It wasn’t always this way, but we are at a point in history when, for most of us, it is easier to know of someone at a distance than it is to know the people who are close to us.
Two hundred years ago you could barely avoid knowing your neighbors, like it or not, and being known by them, while almost everyone outside your immediate vicinity was virtually unknown to you and unknowable.
One of JD Walt’s recent devotionals at Seedbed made me think about this when he pointed out how strangely and deliberately opposed Jesus was to his own fame.
So here’s the question I’ve been asking myself: would I rather be well known or known well?
Truthfully? If I’m going by the indications of my life it looks like I’d rather be well known. I do things to try to expand my “platform” on the one hand, while doing little more than dipping my toes in the shallow end of those pools of relationship where I might be diving.
In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror: then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I am fully known."
And I want that. I want to see face to face and know fully and be fully known. But I’m also terrified at the prospect. I don’t feel I’m ready for it. I’d like to make some changes before I’m thrust into that place of intimate and mutual knowledge. I’d like to approach God with the benefit of filters.
But God is not interested in some instagram version of me.
So these are some things I’m coming to terms with:
Fame is toxic for those who don’t achieve it and it is toxic for those who do.
It is a dangerous thing to want to be well known.
For one thing, it is an objective with moving goalposts. Make it your goal to get a thousand followers and you will arrive at that lofty peak of notoriety and survey the landscape and see that there are summits above your own on which other people are standing. And as you look at them, your standard of “well-known” will shift so that you will now feel more obscure than you did when you started.
For another thing, aspiring to fame will make you feel disconnected from who you really are. You will present yourself in ways calculated to make you more appealing than authentic.
Being well known is unsatisfying.
Our souls desire the intimacy of being comprehensively known, even though we run from that intimacy. We are conflicted and acting at cross-purposes with ourselves.
It is telling and significant that the euphemistic language employed by the King James Version of the Bible to talk about sexual behavior is that of “knowledge.” “And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived.”
It seems quaint, right? But it also helps us understand how intimate it is to be known in either sense of the word, and how you could want to be known and also be afraid of it at the same time.
Being well known is a very poor substitute for the intimate pleasure of being known well.
Churches that can help people to be known well will have an advantage in the days to come.
If people end up recoiling from the expectations of social media notoriety and go looking for safe personal intimacy, we would hope that they would go to church to find it.
But too often churches are run as though the church itself is primarily useful and effective to the extent that it is a good platform for a good pastor. Think about the biggest churches you know and ask yourself if you know more about that church or that church’s pastor. You might not know anything about that church at all beyond its name and who its pastor is.
And many of these pastors do use the platform to very good effect, preaching sermons and writing books and developing leaders with a positive impact far beyond the boundaries of their “parish.”
But for enduring Gospel effect, it is better to have a church that makes lots of people known well than a church that makes a few people well known.
Discipleship and small groups
So if you are ready to shift your emphasis from being well known to being known well, where do you start? By engaging in discipleship and small groups. By offering to lead someone or to be led by someone along the "way everlasting." By asking your pastor for help in connecting with people other than your pastor. By doing life with other believers with the goal of complete authenticity in a context of safety and love.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog