Church planters, and those with ideas for new ministries, are pioneers who step outside the bounds of convention and into the unknown. The spectrum of ‘unknown’ is wide. Many start off ‘small’ and move on to bigger and more ambitious projects that send them deeper into the wilderness. For churches, adding a hip evening service may be the only palatable amount of ‘new’ that can be tolerated. Others may try to satellite out a new location for an additional church service. Still others may train their own leaders to start completely different ventures but hold onto some form of connection. Finally, some individuals trend set and launch a completely new and separate adventure in a space or place never before encountered.
Regardless of venture there is a constant, no matter where you are when you step beyond bounds of convention you will step into the realm of obscurity. The further and further your adventure takes you past the boundaries of safety, the further and further you will get lost in the land of the unknown.
Obscurity sounds ominous, like looming black clouds choking the rays of illuminating sunshine.
But it’s not.
Here’s why church planters and church innovators should embrace obscurity as a blessing in disguise that helps get the job done.
I know far too many pastors who have robust dreams and lofty ideas to address social inequality or injustice, only to be squashed by overzealous church boards or committees. Some don’t even bother to make an attempt, choosing appeasement instead, because they don’t want to challenge the pragmatic reality that the congregations who pay their salaries couldn’t stomach a shift in paradigm. Invariably if you operate in the warming spotlight of church leadership, challenging the status quo is not only difficult, but nearly impossible. Couple this with the reality that we–as in church leaders–have built a consumer ethic in our congregations, and you have a recipe for inertia.
Rather than dream big, we offer just a little less than discomfort so we don’t upset the balance.
We continuously battle between peddling consumer Christianity and living radical hospitality.
This hapless existence isn’t courageous enough for Gospel followers. Sorry for being so blunt.
When new ideas emerge within the bounds of convention you have to deal with the rules in convention. Freedom found in obscurity is a requirement so you can attempt ideas unobscured. That means existing in and not just thinking about.
When a ministry exists in obscurity one can largely skip the task of translating ideas. Every new idea requires space to make the attempt real. When you don’t have metrics to worry about expectations are largely eliminated. For example, in a post-Christendom context we have to expect longer timeframes. What took a Summer tent revival meeting in the past now takes a decade of relational equity in the present. Does your current scenario offer you the patience of a decade?
In obscurity the door opens wide to risk, attempt, and most importantly, failure.
Do you think you could make it in this world?
If you don’t require the constant affirmation and accolades found in the established church (particularly ones that tie large congregations to success), you may find yourself coveting the new found freedom. Not surprisingly, when you have space to try things without prying eyes you’re more inclined to say, “YES!”, to what the Kingdom has in store.
There are, however, a few dangers. For starters, when you’re shrouded in mystery it’s easy to hide. Hide your problems, hide your constraints, hide your hurt. You could erroneously pick, choose, and re-interpret what gospel looks like (for example, splinter Baptist groups doing their own thing in ‘Jesus name’). Another issue is the need for recognition. Church planters may branch out so they are ‘the guy’ in a context where they could never be the go-to lead. If recognition is a necessity to fuel your hopes and dreams, if you’re after success in the traditional sense, then in many ways you’re merely trying to replace one convention for another.
But to those truly responding to the Gospel call to ‘Go’, I promise you when you take the courageous steps to venture into the unknown you’ll discover something: you’re not alone at all. Where your adventure takes you, there’s a new group of people waiting for encounter. Your apparent isolation is merely a removal from the safety of familiarity. Most importantly, we have a God goes before us even before we enter the picture.
You may not know it yet, but once you’re in the thick of it, obscurity is indeed a gift. Don’t trade it for tired ideas.