom within myself by having the courage to be honest about your journey. It is so rare, but much needed in our time.

    Reply
    • thanks, mark. oh i know that feeling of wanting to give up on it. and love-hate are such the right words. paradox is the right word for sure. it seeps in all of the time for me and i sometimes seriously just want to throw in the towel and move on. then i hear a story or experience a night like sunday where 20 men and women and children shared some kind of art piece with no bells or whistles or control of any kind and i remember yet again how gorgeous people together in vulnerability and suffering and hope looks like. a little taste of heaven for sure. peace to you from colorado.

      Reply
  • Yes!!! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Something the Lord has been teaching me is that there are some things in the Kingdom that we can only receive through other people. It’s so easy to get frustrated at the institution and then revert to a “just you and me, Jesus” mentality. I know I have done that many times. But then I miss out on some of the most valuable treasures of the Kingdom.

    Your articles was refreshing, to say the least!

    Reply
  • Kathy, thank you for this! You’ve put into words my heart for many years. I grieve at the mass production and programming of it all, but I love gathering, wherever, whenever, with whomever is hungry and broken and joyful and willing. “Going” versus “Being.” Good stuff. Can’t wait to read more in your book.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

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