When You Don’t Fit In At Church

square peg round hole

On Sunday mornings, I wake up early, kiss my still sleeping husband good-bye, and drive nearly an hour to my church in one of the more rural parts of West Virginia. I park my van, covered in HRC and Obama and Strong Bad bumper stickers in a sea of conservative pickup trucks. I wear an Arrested Development t-shirt among a throng of Christian t-shirts.

I should not fit in.

According to a number of demographics, I am nothing like a lot of these people. It would be all too easy for me to focus on our differences. There are plenty, and if I’m being perfectly honest, some of them matter to me. I care about things like LGBT equality and access to birth control. I’m pretty iffy about hell. I’m far more likely to reach for John 3:17 as a life verse instead of John 3:16.

And yet this is my home. The owner of a local bed and breakfast who brings in flowers every Sunday never fails to give me a hug. The Christian school teacher asks me how things are going with my book writing. The man who helps run the children’s archery program stops me to let me know that he’s praying for the women at Beginning of Life with me. The pastor’s wife calls me beautiful and the pastor always thanks me for being a part of the family.

I don’t fit in, but I am loved.

And because I am loved, it is much easier for me to reciprocate that love. I am accepted, so it becomes easier for me to accept. I am honored, so it is my desire to return honor.

I know that there are numerous discussions about people leaving the Church. There are so many valid reasons and I have encountered a number of them in my own experiences with the church, but most of them boil down to the idea that there is some right way to do church. We think that there is a magic formula that we can put together and it will make this whole Christianity thing come together for everyone. More political involvement! More contemporary music! More focus on ritual! More skinny jeans! More candles! More focus on orthodoxy! We make our lists and we assume that if we could just find that sweet spot, people would stay.

There is no sweet spot. There is no right way. There is no magic formula.

But there I don’t think that means all is lost. There is looking at someone you don’t understand and saying, “Tell me your story,” and then listening. There is thanking the person who made coffee for showing up an hour before the service started to get the machines running. There is going out of your way to pass the peace to someone who has a different bumper sticker on their car than you have on yours.

There is love.

And when we love like Jesus tells us to love, fitting in isn’t really a concern, because love makes all kinds of room for everyone.

  • Dale Bicksler

    Well said, Alise. “Love makes all kinds of room for everyone.”

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    <3 this.

  • Happy

    Lovely post, Alise – thank you!

  • sheila0405

    Thank you! Someone else who sees the value in John 3:17! Whenever someone quotes John 3:16, I always ask them if they know what John 3:17 says. Invariably, they don’t. But the love in John 3:17 is the kind of love Jesus wants us to live out and share–no condemnation, just being saved and loved and held by our Lord. Oh, how much better we’d be if we relied on John 3:17 when we share our faith.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I’m fully on board with changing our flagship verse to John 3:17! :)

      • Jeff Hilliard

        I understand your love for John 3:17. I love John 3:16 & 17 and hold to the truth that we have to see both in their context.

        What are your feelings about John 3:18?

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    “There is looking at someone you don’t understand and saying, “Tell me your story,” and then listening.”

    This! This, so very much! Everyone, can we all do more of this, please?

  • Dan McM

    Yep. And amen.

    The body of Christ has so many moving parts, we err when we tend to think that every body part should experience or do things the same way. Sort of like wearing socks for gloves, or holding headphones under our tongue to hear…..

    Here’s an interesting thought: what if heaven will only be populated by those that enjoy the presence of everyone else that will be there? what if anyone who can’t get along can’t enter in? It looks like the body of Christ has some room for growth, huh?

    So very glad that you fit in and are loved where you are planted, even if it looks like a misfit from the outside.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      My bestie and I have talked some about unity as it relates to music. I have offered him to be the person who writes the post, but I may have to steal it soon. ;)

      • Dan McM

        Oooh – unity and music! That could be a fun one. You could do a link up on that topic, and you’d get a wide variety of posts.

  • http://avanomaly.blogspot.com/ Jamie

    I have been at my church for over 6 years and still don’t necessarily “fit in” theologically or even lifestyle-wise. But I know that I love and am loved.
    Still, my legs are trained to run, because I have been hurt by other churches in the past. I still protect myself by not becoming an official member.
    So I understand both those leaving and those staying. It’s just a tough issue that needs a huge amount of love and grace to cover, and probably most difficult of all, a great measure of patience.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I really do understand and don’t want this to be an indictment against those who are wary of the church. And I totally agree. Patience is essential as we work through this.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I always say to look for life. Church impart the life of God.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      It certainly can. And when it does…it’s something special.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    See? There is a magical formula! It’s called, “love”. Paul wrote a whole chapter on it– a chapter we so often misappropriate. As Larry Norman said, “Without love you ain’t nuthin, you ain’t nuthin without love”. This applies equally– perhaps more so– to the Church.
    I will take being loved over fitting in any day. because if you’re loved, you fit in, anyway.

    • Dan McM

      For a second, I thought you were going to say “Paul wrote a whole chapter on it – ‘All you need is love… All you need is love… All you need is love, love… love is all yo need’”, but that was a different Paul….. ;-)

      • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

        I have noted before that this refrain is more theologically sound than much of what passes for Biblical doctrine today. 8^)

  • pastordt

    Omigosh. I love this so much, Alise. Thank you, thank you.

  • http://rawfaithrealworld.wordpress.com/ RawFaith

    There is something amazingly healing about being seen for who you really are and loved. I have so many amazing encounters each week with other believers. They are just a few at a time or one on one. I miss being a part of a common tribe with a similar passion and focus. Hopefully one day I’ll find a group like that again. For me the choice to not be in an organized church at this time was not so much about finding the perfect way to do church, but about Sunday being the most painful day of the week for me. Even with all that, I remain hopeful.

  • piobrife63@gmail.com

    You have voiced what so many of us have felt for many years…and I’m employed by the church! I tend to bring more Eric Cartman into church than Roma Downey. But they love me. They gave this artsy, quirky, prone-to-big-error, borderline cynic, mystic a chance to fail…and live. Go figure.

  • Michelle Woodman

    Alise, this is *gorgeous*. I love how you acknowledge being a part of a church doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll “fit” in a certain spot, but it does not mean you cannot be loved and love in return and by that find room and have a spot at the table.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Love certainly makes a difference. The more kinds of people that can be included, the better. BTW, I like your choice of John 3:17 over verse 16.

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  • Denise Charlene Thomas

    This is beautiful. It describes me. And I am that square peg. I appreciate your openness….it tells me to keep going! Thank you!

  • Bill AqualaGuy

    I have been preaching this for YEARS! Since before I got my ordination. Thank you for sharing!

  • Shelly McPhaul

    All I can add is an Amen. You write from the heart.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

    If you don’t experience love/respect at your church, then I think it’s okay to go look for another congregation. I have been in that situation as well and it is life-draining. I want to be open to places where I value people more than ideology, but I also want to recognize that I have value and if that’s not reflected in my interactions, then I think it’s time to move on. I’m so sorry if that has been your experience with the church.

  • Marge Palmer

    I really like what Jamie says…Thanks for sharing. .Love does make room for everyone….

  • Jeannie Barber

    “There is no sweet spot. There is no right way. There is no magic formula.” Yes there is: “I don’t fit in, but I am loved.”. That is the sum total of Jesus’ message. And why I don’t go to church. Here, you’re not loved unless and until you fit in.

  • Bryan Stamper

    I dig it.

  • DDC

    Wow. As a burnt out former minister I needed to hear this. Thanks.

  • Hugh Ellis

    All I can say is that you brought the open comment section of a web page about religious matters into unity. I think you may be the best chance we have for peace in the middle east!

  • Kimberly

    To no one in particular I’d like to say that often times we are so enmeshed by what feels right to “me” – that we don’t outwardly focus on trying to see others while at church. We say, “I feel this” and “I feel that” – what are we all doing to outwardly portray that love to others? Perhaps no one said anything to me today. Is that OK? If not, why not? Am I too “me” focused – whether focusing on my differences from church policy or people? Did I say something kind to someone else? Perhaps this is part of the problem in churches of all kinds. John 3:17 is wonderful. But it can’t be there without John 3:16. We have to be the love that we want to receive.

  • UPS2013

    it’s not THE CHURCH that I have come to resent to the point that I get almost physically ill come Saturday evening, but this bunch of loveless hypocrites that would rather “pray for you” and “minister to you” than eve spend a few minutes over a cup of coffee getting to know who you really are. To that I said ‘no more’! :-(

  • JenellYB

    Do you know how rare it is to find what you have found in a church? While there is much discussion about differences of beliefs in doctrines or ‘how to do church’ being the main reason people leave church, I differ with that, strongly differ. Most surveys of people that have left church, or never gotten involved to begin with, don’t cite those things as their main reason, they cite how people are treated badly.

  • total4giveness

    I love this. “..love makes all kinds of room for everyone.” Our churches need to be about love, acceptance, and forgiveness…and a lot of that forgiveness is going to need to be toward ourselves for how we have treated each other, as well as forgiveness of the faults or perceived faults of others. We need to make room for everyone and love them where they are.

  • Jay Berry

    What a beautiful testimony to what love can and will do.
    Jay Berry

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  • Scott Myers

    The point of spirituality is that we are all included. It’s a simple message, one being played out in Egypt right now which is rejecting a religious state in favor of a state that supports religious freedom. There is no institution that can go between our soul and God. This is a sacred, pure space. The fellowship with others, the collective subconscious as Jung describes it, is already present, and it’s not exclusive either. Jesus can be summarized by the simple phrase of love thy neighbor as thyself. To gain the most value make sure thyself is at peace, then you will provide peace to others, and love, as Jesus intends. Peace.

  • Joan Flook Segraves

    An observation and opinion with a message. Loved it!

  • John Hauck

    Thank you so much for sharing. I always use John 3:16 and 17 together. There are so many who believe that the church is judgmental and condemning. But God and Jesus are all about loving. God bless you!

  • John the Minimal

    With all the love and compassion that I can express (wish the tone of my voice could come through in a post): Let’s look at it a little more deeply, please. I wish the writer of
    this post had been more specific. Left as it is, it is so vague as to be an invitation to universal-Unitarianism “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of pop psychology theology.

    She says “there is no sweet spot.” But that is disingenuous. The article is telling us that the sweet spot is just “acceptance.” I would contend that the sweet spot is orthodoxy. (which she dismisses in the article if you look
    closely.) And yes- orthodoxy absolutely includes love and acceptance- but there is more.
    Yes- we accept people and love people where they are. But we (and Jesus) love them too much to leave them there. Deeper theology, mature holiness, are part of it all too. Yes acceptance and love are key. But a love and a discipleship which transforms as well as accepts. As we say in United Methodism: “For the transformation of the world.”

    If church is just a social club, “where everybody knows your name” (Apologies to Ted Danson), then just making room for everybody is what church is all about. But if it is about discipleship of Jesus Christ and “making disciples of
    Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” then it is primarily about where “Jesus is Lord.” Yes- love follows that. The love of Christ.

    We love Jesus as Lord. Which in turn leads us to love others. Which then in turn leads them to love Christ as Lord too. Which leads them to love others…. Thus ensues that divinely inspired vicious circle of true love that if it
    remains Christ centered will consume the world in a vortex of holy love.

    But not the love of the world in an anything goes wishy-washy “I just accept you and make room for you” kind of wordly love that just lulls people into a spiritual stupor. She says she prefers John 3:17 over 3:16. Well what about
    John 3:18? Any mature hermeneutic stresses context- so 3:17 cannot be isolated from the context of 3:16 and 3:18.

    Even on an intellectual level the article makes no sense: It is so telling that the writer has to go to what they describe as a theologically/socially conservative church (“sea of
    pickups” “I am nothing like these people.”) to find acceptance. Why are there no vibrant/loving churches which espouse her theology and accept her within an hour’s drive? Either they don’t exist because this theological perspective cannot support a vibrant church. Or they do exist but they don’t accept her. Or something worse?

    Just saying….

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Just for the record, it is not telling that I travel to my church to find acceptance. I have found acceptance in local churches as well. I travel to my current church because, as my friend Preston (seeprestonblog.com) so beautifully puts it, it’s where I pray best. There are lots of amazing, loving churches close by – this is just the one where I landed.

      And if there’s something worse than a church that won’t accept ANYONE, I don’t want to know what it is.

    • Sharideth

      So weird how all the love and compassion sounds like all the arrogance and presumption.

    • scribble73

      Just a little harsh. … don’t think I want to go to your Church.

      You don’t understand what Unitarianism is. Really. Tolerance of others’ views is NOT lack of relgious focus. Read the Unitarianism entry on Wikipedia.

      • LucidGal

        I never ran into any orthodoxy in which love and acceptance were the main tenets… or tenets at all.

        • Erika Ternes

          I sang at a church that was quite orthodox about liturgy (think Anglican high mass), but very liberal in theology, and I absolutely loved that. But I think it is pretty tricky for churches to strike that balance. The funny thing is, part of the reason why the church’s theology seemed so “liberal” was because its leaders were serious about DOING theology (i.e. investigating, discussing, engaging), rather than resting on a misguided idea of “orthodoxy” so they wouldn’t have to do all that thinking.

  • Chris Brown

    great blog!

  • scribble73

    I enjoyed your blog entry. I have some of the same struggles myself. I think all groups of people that number more than twelve or fifteen (whatever they do; whether or not they are religious groups) have the same set of problems. I think personal tolerance and respect for other people go a long way toward resolving those problems. I am glad you found a group who can maintain those qualities in the face of today’s challenges.

  • Heather Lee

    One day I hope to find a truly inclusive and loving church within driving distance. I miss it so much, I miss praise and worship that is so intense I forget that I’m surrounded by a room full of people. I miss the friendship, love and closeness (well, I guess it was the pretend friendship, love and closeness judging by the fact that all but one or two from my church of many years, that I was deeply involved in, shunned me after coming out).

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I’m so sorry that you were told that you weren’t acceptable. Those wounds go all the way to the soul and I’m so sorry that a Church doled them out. Much love to you as you find your place.

  • Kathleen

    Lovely. I would love to attend a church like that.

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  • Jen Hatmaker

    This is really, really, really lovely and I love it. The end.

  • www.chelseakay.com

    Oh thank you. This is lovely.

  • Ashley

    Wow–amazing post. Thank you for sharing this! It was very humbling for me to read. I’ve been church-homeless for a few years now, and every time I go to a church, I find myself inwardly criticizing the churchy people there: “They’re so conformist,” “I can’t believe how many kids everyone here has–doesn’t anyone think about world overpopulation?” “Why won’t they allow women to be pastors yet?” “Look at all those SUVs–don’t they ever think about being stewards of Creation?!” “Why can’t they just love and affirm LGBT people already?” I know that my own judgementalness and hypocrisy are part of what is keeping me away from even trying to find a new church home, but part of it is also the prevalent American Evangelical culture. Yet, it seems silly of me to stand off to the side and criticize without getting involved. Even worse, what it really comes down to is my unwillingness to just set things aside and LOVE others who are different from me.

    • Chris

      And people are on their best behavior at church so it’s so easy to judge. But if you lived with these people, you would know the real them.

  • Michael Dean

    The best part about love and acceptance in church is that there is still hope for those who would undo what God has put in place through abortion. One can’t hear the message if they aren’t in the house. But it’s my fear so many churches do it for the wrong reason…. filling the collection plate.

  • Dick Liberty

    Alise, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. What a wonderful, thoughtful, clear-sighted, loving post! Your message should be required reading for every Christian on the planet.

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

    Late to the party, but so, so, so well said, friend.

  • Emily

    I haven’t been to church in almost 7 years. But this post makes me want to change up my Sunday routine.

  • Melanie Tolar

    I relate to this totally and completely. I am so in sync with it, it’s scary.

  • Katie Monk

    Love this. LOVE.

  • Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

    I’ve only just discovered you when a friend posted “When You Don’t Fit In at Church” on her FB page. This is really really good. Thank you! I’m a minister in a small town church that is trying to be welcoming and loving like this and most days we do a pretty good job. I would love to publish this for my church to read. Would you give me permission?

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Sure thing! I operate under a Creative Commons license. You can find the terms of that at the bottom of the site. :)

  • Mark J. Goluskin

    Very interesting. I often feel the opposite at my church for it is more modernist and I consider myself a traditionalist. BUT it’s the relationships that make it my church.

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  • Alexander

    There is a right way to have a church that is why in Revelations 2-3 (KJV) Jesus talks about certain churches and what they have done wrong. Also there are other chapters in the Bible such as 1 Timothy 2-3 (KJV). So there is a right way to have a church and those are just a few things there are other verses about how to have a church and what to do with certain people.

  • Joy_F

    Beautiful :) thanks – there is that point where you wonder should I stay or go? Such a good reminder!

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