well-known to whom?

I’m smack dab between two gatherings of church leaders that I really respect and it’s causing me to reflect on myself, my professional priorities and who God calls leaders in the Church to be.

The first gathering was one I attended last week in Denver called the Missional Cafe. It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of leaders from my denomination – leaders who have either planted or lead churches on the forefront of our movement within the Reformed tradition. Almost all of them are more accomplished and wiser than I am – most have also accomplished more than I have. And I love that – I love sitting at the feet of wise leaders who have traveled the approximate road I’m traveling and can share wisdom for the journey. The gathering does a great job of creating equality between leaders who, though all headed in a very specific direction, would not be equals by the world’s standards. Love that too – access to leaders I respect, love and might want the positions of someday. And it’s that last part that really gets me salivating – imagine how these relationships can be leveraged, most innocently for the Kingdom and least innocently for my own professional gain. Either way,  it is an astonishingly-enriching gathering of some of the best of the best leaders I know and I’m privileged to be a part of it.

The second gathering, happening about 10 days from now, is a gathering of a different sort of leaders. It will be a veritable “Who’s Who” of pastors to the homeless here in Austin. I say that tongue-and-cheek, because, from what I’ve learned and experienced,

having a recognizable name with the homeless in any given city renders you virtually unknown to everybody else.

Of course, this is a mold that Mother Teresa, Shane Claiborne and others have broken, but my suspicion is that they are an immense minority. The pastors who are gathering on this retreat are pastors who lead congregations that are not influential in the city, with terrible (if any) websites and (almost) zero social media presence. But they love the homeless and the homeless love them and I’m absolutely flattered to be asked to be a part of that group – hanging out side-by-side with some of these leaders I respect highly, even if not many people know who they are.

And then all of this makes me wonder:

Is there a natural dichotomy between being a well-known church leader and having a glowing reputation amongst the poor?

I’m not saying that there is, but it seems to me that very few people have ever done both well – in addition to Shane Claiborne, Henri Nouwen and Mother Teresa, you’ve got…….Jesus? A lot of people don’t buy my Jesus versus the American Church dichotomy, which is fine, but I think part of the struggle I often have with what we now call “church” is stuck in a tug-of-war between the dichotomy above. The rampant growth of megachurch and churchplanting culture has left churches and pastors alike with an unfortunate, unintentional byproduct: trying to create names for themselves under the guise of trying to more efficiently fulfill the Great Commission.

And I wonder, as a young leader, must I place my engine on one of these two tracks?

Must I decide ahead of time which I will be or strive to be? Practically-speaking, I think many leaders never place their train on either track and get torn apart by the inevitable tension of being neither and wanting to be both. That’s due to the fact that very, very few churches/pastors are ever really “well-known” to anybody but their zip code (literally or figuratively). Some of the most well-known leaders at Missional Cafe remarked, smartly, that no matter how famous they feel on a Sunday morning, they almost always have someone who checks their egos by assuming they’re a janitor or parking attendant. Even the most famous church celebrities are still only celebrities to like 30% of the population. And, while I know this sounds elementary, I think it needs to be said: maybe our time is better spent as church leaders doing things for which we will receive not just no glory, but also pain, misery, sacrifice and frustration. And ultimately, like Joshua, we are wise to make a conscious choice early rather than let our subconscious desires make choices for us:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”