Misfit Ministry: A Ministry of Resistance

The Christian church has a long legacy as a movement of resistance. At the dawn of the church Christianity itself resisted polytheism, class division, and sexual immorality. The Bible is full of distinct commands to resist the way the rest of the world operates. Throughout history then too there have been pockets of resistance from within the church. So, it was Christians in England who resisted the slave trade; Monasticism was a resistance to the encroaching wordiness of the church. Pockets of resistance point us back to the birth of Christianity. Misfit Ministry, likewise, is a ministry of resistance. Misfit ministry resists four common ideas far too common in the contemporary church.

Resisting the Polish of Performance –> The church has been overly professionalized in the contemporary church. Ministry is done by professional “ministers,” and everything about the church builds towards the single event that is Sunday morning service. An event that is to be polished, pristine, and professional. As a result two issues have developed to weaken the church:

First, we have turned church into an event, and one in which the majority of Christians present are simply spectators. Ask anyone what church is and they will inevitably talk about Sunday mornings as the sole distinguishing feature of the body of Christ. The Sunday morning service is, of course, important but it is not the totality of the church – and even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals this. So, on the one side we have reduced church to an event, but secondly we have made even that event an activity of the “professional Christians.”

The ministry of the church belongs to the professionals. We have even taken to calling pastors “the minister” as though they are the ones called to do the work of the church and not to equip the church to do it (Eph. 4:11-12). The Sunday event is the most professionalized activity in the church. The hired staff put on the show, and the rest of the church watches. The whole event is polished and no mistakes are allowed. Interaction with the congregation is limited, and their participation is carefully calculated, sometimes it’s event manufactured by manipulation.

Misfit Ministry seeks to be different. We want to avoid the polished performance. Misfit ministry wants to encourage the average believer to see that they are as much a part of the church, the ministry, and the corporate worship service as anyone else. We want to rob one another of the excuse that we can’t perform, and therefore can’t be part of what’s going on, can’t serve, can’t lead. It’s okay to allow the reading of Scripture to be stilted and stammering. It’s okay to be honest on Sunday mornings about tiredness and grogginess. It’s okay to make light-hearted jokes during announcements. It’s okay for a little self-derision from the pulpit. It’s okay not to use a pulpit. The de-professionalization of ministry communicates that everyone is part of what happens in the church, that everyone can serve. It’s an important act of resistance. If the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation put strictures on who and how people could participate in the life of the church, Misfit Ministry seeks to be more like the Reformation itself: putting ministry back into the hands of non-professionals.

Resisting the Safety of Formality –> Despite all our talk about the need for community, the church struggles immensely with this dynamic. Vulnerability is hard for all of us, but church has a bad reputation for being nice, neat, and polite. That is to say, you wear your “Sunday bests” not simply in clothing but in overall demeanor. The church halls are littered with lies about personal struggles: “I am fine.” We don’t share real struggles with one another. We are reluctant to confess sin, brokenness, need, and heartbreak. And when someone actually does cross that line they are often seen as inconvenient.

It is certainly more safe to be formal. After all, if we don’t do brokenness then we don’t have to walk with difficult people, difficult situations, or commit to long-term care. It’s safe in that it’s always family-friendly. We don’t have to worry about the kids hearing about prostitution, drugs, porn, or racism. It’s also safe in that it doesn’t mess with my own comfort and habits. I don’t have to think about my over-indulgence in food, my “white lies,” or my own idolatry of ease. I can go about my pursuit of the American Dream without the inconvenience of intrusion into my family, my routines, and my lifestyle. But, this, of course, is not the model of Biblical Christianity. James tells us that true religion is looking after the disadvantaged, those without advocates, and those in need (James 1:27). It means committing to long-term care, not a quick fix that makes us feel self-important.

Misfit Ministry seeks to break down that wall. To avoid formality by inviting, encouraging, and demonstrating honest vulnerability. Leaders set the tone by honestly and regularly admitting their own weakness, sin, and need. Those involved in leadership don’t look like the Spiritual elite, they look like everyone else (with the obvious caveat of being Biblically qualified for leadership). Misfit ministry has regular space for confession, intercessory prayer, and regular sharing. This is what ministry is really about, and so it should be at the core of what we do.

Resisting the Idol of Materialism –> Materialism has become a major point of criticism of Western Christianity. David Platt has very powerfully criticized this reality with one story. In his book Radical he observes two adjacent headlines in a Baptist Newspaper. The one celebrates a small amount of money raised for foreign missions. The second celebrates a multi-million dollar building project. The contrast was/is startling.

The average Christian struggles with materialism in America, and as a result the church collectively has begun to evidence this issue too. We are always looking for bigger, better, and more expensive. The overhead costs of the church alone are enough that we ought to give pause. Our resources are often tied up in debt and maintenance. We often love our stuff more than is healthy for the church. Add to this that what we own often changes us. In the words of folk singer Joe Pug “The more I buy, the more I am bought. And the more I am bought, the less that I cost.” Materialism runs rampant within the church, and Misfit Ministry wants to resist this trend.

When ministry is de-professionalized it opens up doors to simplicity. We can do ministry on shoe string budgets because it doesn’t require equipment, big facilities, and nationally recognized speakers. It can happen in coffee shops, living rooms, and in all sorts of organic ways. It prioritizes people over possessions. We can invite all the “wrong” kind of people into our gatherings because we aren’t worried that they’ll damage things, steal things, or tie up resources. Materialism alters ministry, but Misfit Ministry can prioritize people.

Resisting the Pride of “Success” –> Finally, we ought to consider how “success” becomes the standard of evaluating ministries. In and of itself this is not wrong, after all, who doesn’t want to be successful. The issue is what qualifies as “success.” In most traditional church settings success is marked by numbers. Success is big budgets, big facilities, major events, lots of butts in seats. Such an ideal is the church’s version of the American Dream. This is not, however, how Jesus qualifies success. Success according to the Bible is faithfulness to God, not specific results nor big crowds.

Multiple places reveal this principle. So, David says it outright in 1 Kings 2:3, when teaching his son how to reign as King. Jesus teaches it when he gives us the Greatest Commandment: love God and love neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus even warns us that some forms of “success” are really empty (Matt. 16:26). The church, then, should view things differently.

Misfit Ministry resists such notions of “success.” It seeks to be intentional with individuals, whoever they are and however many they are. We can “waste” our time with one difficult and exhausting individual because in the Kingdom of God one individual is a priceless gem. We can labor with a few because a few are loved by God as much as the many. We can maximize our ministry without needing to be bigger. Success is about faithfulness to what Jesus gives, not to what the world says matters. Misfit Ministry knows this.

Misfit Song of the Week: “Instead of a Show” by Jon Foreman

Jon Foreman is the much beloved frontman and lead-singer for the alternative Christian rock band, turned mainstream, Switchfoot. As Switchfoot continued to explode and gain mainstream success, Foreman began to explore several side-projects. Fiction Family was his collaborative project with Nickel Creek’s guitarist Sean Watkins. Limbs and Branches, the album from which this track comes, was Foreman’s solo project, released in 2008. The whole album is a compilation of solo tracks from various EP’s and yet represent a distinct sound for the rock star. It’s folksy feel, stripped-down acoustic style, shows another level of depth to the singer/songwriter.

“Instead of a Show” is a cast in the form of a response of God to the hypocrisy of His people. God responds much like he had to individuals in the Old Testament, who worshipped Him with lips but whose hearts were far from Him (Isa. 29:13). So Foreman sings:

I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show

Worship in traditional forms without heart means nothing to God, and Foreman has solid Biblical ground from which to make such a claim. He points instead to the things that God expects to accompany devotion to Him: justice and mercy. In fact, God contrast the rituals of empty worship with these very acts in Micah 6:6-8. We read:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

So, when Foreman’s chorus belts out the contrast he does so with the same emphasis. He sings:

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Instead of a show, God desires authentic godliness demonstrated towards others. Worship on Sundays and dismissal of the needy the rest of the week do not go together. Foreman’s bold song invites us to see God’s heart for the downtrodden. It also invites us to action in our own lives and churches.

The church often pits good theology and social action against one another. As though an interest in the latter automatically makes one a social gospel advocate. But the Bible holds them together. You can’t claim to love and fail to care for your fellow man. “Instead of a Show” challenges our complacency and hypocrisy in this way. It may not be a D.A. Carson commentary, but this is a good folk theology.

1 Comment

  1. Usually a woman of too many words, and not trusting myself to dig deep into this–my comment is: “Right on”! “Bravo”!

    The Lady in Pink

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