Every church I ever served had an inferiority complex when I arrived. One was dealing with the fallout of a recent church split. The next church greeted me by asking, “What did you do to get sent here? We retire more people than social security!” In my third church, I followed a difficult case where my predecessor was removed by the denomination for a personal indiscretion. Not one of those situations was healthy when I started on day one, all were deeply wounded, and I knew serving those churches meant serving in so-called obscurity. In a small town, in a suburban neighborhood, or in the ghetto, any one of us can find ourselves operating in obscurity where we feel overlooked, forgotten, insignificant, and unimportant. I have many friends who serve in so-called obscurity, and I spent many years there myself.
That’s why I love Gregory of Nyssa.
Gregory was appointed by his older brother to a small, out of the way town hardly anyone had heard of. Nyssa. Gregory was not thrilled. Serving in obscurity, in an out-of-the-way place was not the kind of career Gregory had in mind. He protested, but his older brother revealed that this was an intentional appointment. His brother had chosen obscurity for him on purpose, explaining that he didn’t want Gregory to gain notoriety by serving in a prominent location, but to bestow distinction on that obscure place by the way he conducted himself there.
Time in obscurity might be a prerequisite for significant responsibility for some leaders. Obscurity is a lifetime calling for some. Though a place appears unimportant at first glance, it can be the ideal conditions to hear the voice of God, and can be the crucible where God can refine our character.
So do you find yourself in an out-of-the-way place, where you’re sure that no one really notices what you’re doing, or that you’re really not making a difference? Don’t distinguish yourself based on where you serve, but distinguish your place by how you serve there.
Oh, and you can meet a lot of wonderful people in those out-of-the-way places.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little
can also be trusted with much,
and whoever is dishonest with very little
will also be dishonest with much.”
Luke 16:10, NIV
© Steve Dunmire 2014
Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is also the director and an instructor of Houghton’s “Equipping for Ministry” program offering non-degree courses for ordination & personal enrichment.
Obscurity a lifetime calling, Holy Spirit knows our hearts whether in obscurity or in fame.
Amen! Whether we are in a prominent position, or in obscurity, the heart that is prepared to serve in obscurity is the heart the Lord seeks!
Such an encouraging post! I felt this way in 3 of my 5 churches as a Pastor… Thanks for sharing it. (And I dig G. Nyssa too!)
Thanks, David! I hope it was encouraging and even validating to a few. I remember the first time I came across that aspect of Gregory’s life many years ago it had a profound impact on me – and emboldened me to press on where I was. God bless you and the work you do for the church.
Steve I enjoyed reading your comments on serving in Obscurity. Most of us like to serve in areas where we are seen and recognized. Most of my Ministry has been in Obscure places. Often I felt overlooked forgotten and that I deserved a better place. Often I have felt that the grass was always greener in that other pasture. Yet God has used me to serve Him even with working with difficult people. Many times God has used me even when I didn’t know it. Difficult people have helped me to look at problems from a different perspective. I am reminded that God knows the intent of our heart. One of the songs written by John W. Peterson “I Just Keep Trusting My Lord” has words that help me as I continue to minister to people. I have ministered close to 50 years and God continues to teach me new ways to minister to people. I want to live right that God might use me at any time or any where even as I strive to minister to difficult people.
Thanks so much. The temptation of greener pastures is always out there, isn’t it? This story from Gregory really helped me work against that.