some thoughts on co-pastoring, part 1

copastoring part 1when i first started this blog over 3 years ago i wrote a little post about shared leadership that still gets a lot of play–why i believe in co-pastoring.  it makes me happy that people are at least considering the idea enough to do a google search on it & read more about it.  5 1/2 years ago i had never even heard of the word.  now, i’m in the thick of it & wouldn’t do it any other way.

for me, the words co-pastoring & sharing leadership are synonymous.  some churches & communities use the word “pastor” & some may not.  the idea, though, is the same–no one person “at the top”.  at the refuge, we use “co-pastor”, so for the sake of this conversation i’m going to stick with that terminology.

today marks the start of a short blog series about the ins and outs of co-pastoring.  it will include a couple of video interviews with my friend and co-pastor teammate, karl wheeler, who was the catalyst behind actually starting the refuge and co-pastoring together (more on that in a minute), an interview with our co-pastor team at the refuge (there are currently 4 of us, 2 men & 2 women), and some responses from friends of mine in different parts of the country who either have or are co-pastoring.

i know for some of you this isn’t the most exciting topic in the world and you’re just not that interested in church leadership.  i hope you’ll listen in anyway, because some of these ideas might resonate, especially on why much of the leadership you may have experienced in the past didn’t seem quite right somehow.  i also know that many of you are leading in your communities in different shapes & forms and are wanting to explore shifts in what that could look like.   these posts won’t have all the answers & there are no formulas to follow.  but my hope is to encourage & challenge others that a different way is possible–that the idea of one leader in charge of it all isn’t necessarily the only way even though that’s what it always typically looks like in most every church, most every organization.

i’m going to start with a video conversation with my friend & co-pastor teammate karl.  there are two of them, recorded on my mac webcam with no editing, no big preparation, just a way to hear more of what we’re doing & what it’s like for us.  without karl, the refuge wouldn’t exist.  he’s the one who encouraged me to step into co-lead pastoring with him & plant this little crazy community 5 1/2 years ago despite the obstacles.  we’ve been through the war together, from getting the crap kicked out of us together on a big church staff to slugging through what it means to lead this wild, diverse, poor little church with a huge heart for people. in different ways, we’ve both tried to quit, to run, to throw in the towel, but by the grace of God we continue to stay in.  i think it’s because somewhere down deep we know we’re learning something that we can’t learn any other way.

yeah, i have no doubt that co-pastoring is a place where mutual submission, loving our neighbor, and leaning into being our own unique parts of the Body of Christ is put to the test. 

so here we go, part 1 of a 5 part series on co-pastoring:

copastoring part 1 from kathy escobar on Vimeo.

as always, love to hear your thoughts!

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ps:  i added a new page on the blog that shares a little more about down we go & also includes a video trailer  that my awesome friend & fellow refuge-ee craig spinks of recycle your faith put together that shares a little more about what’s inside (it’s different from the downward mobility one).  some of you already saw it on facebook but thanks for passing the link on to those you think might like this kind of stuff!


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.


  • I am really excited about this series! I love the idea of how the Refuge does leadership and diffusing power. I can’t wait to hear more about how this really plays out in real life. It makes a lot of sense to me, but I know many places where the concept would be completely rejected with a wave of the hand and “oh, that can’t work”. I bet it can, and I look forward to hearing more of what you’ve learned along the way.

    • hey gloria, i am glad that you’re into the conversation! yes, it is really true that the first reaction tends to be “oh, that can’t work”…but it can. it is so possible, just trickier to do. the number one thing we keep learning is the beauty of “alongside” instead of over or under. this post wasn’t focused on shared leadership but i think it is relevant here, too.. look forward to your input on this, too.

  • Cathy, I loved that short analogy from Karl about how an alien who had read the NT would only understand church after he did a stint at IBM. I totally get that.

    • hi david, thanks for reading & sharing. yeah, i love that one, too. oh someone could come up with a good satire on that one…

  • Totally pumped to see the rest of the videos! I don’t see many people/churches/Christian groups doing this, so it’s great to hear your stories and find hope for it. Very applicable to where I’m at right now.

    • thanks, beth, i am glad that it’s stirring up some good stuff. would love to hear more about how things are going up there!


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