leadership lessons when you want to run for the hills

hey, did i scare everyone off  with that last post?  i hope not!  one of the things you non-bloggers need to know is there’s nothing worse than putting something a little risky out there and not getting very many comments!  and one of the things all you bloggers know is that part of this journey is just letting that be okay.  thanks, conrad, for your courage & beautiful story of redemption.  the reason i feel so compelled to tell these stories is because they are shared by so many people and are often untold, hidden.  my hope has always been that “the church”–the wild and beautiful body of Christ, whatever form it takes–would be a place that can hack the deepest places of our experience so that Christ’s hope & healing can be passed on in really tangible and powerful ways.  anyway, i’m taking a break this week from the interviews to share a bit of what i’m learning right now as a leader in our crazy little eclectic faith community. these thoughts have been on my mind for a while.

the last few months have been the wildest mix of pure joy at what i see God doing in the lives of people i know and in the depth and breadth of our community.  and at the same time, i’ve experienced pure terror at some of the decisions we’ve had to journey through as a team on behalf of our community.  and more than usual, i have found myself looking back and wondering how in the world i ended up here when years ago it wasn’t even remotely on my radar (hey, i was going to be a fast-track corporate executive in my college dreams).  but i know in my heart there’s nowhere else i’d rather be. i’m learning. i’m growing in all kinds of ways. i’m questioning.  i’m becoming more clear.  and God is teaching me scary hard leadership lessons i know i need to practice.  and actually i don’t think these lessons are just about “leadership”, they are about being in relationship with people in real christian community & we all know when we’re really living that out it is messy, unpredictable, hard, and amazingly beautiful.

here are a few lessons i’m learning in the midst of wanting to get in my fantasy red convertible and run for the hills:

when you can’t power up, it makes it 100 times harder. diffused power & shared leadership is definitely not the easiest thing to pull off; it takes so much more time and energy to share, gather input, wait for collective feedback, and make decisions together.  i know why churches & organizations have chosen hierarchical structures because they are way more efficient!  at the same time, what can happen with mutual submission, one to another, feels so right in the long run for the ones who are “in it” but can be so confusing not only to those in the midst of it but also for those who might be not involved as much who are honestly wondering “why is it taking so long and so complicated?”

healing from codependence is mandatory. i believe every person struggles with a bit of codependence & that it’s part of the human condition.  but those of us in ministry probably have an extra dose and it’s why we ended up where we are in the first place.  people pleasing, having “how others are doing” affect how we’re doing, and overly carrying others burdens & keeping the world spinning ’round are always dangers in leadership.    God is doing some good work in me to cut more of these ties, but it is hard on my soul. it’s not new, i have been healing from codependence for a long time now, but in these seasons i am reminded “yeah, there’s much, much more work to be done!” living with disapproval, misunderstanding, and anger and hurt is part of being in relationship and can’t be avoided, no matter how hard i try to outrun it.

God is always up to something bigger that probably has nothing to do with the current circumstance. i have no idea why and how and can’t put my finger on exactly what God is doing through adversity, but i am clear on this:  if we listen and notice, there’s always some really cool (and often painful) spiritual transformation going on, usually individually & corporately.  i do believe that God is in all things and uses all things and that i often can’t get my little head around it and am not even supposed to.   a critical piece is just resting in the journey, trusting the spirit at work, letting things unfold and leaning into the bigger story instead of focusing in on all of the things that aren’t how i want them to be.

what feels big to me isn’t all that big when it comes down to it. this is probably the most important thing i am leaning into right now.  consuming thoughts, anxiety, pressure-to-explain, oh all kinds of other ridiculous peace-robbers can really make us think that what we’re doing is more important than it really is.  sure, our community is very valuable and life-saving in many ways for many people, but it’s not the center of the universe. something that continues to occur to me is the weird tension between “giving it what i can” and “letting it all go” at the same time. part of my ongoing facing-my-fears-in-this-area is stepping out in faith and staying in while recognizing it’s all up in the air most of the time anyway because that’s how all things are; God is big and wild.   there are much critical issues at stake in the kingdom & while i’m not trying to minimize that it feels important, the sun will rise and fall tomorrow no matter what.  there will be mouths to feed and people to love and life to live no matter what.  a little reality check is good for my soul now and then and somehow lightens the load.

all in all life is good. the refuge is good.  i am so grateful for the courageous and humble and amazing people on the journey with me.  they are teaching me more than i bargained for.  and i thank God for what i’m learning about me, Jesus, the kingdom, and what it means to be in the trenches on the journey with other people. yeah, love is hard.

* * * * *

ps: i wanted to make sure you all know about a new collective that is just launching called communitas collective.  it’s fun to see a dream come true for my friend glenn hager. it’s a resource & support site for people on the journey. there are three sections:  sanctuary, a safe place for wanderers & those somehow displaced from church, verve for those exploring alternative forms of church, and survivor, for recovering church leaders.  i will be contributing to verve, which will be fun for me since you know i love to talk about church in practice, not just in theory!  i hope to share what some of my friends are doing around the world and how “church”  can take so many different & beautiful forms.

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.


  • Kathy,

    Great lessons that you can only learn out there in the wild!

    Thank you for your involvement with Communitas.

  • My deepest thanks to you and your team for the willingness and courage to stay in the muck of all or our lives at the Refuge and create a place to exhale and find courage to live in community and follow the ways of Jesus.

    I often have a picture in my mind of a leper colony. There are those who bring food, money, kind words and leave it all at the gate which of course is beneficial and meaningful for those beyond the gate. But then there are those who go beyond and open the gate and embrace and touch and engage with the unlovely.
    Thank you for opening the gate.

  • You totally scare me. But that’s what I like about you.

    Well, that’s part of what I like about you. Keep showin’ up.

  • Kathy, you’ve put it so well. I especially like how you talk about fear. We so need perspective, don’t we? I recently was feeling a bit of fear about putting my latest post out there to be read (and criticized, no doubt!). I came across this little 5-minute video by Tim Ferris and it so helped me. I was able to hit the “publish” button with ease after that:


    I know I’ll be watching it again from time to time when the fear-monster raises his ugly head again. We just need a little perspective sometimes that the universe won’t come to a halt if we’re doing it well or horrible, right or wrong. Your reminder was so timely for me. As always, thanks!

  • glenn – thanks for the encouragement. yeah, “in the wild” is definitely what it feels like. love it though & all i am learning!

    mary – oh your perspective means so much. thanks for the wise words and the reminder of how worth it is.

    randy – 🙂 i miss you! i hope we can somehow connect soon.

    tracy – i am having technical difficulties on audio right now but will check out the video, the link worked. yes, it is always a risk. but like you say on your blog so well–knowing fierce love helps with the fear and the ‘hey, nothing to really lose here other than a little pride.’ (or maybe a lot of pride and that’s probably a good thing, eh?) love your courage!

  • Brene Brown calls it a “vulnerability hangover” when we post stuff and then go, “Oh, no! What did I just put out there for everyone to see?!” 🙂 I think it was a great post, though!

    I loved what you said here about healing from codependency. I have found that to be a big part of my journey: trying to love others, then crashing and burning, getting burnt out, needing to back waaaay up, and now trying to rebuild and feel out some healthy boundaries. Haven’t figured it out yet. I’m grateful for you sharing your experiences and journey.

    By the way, I’ve noticed that you are really amazing about answering everyone’s comments on your blog. Just wanted to say that since I’m reading through your old posts, I’ll probably comment a lot, and you don’t need to feel like you need to answer all of them 🙂 I’m discovering my voice, and my voice seems to be loquacious 🙂

  • blueorchid – oh do i know what a vulnerability hangover feels like!! i haven’t heard that term before but i will definitely be adopting it 🙂 thanks for sharing and i am glad you’re catching up on stuff around here….welcome. and feel free free free free free to use your voice here! it’s a great place to practice.


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