the same minds that got us into the problem can't get us out

einstein quoteOne of the hardest things for me is when I see talented, amazing, gifted, educated, passionate, articulate, creative women who over the years have found that they have no place left in the church.

They waited.

They tried.

They gave it their all.

They showed up again and again and again and again.

And in the end, the system just didn’t value them. Didn’t embrace their gifts. Didn’t ask them to be part of leadership beyond support and helping roles. Didn’t “get them.” Didn’t make room. Didn’t care that they had so much to bring. Didn’t bother to wonder why they left.

As I was sitting across from a friend in Phoenix this past weekend, I couldn’t help but feeling a sad, deep pit in my stomach as I heard her share her resignation that after years of trying, she really had decided to move on. That her dream of pastoring a church was over, and she was making peace with the reality that it was time to quit hoping for power-held-by-the-men to change or for the “emerging church” to be the answer or for someone to see what she had to bring to the body. Instead, she is looking forward to nurturing her art and finding life on the other side, attending church once in a while but giving up on the possibility of really being part of one again.

She’s not the only one.

I know so many amazing talented women who tried–I mean really tried–and are finding life and passion and purpose outside of the confines of church.

I realize there has been some movement over the past chunk of years, and even since I became a full-time pastor 11 years ago, more women are sitting at leadership tables than ever before. I am so glad for that!

But while things are slowly moving in the right direction, we have a long, long, and long way to go.

Most every church structure I know of–even in some churches I know are really truly trying–are filled with patriarchy beyond what they even know.

Power still begets power, and that means that those with it play with others that have it. Deals and hires and programs and plans get made on the golf course, and let’s just be honest–for the most part women are never invited to those games (11 years and hasn’t happened yet, ha ha).

They’re always looking for the right teaching pastor or leader with experience but because women rarely have the chance to do those things, it’s hard to meet the qualifications even though their gifts and talents are bubbling underneath.

People lead with friends and since we have so little skills and encouragement for women and men to be true friends, alongside each other in close and healthy relationship with each other, men keep asking their male friends to come plant with them, lead with them, play with them.

The result–even though the wheels are still spinning and the church is still alive, we also know it’s dying, too.

This is part of the reason so many women (and other marginalized groups, too) are becoming more and more “done” with church (but they still deeply care about so many important things). Inequality and completely-imbalanced-power and unhealthiness everywhere-we-look is part of the reason why.

As I was riding home on the plane Monday night, I couldn’t help but think–the minds that got us into this mess can’t get us out.

Yet, the church leadership conferences are still packed with male voices (with a few females and people of color sprinkled in). The reading lists missional networks pass around are still filled with male authors (publishers don’t like to publish material that won’t sell, and little known female practictioners, even with amazing & innovative ideas, just aren’t going to get church-leadership kinds of deals). Pulpits rarely have women in them in so many churches, even the new most supposedly progressive ones.

Church leaders want new wine, but often keep trying to put new wine into old wineskins.

We just don’t make proper spaces and places and platforms for creative minds to come forward and participate and truly collaborate in change.

I am glad to know some really amazing people planting new trees with good seeds. I also know some other leaders working their tails off to change their structures to empower women. It always makes me so happy.

However, throw tomatoes at me if you want to because it needs to be said: they are still few and far between.

Patriarchy is alive and well.

Women’s gifts are still so undervalued in the wider church.

We keep trying to solve this bleeding-church-problem with the same minds that created it.

“On earth as it is in heaven” is pretty rare even though Jesus said it was possible.

The truth is that the solution is not “out there” somewhere in the next cool conference or a new book or a new church coaching network.

It’s available now–right in front of everyone’s eyes: Women, people of color, LBGQT men and women, the poor, the marginalized, the young, the voices we’ve never heard.

Yep, they have the minds and ideas and hearts and passions and imagination and practices to get us out of this mess.

The question is will the church be smart enough to let them?

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.

7 Comments

  • Totally agree Kathy. This is a sad reality that woman’s voices are silenced due to patriarchy. I believe this is one of the most prevailing sins of the church that is destroying the body of Christ in our time. As men are too insecure to have an imagination for equality and a lot of male leaders are not very good at love, humility and grace. My opinion is that male leaders are not very good leaders and are ruining the church sad to say. Most males like to promote intellect over practice, services over community, theology over vulnerability, preaching over listening. And this is where the church is left, with an arrogant I am right you are wrong disembodied practice. I think this is why outsiders hate Christianity so much. I hate that kind of Christianity too and would never encourage someone to embrace it. Love reading your blog Kathy. So much good stuff!

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  • Love this, Kathy. Thank you for writing it. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve been wrestling with what it really means to be a leader and a woman in Christian circles. Is it possible? Do I have the heart for it? What do I do with the hurt? Really appreciate your words.

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  • A breath of fresh air… a cup of cold water… every time I read one of your blogs, or attend an evening with you; I am again reminded of a Jesus who is still alive and well. Is for us, and wants to play with us, yes us women, multicultural, underresourced and all the marginalized here on earth. Thank you for continuing to show us the Wild Ways Of Jesus!!

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  • The good ole boys running the church often don’t grasp that when they choose to exclude women, LGBTQ’s, certain racial minorities and more that they are losing not only those people, but also their families, friends and supporters. The good ole boys just don’t get that THEY are the minority.

    Not that many years ago we were part of the institutional church. The pastor talked to me about being part of his board of elders, which was second only to him. The board was short of members. However, no women, no LGBTQ’s, no one living with their girl friend, no one who had been divorced, no one who disagreed with any of their core doctrines, no one who did not give money to the church, etc., etc., etc. could be part of the board. That left only a handful of men who appeared to qualify.

    I declined, as did the others. I had discovered that in spite of the official written position of the church on the people who did not qualify, some of whom I listed above, their actual position was the opposite. My wife and I decided we could not be part of such a group and departed. Nowdays our church consists mostly of the people those folks do not want to be part of their group.

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  • “I know so many amazing talented women… are finding life and passion and purpose outside of the confines of church.”

    I wonder if people have considered the possibility that this is actually part of God’s solution? That the church that Jesus said he would build is currently finding expression outside the assumed structures? Is it possible that God is fashioning ‘new wineskins’ that look like nothing we’ve seen before?

    Maybe those of us who have been driven out (for whatever reason), and who are discovering life outside the confines of the institution, are actually among those ‘unheard’ voices. Maybe God is big enough and creative enough to show us ways of experiencing and manifesting Kingdom – “On earth as it is in heaven” – which bear no resemblance to any of the things we’ve known before. Maybe his purposes for his church have been frustrated for too long and he’s decided to break out and shake things up a little.

    Just a thought…

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  • Glad to see you hammering on this issue, Kathy… and well stated as usual! Just a bit of ancient history: I was one of a few (brave?) males attending (with my wife) events of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus in about 1978-80 or 82. It died sometime soon thereafter, tho it had seemed to have a lot of energy and momentum. I’m sure the story is written in more than one place… maybe some history to learn from.

    On a more current note: I’ve been encouraged to see how many women pastor and are in a wide range of leadership roles in the United Church of Christ. I’ve attended 2 of their churches and even in the more conservative of the two (still “liberal” by many Evangelical standards, but not by West Coast UCC standards), women lead a lot. As one example, in the latter church, which I’m a member of now, 2 of the 3 “residential” ministerial team members for a transitional time… when we were without a regular pastor… were women (one retired UCC minister and one current hospice chaplain). The role of congregation coordinator (basically head of the church council) is a woman, along with several other key leaders.

    Also, the church is being helped by a consultant team in our “redevelopment” effort. That is a husband-wife couple, both of whom are UCC ordained. I know of no one (tho there may be some) who has any issues with these situations or with women in any level of leadership. Still, the very progressive UCC denomination struggles with theological issues in which it is not united. Just one of them is whether to be officially “welcoming” churches in which same-sex couples can be married, gay events and such are often publicized and gays/lesbians are respected and take leadership positions, etc. In other words, even here in Cal., not all UCC churches have embraced the “welcoming” status. They seem to be further along on women in leadership than on this issue, which I guess is predictable.

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  • I get in a snit not just over this but over how horrible most churches are at engaging the vast majority of their congregation. Of course, I’d never be asked to make an enagement plan though even though I’m great at it. Though knowing what I know, I’m not sure I want to improve these systems anymore anyway. OK chasing tail, must stop writing. Thanks for the post.

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