the new ways are way harder

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, the refuge 13 Comments

i am a “get-it-done” kind of person.   a confessed striver, i really like to dream, build, create something from scratch, make things happen.    not all of this is for the wrong reasons (as in feeding ego, making me feel valuable & validated…), but i am honest enough to say of course in weird wacky ways it is all mixed up in the same pot.  most of my crazy-i-want-to-be-part-of-creating-and-nurturing-this-refuge-faith-community thing is because i believe passionately that there’s a need for new voices, new ideas, new models in the kingdom of God.    some close friends think i’m just a masochist.  they’re probably right, but at least i’m a masochist with idealistic dreams that a new way is possible. 

the bummer is i live a little too close to a system that i respect “works” but is really no longer consistent with some things i deeply value.   although the refuge is not a typical church by any means (we are really more a faith community-missional agency-weird eclectic band of ragamuffin brothers & sisters), we are actually technically a “church” and when we compare ourselves to other “churches”, it pretty much freaks me out because i see all the ways we are not doing the things that really do still “work.”  let’s face it, money continues to flow into lots of church coffers, one powerful-put-together guy on top is still highly valued, creating protected-we’ll-find-you-some-sanitized-ministry-comfort zones has become more and more popular as missional became the new buzz-word, and the professional corporate model continues to pervade an awful lot of church structures, emerging or not.

so sometimes i get confused.  i want to give up the dream.  i want to throw in the towel.  i want to get a nice comfy job with a real paycheck i can count on cashing.   i want ease, cushion, margin.   here in the trenches, trying to advocate for a different way, i sometime find myself secretly slipping back to old thinking, modern thinking, because it seems to “work” so much better than this crazy way we are trying.  where power is diffused, all have a voice, messy people aren’t required to clean it up, relationship supersedes strategy, experiential trumps comfort.   where the journey is far more important than the destination. 

i’ve been sort of in the tank this past week. the demands of the refuge sometimes sneak up on me.  people move in and out of communities all of the time, but when you are small and fragile and unpredictable it really takes its toll.   over the past two years, some people have left because they want to be around healthier, less messy people (this one gets to me more than any other), others want a squared away children’s program, better music, all the things they were “used to getting” and were secretly wondering if we’d ever deliver the goods.   others were probably longing for the typical weekly pep talk.   others, maybe because we make them feel more uncomfortable than they feel comfortable with.   i respect and understand all of these decisions. they are just hard on my soul, that’s all. 

and here’s what i realized this week, two years into planting the refuge:  i sometimes miss the old ways.  you see, the new ways are way harder. there are so many subtle ways that the road we’re on is so much trickier to pull off. i keep waiting for smoother sailing, greener pastures,  someone to  swoop in and say “we believe in you, we want to do this with you, what do you need?”  and i’m starting to realize, it may not come.   plus, i’m pretty sure the life of following Christ was never about ease, comfort, success, numbers, budgets, earthly relief.   i’ll say, though, part of my human condition always seems to be longing for it.

one thing i have observed is that many “new” churches are really still relying on old ways and that’s why they probably will get a lot further than we will!    i look sometimes at them and think “what are we doing wrong?” and then i realize we really are talking apples & oranges.  church as compared to this thing we’re doing that’s better described as a faith-community-missional-agency-Christ-likeness-relational-training-ground.   old & new.  (note: i did not say good & bad. i recognize that many ‘old’ systems are working, impacting the world for Christ in amazing ways). 

anyway, in my craziness these past few weeks i keep wishing for the good ol’ days, the good ol’ ways, but of course knowing i can never go back.

the old way says “if you give people what they really want, they’ll come….”

the new way says “our responsibility is to give people what they really need,” and this means they probably won’t stay because what we really need is to be known, loved, valued in intimate interdependent relationships with each other, and most of us know how hard and scary that really is.  many are chicken of that kind of connection.

the old way says “we need to give people opportunity to serve “the poor” or “other” people so they can get out of theirselves, their self-centeredness.”

the new way says “we will do more than reach down and offer a hand up here and there to make ourselves feel better.  we will go down and experience how much we actually have in common, how desperate we both are.   we have more to learn than we have to give.”

the old way says “figure out how to be self-sufficient as a community as quickly as possible (maybe even before you start). do what it takes to build an infrastructure that will support itself and feed into it to keep it humming along.”

the new way says “feeding infrastructure usually means sacrificing people, relationships, to build a structure that now needs to be maintained.  feed your people & community with love, care, respect, and beauty and understand this will probably never pay the bills the way you had hoped.”

the old way says “go find people that can fulfill specific roles, individuals who can get the jobs done you need to get done to strengthen your infrastructure.”

the new way says “who is here as part of this community and how can their gifts and passions be best expressed here even if there are gaping holes in the things we think should happen?”

the old way of measuring success is “numbers, financial viability, baptisms, and a good-looking list of programs.”

the new measure of success is “not really measurable because we’re talking about matters of the heart, places where people have have experienced Christ’s touch and love, but their circumstances are exactly the same.  where feeling loved and accepted changed everything underneath.  where a person’s dignity got restored. where an artist felt the freedom to express.  where someone came and went but took with them a taste of a different way.  where some never set foot into a weekly gathering but read something online that gave them hope, made them feel less alone.”

i’ll be honest.  i like the old ways better for only one simple and dumb reason:  it is was so much easier to pull off.   this new way is harder than i ever imagined.  but there’s no turning back.  so, for now, here i am, alongside beautiful friends who are dreamers like me, on the road filled with obstacles, insurmountable issues, and all kinds of reasons to give up even though we can’t seem to.  yeah, the new ways are way harder.