Are you ready for a shocking confession? Ok, here goes. All my life, I’ve never really felt like I’ve fitted in. I don’t mention this to garner nauseating sympathy or to adapt some kind of victim status. No, it’s just an honest reflection about how I’ve always felt.
At school, I was never really the sporting type. While all my mates were playing football, I was in a music room practising classical piano. When I went on to pursue further music studies, I always felt different because I was a working class boy among a bunch of artistic upper/middle class students from far wealthier backgrounds. Then when I had the opportunity to take music further, I left it all behind and departed for England to study theology. This was to the absolute shock of my music tutors who were completely bewildered by my strange decision as they’d had high hopes for me as a musician.
When I arrived in England, I always felt different. Having an Irish accent didn’t help in this regard. Repeating every sentence twice during conversations became routine. As an Irish guy living in England during the so-called ‘troubles’, I sometimes felt like I was on the receiving end of more than a hint of suspicion too.
After graduation, while other people my age went on to pursue careers and earn lots of money, I went into ministry (against some very strong advice). But I wasn’t just a ‘normal’ church minister. Oh no. I became a poorly paid itinerant speaker for a regional network of 60 churches in the north of England. After four years, I began to travel nationally and then internationally, with doors opening all over the world. At one point, I seriously considered moving to America where there was no shortage of speaking invitations. But something inside of me felt unfulfilled by this idea. So to the complete surprise and even dismay of many of my colleagues & friends, I ceased travelling and decided to plant a church in Loughborough. Even this was different – pioneered from scratch, meeting in a Cinema and with a vibe which was quite different from ‘normal’ church. The story could go on….Yup, I’ve always felt like I never really fitted in.
Yet in a strange way, it’s amazing to look back and see how God has influenced this for good. You see, at the heart of everything I’ve ever done has been a genuine desire to serve God. I haven’t always got it right. But when the heart is right, God has an amazing way of guiding us to where he wants us to be. In a sense, when you decide to follow Jesus, you’re not meant to fit in. You aren’t called to be ‘normal’ either. Besides, what difference has ‘normal’ ever made? Of course, this doesn’t mean going out of your way to be weird! It just means that you have a perspective on life which lots of people don’t understand. That’s ok.
Romans 12:2 says ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world‘. In other words, no-matter what’s going on around you, it’s always better to serve God than just fit in with the crowd. Remember, people who just ‘fit in’ don’t make a difference. But people who have the courage to follow their God given convictions do. So there…being ‘different’ is ok after all.