At its core Misfit Ministry is defined simply by its two words. It is ministry to those who, for whatever reasons, struggle to fit into traditional models of church life. In more specific detail, however, we should speak to the distinct features of Misfit Ministry.
Jesus loves the misfit. Much of His earthly ministry was spent with the social pariah, the outcast, the political traitor, and the unwanted. So, Jesus talked with prostitutes, ate with tax collectors, and was called a friend of drunkards and gluttons (Matt 11:19). In that regard Misfit Ministry is what characterized the earthly life of Jesus. If that was the ministry of Jesus then it ought also specifically to be our ministry. So, Tim Keller has boldly declared:
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. (The Prodigal God)
Keller is pointed and challenging in all the right ways.
Much of what we do in contemporary church ministry assumes a church background. The way we conduct our corporate worship services, the lingo we use, and the unspoken expectations we tend to promote all assume that those in attendance grew up in church. If, however, you did not grow up in church these things will not only not make sense to you, but they will tend to make you feel as though you don’t belong. We will attract religious and churched people, but those who are most far from God, those whom Jesus himself attracted, will increasingly feel as though He doesn’t make sense to them, nor does He fit into their world. Misfit Ministry, then, recognizes that there are ways to contextualize ministry for those who don’t fit into traditional models (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
As part of clarification, it’s worth our time to explain what Misfit Ministry doesn’t mean. For one, it doesn’t mean that we are changing the content of the gospel or the Scriptures themselves. In truth the gospel message is foreign to all of us. Our sinful bent toward self-reliance, independence, and selfish indulgence means that the message of Christ death for our sins is not what any of us would choose. Yet, this message is the truth we most desperately need. If we tamper with the gospel, attempt to make it more palatable, we will inevitably leave people without any real hope. Likewise the truths of the Scriptures, the ethical mandates outlined in it, are not up for revision. Misfit Ministry may contextualize our methods, but it can never alter our message. God has divinely authored and authoritatively issued the Scriptures, our job is to submit to them. Misfit Ministry simply seeks to explain that same content in way that makes sense to a specific audience.
Secondly, we do not mean, by the term Misfit Ministry, that Misfits should have their own church. The church is intended by God to be a diverse body of believers (Gal. 3:28). We need each other. Traditional churches need Misfits, and Misfits likewise need traditional churches. Church life works best when we bump each other and cause one another to grow, and to practice the Fruit of the Spirit in relational diversity. A proper Misfit Ministry seeks to engage, welcome, and introduce people to the basics of the faith, the basics of discipleship, and help them to connect with the rest of the church in time. A healthy ministry will, then, seek to help everyone understand that misfits are welcome in the Evangelical church.
Misfit Ministry has both a specific and broad demographic in mind. It’s helpful if we take a moment to clarify a target audience. There are any number of reasons why someone might feel like a misfit within traditional models of church. It could be that they are addicts struggling for sobriety, or perhaps they come from a subculture that they church has often struggled to understand (skaters, punks, goths, LGBT, etc.), or they have suffered the consequences of the fall in specific ways (mental illness, divorce, same-sex attraction), or perhaps they just don’t understand religion/church practices and so they need help in adjusting to the new culture. Misfits, then, can be of any age, any stage of life, and any personality. It’s both a specific and a broad demographic to whom this type of ministry will appeal.
Finally, we can speak of several core elements that mark misfit ministry as distinct and unique. These core elements will be discussed in more detail in the posts to come, but for the moment we may mention them. There are five core elements: (1) Resistance, (2) Passion, (3) Deep Community, (4) Practical Help, and (5) Organic discipleship. I will unpack each of these in posts to come, but the idea is that misfit ministry wants to offer correctives to what traditional ministry has often become. So, traditional ministry has often become professionalized – Misfit Ministry wants to resist that professionalization. Traditional ministry struggles with routine performance (familiarity can tempt us towards apathy) – Misfit Ministry wants to emphasize passionate commitment. Traditional ministry has also struggled with superficiality – Misfit Ministry wants to breed deep ongoing commitment, the kind of fellowship and care that moves beyond Sunday greetings. Traditional church, likewise, has struggled to provide practical help to one another, the lack of deep community makes tangible needs an inconvenience – Misfit Ministry wants to be a hub for practical resources, helping one another overcome struggles. Finally, traditional church has tended to make discipleship a program, a class you take or book you read – Misfit Ministry understand discipleship needs to be connect to daily life in order to be lasting.
These key differences help to mark out what makes Misfit Ministry different. The goal being two-fold: (1) This ministry will help people who struggle with traditional church to connect to the church and ultimately to Jesus. We want to see people grow. (2) This ministry will offer gentle correctives to some of our most common weaknesses in traditional church. Where Misfit Ministry bleeds into traditional models it will have an enduring and positive impact. We want to see the whole church grow and flourish in light of this type of work.
I hope you’ll stick with me as we continue to unpack what Misfit Ministry looks like, and I hope you will pray for its realization in our communities.
Misfit Song of the Week: “Be My Escape” by Relient K
This pop-punk band have a truly unique sound in a lot of ways. With songs that blend classic pop-punk power chords, acoustic guitar, piano, banjo, and bell the band has made a distinct impression and shown tremendous growth across their eight albums.
“Be My Escape” was the hit single off their fourth album, released in 2004 – which was certified a platinum single. The song garnered instant notice and the music video earned them a top ten spot on MTV. It won them opportunities to appear on Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. The song demonstrated the musical and narratival progression of the band. A varied pace supports the lyrical content of longing and desperation, and the song’s epilogue shows tremendous depth and variety in a single track.
The song’s main thrust communicates the earnest desire to escape the stain of past failure. The words point to the need to give up on trying to escape on your own, they point to the real need of rescue from the past. As the second verse starts, Matt Thiessen sings, “I’ve given up on doing this alone now.” The song never expressly identifies God as the one to whom he sings, but it clearly implies God is the rescuer. He mentions that while he deserves the “life sentence that I’m serving,” the “beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” As a result, the chorus pleads:
I gotta get outta here
I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake
I gotta get outta here
And I’m begging You, I’m begging You, I’m begging You to be my escape.
The past serves as a prison, holding the singer down. He is stuck in a rut, recalling, remembering, and regretting. But there is an escape and that escape is a person. He is the one who “holds the key.”
The song’s epilogue beautifully summarizes the internal struggle we all have to let God redeem our past. Thiessen sings:
I fought You for so long
I should have let You in
Oh how we regret those things we do
And all I was trying to do was save my own skin
But so were You
He learns that he can’t save himself, that must come from God.
It’s a powerful song about redemption and about refusing to be defined by our past. It captures a part of Paul’s “new creation in Christ” concept. It’s not a John MacArthur book, but it’s good pop-punk theology.