By Jonathon Duke
I recently came across a book by Matthew Barnett that really captivated in my heart. The book was called Misfits Welcome, and in it Barnett wrote about how he had experienced God working in a church atmosphere where societies’ outcasts became the backbone of the church.
The term “misfit” has always been close to my heart and perhaps that is because deep inside I know that I am a misfit. I am a misfit who is loved by God, but I am still a misfit.
If you are unclear as to what exactly a misfit is, let me remind you of the 1964 Claymation TV movie titled “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” In the movie Rudolph spent some time on the Island of Misfit Toys. The fictional toys on the island all have some flaw or distinction that makes them unfit for use as Christmas gifts. The island in the movie is a place where those toys find a home with other misfit toys.
The island presents a picture that is not too different from what the church is called to be. The church should be the place where any and all people are welcome. There must also be an understanding that in some way or other each person is a misfit. Our flaws, shortcomings, and mistakes cause us to miss the mark of perfection, but God is still able to use us for his glory.
Student ministry can be a great example of this dynamic at work in God’s kingdom. Our youth groups, just like our church congregations, are filled with all kinds of people. In the mixture of diverse personalities and life experiences that make up a student ministry, there are also some students who require an extra measure of attention.
It may be the student who tends to live on the fringe of what is accepted behavior or the student who struggles to connect socially, but they are the ones who can get lost in the crowd if youth leaders are not careful. Society often causes students who do not fit the typical mold to feel like some sort of misfit. A healthy student ministry must acknowledge the differences that make a student unique while also determining the best way to minister to that individual.
Over the past few years I went from being a minister who worked with a few dozen students on a regular basis to being a minister who now has over a hundred students that are part of my current ministry. As the number of students in my care multiplied I also realized that the number of students who struggle to connect has also increased.
A healthy student ministry must acknowledge the differences that make a student unique while also determining the best way to minister to that individual.
In addition to those students I encountered others who are dealing with some physical, emotional, or spiritual issue that can easily lead to them feeling like an outsider among the group. Those students have become a passion of mine, and therefore I think a greater amount of discussion needs to exist among student pastors to help us minister to those who feel like misfits.
I love the story in scripture of the blind beggar that Jesus healed (Luke 18:35-43). In the story there are a great crowd of people that are following Jesus, but there is one man left out of the experience because of his blindness. The crowd not only fails to see the opportunity to minister to the man, they rebuke him and ask him to not bother Jesus.
However, the Master acted differently toward the man than the other people in the crowd. Jesus commanded that the man be brought to him and then Jesus ministered personally to him. After his encounter with Jesus the man followed Jesus with the rest of the crowd and the other people praised God for what they witnessed.
A personal touch
This story offers the perfect picture of what our ministries should look like. We may have a dozen people or several hundred in our care, but we must not overlook the ones that need a personal touch. The students that need a personal touch from us will vary and change during the evolving seasons of ministry, but we must keep an eye out for them at all times. There will be students who struggle to participate, and others who are limited because of their own inadequacies or circumstances.
How can a youth leader get the student who is an introvert to connect with his or her small group in a way that facilitates the development of relationships? How can we make facilities and activities accessible to students who have some type of disability? How can we be sensitive to the emotionally complex feelings that so many students experience during their adolescent years? These are just a few of the questions that each minister, volunteer, and group leader must face in the journey of student ministry.
The truth is that there are misfits in every youth group. Some misfits will just need a little more attention. My prayer is that our student ministry leaders will have a heart for those students and make an extra effort to personally connect with them.
There is no blanket approach that can cover all the specific issues our students are facing, and that is why encouragement among student leaders is needed. We should look for opportunities to dialog about our experiences of ministering to those who are loners, eccentrics – misfits. With more conversations about the students who feel like misfits, perhaps we can see more and more of them becoming the catalysts that cause the rest of the crowd to praise God for what he is doing.
Jonathon Duke is the student minister at Ephesus Baptist Church in Villa Rica.