survival of the fittest church

kathyescobar church stuff, equality, incarnational, injustice, jesus is cool, leadership, rants 38 Comments

matthew 19

A few months ago I made a big plate of nachos for all of the kids. Within 10 minutes, they were devoured and I made a joke about how life around here is like “survival of the fittest.” The strongest and most-able-to-elbow-everyone-out-to-get-the-guacamole wins.

The past few weeks, I also talked to some amazing pastors & leaders who are some of the most humble and kind and dedicated people I know but are struggling with what it looks like to lead in their contexts. Their communities are small, the people they care about don’t have resources, and people-who-fund-these-kinds-of-things just don’t come be part.

It made me think how often church has become about “survival of the fittest”, too.

Even though Jesus spoke boldly against this in the gospels, the one “system” that’s supposed to be contrary to the ways of the world has adapted its methods and structures to fit in. The result: over time, the “strong” are surviving and what is perceived by the world as “weak” are becoming more extinct.

Mega-churches with big budgets keep building buildings; small, simple, in-the-trenches communities find it hard to stay alive. Strong charismatic leaders keep drawing people in; ordinary average pastors-who-are-just-doing-the-simple-day-to-day-work-of-taking-care-of-their-congregations keep dwindling in numbers.

The same principle applies to extensions of “church”. Take blogging, for example–often, loud, mean, provoking voices rise to the top and humble, kind, honest ones never get hits. Beautiful underground practitioners are doing the tangible work of living out their faith without the help of sustaining financial support but those with seminary degrees & charismatic communication abilities & strong-in-the-world’s-eyes leaders are the ones being fully funded.

Over the past 8 years The Refuge has been alive, I have seen a lot of churches & leaders come and go. The saddest part to me is that on the whole, the ones that have gone have been friends who were trying new things, deeply and humbly dedicated to people, and really passionate about the incarnation of Christ in all kinds of creative and wonderful ways. They made deep sacrifices over time to live out their dreams for Christian community, but in the end, some just couldn’t make it. Others, like us, continue to struggle along as best we can but money is always tight and the “strong” rarely come.

Bottom line: Human beings don’t like to be weak.

Many contemporary Christians like it even less.

We like to be on the winning team.

We like to be the ones who aren’t like “those people.”

We like to feel comfortable.

We like the safety of numbers.

We like certainty and conformity and affiliation.

We like the path of ascent, not descent.

And those are all contrary to the ways of the kingdom, where the last will be first and the first will be last. Where stopping on the side of the road to help the man bleeding is more important than the next-great-sermon-to-prepare-or-listen-to. Where spiritual poverty & humility & mourning & meekness & peacemaking lead to blessing. Where it’s worth it to leave the 99 to find the one. Where restoring basic human dignity and offering tangible love and connection trump programs & budgets & the law. Where mercy is more important than sacrifice.

I always wrestle with the paradox of feeling despair about the reality of church while witnessing hope, too. For some reason today I just feel extra bugged because I still see the strong getting stronger and the weak getting squeezed out. 

I am tired of hearing about yet another church plant with big plans for growth and funding when there are so many small struggling ones who could really use some brothers & sisters to come alongside and pitch in and help instead.

I am tired of hearing about the next, new great church idea when there are countless local agencies and organizations who could desperately use more volunteers and help and will never, ever benefit from another Sunday church service cropping up in their town.

I am tired of hearing of yet another amazing, small, beautiful community evaporating because of lack of funding to sustain the so-under-market-value amount some of these pastors & leaders need to keep doing the hard-and-painful-work-of-truly-living-alongside-others.

I am tired of hearing about yet another male leader of some church or network or ministry or organization who gets away with being a narcissist and mistreating and using people and somehow keeps getting paid good to do it because they have charisma and know how to woo the right people.

I am tired of hearing of another incredibly gifted female leader with no church to serve in or staying stuck in one that’s “as good as it gets” but will never see her as a full equal.

I am tired of yet another privileged argument about the scriptural interpretation of homosexuality while the poor are getting poorer and the grooves of oppression continue to get deeper and wider at home and around the world.

I am tired of hearing about many incredible, sincere people who long to find a spiritual community to be part of after a faith shift but have few options because most everything out there is either “strong” or dying or unwelcoming because the money & resource won’t tolerate the fringe.

I am tired of a heckuva lot of people being influenced by a theology of power & strength & hierarchy week after week after week.

Goodness gracious, I’m tired of a lot of things!

I’m not trying to highlight all the negative; there’s no doubt so many good things are happening all over the place, many that we never hear or know about. I definitely borrow hope from that and truly believe that ultimately the ones on the underside of power win.

Mostly, I think I am just tired of “survival of the fittest” accurately describing the church of Jesus Christ–the one group that should defy all of man’s theories.