Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What Do We Do With Social Misfits in Church?

Here's something that's been weighing on me as I observe even the strongest of churches among us. Every church has one or more people who are sociologically difficult. These are people who are odd or annoying, but not particularly in a sinful way.

Human nature is such that we tend to gravitate toward people who are the most like us. My area of North Carolina has seen population growth from people who have moved from other parts of the country. The potential is to have a mild version of the first century church in Corinth. The Midwesterners like to hang out together. The New Englanders like to hang out together. Also there are cliques formed along family lines or by social status (young families), sports (fantasy football), and specialized areas of ministry.

It's the oddball that sticks out. This person may not fit into any of these groups. He may have mannerisms that are hard to interpret or have interests that are not shared with anyone else. He may have a mental disability that affects his social judgment as to what is appropriate.

"Normal" people often don't want to be associated with such a one because they are afraid that their social reputation will be negatively affected by such an association. That is to say, most people fear that they will suffer some mild unconscious ostracization for being identified as the friend of the oddball. It's not that others will intentionally cast someone out for being associated with the oddball, but that they perceive that their association with the oddball will be less comprehensible and that this will in turn cascade into a loss of social value.

You can see the problem with this. Our considerations, whether we intend it or not, are for our own socialization. We are made to be social creatures. We long for meaningful interaction with others. yet by doing so, we deny the offering of good social interaction for the oddball. Social misfits need to learn how to fit in and we need to learn how to accept them if their poor socialization is not a matter of overt sin. Even if it is, they still need to be held accountable, and that is part of good socialization.

My question is, therefore, how will the social misfit learn to fit in if we refuse to socialize meaningfully with him?

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