This piece was originally published at The Christian Post on August 7, 2012.
Much of my work revolves around the themes of diplomacy and advocacy. I sum these up with the term “ambassadorship.” In this series of posts titled “WANTED: Christian Ambassadors, not Tourists,” I am unpacking what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. If you’re just jumping in, begin by reading part 1 and part 2.
In the first post on this subject, I started out by saying, “As missional witnesses, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, not tourists.” There I spoke of how tourists are often loud and illiterate, whereas good ambassadors listen, are soft-spoken, and literate linguistically and culturally. Christian ambassadors should model these latter qualities.
In the second post on this subject, I started out by saying, “Another difference between tourists and ambassadors is that tourists often visit for brief periods of time whereas ambassadors often stay for very long periods of time and hopefully come to know the people and the culture in profound ways. As ambassadors for Christ, we are called to remain and step inside people’s shoes and sandals until he calls us home.”
Still another difference between tourists and ambassadors is that tourists are often intrusive, as they impose on others. They feel their hosts’ lives revolve around them. Ambassadors are invited guests, whose posture is one of humility and graciousness befitting their role as guests.
Perhaps such tourists think that they can get away with posturing in this way, when they have money to throw around. The communities that they visit are often dependent on tourist dollars. They want the tourists’ money, even if they don’t want the tourists themselves. Many tourists probably know this, and so they feel like they can throw themselves around, not simply their money.
The Apostle Paul who was often an ambassador in chains (Ephesians 6:20) was all about the good news of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ. This message of reconciliation through Jesus and the kind of good will it creates in establishing and fostering reconciled communities through the church was the focused aim of his ambassadorship (2 Corinthians 5:20). He did not throw himself around as an apostolic ambassador with the Christian communities he served. Nor did he abuse his rights as a Roman citizen. Rather, he was a true diplomat as he visited Christian communities and lived as a guest in various places in the Roman Empire. How he engaged the Athenians on Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17 was one example of his charitable and gracious approach to addressing various communities that he engaged in conversation. While Paul was an itinerant evangelist, he was not a tourist in that he established Christian communities wherever he went to continue the work of diplomacy on behalf of Christ’s kingdom.
In many parts of North America today, Christians are often viewed very negatively. While we have been there a very long period of time, we often function as loud and illiterate tourists who have lost their way on the crowded streets of an ever-changing and very pluralistic America. We are fast becoming foreigners who need to relearn how to be good ambassadors, not tourists who flaunt their money and influence, if we are to be faithful and effective missional witnesses, even in the country many of us call home. Instead of flaunting money and influence, let’s flaunt the sacrificial love of Christ even to the point of being chained like Paul. Such love is never chained, and may very well capture the hearts of those who often want our money and power, but begrudge our presence. Our clutching and flaunting only harm our witness. Let them have our resources. And just perhaps they will take our Jesus, too.