co-pastoring part 3: here's what it looks like here

complete-2i am in the middle of a series on co-pastoring or shared leadership, just processing some thoughts out loud about it because I think it is far under-looked as a potential model for leadership in communities & organizations.  you can watch the first two video conversations here:

as i mentioned before, the refuge has always had a shared leadership model & our team has shifted over the past five years.  right now, we have four people—me, karl, stacy, and mike.   the thing I bring to the team is the glue & a passion for relationship, care & advocacy. i’m the mommy bird always trying to get the kids to fly.  karl, who you saw in the previous two videos, is a strong visionary & amazing teacher and has experience in all kinds of churches & ministries over the years. he and I share a lot of the primary moving-things-along-from-the-front-leadership kinds of things.  stacy moved to colorado to be part of the refuge two years ago (after first being a carnival blog reader, yay!) and has brought so much love & life to our community.  she transitioned onto our team a year ago. she’s awesome with kids & youth & has a huge passion for healing.  outside of the refuge she’s a grief therapist for kids & families.  mike has been part of our team from the beginning and is the best chaplain/care pastor ever created.  he brings a quiet, faithful strength & is a healer.

there are many other pastors & leaders at the refuge who aren’t part of our team.  their voice is just as important but the four of us spend a little more time and focused energy on nurturing the life of our community during this season.  i always think of ourselves as catalysts, people called to cultivate the space—in all kinds of different ways–for growth & transformation.  but without our entire community, none of it is possible.  none of us consider this a job.

i asked the three of them a few questions about co-pastoring:

  • how’d you end up becoming a co-pastor at the refuge?

It was a dream I had for a long, long time. I really feel like the opportunity was handed to me, and it was not that hard to form. I feel “lucky” to have been a part of the start. – Karl

I was asked to come on board a little over a year ago, and I was so wide-eyed and bushy tailed in terms of what it would actually look like. So much of the naiveness has long since faded, haha, and in its place has been so much depth and growth.  – Stacy

It kind of just happened. Kathy and Karl asked me to come with them and be an elder in a new church plant, but pretty much from the start they used the word “pastor” when describing my position. With their encouragement I leaned into something I never envisioned nor felt capable of doing. I love it! – Mike

  • if someone asked “what does co-pastoring look like at the refuge?” what would you tell them?

What makes it hard for folks to understand is that they are usually thinking of how the function works. I would say we are primarily friends trying to be better friends and along the way we mutually participate in helping nurture a faith community. I would emphasize that pastoring happens along the way to being better friends, brothers and sisters. This a new way for me to think about it, but really resonates so far.  – Karl

I really like Karl’s response. I would also add that it alleviates so much pressure in a hard or complicated situation to ask “Can I bring this back to the team, and see what some of their thoughts are?” I feel like it is ultimately so much better for our community, as it is not just one voice speaking into moments and lives. – Stacy

No one leader. No one with all the power–just equal friends doing life together. It seems like a group of friends got together to find a different way of living out what Jesus called us to do. And then we invited our friends to join us on this journey of life and faith. – Mike

  • what is the hardest part about it?

Honestly, not much; it is no harder than when you decide to be friends with anyone. The ministry part is more life giving than taxing. – Karl

The learning curve!  Also, too, I would say that it can be challenging as woman to be taken seriously apart from my role with the kids. Not really so much inside our community, but sometimes in conversations outside of the refuge. Something Karl said to me, the week that I was asked to be a part of the team still often lingers. He said ” Just so you know, we want you-who you are and what you bring to the table to be a part of our team. The fact that you are good with kids is just a bonus” – Stacy

I think the hardest part for me is how slowly things progress because all decisions are based on the ideas of all and not a central leader. The results are much better, but it takes more time. – Mike

i will add my perspective on this one–for me, what’s hard is how i have to give up some of what i want for the sake of others.  sometimes what i want, we’re just not ready for.  other times what i want is a bad idea altogether.  submitting that to the team has been hard for me, but really good, too, because it’s forced me to let go of “my way now”.

  • what is the best part about it?

There is absolutely no pressure.  – Karl

Feeling so supported  and getting to truly support my friends as well on this journey. – Stacy

Getting to work and hang out with friends and be part of each other’s lives. It certainly doesn’t feel like a job. I feel blessed being able to work with such good friends, both the co-pastors and the entire Refuge family. – Mike

  • what are you learning about yourself through co-pastoring?

Sharing is a great teaching point, but when it bumps up against pride and ego it can smart. I do like being the center of attention, and to share that is sometimes an effort for me. – Karl

Wow, so much that I almost don’t know where to begin. The bottom line, though, is that I am learning what it means to bring my *whole* self to the table. I used to totally think that it was really only the competent and efficient parts of me that my team wanted. I have since realized that continuing to grow in transparency means not trying to put my “best face” forward. That mentality has helped make me a better overall friend and much better teammate.  – Stacy

That I have “good power” I can use for good and “bad power” I can use for evil. I have much to learn to be able to do relationships really well. I am reminded of how much I need to keep my focus on the log in my eye and not the speck in the eyes of others. I am learning that love is the greatest healer, and if we trust the process thing usually work out well. – Mike

  • what are you learning about christian community through co-pastoring?

Hmmm, I feel like such a rookie, and know so little about true community. Maybe how little I know is the biggest lesson so far. – Karl

I resonate with so much to learn, for sure. It is so freeing, however, as a woman, to be empowered to lead freely as well. I honestly don’t think about that fact until I run into a conversation with someone outside of our community, who has both spoken and unspoken limitations due to gender. I am also learning how hard it is to do life and live out the ways of Jesus every day. It’s so worth it, but for sure really hard to continually bump up against my own humanity. It’s humbling, but beautiful. – Stacy

It is harder than I thought it would be, but more rewarding than I would have imagined. Even people that you love can rub you wrong at times and I continue to learn that I can be annoying and arrogant at times as well. – Mike

  • what are you learning about conflict through co-pastoring?

I feel way more empowered in that area. I am less afraid of it and it no longer paralyzes me. I have learned that it is not important to get it perfect and that waiting to get it ‘ just right’ is a devil trick. I am discovering if I just plow into it and trust that the relationship can handle it and it will not end the friendship. – Karl

I am learning how resolved conflict really strengthens the depth of a relationship. We talk through so much, and it is really helpful to know where each other’s sore spots are, and how to navigate in a way that honors everybody better. – Stacy

Life takes practice and I will never get it right. Conflict is hard, but no relationship can thrive without healthy conflict. It still scares me, but as I have seen it play out over our 5 years together– if everyone comes to the table in the spirit of love the end results are amazing. We need to trust our friend’s hearts. – Mike

  • why do you think more people don’t try this leadership model?

It’s not very efficient, it does take more time to get some things done. Plus, you cannot have a big, personality driven church because it is too diffused for that. – Karl

It takes way more time and patience to make decisions, and to hear each of us out on a matter. There aren’t many solo decisions, and there is so much more consideration involved. – Stacy

It takes so long to get things done. It is hard to submit to each other. Let’s face it, we all want to be the star, boss, superstar, or big shot and unless that is put to rest, this won’t work.  – Mike

  • if someone was considering co-pastoring their faith community–whatever shape or form that might take–what is one word of advice you’d give them?

What do you have to lose?  You’ll gain less pressure, better friends and a check on ego.  Just focus on relationship and not tasks. – Karl

Get ready to learn way more than you bargained for!  – Stacy

Be prepared to submit. Deflate your ego. Be prepared for conflict. Learn to be a friend, not a co worker. Hang on for a bumpy, but beautiful ride. – Mike

* * * * *

i am so thankful for what i learn through sharing leadership. it kicks my butt sometimes and i want to run for the hills or get hired as an executive director somewhere where I can just be the boss.  but the truth is that i’d be far too lonely & am ruined for anything else. the growth & beauty that can come from learning what it means to live in submitted community to each other is far too valuable.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts.  next up:  some interviews with other co-pastors in different communities, awesome friends of mine who are living this out, too.

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.


  • Really appreciate all the thoughts here.
    (Also, SUPER PROUD of Stacy! So happy to see her gifts and talented in this church!)

    • thanks jamie, actually it all comes back to you & the carnival & the wild ways that God moves. it’s really beautiful.

  • I love love what I am reading here- can’t wait to get Kathy’s book – I’ll be sharing it on my blog.

    God is leading, moving, and working in our lives- I have NO idea where it’s going but I’m excited to find out (and a little nervous- lol)

    thank you for sharing!

    • thanks, kelli, for reading and i am glad that you are here! peace to you on your adventures, too.

  • So refreshing and interesting … especially interested in Stacy’s comments because of the gender bias aspects … loved the beautiful sound of “can I take this back to the team?” I would love to know that a small group of people committed to Jesus would be helping me rather than just one person …

    • mar, yeah, that’s one of the greatest parts–being able to get input from others & not feel like the final decision is resting on any one person.

  • Kathy, you might find the Aug 12 post “Two Churches That Closed Down the Show” on the internetmonk interesting. In the book discussed there “Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation”, under the bullet point “The Problem of Leadership Ambition”, Chaplain Mike points out that the pastors changed to the co-pastor model. Additionally, I suspect you would find the entire article interesting, having come out of a mega church that was into “the show”.

    On a totally unrelated topic, you might want to copy my Secret Cookie Recipe on that I posted yesterday. They make really good cookies for co-pastors and everyone else too.

    • i need to check those out! and when i make that secret cookie recipe i will let you know if they taste as good as yours. i have a black thumb when it comes to plants & a tendency to ruin things i bake 🙂

  • I LOVE it that none of you consider pastoring to be a job. That is drastically opposite of what I’ve heard from friends of mine that are in church leadership. I think it says a lot about your motivations as you live out your roles in leadership.

    This also kinda woke me up to realize that if I really want to get to know the Refuge, it’s not quite enough for me to say, Oh I think Kathy and Stacy are awesome, so it must be great! I need to get to know Karl and Mike also to get the full picture. You each have equal share in leading the community. This is very cool.

    • thanks, gloria, and yeah, it is pretty contrary to many of the models many of us have experienced. yes, i would love for you to hang out with mike and karl, too, let’s get together soon somehow…let me know!

  • So much of what you wrote feels very familiar to me. I have been co-pastoring for almost a year now. I too have been told that what the church wants is *me*, not my productivity, and that *my person* is the most important offering I bring to the table, not simply my skill set. I am starting to believe it.

    I am currently blogging reflections on some of issues particularly related to being a woman who is a pastor (in an “evangelical” denomination). Please stop by and Hear Me Preach.

    I am glad to have found you. There are very few of us who are not in old mainline churches. I am looking for more women to interact with.

    • thanks so much for taking time to comment and also to share your blog. good stuff and look forward to reading more when i can. it’s great to “meet” you and hope to connect more over time. peace and hope and courage in the work that you are doing, leading and loving.


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