healthier people make healthier groups make healthier systems.

Over two decades of ministry I have consistently heard the same response from a wide array of church leaders from top to bottom (mainly male, but not always): “Kathy, why do you have to be so focused on healing and recovery stuff? It’s really not what people want.”

Actually, I am greatly minimizing their words in that sentence. It’s actually been more like this:

“People are sick of you talking about recovery or hearing addict’s stories.”

“When are your people going to get healed and start serving the church?”

“People don’t wake up desperate, and they’re tired of you using that word.”

“I’m not like ‘those people’; I don’t have anything in common with them.”

“ I don’t need the 12 steps.”

“You’d be a lot more successful if you talked about pretty much anything else.”

And my favorite: “I’m not codependent.”

That’s just the short list, but you get the idea.

Personal reflection, healing, and recovery work are not popular in a lot of traditional Christian circles. Sure, there are small opportunities to get a little extra help when you need it—referrals to counselors, maybe a speaker or two here and there, maybe a teeny weeny recovery ministry that meets on a Tuesday night, an AA meeting that meets in a church’s basement.

But healing, on the whole, isn’t integrated into the life of so many systems.

And this is the reason why so many systems we are or have been part of are such a hot mess.

Healthier people cultivate healthier groups, and healthier groups create healthier systems.

The converse is also true–unhealthy people make unhealthy groups, which make unhealthy systems.

Most of us know that churches tend to be some of the most unhealthy systems on the planet; the irony of that is not lost on me. The place that’s supposed to be the free-est, most alive, most transforming in the deep places of people’s hearts and experiences, is often the most locked up, bound up, messed up, fragmented, and disconnected.

I often hear the typical first response to that—“People aren’t perfect, so we’ll never have a perfect church.”

Sometimes I can’t even on that particular plug-and-play response.

Of course we know that! No one I have ever known expects perfection.

However, people are expecting a focus on health, and it’s not too much to expect!

They’re expecting there wouldn’t be so many controlling, narcissistic leaders on top. That there would be more vulnerability and humility. That there would be more connection that goes far beyond sitting next to each other every Sunday and listening to someone pretty much say the same thing week after week from the front. That there would be greater equality. That we could see examples of health that would challenge us in new and beautiful ways.

Unfortunately right now, at the highest level of leadership in our nation, we are witnessing a prime example of what an unhealthy person creates.

It’s a small microcosm of a bigger story.

Unhealthy people create unhealthy groups and systems.

That’s so not what the world needs more of right now. We’ve got that in spades, and it’s killing us.

We need examples of health and healing and possibility and flourishing and equality-that-changes-everything.

We need healing.

Healing doesn’t come in a rush. It comes over a lifetime of ongoing work with other strugglers and people-in-seek-of-healing, too.

Last week I facilitated an Enneagram for Teams workshop for a corporation’s leadership team. It was fun to not be in the non-profit world and see how personal transformation work crosses all boundaries.

We all need tools and possibilities to grow as human beings.

This is why I am deeply dedicated to staying close to what I believe to be desperately needed in most every circle, no matter how unpopular it is.

I’m sticking with my own continued healing work and doing whatever I can to create brave and safe spaces for others to do the same. Healing isn’t always about looking back at our childhood and trying to make sense of it all (it makes me sad that often people limit to that).

Healing and becoming healthier is about practicing a different way of living, not for a little while but for a lifetime. 

It’s about learning new ways to connect to God, ourselves, others.

It’s about letting go of destructive patterns and replacing them with healthier ones.

It’s about becoming more integrated, less divided.

It’s about shedding ego and picking up humility.

It’s about nurturing living systems instead of hierarachical ones.

It’s about becoming better human beings.

So folks, keep going to recovery meetings. Keep finding safe and brave spaces to heal not just for a moment but as a way of life. Keep engaging with the Enneagram or whatever helps you get in touch with areas for growth. Keep being more honest instead of hiding. Keep rocking the boat. Keep making people uncomfortable. Keep learning and being open.

Keep walking away from systems that truly won’t ever change and keep embodying possibility and advocating for something better in ones that are trying to.

Yeah, healthier people make healthier groups make healthier systems.

The world sure needs more of all three of of these right now.

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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.


  • Amen!!!! We’ve all got stuff. Yucky stuff the keeps us isolated and stuck in dysfunctional behaviors. To be truly human (in my opinion) involves an appreciation of the struggles and challenges that I and others face and a willingness to come along side others who struggle. The starting point of spiritual awakening is often a recognition and acceptance that we have not arrived but have simply experienced an awakening that leads us to embrace our journey that is comprised of joy and sadness, triumph and tragedy, the journey that is about growth.

  • “Keep finding safe and brave spaces to heal not just for a moment but as a way of life.”

    Ironically enough, I made a comment today online saying that a while back I’d found one of those spaces with a ‘secular’ psychologist, and that Jesus had been very much a part of my healing in that space. I was quickly corrected and assured that it couldn’t have been so because there was no prayer involved…



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