Some ideas explode in our minds and shape our behavior for a lifetime. It happened to me in a seminary classroom almost forty years ago. The professor said three words, “Theology informs practice.” That simple sentence summarized the most consequential lesson from my formal ministerial training. Those words—theology informs practice—mean that what we believe determines what we do (and conversely, what we do reveals our true beliefs). This phrase means our biblical convictions inform personal perspectives, lifestyle choices, and ministry practices. Theological commitments control what we think, feel, and do.
When doctrinal foundations determine perspectives and practices about ministry, we discover an overarching reason shadow Christians are so significant: God highly values what happens outside the limelight.
Because named leaders are featured prominently in the Bible, it’s easy to assume they were the only people God used to do his work. But look again. Hiding in plain sight are many examples (featured throughout this book) of the crucial role shadow Christians played in God’s story. Just as visible are doctrinal underpinnings that establish and support the important role everyday people have in fulfilling God’s purposes.
God highly values what happens outside the limelight.
Why have we missed (or at least minimized) these biblical examples and theological tenets? One reason is we live in an era when popularity equals influence. We follow popular people (like athletes and entertainers) instead of influential people (like teachers and executives). Another reason is natural admiration for superstars in any field. Among Christians, for example, media-savvy pastors of large churches get asked to speak at conferences and lead denominations. Our healthy appreciation for these leaders can morph into a false conclusion that they are more important than people serving in less visible locations and capacities.
Another reason is overfamiliarity with Bible stories and theological concepts. Common assumptions about the content and meaning of biblical passages cause us to ignore details that might influence or even change our perspective.
People who hide things, like spymasters or witness protection program managers, know there are two ways to keep something (or someone) secret. The first is to hide them so well they are virtually impossible to find. Fail-safes and trigger points are built into the system to alert any potential compromise. Most things or people hidden this way are never found.
The other way to keep something secret is to hide it in plain sight. This means making the hidden thing or person a routine part of a community, so familiar they become part of the wallpaper. When a person is hidden this way, no one notices because everyone knows them (or thinks they do). That’s what has happened with many shadow Christians in the Bible. Their stories are there, in plain sight, but so familiar we read over the details because we think we already know them.
This is also true of some of the theological underpinnings establishing the importance of shadow Christians. We can parrot the doctrines but fail to understand how significant they really are. We know them so well they lose their impact in our strategic decisions about life and ministry.
Several theological themes in this section establish the importance of shadow Christians in God’s kingdom. These may be familiar to you. If so, force yourself to read more slowly and think through the implications. Remember, theology informs practice. What we believe drives what we do personally and corporately. When theology and practice are disconnected, something is amiss. Either theology needs fine-tuning or our practices need adjusting. This dissonance isn’t healthy for leaders or followers. Effective life and ministry are accomplished by doing things God’s way, based on timeless truth, not by emulating secular practices, management methods, leadership processes, or motivational techniques. When sound theology informs ministry practice, this overarching conviction emerges: Shadow Christians are valued by God.
Iorg, Jeff. 2020. Shadow Christians: Making an Impact When No One Knows Your Name. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.