t the tender age of 8, I shivered with my brothers in thin June sunshine beside a highway sign in central Colorado that marked the Continental Divide. Head-high banks of unyielding snow chilled us as we waited for Dad to take the mandatory dozen photos. Though water is supposed to flow either east toward the Atlantic or west toward the Pacific from this point, none was moving on that cold and crystalline afternoon.
Few today would mistake me for a mountaineer, but this is territory I know well, even though I’ve never passed that way again. Thirty years of trekking through the mountains and molehills of professional ministry have persuaded me that there is, indeed, a great divide that runs the length of this remnant people—a ridge from which all things descend. It is continental, yes, but greater than that—a line of demarcation so pronounced that it can be traced in the flat, green savannahs of Africa as easily as in the rugged peaks of Colorado.
I refer, of course, to the great divide of church employment. Winding through each story that we tell, beneath each stat that beckons our attention, is one more basic, undergirding fact: the doer was—or wasn’t—an employee, someone salaried or paid to do what all are called to be in Christ. We want to know—urgently, it seems—whether what was done for the kingdom can be credited to a “worker.”
Our histories are heavily a history of employment: our stories are the tales of those officially sponsored by the church to preach the gospel, heal the sick, dig the wells, and teach the children. Sometimes—and more’s the pity—we even speak as though the message did not travel until carried by a worker with tithe dollars in his wallet. Thus it took more than a century for Hannah More and Michael Czechowski, Seventh-day Adventism’s first foreign missionaries, to be allowed that badge of honor, even though their efforts in West Africa and Europe preceded those of J. N. Andrews by a decade.
Truth is, the overwhelming majority of those who have believed and witnessed to these truths have never been employees of the church. Best estimates suggest that at most 60,000 living persons are now or have been employees of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—a mere .3 percent of baptized members of the church. Taken altogether—as we trust on resurrection morn they will be—the number of those hired by the church in 148 years cannot have exceeded 100,000 persons—a number roughly equivalent to the current membership of the Atlantic Union of the North American Division.
If only one in every 340 modern members of the church is in some sense a “worker,” what do we call the other 339 who shovel the snow, preach the sermons, visit the sick, feed the hungry, and teach the children? More to the point: what does heaven call them?
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21).
I am among that fortunate few who have been privileged by this people to be remunerated for the service I owe to Jesus as Savior and Lord. That distinction, significant though it has sometimes seemed to me and others blessed to be “the servants of the servants of God,” is “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 11:11). In that realm, all love and labor are recorded and rewarded as the living legacy of Him who gave His all.
“Render therefore to all their due,” the apostle Paul advises, including “honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:7, NKJV).* That should include—and for me, does include—the millions whom heaven counts as “workers,” those who labor only for the joy of one day soon meeting their Lord in peace.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bill Knott is editor of the
Adventist Review. This article was published August 11, 2011.