Every church has its odd-balls. I certainly have had my fair share of people who for one reason or another do not fit in. I think of a young man who when he visited our home would frequently propose to our ‘au-pair’, and then on one occasion felt so down that he threw himself off the top of a block of flats – and after a spell in hospital came back to church again. I think too of an older man, who in his role as a church steward would always show visiting young ladies to his seat! Then there was a middle-aged German lady, who would never stop talking; the keen charismatic who always wanted to share his latest vision with you; the critical young wife who could never stop complaining; and the pushy older husband who who always was first in the queue when refreshments were on offer. These – and many others – come to mind when I think of odd balls in the church. If I am honest, I used to find it difficult loving such people – until I came across John Mallison’s parable of the frog king.
“Have you ever felt like a frog? You know the type of thing I mean – stone cold, clammy, ugly, drooping, green, lifeless – all by yourself in the middle of a pond! I have! And I’ve met plenty of others. We have one in our house nearly every morning. The only thing missing is the pond!
The frog blues (or should I say greens) come when
– you want to be bright, especially first thing in the morning, and you can’t
– you want to share, but are selfish
– you want to feel thankful, but feel resentment
– you want to be honest with others, but keep wearing a mask
– you want to be somebody, but feel a nobody
– you want to care, but the required effort makes you indifferent
– you want to make friends, but will they
If we are honest we have probably all sat on that lily paid in the middle of the pond. Often we have sat there for ages, too frightened or disgusted to jump off and swim. Maybe you’re still on that lily pond, floating around and round – all froggy like, fed up and lonely. Others we meet in our small groups or in everyday contact come across as frogs. They are so hard to love. Their personality doesn’t attract others to them. They are either slow, shy, withdrawn and negative, or they are dominant, autocratic, forcing their opinions on others. Cold unattractive frogs. You feel repulsed by them and want to ignore or throw a rock at them.
A parable might help: Once upon a time there was a frog. he was really a handsome prince under the nasty spell of a wicked witch. Only the kiss of a beautiful maiden could save him. So there he sat – unkissed prince of his lilypond kingdom. But you’ve guessed it! One day a beautiful maiden saw him, was overcome with pity, grabbed him and kissed him. Bingo! In a moment of time he stood transformed before her, a handsome prince. And you can guess the finish! SO WHAT is the task of the church? To KISS FROGS of course!“
In one sense, of course, all of us can be likened to “cold, clammy, ugly, drooping, green, lifeless” frogs. But there are some who are more froggy-like than others. They are the kind of people we would normally do our best to avoid, the last kind of people we would want to have in our home.
At one stage I was tempted to set up a fellowship group for some of the more difficult ‘odd balls’ in my church. But thankfully I didn’t – for that would have gone against our Gospel calling to be an inclusive community. Instead, I shared the ‘odd balls’ around the fellowship groups, ensuring each group contained one ‘odd ball’. To my delight, that worked. For within the context of a small group, people began to understand them, began to care for them, and eventually began to love them. The truth is that however unattractive some people might appear, where there is a determination to ‘kiss frogs’, the apparently unloveable become loveable. Fellowship groups are a key factor to inclusivity.
There’s a great deal of truth in what you say, Paul. But might I once again suggest that you are looking from the perspective of larger churches? Anecdotally smaller ones seem to attract a disproportionate number of “frogs”, possibly because they feel more at home in the more intimate environment. But such churches aren’t able to spread them around their small groups – indeed, they may not have any! – and they may lack the people resources for getting alongside them. This can lead to stresses which they (the churches) are ill-equipped to handle.
Equally, the “frogs” will probably be more visible in a smaller church, and this can be off-putting to folk who come along with a view to possibly joining. Of course, what the visitors should be saying is “how nice to find a church which is happy to accept and embrace all sorts” – but in practice it doesn’t seem to work out like that!