missional pastoring head rattles

blog missional head rattles* i love my friend phil shepherd, aka, the whiskey preacher.  he and his wife stephanie know the cost and beauty of nutty-in-the-trenches-with-people church planting.  whenever we are together it feels like a gift; i always leave feeling a little less crazy, a little less alone.   a few months ago he asked me to write a post about missional pastoring (my favorite word, ha ha) and some of the struggles of life at the refuge. i wanted to finally add it here for the archives.

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I never set out to be a pastor. In all kinds of ways, this way of living came to me. 24 years ago, when I graduated from college, if someone would have told me I’d be a co-pastor of a small, poor missional community, I would have laughed in their face.. I was on the fast track to a successful business career, having finished my master’s degree and in a job that was centered on climbing the corporate ladder. I dreamed of a cushy life where I didn’t have to worry about money and had a lot of people who did my dirty work for me.

Yeah, God had another plan.

Through many twists and turns he got hold of my heart, first radically redeeming my own painful story and then giving me a passion to play a part in others’ healing, too.

About 8 years ago, I entered into full-time pastoral ministry. I had a position on a mega-church staff making good money with nice benefits. I had an administrative assistant and support people who helped make life run smoothly.

Then, 6 years ago we planted The Refuge, our wild and beautiful faith community that teaches me more than I ever bargained for. Yeah, I don’t have an administrative assistant, a good salary, or “all kinds of people to keep my life running smoothly.” In fact, it’s about as far from that as I can possibly imagine–terrible salary, no benefits, and far more needs than resources.

But it’s also more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed.

It’s also been one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Missional/incarnational pastoring has required me to give my heart in ways I wasn’t used to giving. It has required me to have trust that I wasn’t used to having. It has forced me to let go of things I used to tightly grip. It’s caused me to go a little crazy and become a little more sane.

These are some of the things that rattle around in my head a lot as a missional pastor: (I am guessing some of you can relate).

“How in the $*#^!%@! did I end up here?” – Seriously, how did I somehow go from corporate business manager to stay-at-home mommy to poor missional pastor? Even when we started The Refuge, I pictured things so much easier, neater, tidier. I pictured more help, more stability, more all-kinds-of-things. I never imagined this much relationship or this much raw, real life. I never imagined I’d be 45 years old and make less money than I did when I was 21. I never imagined I’d care this much about people and change.

“Please God, please God, please God.” – Every day I cry out to God on behalf of my friends. I beg. I plead. I question. I pray like a crazy woman. Often, it feels like everywhere I look I see loneliness, doubt, fear, shame, and practical struggles. I have friends who can’t get a break, no matter how hard they try, with systems of injustice bent against them. I often feel desperate for God to show up, to heal, to restore, to move, to do something–anything–that will bring a sliver of hope or peace.

“God, grant me the serenity….” The Serenity Prayer saves me over and over again out here. Missional pastoring and unhealthy codependence can easily go hand and hand. Breaking free of controlling others, people pleasing, or having a savior complex is our only hope. Staying in recovery helps me live in that tension in a more healthy way, but it’s always a tricky dance. I continue to learn what it means to accept the things that I can’t change and ask God for courage to change the things I can.

“How can we get more people to help us?” – Out of almost everything about the past 6 years, the hardest thing is not having more people to help do the tough, on-going work of extending Christ’s love, mercy & compassion in tangible ways. The people who are part of our community are awesome, so willing to love and help, but the reality is that there have never been enough of us to share the load properly. The needs far outweigh the haves. We long for people who would come stay and really play. And more people who may not be able to be part in-the-flesh but will at least help us fund the work we are doing.

But despite these things that rattle around in my head about how hard missional/incarnational pastoring really is, there’s one thought that outweighs them all:

“That was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen”

Yeah, I can’t tell you the number of nights I go to bed with a smile on my face, thinking of a holy moment that happened that day–where someone received God’s love through someone else, where hope pierced through the darkness, where dignity was restored, where shame’s power was broken, where love conquered hate, where community won out over isolation.

Without these moments, I would have walked away a long time ago.

They are sustaining.

They are reminders that Jesus heals in all kinds of wild and mysterious ways.

They keep me going for another day, another month, another year.

They make this so worth it.

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.

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