Every year I pick a subject that I am going to study for the next 12 months. I have a general rotation of subjects to try to keep a balanced perspective and to appease my diverse interests. The rotation starts with a Biblical study, so in the current cycle I started with a study through the book of Leviticus a few years ago. Then the study moves to theological, and not long ago I studies the doctrine of the spiritual gifts. Next in the plan is a historical study, and so last year I spent 12 months studying the context of the Protestant Reformation. I have come now to the category of practical ministry and I have chosen to study Misfit Ministry. Yet, I recognize that I could have chosen hundreds of subjects within this category. So, allow me this moment of indulgence to explain why I have chosen to focus specifically on what I call “misfit ministry.”
While the term can often be used in a derogatory sense, “misfits,” there is an element of self-diagnosis involved in it too. Anyone can feel like a misfit when the community to which they want to belong, or to which they should belong, feels so distant and uncomfortable to them. The term applies to many who are in the church, and to those who would want to belong to the church. In this context a misfit is someone who despite being a Christian doesn’t feel at ease in Christian contexts, or the person who would want to become a Christian but cultural differences keep them at arm’s length from the church. I have long had a sense and a desire to care for those in this exact category. It is my earnest desire to see greater bridges built to connect those individuals to life and family within the boy of Christ.
Some of this desire stems from my own feelings of being a “misfit.” The term has been both self-applied and imposed on me by others throughout much of my life. I was always an awkward, goofy, and insecure kid. Throughout high school I was especially plagued by the sense that I didn’t fit in anywhere. Church was at times the one place I felt at rest, and at other times a place that caused me anxiety. As I merged into ministry that sense not fitting continued. I am not, I recognize, the typical pastor or pastoral candidate. As a result, however, God has opened many doors for me to connect with those who also struggle to belong within the community of believers. He has made me, in some sense, a connector for those on the fringes. Much of my early ministry, then, was focused exclusively on church misfits.
My current interest in this study project stems from those roots but it has a vision for the future of the church I serve in particular. The desire to reach the dechurched, unchurched, disconnected, and social pariah has become something of a trend in recent ministry literature, but it is often plagued by two major problems: (1) romanticism, and (2) pragmatism. On the one hand there are those who make “misfit ministry” sound so dreamy and romantic and exciting. In truth, it’s still just ministry and that means it involves a lot of plodding obedience and disappointment. I want to focus on what a realistic approach to this type of ministry looks like, with all its bumps, shortcomings, and potential pitfalls. I also want to focus on a theologically rich and faithful approach to misfit ministry. Much of what has been proposed in recent years for this type of work seems to neglect Scriptural guidelines and sound ecclesiology. A sort of “whatever works,” “whatever brings people in” mentality has abounded, along with a very progressive dismantling of “offensive” doctrines. I believe there is a theologically sound way to do this ministry, however. Jesus, after all, drew prostitutes and tax collectors to himself without sacrificing sound doctrine; His ministry should be our model.
Ultimately my goal would be to help our church grown in its bridge building effectiveness. So, a great deal of my focus this year will be on not simply studying the subject but developing a good strategical plan for engagement with those on the fringes, those who don’t feel like they belong, and those who want to belong but steer clear of church. I want to think about issues of church culture, ministry, evangelism, and outreach. I want to think about theology and terminology. I want to think about the example of Christ. I want to then synthesize such information into some sort of strategic plan for implementation. It’s a big goal but one I believe that God will bless. So, join me in this year’s study project and, especially if you are a member of CBC, pray with me that God will help us to build bridges so that others will sense that they too belong in the church.
Pastor Dave, you mentioned something toward the end “ terminology “, this is something I’ve thought about over the years as I compare new students experiences, concerns, reactions in my Technical Automotive Mechanics class compared to reactions from visitors to our local church. In my auto shop class we have a very expansive list of technical terms and applications that most people are not familiar with. I can spot the students in class who are obviously new to the technical work and range from nervous, apprehensive, lack of confidence, and sometimes misplaced fear due to lack of understanding. The confusing terminology seems to come at them from every angle and they have a “ fight or flight “ type reaction. This has made me sensitive to visitors to a church who may simply by the common terminology we use have similar responses. Those of us in the church having been surrounded by our own brand of technical terminology find comfort in it, while those who nibble on the edges of church likely feel out of place.
To what extent do we seek to alter our conversation our teaching and preaching to accommodate the people your calling misfits? I believe we should first (like your doing) acknowledge the concerns. There has to be some teaching up as well as some reaching down. In my classes I use analogies, similes, to help and constantly look to use examples of experiences students may have already had that might help them make a connection.
I remember when I was about 22 or so ( young mechanic turned Sunday school teacher) and a Pastor in conversation with me kept using a term” johanian”?? I had no idea what he was talking about and I had been studying and teaching threw the Gospel of John for months. I felt like a misfit within the church like you’ve mentioned. I laugh now and wonder why he didn’t just say “ johns writings” !
Anyway this probably wasn’t even what you were alluding to about terminology, but I wanted to share wht I’ve thought about time to time.