what if…

church dreamer

i was at a really lovely meeting a few weeks ago with a bunch of pastors, and it was wonderfully hopeful except for one thing–there were only three female pastors and a whole lot of white male ones, and not one person of color. even though i know this is reality, it still always startles me.

then i heard about a new local church plant that intrigued me. i tried to be hopeful about what type of community it might be, and then i looked at their website. it was full of numbers and church growth-y kinds of things that just made me feel so irritated.  it perpetuates my theory that people with resources build churches quick and fast and make it happen. in a snap. with the right music, teaching, kids program, location, and logo–voila, a resourced “excellent” church. hmm.

yesterday i was at the refuge’s open space hours where people can drop by for free lunch & advocacy & hugs & a place to access resources without it feeling weird.  i’ve always wanted a “cheers bar without the alcohol,” and this is what it is starting to feel like. it’s so fun!

these three things are completely different but are all linked together by one thread–church dreams.

and i was reminded, yet again, how so many of my church dreams aren’t crazy. in fact we need to reframe what’s crazy when it comes to church

i would love to see the local church be a more accurate reflection of the kingdom of God, not of the world where power is tilted toward men and the pretty and the popular always are on top and feeling comfortable is our number one priority.

so today, here are some my little “what if….”  dreams for the church:

what if… every church leadership structure had an equal number of men & women in positions of power and influence.

what if… after we balanced that one out, the leaders represented a wide range of socioeconomics, color, age, life experiences, education, and political views.

what if…  the “pulpit” and teaching/preaching was equally shared by men and women so we heard both voices as a natural expression of life together.

what if… we spent the majority of our energy cultivating community, friendship, and ways for people to hear each other’s real stories.

what if… anyone and everyone in the community could be invited to lead and share and contribute and be part without signing on the dotted lines or jumping through any hoops.

what if… sharing food and eating together and laughing and celebrating anything-and-everything-we-possibly-could-that-brought-hope were an integral part of life together.

what if… every microphone and screen and band was completely unplugged at least once a month and everyone used that hour at church talking to each other instead.

what if… being uncomfortable was valued.  for the life of me, i can’t think how comfort and ease became associated with Jesus’ ways.

what if… instead of thinking “what can i get out of church” people said “how can i contribute to loving others and growing into a more whole & healthy person as part of this church?”

what if… once a month every bit of a church’s offering was given to a local organization that was in the trenches serving the poor and marginalized, whether it was faith-based or not.

what if… every person felt empowered to live out their passions and gifts in some way that is not necessarily connected to the church.

what if… rich and poor, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, educated and uneducated, brown and white, young and old learned how to live alongside each other in the same space as equals, as brothers and sisters and friends.

what if… instead of planting a brand new church in the area that would bring 500 people together every week, they created 10 pockets of love of 50 people and asked everyone who was already there–churches and community agencies–“what do you need and how can we support the work that’s already happening?”

what if… pouring into the young people through long-haul flesh & blood relationship was the top priority and they each had a grownup outside of their family that believed in them.

what if… when you walked in the door of church, everybody knows your name.  and everybody’s glad you came.

there are so many more, but those are a few i-truly-believe-they-are-possible-and-am-seeing-some-of-them-in-real-life for this morning that make me smile.

let’s keep planting new trees. 

i’d love to hear some of yours.

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.


  • This is an amazing list, Kathy. Thank you for stretching our thinking. But they are so far from what I’ve ever experienced in a church, they are hard to imagine. But that is the beauty of dreams! What do we do to start getting there?

    • i think the first way to a dream is to say it out loud and make one small itty bitty teeny weeny step toward it….thanks for taking time to share and dream, too.

  • what if… we did away with hierarchy and became ONE body under ONE head (Jesus)
    what if… we made room for EVERY body part
    what if… we created unity, not uniformity
    what if… we really were known by our love

  • As always, it is a pleasure to read your blog Kathy for me. I love the sharing of ideas.

    On this occasion first thought of any kind of “what if” for me is what if we though a little differently, and regarded what some describe as “crazy” for doing what is centred on Christ, as a compliment, laughed and rejoiced at having been insulted knowing that great is our reward in heaven for having been so!

    I’ve hear the “Cheers” analogy before “where everyone knows your name” and sitting at the end of a bar with Frasier or who’s the big guy?, might be fun :).

    Seriously tho – your ideas are of course an idealistic view of what you would like to see. Great tho it is to listen to them and to be sharing similar if I were to and to have a sense of community from that, little is going to be achieved in any kind of church or gathering, unless we collectively are aware of how God is at work and know our part in that, working together in unity in Christ.

    And in this perhaps one way we can start bridging the conservative/evangelical and liberal/progressive divide is being careful with how we use rhetorically loaded communication such as “equal” and “word of God” and how we choose to engage when such words are triggers.

    It seems to me that unless we can take ownership of our triggers, pay attention to our needs for healing and consideration of others in spite of any pain we may experience, then all we are doing with how we communicate and relate to one another is in a punitive manner where there could be unity in Christ, whilst being mislead and misleading – appearing to be working towards justice and what God’s will is but fueled by our egos in the name of “rights” and “freedom”.

    I guess my my question is with all the what ifs it what if we not only share our ideals, but in an imperfect world, work to what is realistically achievable together accepting that the world is as it is and we are not always going to get what we want. By working to this aim, I include going through the means what Christ said about the hardships of losing your life for his sake so you might gain life, not just talking about it, but doing it, but in the fun and peaceful, loving and joyful times but also including and not avoiding the tough and painful times when things get gnarly!

    Are you in?

  • What if there is a place in Broomfield Colorado that has been trying just that for several years now and and is the most loving place I’ve known?

  • This is where I have my own cognitive dissonance these days because my form of Christianity is patriarchal and hierarchical in nature. With that said, I can’t just abandon my egalitarian beliefs. I might not resolve the two. So why do I go to my church? I go to meet God there. That works for me. I don’t even go for the community anymore since I have another group with whom I can share my messy life.

    What I do know is that more people will go to church if there were genuine opportunities for people without families, people without kids, young families, single parents, young men and women just getting out of prison, and addicts who struggle. The church does not need to supply all of these things, but can be a place to meet people with similar struggles and to get the resources to get back on two feet. The unique service the church offers is an expansion of vision into a deeper source of meaning that binds people together. People crave that meaning otherwise self-help books would not sell!

    So how about this:

    What if… churches could be more honest about their strengths and not try out a bunch of new programs that other people just do better.

    What if…the church stopped whining about what they don’t have and be grateful for what they do have.

    What if… There was less self-pity and more open-mindedness and hope given to people who have none.

    I know that you have worked hard on these areas, Kathy, and I am thankful for that!

    • yeah, that’s why i struggle with so many systems. i know many are finding healing and peace and renewed faith in all kinds of liturgical traditions and of course, i think that’s awesome but tricky for a non-hierarchical person like me. that’s why we each have to find our own path. i really like what you say about maybe never being able to resolve that dissonance and that being okay. i love your list and am so glad to know you through these past years…

  • Kay and I visited Kauai a few years ago a couple of weeks after Costco opened. Prices there were similar to Costco prices here in San Diego. That meant they were much, much cheaper than many local stores in Kauai, especially stores that sold groceries. The name of the game became “learn to compete if you want to survive”.

    How I wish that same dynamic played out in churches. I’m imagining lots of small groups springing up that look like the kinds of groups you describe here. Just like the new Costco in Kauai, people would be there because they could find so much more there. Other churches would need to change or they’d disappear. I’m not very hopeful that will happen any time soon, however. Most churches change at a pace much slower than even IBM. More and more of us have and are moving on without them.

    • “more and more of us have and are moving on without them…” yep, creating all kinds of awesome and beautiful and messy and transforming pockets of love all over the place. thank you.

  • I worked with a wonderful organization called Inner Change. My team was in San Francisco. Inner Change is a group of “incarnational” missionaries who move into poor communities around the world. I led worship at their international conference, and I was humbled when I looked around the room The top leader was a man but the last top leader was a woman. No leader stays there for more than 4 years…they step back down to their neighborhood and have someone else step up so there are no power struggles. During their training they go through the timeline of the ministry. Along with some of the victories they talk about how the founder went through a depression and had to go to the beach for a year. He is totally open about the depression he went through and how he still struggles with it.

    But the thing that struck me the most was the diversity in the room. There were both Catholics and Protestants as it is an eccumenical organization. There were black people, white people, hispanics. There were ex homeless people and ex gang members, all of which were able to be missionaries with the organization because all the other missionaries pitched in to pay their salary. There were hippies with dreads and people who used to be wealthy. Native African and Thai people along with people who had transplanted. All among 150 people!

    It was amazing to see. As one of the leaders said “if you were to stack up all the beliefs in this room, they would be all over the place. But we do choose to live life people because our theology matches up. We choose to live life together because we love Jesus and we love the poor.

    It was beautiful. I wish church could be like this all the time.


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