Throughout the years of my (Allie Anderson) parents’ ministry, I witnessed—as any pastor’s child does—many kinds of church situations and myriads of different personalities within these organizations. There is one circumstance that I’ve observed consistently, and this is the ironic and cyclical relationship that many people tend to have with religion. It can occur in the Christian church or within other dogmatic orientations, and goes like this:
A flawed and broken person reaches the end of their rope with life’s devastation, and turns to some sort of church for intervention. A message of hope is given to this individual, who then decides to give faith a try. He subscribes, partly based on the example of “perfect” lives which he sees around him. It is as though the seemingly-impeccable people he is surrounded by advertise that he, too, can have a life free of struggle. As he settles into the congregation, one of two things will happen. The first is that he does not recognize the trials, temptations, and other such real-life issues of those around him, and he will wonder why he is the only one still facing such obstacles when, as far as he can see, he has followed all the guidelines and rules asserted by the group. Or, more commonly, as he becomes more familiar with those he is observing, he realizes that he has joined up with a group of faulty, lacking, damaged, baggage-carrying, sinful and sometimes even hypocritical people who, like himself, never “had it all together,” nor were they ever free from the cares of life. He may feel duped or disenchanted, depending on how intentional this psychological “bait-and-switch” appears to him to have been. If he has focused on the membership of the assembly more than its faith-based objective, he may feel jaded toward religion and leave. If he stays, the emerging differences between all congregants may make him feel as though he doesn’t fit in quite the way he thought he did. Either way, there is an ostracizing which takes place and serves to fragment believers who should be banding together.
This is where Christianity loses a lot of its new converts. First, incoming people often subscribe to the misconception that faith will remove all the problems from their lives. Secondly, there is a notion which seeds in their minds that since Christians they meet appear to have minimal problems, that when their own life-issues continue to surface, it is the result of they themselves doing something wrong.
Before proceeding, I must state that the second can on occasion be true, as it is sometimes our own sinful choices which can perpetuate certain types of struggles in our lives. This is why when one takes Jesus as Savior, he must also take him as Lord. In this way, we follow God’s guidelines in the hopes that we will identify and shed sinful elements that we are allowing to enter our lives by our choices. However, another idea needs be brought to light here, and that is the fact that most people who turn to the Church for intervention perceive those around them to be perfect since they often appear to have all the answers. However, the Church is filled with imperfect people whose lives are filled with varieties of issues and struggles which are often not realized by newcomers. The reasons these struggles are kept hidden are as varied as the individuals themselves.
But the perception to one outside the church is often that those within are all enjoying perfect lives, and that there is some sort of sameness across the congregation. To an outsider, it can appear as though Christians all live, think, speak, dress, and act the same way. To one who doesn’t feel as though they fit in, this self-image of being a misfit can become equivalent to one’s not belonging in the Body of Christ. Yet, the irony is that we should never assimilate to be exactly like one another: God made each of us different. There are no two individuals alike. His very hand crafted each of us as we were being formed (Psalm 139:13-14). God sees each of us individually and takes a personal interest in us, so much so that even our hairs are counted by Him (Luke 12:7). If we are each striving to become the very unique people that He fashioned with His own hand, then the longer we work together in His service, the more our beautiful differences and strengths should emerge as we grow in Him. The corporate appearance of sameness is not an image that we Christians should subscribe to, nor should we feel outcast in our individuality.
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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!
The perception that one does not fit into the Body of Christ is a deception used to keep us from bonding together in His mission. The truth is that a thriving, vital, fully-operational Body of Christ is made up of a congregation of misfits who have found their individual purposes in Him; and then come together as an assembly of spiritually mature mentors who cooperatively work to bring in others and disciple them. They have embraced their uniqueness—their distinctive talents, strengths, and even their quirks!—and have harnessed these abilities as usable directives for the Kingdom of God. It’s a collective of flourishing and matchless individuals who have found their place in the world and because of this, have unparalleled gifts to present to that world, further extending the Gospel and the hope of Christ to a lost and dying world in myriads of methods which are as varied as the people who make that Body up.
And none of them are quite the same as one another. They are united because they are misfits who have realized that they belong.
Before moving forward, it is necessary to clarify one thing. To state that God made each of us unique and that we are to embrace those differences is not the same as tolerating sin. There are plenty of other resources dedicated to this topic, so we will not linger long, but it is these authors’ goals to set individuals free to find and embrace their God-given talents and abilities. Likewise, we wish to encourage them to shed the stigma or insecurity that holds them back, and unleash them to follow that directive. However, it is a tactic of the enemy to cause God-given traits and sinful desires to become confused with one another and this is a pitfall that can create ambiguity which makes people latch on to sin under the concept that it is a God-embedded characteristic, since they “feel” a certain way. This is not what we are encouraging when we ask that readers embrace their uniqueness.
“Inspiration” and Religion: The Cyclical Trap
One day, Donna Howell came into the office we share and told me that she had been given a new book assignment which parallels the misfit toys of the 1964 Rudolph movie to modern-day believers. The idea behind the book was most definitely to inspire people to see past their own differences and find a new inspiration in their role within the body of Christ. (Please note before moving further that this does not always mean in-Church ministry: this can be anywhere that one finds a place to contribute to the world around them and shine the light of a positive Christian witness). On hearing the topic of the book commission, I smiled supportively, but did not envy her. (It was not until later that I was added as a co-author in this work). Having been raised as a pastor’s kid, I had witnessed the emotional roller-coaster which accompanied the aforementioned cycle of church members who join, but later leave the church, and words such as “inspiration” and “enthusiasm” were always a big part of this process. Over time, I had become jaded toward words such words. To me, these and similar terms had become labels by which people expressed their initial excitement over nearly any new idea: social or cultural movements, religious trends, programs, etc. But, I always noticed that alongside such energy, the joy attached to it which seemed to swell during any new phase, quickly wore off along with the novelty. Thus, these terms became almost cheapened in my world—reduced to phrases which could easily be paired with nearly anything falling into the category of “New Year’s resolution:”
“I’m so inspired about this new diet I’m trying out…”
“I can’t wait to get home and start organizing my entire house from floor to ceiling, I’m so excited now!”
“I know I can break that bad habit; I’m really enthusiastic about it this time.”
By now, surely the reader has gathered that children of ministers grow up seeing both the good and the bad which occurs behind the scenes in any type of ministry. This is not because their parents sit them down and reveal all the details: as ministers are often a great source of confidentiality. In fact, mine never shared secretive information with us kids, but children are more perceptive than many people realize and they are always watching. By sheer proximity, the children of a minister have a decent understanding of what takes place.
Thus, the child is witness to those devout ministers who work their fingers to the bone, often filling multiple roles within his church just to keep the doors open. Conversely, these observe those cases where hypocrites, repeat–backsliders, or ministers who are insincere appear on the scene. But one of the most common elements witnessed are those well–meaning people who restart aspects of their life nearly weekly. It’s often an emotional cycle which an individual becomes trapped in, and sadly, can become a self–perpetuating cycle. It works a little like this:
An individual decides to make a certain change within their life. He/she repents of any wrongdoing, and asks God to strengthen and inspire them moving forward. He may be praying about a new ministry endeavor, to be freed of some sort of repetitive sin, or some other request. At some point, the person will amass a type of energy which fuels the journey for a time. Inevitably, however, the individual grows tired, and either falls into old habits, their new ministerial endeavor becomes tiresome, or they otherwise “lose their inspiration,” and the individual perceives this fall-back or slump as God’s strength having left them. Often, at this point, the object of the initial prayer is abandoned.
Often, after a time of being down on themselves for these perceived failures, these individuals become inspired again: whether re-inspired toward the same efforts as previously prayed for, or whether they move on to a new objective depends on the individual. When this occurs, the person seems to find new energy, declare new inspiration, and they’re off to the races again…
And the cycle continues.
In similar fashion, there are well-meaning people who re-re-dedicate their lives to Christ nearly every Sunday at the altar. Please understand that these authors are certainly not making light of anybody’s spiritual experiences, and every salvation story is a beautiful transition from death to life that is the very reason Jesus suffered on the cross. But for some, the cyclical pattern mentioned before becomes the only way they are able to define their salvation. This means they perceive their entire salvation as a weekly restart instead of the necessary subsequent spiritual growth. And because these don’t find roots wherein they can dig deeper into all that God has for their lives, they equate the tearful, emotional altar experience with the heights of God’s intent for them. Thus, when the feelings of “being saved” wear off, so does the determination to follow Christ. This results in converts who repeatedly illustrate big responses in church, but whose lives demonstrate little or no manifestation of God’s boundaries, doctrines, or His victory. And, unfortunately, those watching both scenes play out begin to perceive religion as impotent or the whole thing as fake.
Because this repeat conversion can be perceived as insincerity or the notion that religion doesn’t work when applied in practical ways to people’s lives, some onlookers decidedly distance themselves from what many believers accept as normal altar-activity. Many of these wonder how much of what they witness is really God manifesting Himself to believers, and how much of this is well–meaning people seeking an emotional response as tangible reassurance that they are in touch with a Supreme Being in an effort to assuage their own spiritual insecurity. When such questions are accompanied with behind–the–scenes knowledge regarding the same individual’s life, observers’ impressions often polarize, creating a sort of “split impression” of the same individual. For example, one may witness the most physically exuberant and passionate response at the altar each Sunday, and simultaneously be aware that the same individual is still walking in a sinful lifestyle. As a result, onlookers struggle to process this duality, and some take extreme measures in their own search for answers. The result can be another form of ostracizing within the Body.
UP NEXT: My Misfit Story