We are not to simply become citizens of the Kingdom of God and then wait for the day of our supernatural transport into eternity. We are to participate in the advancement of the Kingdom of God, right here and right now—to actively demonstrate the way of a world turned right-side up.
A privatized or individualized Christian life does not truly reflect citizenship in the Kingdom of God. What does it look like to publicly represent the Kingdom of God? Christ invites us into the discovery of the answer to those questions.
Following Christ is a labor of love, in that it is a life of making God’s love public. Christ describes this work as healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Kingdom laborers are carriers of the gospel and agents of transformation.
To this degree we are all evangelists. This does not mean we have to be able to preach evangelistic messages. It means that we extend God’s love to the lost and broken around us. We pray for others. We listen to others. We are prepared to speak words of love, healing, and truth in one-on-one conversations with others. We allow others to get close enough to our lives to experience Christ.
Wherever we are in life and in whatever career field we are in, we are missionaries. Larry Wiens is a former parachurch ministry leader and business owner. He now leads the San Francisco chapter of the Barnabas Group, a gathering of senior-level executives in the marketplace, who use their skills and talents to help ministries to be more fruitful. He also has a passion and burden for marketplace leaders to see their own businesses and the broader marketplace as a mission field. He believes that the church should be the very place were marketplace leaders are equipped to see where they work as the place to provide a glimpse of the right-side up world. In too many cases, however, the church only sees marketplace leaders for their giving potential and the business insights they could contribute to the church board. In other cases, these leaders are asked to serve the church in roles that don’t fit their gifts, talents, and passions. Of course there are times when the work of God needs people to serve outside of the primary gifts and talents, but the church’s witness in the world suffers from not equipping people to live as right-side up people where they spend the most time. Our impact in advancing the Kingdom of God has been hindered by not calling people to the mission field of their career field.
Recently, one of our World Impact staff in the San Francisco Bay Area was referred to a business owner through the Barnabas Group who has found his missional calling by hiring people recently released from prison. He has already hired two men who were involved in our urban ministry while incarcerated and have also participated in our re-entry leadership homes. He sets things right by providing an opportunity for the formerly incarcerated to start a new life.
This mission field that we are called to engage as right-side-up people is an ever-increasing multiethnic and multicultural one. The work of a missionary must then involve learning the stories, dreams, and pain of others, crossculturally—to allow God to dismantle our prejudices and stereotypes across gender, class, and race so that we might extend transformative love and forge reconciliation in sinful and divided situations.
One cannot be a missionary and Kingdom laborer if prejudices contaminate the heart. One cannot be a missionary and not acknowledge the full humanity of all those around them. Prejudice is a form of fear, which is a weapon in the war Satan started against God; the perfect love of God—God’s weapon—casts out fear. As we lean into God’s love, it becomes possible to stand firmly on the authority and centrality of Scripture and reject prejudice, acknowledging that all human beings are made in the image of God even as all are in need of salvation, transformation, and liberation. God’s love for us cultivates God’s love in us.
We live in a divided world. Can we truly serve as Kingdom laborers if we are contributing to the division? Is judgment and anger really the solution to racism, sexism, and classism? Is sustained anger and judgment really going to address systemic poverty and injustice? The various social issues of this upside-down world should indeed break our hearts and even provoke righteous anger. But love, reconciliation, and healing action is what will bring the Kingdom of God to bear on these issues.
This doesn’t mean that we have to compromise biblical truth; it means that we acknowledge that being known primarily as judgmental and angry with the world works at cross purposes with our living as evangelists, missionaries, and ambassadors of God’s love. Christ looks at the multitude of broken, lost, and sinful people trapped by these issues, and both feels and extends compassion, the deepest core of who God is. Christ then invites us to participate in this work.
Living as right-side-up people and beloved children of God is about aligning our lives with the compassion of God. Some Christians respond to social issues with political ideology instead of the revolutionary love of God. Their Kingdom labor is absorbed into an upside-down political agenda, whether on the right or the left. It pains my heart when influential Christian leaders have an opportunity to say something in order to bring the Kingdom of God to bear upon a social issue, and they end up sounding just like a politician. At its worst, some people use Christian language as a gloss for self-gain and worldly promotion. Divorced from God’s love, our work may see some small or short-term success, but ultimately it will devolve into one of those things of the world that is slowly and silently killing us. Even Christians that are politicians professionally should see their role as being a missionary within politics. I would imagine that this is not easy, but this is the messiness of being in this world but not of it (John 17:15-19).
The church is hindered in its Kingdom witness when Christians base their actions in upside-down beliefs. We must continually surrender to the love of God if we want our Kingdom labor to bear Kingdom fruit.
Christ comes to bring love, liberation, empowerment, and salvation to upside-down people if they are willing to receive it. Christ is the embodiment of the guts of God; he sees oppressed, broken, and lost people as his people. As Kingdom laborers in this world, we must take on this same Christ-centered responsibility.
I have spent over twenty-five years working in urban ministry—as a pastor, as a church planter, as a director of an urban missions organization. In all those years, one thing I’ve never done is look at people in an urban context and think of them as those people. I grew up in the urban context. I have family members and dear friends who are still living in the urban context. When I see urban people who are broken and lost and trapped in an upside down world, I see my people.
Some Christians can’t see lost and broken people as their people; they can only see them as part of an opposing army. But this isn’t how we are taught to see people from the Scriptures. The Scriptures teach us that we are all made in the image of God; we are all “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). For the Christian, “my people” cannot be limited; “my people” includes all people.
We must extend ourselves, as God’s people, to people who are very different from us. This is what led Christ to eat with tax collectors and other sinners. This is what led Christ to sit at the well with the Samaritan woman. He embodied a revolutionary idea of “my people.”
When we surrender ourselves to the love of God, we take responsibility on some level for the harassed and helpless around us. It starts by seeing all people as being made in God’s image as we are made in God’s image. Fueled by this vision and love for others, we are able take responsibility for the brokenness of this world in some way.
We are not truly able to do this in our own power. Christ calls his followers to what seems like impossible actions. Never mind healing the sick and raising the dead: Can we truly end poverty, racism, sexism, abortion, and human trafficking? Can we even put a major dent in these and other social ills? Yes we can. We are empowered by God to fight these battles, to participate in setting the world right-side up again. We don’t have to ask permission from this upside-down world to heal, reconcile, liberate, love, and empower. We are given authority from God to go about this Kingdom-advancing work.