three things about one word: church

kathyescobar church stuff, incarnational 19 Comments

church definition jpeg

i first started going to church on a regular basis when i was in high school. my boyfriend’s family became born-again christians while we were dating and i went with them. i loved it. the inspiration, the music, the challenge. it didn’t change everything for me but it opened me up to a world that i knew little about before. since then, i have been in all kinds of churches–big ones, little ones, weird ones, cool ones.

each of my church experiences have shaped and formed me. it’s where i’ve learned things that i need to learn. it’s where i found new ways to intersect with God. it’s where my soul has become stirred in ways it needed stirring and probably wouldn’t have happened sitting home watching TV.

even though some of my jacked-up-ness related to God has come from church, so much good was born there, too.

i’ve written before on why i love the church. yeah, no matter how hard i’ve tried to escape it, i love the church because i love people. to me, that’s really what the church is–people gathered together to live & learn & love together. we learn things in community that we can never learn on our own. i also think that the word and the idea behind it has become hijacked and that we need to re-frame what church actually means.

this year i started a here-and-there series called “three things about one word” and have talked so far about power & serving. i always think a lot about church, but this week these three things came to mind:

1. church is about people gathered in all kinds of beautiful & crazy shapes and forms (and a service is one small sliver of what that means). services are helpful to people and create an intentional space to connect with God in all kinds of ways, but a service alone is not church. church is people who are connecting eye to eye, heart to heart, sharing life together, breaking bread together, carrying each other’s burdens, being known, making ourselves vulnerable, praying light into darkness, discovering passions, empowering, encouraging, and calling out God’s image in each other. sometimes that happens at all sizes of services, but often church happens one on one, in coffee shops, in hospitals, in support groups, in houses, in shelters, at parties, in 2’s and 3’s and 4’s.  i really wish this kind of church got more credit because it seems that those thin places are where more sustained healing happens, where the great loneliness subsides, where we feel alive and purposeful, where we feel loved & heard, where the holy & the human intersect. we can’t  let the rules of the system define what is church and what isn’t.

2. the end product of church should be vulnerability, not inspiration.  of course, i think part of gathering is getting inspiration & challenge, but that’s only a little piece of what it was meant to be. we can be inspired and never make ourselves vulnerable to another human being. we can get all revved up about God and never actually practice what we intend to. we can become intoxicated with good sermons & liturgies & podcasts & music & ideas but never really expose our hearts. Jesus stuff is vulnerable. it’s practical, not theoretical.  it’s risky not comfortable.  it requires us to give ourselves to others in ways that don’t necessarily make us feel “good” but transform us into God’s image. one of the biggest reasons i haven’t given up on “church” is that it makes me vulnerable in ways i sometimes can’t stand.  and usually, the things i don’t-want-to-do are the things that are often the best for my soul in the end.

3. the world isn’t desperate for another service, but it sure does need the body of Christ, the church, to be what it’s supposed to be.  i always notice it, but after my israel-palestine trip, i’m even more painfully struck with how much we have failed when it comes to bringing peace & hope & love & justice & mercy to this broken and messed up world. the things we perpetuate & spend our money on, the things we are arguing about, and what we are known for are so distant from Jesus’ message that sometimes i wonder if we can ever turn it around. but then i hear your stories and your hearts and see the on-the-ground-work many dear friends are doing and i remember that we’re not completely done for yet. you give me so much hope, not for the system but for the living reality that there’s nothing prettier than God’s spirit flowing through our flesh & blood.

i have said all of these things before. really, these three things are nothing new. but i often write so i can remember, too. sometimes i feel a little dumb, all this passion i have for something that so many people have come to associate as either a country club for the judgmental or a waste of time.  when i revisit it, i seem to always come back to this conclusion: church matters because people do.

there’s too much loneliness, too much depression, too much darkness, too much shame, too much brokenness, too much poverty, too much hunger, too much abuse, too much grief, too much ugliness in this world to ignore.

and no matter how we slice it up, Jesus gave us the great responsibility–together–to reflect his image in his physical absence and to be the bearers of beauty & hope & mercy & peace & justice & kindness & compassion & love here, now.

so here’s to creating little pockets of love & spaces & places & ways for human beings to be with each other–to grow & share & fail & seek & wrestle & create & try & practice & find hope & gain courage & learn-to-love-and-be-loved–no matter how messy or weird or dumb or crazy or small or insignificant it may look or feel.

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ps: speaking of “church”, i wanted to let you know, too, that we are running our next walking wounded: hope for those hurt by the church online class starting monday march 4th.  registration details are here.  each time we’ve done it, i am reminded how important it is to have safe spaces to intentionally process some of our pain related to church & faith shifts. it’s a messy process, finding our way out of the muck and mire, and this is a way to get some traction and hope. feel free to email me if you have any questions.