Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Fellowship of the Obscure

            As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we will undoubtedly spend time reading the Christmas story in the gospels. If you decide to read the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel, you will encounter a few people who make a brief, but memorable appearance on the world stage. They are part of what I call the fellowship of the obscure. These are individuals about whom we know very little, except for their role in the greatest story ever told. For the vast majority of their lives Zechariah, Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna lived with little to no notoriety or fame. Yet, for one brief moment, these relative unknowns play a critical role in the story of the incarnation.

            And, that makes sense. After all, we are told in 1 Corinthians:
            But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:27-28)
Read that last part of verse 28 again – he chose the things that are not to nullify they things that are. That is precisely what the fellowship of the obscure refers to – God using those people who are not well known, not famous, not household names, to make tremendous difference for the kingdom.
            Of course, the four members of the fellowship of the obscure that we encounter in the Christmas story were not the first nor were they the last members of that tribe. Indeed, it seems to me that the vast majority of those serving in pastoral ministry today due so as members of the fellowship of the obscure. These individuals experienced a call to ministry, prepared for ministry, and have served in ministry settings with little to no accolades or renown. They have preached sermons, performed weddings and funerals, visited the sick, counseled couples and families, led building projects, developed budgets, managed a staff, and many other tasks without much notoriety or fanfare.

            Consider this, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches ( there are over 600,00 clergy serving in the United States. Yet, most of us would be hard pressed to identify one hundred pastors by name. In fact, we may not be able to name one hundred pastors, even if we included television preachers that we do not know personally. Further consider the fact that the median size of a congregation in the United States is 75 ( That means, of the approximately 300,000 congregations in the United States, half of them are smaller than 75 and half are larger. It is clear that the vast majority of those ministering in the United States do so in obscurity.

            Yet, 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. For Zechariah, it was faithfully serving year after year in the shadows of the Temple before his big moment came. And then he faded right back into those shadows. For Simeon and Anna it was faithfully praying – year after year – as they looked forward to the consolation of Israel. When Jesus arrived in the Temple, their prayers and faithful anticipation was made complete. They were integrated into the birth narrative of Jesus and then faded back into the shadows of history.

            I wonder how many others were looking forward to the consolation of Israel whose names we do not know, and will never know. After all, we learn that there were many who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38). Yet, that is all we know. No names. No other details. And I think the same is true with many in ministry.
            The vast majority of those faithfully serving the church will never write a best selling book. They will never be the featured speaker at a conference. They will never have anyone ask to take a photo with them. No one will ever want them to sign their Bible (a practice I still find quite 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 obscure.

Dr. Rob Pochek is the Senior Pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church in WilsonNC.

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