When we think about a “successful” Christian life today, we tend to look at Christians who have large followings on social media or from a pulpit. They seem to be the models for everyone else to emulate. Whether we would say this in so many words or not, we think these people – the movers and shakers in God’s kingdom – are who matter most. They are the privileged few sought out by organizers of conferences and international Christian gatherings to provide the keynote address, to set the standard for strong leadership. We want to know their secrets so we can share in their success.
But we need to ask ourselves some questions: How does this perspective jibe with scriptural truth? Is this view one we’ve received from God or one we’ve adopted from the world and brought over into the church?
When I first became a Christian, about 40 years ago, I was eager to follow Him with my whole heart, to be all that He had called me to be and do. So I looked around for mentors and Bible teachers who could help me. I also poured over the Scriptures, looking for principles to guide me. I assumed as I made Him the center of my life, I would soon discover the “spiritual secrets” that would make me great in His kingdom.
Like any new baby, I sampled everything that came across my path. Assuming I could do anything in the power of Christ, I eagerly jumped in, teaching Sunday school classes, hosting strangers in my home, praying for miracles, sharing my faith with neighbors and friends. On fire with love for Jesus, I was game for anything. And my assumption was that as I gained experience in these ministry areas, I would soon be a leader among Christians. I would be a mover and shaker for His kingdom, someone looked up to and emulated by others.
Imagine my shock when the Holy Spirit asked me one day, “Would you be willing to be an invisible encourager in my kingdom? To minister to others without them even being aware of you? Could you live without the accolades and recognition of making a contribution, knowing I alone would see all you do for me?”
This wasn’t the calling I’d been looking for! It had about as much appeal as cold French fries or a car without air conditioning in the Deep South. It didn’t sound like a fun or satisfying venture, at least to my flesh. He highlighted John 12:24 to me, which would serve as the scriptural underpinning for my call: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Well, I readily submitted to my calling even though I didn’t fully understand it or like it. I was in love with Him, and I figured as my Savior, He knew what was best for my life. What I’ve discovered in the years following this decision is wonderfully encouraging. He doesn’t consider this kind of calling inferior to one in the limelight. In fact, He delights in those who bloom in unrecognized places. Being obscure doesn’t mean being mediocre. Some of the most beautiful flowers in the world bloom high up on mountains, seen only by shepherds as they move their sheep from one field to another. How many people see the flowers aren’t the criteria that determine their beauty or their value? If God calls us to bloom in places like that, He wants us to “work at it with all [our] heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).
My sister-in-law is an actress in a repertory theater company. Sometimes she plays a starring role in a play and other times she has a minor one. At certain points in the season, she isn’t up on the stage at all. Her name isn’t listed in the program the audience holds, and no one knows what she’s done behind the scenes. She told me once that for every 10 actors visible on stage, there are at least 50 other people working off-stage: scriptwriters, directors, costume designers, lighting and sound technicians, etc. It’s amazing how many people are needed to produce a play. No matter what kind of role they have, all of them contribute to the success and survival of the theater group.
While the kingdom of God can’t be compared to something as ordinary as a theater group, its advancement happens in the same way: through teamwork. As Christians commit to sharing their unique gifts and callings, Jesus is proclaimed and glorified. No one’s contribution is more important than another’s. Each is necessary for God’s work to flourish.
At first I tended to see only the drawbacks to an invisible life, but, in time, I realized the special challenges that accompany more visible roles. Those who are seen and looked up to by people are far more likely to experience burnout if they don’t share their considerable workloads.
Another reality is that upfront ministers live with a bull’s-eye on their back, spiritually speaking. Satan likes to target those who have influence with large groups of people. When he can bring one of them down, he brings discouragement and doubt into many lives, not just the person who fell into sin. The body of Christ should be lifting these visible ministers up regularly in prayer, knowing the kind of spiritual attack they may be battling as they seek to fulfill God’s calling on their lives.
Fulfilling a more invisible role in the kingdom has other benefits too, besides being spared the challenges of burnout and spiritual attack. Because invisible encouragers must seek their affirmation and sense of worth primarily from their heavenly Father, not other people, they have the opportunity to develop a deeper intimacy with Him. They become rooted and grounded in His love, as it says in Ephesians 3:17.
If you find yourself in one of the hidden away places in God’s kingdom at the moment (our roles do shift throughout our lifetimes), take heart. There is One who sees you. His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth to see those whose hearts are fully committed to Him, and He strengthens them (2 Chronicles 16:9).
You may feel invisible and unappreciated by other people, but remember: Whatever you have done out of love for Him will one day be brought out into the light and rewarded. That’s His promise to all His servants. “Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
Until then, know that your spiritual beauty is not wasted even if no other human being can see you blooming up on that mountainside. Your beauty pleases the One who planted you there, and you will share in the glory of His kingdom when He returns. Living the invisible life isn’t as hard as you might think. I’ve discovered it has its own unique and profound rewards. As George Matheson wrote in his famous hymn, “O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”
He will reward us and encourage us as we make Him the audience who matters most.
Jeanne Hedrick is a South Carolina-based freelance author and editor who writes the Adventures With God devotional blog. She has been involved in behind-the-scenes ministry for most of her Christian life. She helped her husband plant two Free Methodist churches in eastern Ontario and wrote a personal Christian-based column in two different publications for a total of 10 years (The Record News newspaper in Smiths Falls, Ontario, and The Free Methodist Herald, the denominational national publication for Canada) while raising four children. Since moving to the United States, she has worked as a nonfiction editor and freelance proofreader for Bethany House, a Christian book publisher. This article is based on a presentation she gave in June 2013 at the ACCI missions conference in Italy.
- Do you believe the modern church has bought into a culture of celebrities? What are the risks associated with elevating some Christian writers, speakers, musicians or athletes as role models for the rest of us?
- Who are some behind-the-scenes encouragers who have helped you?
- Are you willing to be an encourager in God’s kingdom even if your work is invisible or rarely acknowledged by others?