Pastor, You are a Well-Known Unknown

Tony Campolo tells the story of driving up to preach at a church and finding only three other cars in the parking lot. Tony’s seven-year old son, Bart, looked at the empty lot and said, “Dad, nobody’s come to hear you. And you’re so famous.” Bart’s older sister, Lisa asked, “If dad’s so famous where are all the people?” Bart got defensive for his dad. He replied, “Knock it off Lisa; it’s tough being famous when nobody knows who you are.”

mysteryBart is right. It’s tough being famous when no one knows who you are.

A pastor friend recently sent me an email suggesting several possible speakers for the annual preaching lectures we host at Heritage Seminary. The names he recommended were heavy-hitters in the homiletics world. He closed his note by saying if we couldn’t get one of them, he was available. Then he added that we would have to charge $1,000 dollars per ticket to make up for the fact that only four or five people would show up to hear him—one of whom would be his mother.

His note made smile. It also made me reflect. My friend was voicing how many pastors feel. We’re not about to get an invite to headline a conference anytime soon. And if we did, there would only be three cars in the parking lot. And one of them would belong to mom.

It’s tough being famous when no one knows who you are.country church

Most of us pastors will always be relatively unknown. We may serve in city churches that are lost in a metropolis. Or we may serve in rural churches that are located on the outskirts of obscurity. In either case, we’ll be known to the people in our congregations. But beyond that—not so much.

Most of the time, that’s just fine. We went into ministry to be faithful, not famous. But sometimes, when we compare ourselves with higher-profile ministry colleagues, we start to feel small and insignificant.

The New Testament has a message for all of us who qualify as unknowns. It reminds us that we are in good company. When Paul wrote the believers in Corinth, he described himself and his colleagues as “known, and yet unknown” (2 Corinthians 6:9)

Paul knew that he was relatively unknown in the larger Roman world. He also knew he was well-known to the One who mattered most. He had come to know God and be known by Him (Galatians 4:9).

A number of years ago, when I was serving as a solo pastor in a smaller community, I wrote a song for my own heart—and for those who feel they labour in obscurity. It’s a reminder that those of us who serve Jesus are “well-known unknowns.”

Well-Known to Jesus

You’ve probably never heard their names
You wouldn’t recognize their faces
They’re seldom given much acclaim
They’re tucked away in isolated places

With faithfulness and without fanfare
They’re leaving a lasting legacy
And though I imagine they are quite unaware
They are heaven’s true celebrities

And they’re well-known to Jesus, though they’re unknown to us
Overlooked on earth but up in heaven they are obvious
And though they labour in obscurity
It’s their passion and their purity
That make them well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns

One day with heavenly hindsight, we’ll see what we should have foreseen
When the brightness of eternity’s spotlight shines on those who served behind the scenes
With faithfulness and without fanfare
They left a lasting legacy
And though I imagine they were quite unaware
They are heaven’s true celebrities

And they’re well-known to Jesus, though they’re unknown to us
Overlooked on earth but up in heaven they are obvious
And though they labour in obscurity
It’s their passion and their purity
That make them well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns

And all of this makes me wonder why I’m so mesmerized
By lightening and by thunder, by status and by size
When will I realize it? Don’t tell me I’d despise it, if I were…

Well-known to Jesus, though unknown down here
What’s hazy now in this life, in the next life will be clear
So if we labour in obscurity
May our passion and our purity
Make us well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns
I’d rather be well-known to Jesus, well-known unknowns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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