“Church isn’t for people like me.” He was wrong, but I understood was my friend meant when he uttered those words. “Chris” was a young punk full of strong opinions. He had a real distaste for many elements of the so-called American Dream, and he often spoke against them. He was intense and in many circles of Christians he was too intense. There were those who simply didn’t have patience with him or for him. But Chris did and does belong in the church. He belongs because all are welcome in the family of God; but he also belonged because his challenging perspective and voice were needed. The church needs “misfit” members.
There is a sense, of course, in which we are all misfits. That needs to be clearly and continually reiterated. We tend to “normalize” our own tendencies, own struggles, own preferences. We establish ourselves as the standard and look for others who conform to our perception of ourselves. But the Bible teaches that we are all broken (Rom. 3:10; 23). We are all in need of redemption, healing, and reform. If we forget this we are more likely to write off others, more likely to critique and criticize those who are different. We are all misfits and we should not only acknowledge it, but we should embrace it. Jesus loves misfits.
At the same time, however, churches often center around a dominant cultural perspective. As churches grow a dominant culture takes root and attracts more people who fit the category, which only deepens its hold on the culture of the church as a whole. This is an honest reality that we have to wrestle with and challenge. The deeper a hold one culture has on a local congregation the more blind it will be to its sin and more unwelcoming it will be to those who are different. That dominant culture can be of any kind. So, for example the dominant culture might be white and therefore the black brothers and sisters in the congregation may struggle to connect and feel at home in the church (see this great article by Isaac Adams). That culture can also be large families, or trendy hipsters, or middle class American. Based on the dominant culture anyone, then, can fall into the category of “misfit.” But, whoever they are, they are needed by the church as a whole.
We need Misfit Members in our churches so that we don’t become blind and deaf to our sins and cultural assumptions. The reality is that we can assume our sins are not that big of a deal, not that problematic, or not real. The history of the American church presents an obvious example in the cultural sin of racism. It was not only tolerated, but it was championed by so many churches until people began to speak out and against what they saw. The church needs misfits who can call us to question our assumptions, to challenge our habits, and to promote a healthier humility about our interpretations and practices.
Misfits can appear in any form and challenge any aspect of church life, and while it is true that not all misfits and all challenges are valid, the church as a whole ought to be willing to give an ear and consider the points of tension being raised by those outside the dominant culture of their congregation. Over the next few weeks I want to take time to consider several key “Misfits” that I have had the privilege of knowing and interacting with over the years. I have not always responded well to their voices, but I want to do better and I want the church to do better. I have also been the misfit and I have not always done a good job of challenging the church, and so in this series I want to speak both to dominant cultures and to misfits as a way to encourage healthier communication for us all. We are one church and we want to strive for that unity in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
In the coming weeks, then, it is my intent to explore the following four common Misfits: (1) The Prophetic Punk; (2) The Hurting Soul; (3) The Uniquely Challenged; (4) The Spiritual Seeker. Each can bring a specific contribution to the culture of the church, and each offers us a chance to grow and to carefully explore where the dominant culture of a congregation needs altered and realigned with what Scripture actually teaches. Our assumptions and preferences can too frequently become “gospel truth,” we need a few misfits to help us see where we are wrong.
Thank you for addressing this much needed subject in the church. Not only did Christ set the example of embracing ‘misfits,’ many considered Him to be one. The church doesn’t exist for perfect people; it is a body made up of people who are flawed and make mistakes. We all miss the mark of perfection, but because of God’s love and mercy, we can all be used for His glory! If any of us were ‘good enough’ God would not have taken such radical means to save us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Noelle