FIRST-PERSON: The fellowship of the unknown
WILSON, N.C. (BP) -- The vast majority of those serving as pastors in the United States do so in obscurity. I suspect most of us would be hard-pressed to identify 50 pastors by name, and the number from whom we have received personal ministry would be far lower.
Even with the advent of social media networks, ministry is done in obscurity to a large degree. Indeed, the Barna Group says the average Protestant church size in America is 89 adults.
This is why pastors are, for the most part, the fellowship of the unknown.
I mention all of this because October has historically been Pastor Appreciation Month, and the fact is that most church members have been significantly impacted by a pastor who will spend most of his ministry in obscurity. God uses these people to make an eternal difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls.
While our culture prizes fame and notoriety, neither is essential to effectively serving others. What is essential is a willingness to be used by God on His terms. The Bible is filled with just such people. They have names that appear for a brief time, in a short narrative, never to be heard from again -- people like Kenaniah (1 Chronicles 15:21-22), Zechariah (Luke 1:8-25), Simeon (Luke 2:25), Anna (Luke 36), Phillip (Acts 8:5-8), Ananias (Acts 9:10-17) and Shamgar (Judges 3:31). They were people who lived in obscurity, stepped into God's spotlight for a brief moment in their faithul service to the Lord, and then returned to the shadows.
The vast majority of those faithfully serving the church as pastors will never write a best-selling book. They will never be the featured speaker at a conference. They will never have anyone stand in line to take a photo with them. No one will ever want them to sign their Bible (a practice I still find awkward). They will never preach a sermon on television. They will never be invited to preach on a seminary campus.
They will never be known by anyone outside of the circle of people they have been given spiritual responsibility to care for and nurture. And, that is perfectly fine. They are part of the fellowship of the unknown.
The two men who made the most dramatic impact on my life in their pastoral ministry fit this description perfectly. Steve Tanner and Dale C. Prince were my pastors during my most formative years. "Brother Steve" was instrumental in leading my parents to Christ, which transformed the trajectory of our entire family. Similarly, "Brother Dale" was our pastor when I came to faith in Christ and when I surrendered to full-time Christian service. I still find myself using sayings from his ministry in my own preaching and teaching.
Both of these men were serving a "small church" when our lives intersected. They were serving, largely, in obscurity, their membership in the fellowship of the unknown well-established. To my knowledge, neither spoke at a state or national pastor's conference. Yet, there are countless lives who have been impacted by their respective ministries.
Indeed, the fact you are reading this is another life that has been impacted by these two men. And I hope there will be one more: your pastor.
Whether you are in a smaller church or a large church, would you make it a point to let your pastor know how much you appreciate them? You may not understand all of their struggles or challenges. You may not even agree with all of their decisions. But, for the sake of the Gospel, would you simply let them know you love them, appreciate them and will pray for them?
I cannot tell you how much those simple things mean to those of us who are part of the fellowship of the unknown.