Five days a week, I wear a bright red lanyard with an elementary school’s name on it, on which a photo I.D. hangs. This lanyard represents different things to different people. To me, it represents my workplace and my obligations to that entity. By putting it on, I set aside my other responsibilities and obligations and take up those of the school. Wearing it reminds me that I have made a promise to uphold the values of my school and its administration, and to safeguard the students with whom I interact.
A symbol of something more meaningful
To the staff and administration in the township, this lanyard and badge represent belonging. It signifies that I am a part of the group of educators and support staff that make up our school district. I am not an interloper at meetings and functions—I belong there. I am a part, no matter how small, in the goal of educating the children of our community.
To the students of the school, this lanyard represents authority. I am not a volunteer or a visiting parent. I am wearing the insignia of office and have the authority to tell them what to do. It also represents safety. Wearing this lanyard is a signal that I am there to help, and that I am a safe person—someone who will help or get help for a student in trouble—whether that student is sick, lost or just failing his or her math test.
To parents and other members of the community, I represent the school and the school district. My behavior and bearing at public functions helps shape public perception of what my school and my school district are all about.
Since taking the job at the elementary school, my face has also become my identification to the children and families with whom I interact. I am spotted almost every time I go to the store or to the library. I’ll hear, “Mom! It’s my library teacher!” Instantly, I become very aware of what I’m wearing, what I’m saying, and what is in my grocery cart.
The responsibilities of an ambassador
My job in the public eye has made me an ambassador, whether I am wearing my identification or not. As Christians, we are ambassadors too—ambassadors of a place that none of us have ever visited. We don’t wear badges around our necks that identify us as ambassadors, or swipe cards that allow us members-only access and privileges. But we are ambassadors all the same—ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
In Colossians 3:12-14 we are told: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (New International Version).
Instead of visible symbols of our role and our office, we are given a list of attributes that we are to put on. Much like I slip on my school identification every morning, we are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We cover them over with love, like a giant safety pin holding it all together. We’re told to put them on—an instruction that makes it clear that these are not necessarily natural ways to behave. Like a small child doesn’t naturally want to walk quietly down the halls of my school, we as humans are not naturally prone to compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness or patience. Love is not our natural language.
When we put these things on, we choose to set aside our other inclinations and desires in favor of the duties of the Kingdom. These attributes should make it clear that we represent something greater than ourselves. Practicing these qualities reminds us that we are not as we were before our calling. We are no longer of the world, but of God’s Kingdom. We are called to a higher set of standards.
Maintaining a good example is critical
When I’m not at school, I can do anything I want to. I can have ice cream for lunch. I can wear pajamas all day. I can run down the hall at will. When I am at school, however, I cannot simply please myself. What I do when I wear this badge represents how people ought to act, ought to dress and ought to conduct themselves. If I buy only ice cream for lunch while telling the kids that they need to buy an entrée and two vegetables, I become a hypocrite. I have to think of the things I do in a whole new way. I am representing to these kids what adults do and to what the kids should aspire.
We represent what God’s people do. If we come to church every week, but then whine about being there, it’s a poor example. If we explain that people ought to be compassionate but then spend hours complaining about other people, that’s a poor example. We absolutely must do what we preach; we must live up to our I.D. We represent a way of life that we would like all people to come to one day. Just as I must do at school, we must be careful to watch what we’re doing and saying when we’re with others. In contrast to my lanyard, which I am able to shed when at home, my Christianity must be a part of me at all times. I must do my best to keep it on at all times.
When we “put on” God’s identification of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love, we are sending a message to one another as well. We are wordlessly telling one another, “I belong to this group. I willingly take on the attributes of God’s Kingdom and live as a stranger in the land of my birth for the sake of the cause we all follow.”
Our identification represents authority, as my school badge does, but it does not represent (at this time) authority over others. It represents authority over ourselves. It is an indication that we are working to put aside the “old man” and live as a new creation (Colossians 3:8-10).
The choice is a daily one
Every day that I get up, put on my lanyard with my I.D. and carry out my responsibilities to the school, I choose to continue working in that job. In the same way, we must choose to work every day in our pursuit of something better, something sure, something still in the future.
By accepting employment at the elementary school library, I have taken on a daunting task that I would never have thought to seek out on my own. But because I wear this badge, I accept the responsibility. I choose every day to put aside my own preferences for the needs of a school and for the needs of the people who look to me as an example and a leader.
We, as Christians, have an even greater task with farther-reaching consequences. Sometimes, our responsibilities may seem overwhelming. We did not seek out this role, but we have accepted it, and in accepting it we have agreed to be emissaries of our great God and of His plan and Kingdom. Let us continue to uphold this responsibility, to spread the knowledge and the example of the place where we have set our hearts. Let us remember to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Let us go out each day as well-equipped, dedicated and willing ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
To learn more about the responsibilities that are a part of being an ambassador for God’s Kingdom, please request or download our free booklet, The Church Jesus Built.