upside down, inside out & against everything business school teaches

upside-down-houseNOTE:  this is part of the missional synchroblog organized by rick meigs at blind beggar, over 50 bloggers participating, reclaiming the now fairly over-used and ever-popular word “missional.”  although i don’t talk about it much, i consider myself a friend of missional and highly respect their work & heart to infect the kingdom with missional values. i encourage you to check out the other links (i listed them all below to make it easy) and hear what a diverse group of people across a wide strata of experiences, geography, and perspectives are sharing about living in the trenches as Christ-followers.  the question was “what is missional, really?”

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i honestly do not use the word for one primary reason–the people i know who are really truly “missional” don’t talk about it too much & the people who are trying to catch the latest church-trend use it a lot.   when we were planting the refuge a little over two years ago i had a few church leaders share with me how “they were becoming ‘missional’ and were we going to be, too?”, like it was the latest and greatest thing that no one had ever heard of before and surely we wanted to jump on the bandwagon.  oh how that taps into all my church institution craziness!  there i was, sitting across the table with leaders who had been in ministry, making decisions for churches for years and years i thought “you don’t even know, like really know, a poor person, do you?  you have never ever been in close relationship with a single mom who just got beat up by her ex and is trying to raise her babies on $1,000 a month, have you? you have never held someone’s hand when they relapsed, have you? because if you had, you wouldn’t be asking me that question!” (sorry, but these are the things that get me a little amped up).   Jesus was never about words without actions, hip & cool, or the latest trends.  he was always about just doing it. he came for the sick, not the healthy, and he demonstrated what it meant to be in the deepest ugliest parts of people’s story and call out their dignity and value.

i do think it’s great that the “missional” movement is catching hold and that many people are getting out of their seats and into their communities in more intentional ways (i wonder how much we owe to bono & oprah?)  i think why i shy away from the word is that it gets hoisted on the shoulders of church leaders as “see, look at us, we actually do care about the poor!” and then somehow everyone feels a little better.  missional is much more than some cool service projects and short term mission trips here and there while everything else structurally, programmatically, you name it, is exactly the same that it always been–focused on serving the people in the pews (or in the newest and most comfortable chairs) and making sure they are happy, bringing people “to us”, and not having to really engage in sacrificial life-on-life in real, authentic ways that get under our skin, make us feel uncomfortable, and change our hearts forever.

to me, missional–individually & corporately–is:

  • a way of living. it is a way of the heart, and is something that is better left unsaid in words and promotional materials and said loudly in humble, simple, natural actions that actually don’t get any press.
  • the upside down inside out and beautifully uncomfortable ways of the kingdom that are completely counter-intuitive to the worldly principles of business school that have infiltrated our church culture.
  • messy, chaotic, situational, and in many ways utterly unmeasurable.
  • embracing not only in action but in the core DNA of our hearts the values of the beatitudes in matthew 5 (spiritual poverty, the ability to mourn & feel, humility & gentleness, advocacy & social justice, mercy & compassion, and sacrifice at great costs)

Jesus uses these guiding words from the sermon on the mount to powerfully demonstrate that his ways will be hard, sacrificial, intensely counter-cultural.  my theory related to church ministries is “if it looks good, feels good, and helps you sleep well at night, beware!”  the ways of the kingdom are radically uncomfortable.

i think missional means that these core principles from the beatitudes are woven intricately and deeply into the fabric of our hearts, our communities:

spiritual poverty, an honest realization that we really need God – we realize we can’t do it, a program can’t do it, our skills and abilities can’t do it.  i think many churches teach that “we can do it if we just add the right ingredients here and there.”  when it comes to being in the darkest parts of our cities, our neighborhoods, people’s hearts, i think one thing is clear–we’re not one formula or book away from being able to do anything.  missional means we’re radically humble, painfully aware of how complex real life is and that we are in desperate need of God’s spirit really showing up.

an uncanny ability to feel, comfort, and enter into others’ pain.   we give up self-protection and allow ourselves to feel, care, weep with others, weep for ourselves.  we are painfully aware of the human struggle not only in others lives but also our own.  we aren’t about quick fixes and simple solutions but rather the long hard journey of relationship with other people where we cry together, celebrate together, feel each other’s pain and offer each other the comfort and hope we’ve received from God.  this means that we actually have to be in relationship with others, like really in relationship. we can’t cry over a story we don’t know.  we can’t know a story without really getting to know another person.  to me, missional is all about incarnational relationship (ah, yes, another lovely buzzword, but without incarnational i don’t believe there’s really such thing as missional)

incredible humility.  let’s face it, on the whole, christians aren’t known for our humility.  rather we are often known (and often valued by others in the club) for our pride, self-sufficiency, exclusivity and one-upness.  missional means that we don’t just have something to give, we have something to receive.  we have so much to learn from other people but sometimes we get caught up in being the savior, the more squared away ones, that we think we can do something “for” or “to” people instead of “with” them.  “with” relationships means we must humble ourselves and actually receive instead of distract ourselves and protect our hearts by only giving.

a deep passion for advocacy.   to me, a missing piece in so many churches and communities is the tangible practice of advocacy.  Jesus was and is our advocate, and we are called to be like him. this means we must stand up for the underdog, risk our position and pride for the sake of another, refuse to support systems that hurt our friends & neighbors, and actively use any power we have to be a voice for the voiceless. missional means we are actively participating in standing up for those that for one reason or another aren’t in a position to stand up for themselves.

motivated by Christ’s love, not power or prestige or weird christian kudos. we must always ask ourselves what are our motives? is our motive to feel good about ourselves and be able to say at the end of the year “see how cool we are because did all of these great things for other people?” or is it about being so in tune with Christ’s heart not just for us but all people that we are compelled to love naturally?  is it about converting people or just simply loving with no agenda?  do we have to drop our name to get the credit or can we just serve and love anonymously?

active networkers & bridge builders.  missional means we work for peace and partnership among not only our friends but also our so-called “enemies” (aka people who don’t believe the same things we do but do an amazing job taking care of people in our cities, the world), we involve others in the bigger kingdom story, and model open handed generosity instead of hoarding and flaunting.  we are known as mediators, facilitators, counselors, conduits.

viewed as stupid, slow, non-strategic & crazy.  we take a hit for loving the unlovely when loving the lovely gets so much bigger bang for its buck.   people worry about us that we have bad boundaries and are “ministry cowboys” (thanks, ken loyd), we never have money or security or all of the things that would probably make us (and our loved ones) feel a lot better at face value but will no longer satisfy us because we’ve tasted and experienced the mess & glory of humanity & divinity mixed together and can never turn back.

yeah, the world, our cities, our neighborhoods, our hurting friends couldn’t care less about the word “missional”.   the only thing they’re wondering is:  “who will bring some love & hope into this darkness?”   Jesus started his public ministry with the words of the beatitudes and ended it with this reminder, in his last night with his disciples: “love each other in the same way i have loved you. there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   will we be people, communities, deeply committed to the upside down inside out ways of great sacrifice or not?  i guess that’s the question.

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other bloggers participating. check out their wide perspectives (and some much shorter posts, ha!):

Alan Hirsch *  Alan Knox *  Andrew Jones *  Barb Peters *  Bill Kinnon *  Brad Brisco *  Brad Grinnen *  Brad Sargent Brother Maynard *  Bryan Riley *  Chad Brooks * Chris Wignall *  Cobus Van Wyngaard * Dave DeVries *  David Best *  David Fitch * David Wierzbicki *  DoSi * Doug Jones *  Duncan McFadzean * Erika Haub * Grace *  Jamie Arpin-Ricci *  Jeff McQuilkin *  John Smulo * Jonathan Brink * JR Rozko *  Len Hjalmarson  * Makeesha Fisher * Malcolm Lanham * Mark Berry * Mark Petersen * Mark Priddy * Michael CraneMichael Stewart * Nick Loyd * Patrick Oden * Peggy Brown * Phil Wyman * Richard Pool * Rick Meigs * Rob Robinson * Ron Cole * Scott Marshall * Sonja Andrews * Stephen Shields * Steve Hayes * Tim Thompson * Thom Turner

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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.


  • thanks for the obvious heart and effort you put into this post, Kathy. i think it’s one of the most eloquent and balanced statements i’ve read on what it means to follow Christ and be a “person of peace” in whatever neighborhood we find ourselves…

  • Kathy, thanks for the honest, provocative, and insightful thoughts here. I’ll be chewing on some of this for awhile. 🙂 God bless.

  • Hi Kathy,

    I love the way you explored this topic from personal experience as well as defining what you believe “missional” really is. Truthfully, I’ve never heard the word in my life…but I’m sure if I hung out at church more often, I’d probably run across it.

    I really liked your point on being motivated by Christ’s love…and not by power, prestige, or some weird Christian Kudos

  • Of all the posts I have seen in the syncroblog, you have to take my hat off to you. I believe you have described it without naming the chief cornerstone behind all your words. What do all the things you have written have in common: Relationship.

    God calls us to it through his grace. Jesus died and rose again so we could enter into it. Your beautiful description of what missional is, is really a description of what one would naturally do if they were embracing true relationship with others as is shown to us in the example of the Trinity and the relationship of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

    So instead of focusing on being missional or being an evangelist, we seek to be that “blessing of Abraham” to everyone we come in contact with through relationship. If we ask who are neighbor is, all we have to do is look at the Good Samaritan parable and the Goats and Sheep parable. Everyone is.

    Personally my life has been blessed by though I have engaged in relationship with. I didn’t always like them but I grew from the interaction. So I live by the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who said “Preach the good news at all times, and if necessary use words.”

    Great post.

  • brad – thanks for stopping by and i appreciate your thoughts. it will take a while to read everyone’s posts but i am looking forward to it..

    jeff – thanks!

    lisa – i always like to hear from you because you bring fresh perspective and aren’t all tied into the church backroom craziness…

    urh – thanks for reading!

    brett – thank for your kind words and for stopping by to read the far-too-long treatise! and yes, we are so on the same page. it is just about relationship, real true blue relationship. it is where we see and experience the gospel and we all know the gospel isn’t the prettiest neatest tidiest story in the world. it is beautiful and messy, sometimes confusing and wonderfully hopeful. and it’s always best “experienced” instead of “told”…

    makeesha – i liked the list of highlights!

  • In John the Baptist’s great hour of testing – he was questioning if Jesus was the one. Jesus’ reply was – “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard”. (Lu 7:22)

    The good news is SEEN first – and HEARD second.

    You know what – we see it in you Kathy. May all our hearts be like yours. Great Post.

  • “viewed as stupid, slow, non-strategic, and crazy” … Amen! I love all your points, but I like that one the best … or maybe not the best. Maybe we start there and dance around them. Or something. It’s not linear, or sequential, but there is movement between your points and/or amongst them, I think. I don’t think we come upon them all at once, but rather grow into them a step at a time. Does that make any sense?

    In any case, very beautiful post …

  • great post. relational – YES! way of living – YES. hope ken lloyd is well – i see him every once in a while.

  • Loved this Kathy. Thanks! The parts about entering into pain and deep humility are right on. This is following our Lord, is it not?

  • Kathy, I am right there in the middle of one of ‘those churches’ trying to promote themselves as missional…as a matter of fact the pastor even presented the book “the missional church” in his message this week.
    Anther point from his message was that he brought up a very close friend of MY family that he ran into when my grandson was born…’Broy’ my daughters best friend who is activly in the gay lifestyle. The pastor called me and asked me to intervene so that he could try to connect with Broy. He wanted to fix Broy. This just pissed me off! How can you fix anything when what you have to offer is broken? And shallow? And with motive? I will never understand the churchy garbage that motivates.
    Both of these things just reinforced what I had already known….the church is irrelevant. Not only to those outside the walls but to those INSIDE the walls.
    You description of missional is nothing less than mirroring the footsteps of Christ. May be ALL intentionally do that…Hugs…XOX

  • jerry – thanks for stopping by. i do think things are better seen than heard…i think nowadays words are starting to mean nothing to people. they’ve heard ’em all before. ps: i am not sure it would be a good idea for all hearts to be like mine, though, it can get pretty ugly in here! hope to hear from you again!

    sonja – yeah, i so think that all of these can’t be grown into all at once. jesus could pull that off but we are humans and have the pull toward power & self that makes it a bit harder to be completely natural 100% of the time. i think it gets developed and nurtured as we risk and experience and we begin to notice God at work not only in our neighbors’ lives but in the deepest places of ours. thanks for the invite to participate in this synchroblog!

    andrew – thanks for stopping by! i am still making my rounds on posts. yeah, it’s always great to be around ken, isn’t it?

    mark – thanks for stopping by, too. i am pretty sure there’s no way around a christian walk that doesn’t include humility and entering into deep pain, ours & others. it’s funny, though, how often that isn’t taught.

    tara – great to hear from you! sounds like you just saw first hand this weird “us-them” thing that seems to be so pervasive and how unsafe and icky it feels. that stinks. it is so presumptious, in my opinion, the “i have what it will take to fix you” when love and relationship is absent…connecting with people need to be out of a purity of heart and love and value for them and not because we see them as a project for God. the worst part is that these are the moments more God-damage happens so do what you can to protect and love your friend…take care and blessings to you on your amazing journey….

  • Kathy, what wonderful, penetrating reflections. I am just now finally getting around to reading the other posts and your words certainly cut to the heart of the issue.

    I am working on a dmin project that focuses on helping existing churches that are not very externally focused to begin to move in an outward/missional direction. I think serious consideration of the heart of the beatitudes, as you have done so well here, is a vital place to start. Thanks!

  • Hey Kathy! I’m SO glad you take the time to share your thoughts with us…and that you sometimes get prompted with these syncroblogs to delve into topics that get you going!! I love it!!
    Have you heard the story of The Porch in NYC yet? Let me know if you haven’t and I’ll get you the info. It’s pretty amazing how Ken’s influence with our friends without homes has spread in that culture. Sure love and appreciate you my friend!!!

  • brad – thanks for stopping by. i know, there’s a lot to read…best to you on your d.min. i do think the beatitudes should be guiding texts not just for individuals but for entire communities. they powerfully express the values of the kingdom and so often get overlooked in church structures!

    donna – good to hear from you! no, i hadn’t heard of the porch, send me the link! glad all’s well up there in pdx!

  • Hi Kathy – my first visit to your blog and I am hooked. Wow – this post is stunningly good and so timely. I will recommend it wholeheartedly as we continue to reshape Methodism in Lincolnshire for mission. Thank you.

  • brad – hey thanks for the shout out!

    dave – welcome! very exciting, the work you are doing! would love to hear more, stay in touch…

    jeff – thanks!

    jonathan – i liked this list that grace put together. i am still making my way through posts…

  • Thank you for being here. Lots of challenge and clarity in what you had to say…. especially about too many words and not enough action being so much a part of our lives. I’m theologically simple enough not to have understood all the hoopla about what’s missional….thanks for the food for thought, and action.

  • brother maynard – thanks for the link…

    teresa – welcome! yeah, here’s to being theologically simple! glad you stopped by

  • As someone who is fairly new to the “missional” conversation (and who is trying to still figure it out myself!) I think your post is SO helpful. Thanks for the honesty and your perspective!

  • Kathy – thank you for challenging us to be missional rather than talk about it. Grateful to be learning and living His ways with so many who clearly are hearing His Spirit whisper to us that He intended for us to live WITH Him rather than live FOR Him.

    • thanks, jason, for reading & taking time to comment. there is most definitely a lot to live & learn! peace, kathy


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