Misfits of the Church


This post has long been in the queue. Though it has been ruminating in my heart, I haven’t wanted to hurt anyone or to run the risk of being too personal or too specific, which might have repercussions and would make life harder for me and the people I love.

But I have to write this anyway. It’s just taken a few months, and I can’t vouch for the results. YMMV in whether this is a worthwhile post or not.


The people in my church whose homes I have visited have been leaving. While the church itself appears to be growing, familiar faces, the ones I most look for, are gone. The tables in the church café once occupied by those who were ready to talk deep things now sit empty. I look for those people whose thoughts I most appreciated, but they aren’t there.

Empty pewI note the fact that I have visited these people’s homes because it says something about who they are. Sure, I’ve visited the homes of a few others who are still around, but the disproportionate number of leavers still says something about who those people were to me: my best church friends.

Gone. And they’ve taken something vital with them.

People leave churches for different reasons. Church shoppers will go on about one or two things they didn’t like that became dealbreakers, but when longtimers leave by choice and their reasons for doing so vary widely, one wonders if a more systemic problem exists.

When I reflect on the people I have known in my Christian life who have left churches, they all seem to have something in common: they are square pegs in round holes.

This is not to say that no square hole exists for them anywhere, only that they will always stick out from the crowd. Not only do they tend to be the 20 percent who do 80 percent of the work, but they tend to be the least acknowledged for it.

And this is because the Church in America has no idea what to do with them.

Something is broken in our churches when it comes to some kinds of people. I’ve encountered too many ultragifted people who ended up as so much church-created roadkill because church leaders either had no idea how to utilize that gifting or they resented or despised that person’s gifting.

Some would argue that this is all sour grapes, but the list of names keeps growing of good people I’ve known who were either used up by a church and discarded or ignored altogether.

The one who creates beautiful art but who is told she can’t display it in the church building.

The one who hears from God but who is told such words are not appreciated.

The one who can see the roadblocks preventing growth and ways around them but who is despised because he is not ordained.

The one from the “rough background” who is forever limited by those who cannot put aside what he once was and did.

The one who failed once and will never be given a second chance.

The one who doesn’t agree with every denominational position and so will never be considered for leadership.

The one who warns people, who prefer the status quo, of the dangers ahead.

The one with great vision who is surrounded by those with little or none.

The one with many flaws but who loves people abundantly and unconditionally, just like Jesus did.

The one who is always serving, though not with the imprimatur of those in charge, and who makes them look bad for doing so.

Those are ten such “misfits” of the church. Many more exist. You may be one of them.

I keep encountering more longtime Christians who are giving up. They’re not abandoning Jesus; they simply don’t know how to fit within the typical church. And it’s not for trying. I know these people have tried. But they’re weary of always receiving the left hand of fellowship, and they despair of ever contributing their God-given gifts because The Church™ does not want those gifts or it places ridiculous qualifications on their use that have no basis in Scripture and every basis in human selfishness and pride.

We talk, talk, talk, and talk about community in the Church, but what kind of community do we really have when someone is told to stop being the person God Himself is making him?

The Kingdom of God is filled with misfits, so how come our churches aren’t?

28 thoughts on “Misfits of the Church

  1. Dylan

    I can and have related to this. I have an uber-case of church burn myself.

    I guess my question would be what’s the solution? Isn’t being a misfit a gift? Paul certainly was a misfit. He resembled Jesus the most though.

    Where is there room for outsiders? I don’t want more thought-provoking things that lead us nowhere. I want Spirit-wrought answers.

  2. Dylan


    I have this friend that relaid a very valuable illustration to me.

    He likened us (the modern-day church) to Helen Keller. As you may know she was deaf-blind.

    He used this as a picture to describe our very life in God via His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows us everything. We are literally deaf, dumb, and mute. He will put us in situations where He alone gets glory.

    We can’t have more misfits lead other misfits into a ditch.

  3. Regina

    My mother and I are in this exact position.

    She has the gift of service–and ends up doing most of the unappreciated work at our small church.

    I am a single, childless schoolteacher in her early 40s who does not feel like her *spiritual* gift is teaching.

    We have had the hardest time. We have been visiting another church for a while, but last Sunday was the last time–it was more like a motivational speech than the gospel.

    So, on we go to visit somewhere else. (sigh) It is hard being a misfit.

  4. Dan: “…what kind of community do we really have when someone is told to stop being the person God Himself is making him?”

    Well, Dan, they just need to sign up for a “small group” and get with the script. There’s nothing that a little regimentation can’t cure. And coming up next is the new series “Historic Faith Journey”, and the countdown on our web site is ticking off the days before we begin our sermons and the curricula which we’ll be handing out to all the group leaders for everyone to follow. (Why mess with the market-researched, proven formulas for success? That we’re a big mega church proves we’re on the right track.) The xtian life is just the “forty years in the wilderness” following the leadership around; and wherever they go, we go, until we finally die and thus get to the “promised land”. Anybody expecting more has the wrong expectations. So knock off the grumbling, and forget about the stuff in the Book of Acts; that was a different dispensation, doesn’t apply, and is only of theorectical interest for us today.

  5. Many times I was told “you’ll never find the perfect church” – but I was not looking for or expecting perfection.

    I was just looking for CHURCH.

    Not a religious gathering, a religious organisation, a religious hierarchy and definitely not a religious social club.

    Most Christians with whom I’m in regular contact have similar experiences.

  6. Hans

    Somebody once told me that the definition of ‘insanity’ was doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Its not that there is something broken within the church, as much as that for what you are looking for, the church structure as we know it just doesn’t work. Put sinful man in any system or structure, those with vested interest eg paycheck will always seek to control and protect their turf. They come from the house of Eli, read 1 Samuel 2;35,36.

    You say that the table where the deep thinkers used sit now sits empty, they didn’t all move away did they ? Call them up, invite them to your house for a potluck, just get together Jesus said where ever two or more are gathered in My Name there I will be.

    Think about it this way….as Isaiah said ‘the virgin will give birth…..His name will be Immanuel (God with us )’ well Mary was ‘a’ virgin so if we allow ‘the virgin’ to also refer to the church then (the)Immanuel(s) the manifest sons of God, literally need to come “out” of her

  7. BOBp

    I have comments not solutions.

    I see small struggling churches who would love to have those with the gifts. Is it a supply and demand problem? If the church doesn’t want your offering you can’t make them want it.

    You’ve wrote often about local local involvements and issues. Are people traveling by many other churches to attend their particular church?

    Are people trying to bury themselves in church and not affecting the outside?

    Do people leave because they’re BORED? Remember the head trip of newness when you started but the novelty has wore off?

    What expectations does one have? I’m 54 and all I want from church is good theology and friendship. Yes, friendship. I have that now and for the first time – and I don’t mean those who smile at you on Sunday and pretend they don’t know you on the street.

    My church was there long before I came along, they can do what they want. And I keep being asked to do things!

    Help those who need it. Encourage others and quit wondering ‘what about me’ if your needs are met.

    This probably won’t help. Maybe I got lucky.

  8. Being one of those misfits I would suggest the following:
    Accepting the Bible as an authority not only for what we believe and do, but what is important. I am convinced that the emphasis as well as the content of Scripture is inspired. Ask if the thing you are making an issue of is really Biblical and really important.This goes double for issues of methodology which are frequently not even based Scripture but are often just how it is done. Speaking as one who is and has been an elder in two different churches, leaders need to stop being concerned with our authority and our egos and trust God. Whenever we try to defend our authority we are making a mistake. Listen to all opinions and respect those who differ even if you cannot agree. Give reasons for why you cannot agree. I have found that the biggest problem is ego on both sides. But it is often easy to blame the misfits ego (which may indeed exist) and ignore the ego on the other side.

  9. Sulan

    Thanks for what you wrote —

    I am one of those misfits. In the early 90’s I was a volunteer in a church office — talk about a hard time fitting in. There was a big split at the church, and I stayed — have to interject here that no one asked me to go with the group that was leaving — I am too Biblically square.

    After staying, I heard the young man who took over the church, say he knew he was supposed to take the church when they told him how much money he would be getting.

    Yet, I stayed.

    It wasn’t until he came back from a trip telling the folks a BIG lie about the Bible. I knew it was a lie. I looked it up, was in his office first thing the next morning, presented it to him — and he told me I took the Word too literally.

    I picked up my stuff and went home. For the next few years I learned a lot about God from an intense study of the Word and a few hand-picked TV preachers.

    I believe we are all ministers of God, and there is always someone to reach out to — with a hug, a helping hand, or anything to touch a need. Sometimes it is just a smile and a kind word.

  10. Good observations, Dan. I think the Church could benefit from recognizing that it is filled with misfits already. The kind that can easily hide in plain site. We need to begin to open our minds to the incredible variety of God and equally varied ways to serve and worship Him. I used a home made parable today to speak to some of these same issues. I really like the list you created. i know it’s a start, but a good one.

  11. PewPotato

    This month in our area – one pastor resigned after 7 years because of financial irregularities and an emotional affair, one was pushed out after 9 years because the elders wanted a different direction for the church, and one closed a church after 5 years that never really flourished . A lot of people in those churches are also ready to give up.

  12. You said it! I’ve, for a long time now, wondered why so-called “misfits” aren’t as common in the church as they are in the world. Is it that churches push them out or make them feel unwelcome? I hope not, but part of me thinks so. I, personally, always try to do my best to make everyone feel welcome in my church and in my children’s ministry. That’s all I can, I suppose.

  13. One of your best Dan. I keep hope that it is precisely those of us who don’t “fit in” that will lead a new reformation in the church, or more precisely a restoring of the ancient paths that we read of in Scripture but that seem so rare today.

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  15. Phyllis

    I am more than one of the 10 misfits you mention. I needed your words today. For close to 15 years, I have struggled trying to fit in to a local church. Yesterday, the break was complete. Thank you for bringing me peace.

  16. Paul Bucklaw

    Upon creation of a simple project where I needed very little from the church, maybe just backing in name only, I was blatantly lied to and not even notified or given a chance to talk about the project. And then I was told it was voted on, but not in my presence. It was a small endeavor and took so little for the church to do.

    And then one day after church during hospitality, some individuals began talking about race in a condescending way. I felt shocked that I was even hearing this. I tried to squelch the discussion but the memory still remains. I realized that they seem to ask the perfumed and well dressed to take part during the mass. I was loving but now just want to walk away from it all. The relationship besides God and man, seems wasteful.

  17. You say that the table where the deep thinkers used sit now sits empty, they didn’t all move away did they ? Call them up, invite them to your house for a potluck, just get together Jesus said where ever two or more are gathered in My Name there I will be.

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