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FIRST-PERSON: Loving the misfits

VILLA RICA, Ga. (BP) — 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, think of the claymation TV movie “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” from a few decades ago. In the movie Rudolph spent some time on the Island of Misfit Toys. The fictional toys on the island all had some flaw or distinction that made them unfit as Christmas gifts. The island in the movie was a place where those toys found a home with other misfit toys.

The island presents a picture 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.

Over the past few years I went from being a minister who worked with a few dozen students on a regular basis to one who now has over a hundred students who 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. These 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 who were following Jesus, but there was one man left out of the experience because of his blindness. The crowd not only failed to see the opportunity to minister to the man, they rebuked him and asked him to not bother Jesus.

However, the Master acted differently. 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 who praised God for what they witnessed.

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 who need a personal touch. The students who 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 many students experience during their adolescent years?

My prayer is that each minister, volunteer and group leader 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 – the 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.

    About the Author

  • Jonathon Duke

    Jonathon Duke is the student minister at Ephesus Baptist Church in Villa Rica, Ga. This column first appeared in The Christian Index (www.christianindex.com), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

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