March 15, 2006

To Those Who Serve

ast summer’s General Conference session in St. Louis was fascinating on many levels. The spectacle of seeing that many Adventists, from so many places and backgrounds, was truly inspiring.
Another thing that struck me was the intense interest that attended the early reports from the Nominating Committee. It’s customary at a General Conference session to elect the president, secretary, and treasurer first; then the General Conference vice presidents, division presidents, secretaries, treasurers. After that, the names of most of the nominees aren’t that familiar, and the layers of bureaucracy are so impenetrable that only the family and friends of those elected receive the news with enthusiasm.
We invest a lot of time and energy in electing the leaders of the world church, and rightly so. These are the men and women we entrust with casting the vision and determining the church’s course for the next five years. It’s an awesome responsibility.
But frankly, even though our elected leaders serve on important committees and boards, and spend unbelievable time traveling to far-flung corners of the world, their influence is not as important as yours and mine. In all their travels, even though they meet thousands of people a year, they can’t possibly develop lasting, in-depth relationships with more than a handful of them. In our communities we’re better known than the General Conference president. In all my years of being a Seventh-day Adventist, I’ve never had someone say to me, “Tell me about your General Conference president.” But on countless occasions, because I’m a Christian, people have asked me for help in coping with life’s challenges and hardships.
I spend a fair amount of time on the road, and I try to reflect Christ’s love to the airline counter agents, the flight attendants, the car rental agents, the waiters, the hotel housekeepers, etc. But there’s no way those brief encounters can build God’s kingdom as much as the relationships I’m cultivating with my neighbors, my dentist, my mechanic, the woman who cuts my hair, the people where I volunteer.
I’ve been asked, on occasion, to serve on community and professional boards and committees. I always try to say yes, because each occasion gives me another opportunity to say by word and action: “I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
I know some people are uncomfortable mixing with people of other faiths and traditions, as if that contact would somehow contaminate them. But I’m compelled by Christ’s statement: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Salt doesn’t do any good in the saltshaker; it has to mingle and mix with other ingredients if it’s going to make a difference. Besides, if any contamination is going to take place, I’m going to be the one doing the contaminating--not the other way around.
I have no doubt that God leads in the selection of the leaders who serve this church at its various administrative levels. But if there’s any honor owed to the members of Christ’s body, it’s owed primarily to those who spend their lives--or a significant portion of them--serving their congregations and communities in Christ’s name. These are the tutors and mentors, those who work at homeless shelters, those who participate in community service activities. In church they are the ones who come early to set the thermostat and unlock the doors; the ones who lead out in Pathfinders or in youth Sabbath school; the ones who bring food to fellowship dinners (and help clean up afterward); the ones who sit on the church board, serve without a travel budget or an expense account, and say “Yes” to the nominating committee year after year.
Here’s to those who serve on every level, but mostly to those who build relationships in their local communities.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of Adventist Review. In his local church he serves as one of the leaders in Earliteen Sabbath School.