Currently, I am in the midst of writing a college level course on Women’s Ministry. As part of my research, I’ve been entrenched in statistics regarding women in the church. What percentage of the church is made up of women? What percentage of the church volunteers are women? A result of that research is that I have also come across articles that address the fact that women are leaving the church. It took me to pause for a moment, because if the statistics show that women are 55% of the church body… and this with women leaving… how much higher was that number in previous years, decades????
Scouring through these articles, I noticed a fairly common thread amongst the women who were interviewed about why the left the church… they didn’t feel valued in the church. In other words, they didn’t feel they had a place in the church. Or, a voice in the church. Or, that they had anything of value to offer the church.
They felt unnoticed. Not only when they were attending, but in their absence. No one noticed they were gone.
I’ve been there, myself. When we moved to our current city, we knew absolutely NO ONE. A church came highly recommend to us, and we attended there for over a year. Every Sunday, when we would enter the church… we were treated like it was our very first visit. Over 52 Sunday’s would pass… and this bright haired red head was given directions to the children’s Sunday school rooms. Even the Sunday school teachers didn’t seem to acknowledge us as familiar faces. We attended faithfully, every Sunday. The only break we took was the few weeks after our third child was born. We attended the social events too. We were present in the church, very present. We tithed every week, faithfully. Yet, we never felt at home. We never felt like we belonged. And, when we made the decision to leave and find a different church…. no one noticed we were gone.
There was no Pastor call, or card form the children’s ministry director… wondering where we had gone. No one was concerned for our welfare, and they didn’t even notice when the tithing checks stopped coming in. We were literally invisible to the people we worshiped with every Sunday.
This morning I was reading through Oswald Chamber’s book, “The Love of God”, and a title chapter jumped off the page at me:
The Ministry of the Unnoticed
Chambers writes: “Our Lord called twelve disciples – but what about all those other disciples of His that were not specifically called? The twelve were called for a special purpose, but there were hundreds who followed Jesus – sincere believers in Him – who were unnoticed.”
Oswald Chambers first wrote about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed” in 1936, this is not a new phenomena in the church… of feeling unnoticed. Chambers not only recognized it in his writing in 1936, but pointed it out in the very scriptures written about the foundations of Christianity. There were thousands of people, serving Christ, who were unnoticed. They were not written about in the scriptures by name, but referred to as “the crowd” or “the many”. People, who were fully devoted followers of Christ… just like you and me, and history would never know their names. Yet, they were just as important in the forward movement of the church as any named disciple or apostle.
Chambers points out that those who were named were exceptions, the first or the most extraordinary conversions. And as extraordinary as they were, they were still exceptions… not the rule. He points out that, “The majority of us are unnoticed and unnoticeable people”. He cautions, in his writing, that if we take these exceptions and make them our standard, we are going to create a big problem, producing the spiritually proud… departing from the good news and building on religion.
In Matthew 5:3, Chambers points out, the scriptures read “Blessed are the poor in spirit”; clarifying that in this reference we are not talking about the economically poor… but those who are spiritually poor. And in the history of time, poor people are fairly common. They make up the largest percentage of many populations around the world. Chambers suggests that it is in this poverty of spirit, that we are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, not on our good deeds… but in humble love, adoration, and faith. The every day people, living lives for God… seemingly unnoticed people, who carry great amounts of influence.
If you have ever had a chance to talk to someone who serves in missions, particularly in the third world countries, you can get a glimpse into what joy looks like despite poverty. People, who in comparison to us, have nothing… yet they give everything they can. They share the burdens of the community, with smiles on their face because they are full of love. Kids who don’t have many belongings, running around kicking a soccer ball in their village. It may be the only soccer ball they have in the entire village, but you don’t hear complaints… instead you hear laughter and see the smiles on their face as they pass the ball back and forth.
These are people who go unnoticed, just like many of us feel, but they do not wallow in it. They are thankful and joyful for what God has given them. They find joy in Him, in their community, and in the fact they woke up that morning. We like to call those simple pleasures, but think they are more like profound pleasures. Finding joy in the everyday, TRUE JOY, is profound.
We encounter people like this stateside too. It’s the woman in the projects who gives everything to make sure kids in her neighborhood have a full belly and a place to sleep, taking the prodigals into the safety of her home. It is the homeless man, who has nothing but a cart full of what looks like trash, who sits on the corner sharing Jesus with those who pass by. He has a smile on his face, that we can’t explain. It is the mother who takes a house and makes it into a home, welcoming in the neighborhood kids every day. The husband who toils hard every day to provide for his families needs, but turns down the overtime because he’d rather be home with his family than own that new piece of technology. It is the child who keeps a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in his locker, making sandwiches for the kids in his school that don’t have lunch (true story).
Every day people, doing every day things. Unnoticed.
Or, so we think.
Jesus notices. It doesn’t matter what man sees or doesn’t see. We shouldn’t be doing anything for the approval of man.
I love how Oswald addresses this point, when he states: “The true character of the loveliness that influences for God is always unconscious. Conscious influence is always prideful and un-Christian. When we begin to wonder whether we are of any use, we instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord. … If we begin to examine our outflow, we lose touch with the source.”
What Chambers is identifying here, is that when we become so focused on what we are doing “for God” we end up having more concern about our deeds. We are paying more attention to the results. We are focused on what we are doing. Then our sin nature takes over because we want credit for it. We want to be noticed for our deeds, by others. We want to be noticed that we are different, by others. When we care more about what others are thinking about us, than God… we become prideful.
“Look at me!”, we shout. “Look at this good thing I did for God!”
Don’t get me wrong, we are called to be different. But, the only thing we are called to shout from the roof tops is the GOSPEL! When we starting pointing out or making a spectacle of our good works, we are taking credit … not giving credit. Every good deed should be done with the point of proclaiming Christ, of turning the gaze off of us toward God.
When we want accolades and adoration, when we want someone to praise us for being “godly women”, and when we need affirmation of man… we are doing these good deeds for the wrong reason.
Instead, if we are people who are changed by Christ… our “goodness” is just a part of who we are. We don’t need to draw attention to it any more than the lilies of the field need to get your attention. It is their fragrance that will cause you turn your head toward them. They don’t work hard to create that fragrance, it’s just part of who they are. They don’t fight against each other, so you pick one lily over another. You catch the smell on the breeze, and your head turns the field… and what do you see?
Hundreds of lilies, waving the breeze.
Doing nothing out of the ordinary.
They were there yesterday, here today, and will be there tomorrow. They are not shouting for you too look at them, they don’t need your affirmation. They are just simply being the very thing God called them to be. They don’t care that there are hundreds of lilies just like them, they don’t try to change their fragrance to stand out from the rest. They are one part of many, and that is what makes the field so beautiful.
Once, I was in Europe, as we were traveling to our next destination…. something caught my attention. As I looked out the window of the bus, I saw a sea of golden flowers. It was absolutely breathtaking. When I had a chance to get a closer view, I realized they were marigolds. THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of marigolds. You know, those yellow and orange flowers… that we consider “weeds” in some parts of the country, “cheap filler” for garden beds in other areas. Something so simple, so ordinary and virtually unnoticed in my neck of the woods… was absolutely STUNNING.
I think that is how God sees his people, when He looks down upon His creation. A sea of his children, moving about, creating a beautiful mosaic of every day love, care, compassion, and service.
And, that … is STUNNING.
If you are interested in reading more about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed”, you can find it the book “The Love of God” by Oswald Chambers. There is another booklet by this name, so you’ll want to look for this cover:
It contains reprints of several of his booklets, which were written in the 1930’s and are just as relevant to today.