Shalom-ing Our World:
A Major Aspect of Effective Kingdom Ministry
“The church is—and is to become—a living embodiment of God’s peace-making good news in Christ.” (Michael Gorman)
‘We are all on a mission from God’. This short adage by Jake and Elwood from The Blues Brothers encapsulates what being a Christian and part of a Christian community is all about. The question arises: what is the mission of God? Or more specifically what is our role in participating in, and potentially fulfilling, God’s mission? In the first post of the series my colleague Andrew Groza posed the question, ‘What is the vision driving you in your ministry practice?’ As he noted, in order to be faithful to the God who calls us, we need to understand what it means to pursue the kingdom of God. Understanding God’s will and purpose, and how we are to embrace and express that, are vital to the success of faithful representation of God’s kingdom in our world.
In this post, I will consider a major characteristic of God’s mission, and therefore a key aspect of kingdom ministry: shalom.
Defining shalom is often difficult because when we think of peace, we often attach it to the absence of conflict or war. Furthermore, shalom is much more than a word or a label attached to a certain situation or to our inner sense of being. Michael Gorman highlights that shalom is both negative and positive. On the negative side, ‘shalom is the resolution or cessation, and therefore consequently the absence, of chaos, conflict, oppression, and broken relations’. Positively, shalom ‘is the establishment, and henceforth the presence of wholeness, reconciliation, goodness, justice, and the flourishing of creation’. In other words, it is ‘physical and spiritual well-being’. This twofold aspect of shalom provides a suitable framework for how we consider shalom within a ministry framework, and within and beyond our faith communities.
One of the key characteristics of God is that he is a God of shalom. At the beginning of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, we read that the spirit of God brought order out of the chaos. The well-known oracle in Isaiah 9:6 calls the coming Immanuel — God-with-us — the śar-shalom, Prince of Peace. While not necessarily formed in the mind of Isaiah at the time, this was the title that spoke of Jesus (Matt. 1:23). Paul calls God, the God of peace (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thes. 5:23), and includes peace as a major characteristic of the presence of God — the Holy Spirit — within the church (Gal. 5:22). While numerous times throughout the Old Testament judgement is proclaimed and discharged, it is clear that the overall desire of God was to bring shalom to an unsubdued creation and a fractured humanity. However, echoing the blessing and curses of Deuteronomy 30, this shalom can only be realised when humanity, either corporate or individual, places God at the centre of worship, and orders their lives according to his words and his worldview. It is only when humanity, made in the image of Creator God, sees each other and creation through that lens, that an absence of war, a prevalence of reconciled relationships, and a flourishing of creation, albeit localised, could ever be possible. Yet this was the vision of the later prophets (Micah 4:4) and the NT authors.
These passages not only highlight God’s desire and part in bringing shalom, but also that human agency plays a part in bringing about God’s shalom to individuals, communities, and creation. For example, the mandate given to the first human beings to ‘subdue the earth’ represented God’s shaloming of the chaos in the world. They did this as they moved concentrically out from the garden as image bearers of the God who created them (Gen. 1:28). It was through Israel, as God’s chosen people, that God’s presence, and therefore his shalom, was to be seen and proclaimed. In the same way, followers of Jesus are now included in this mandate. Like Israel, our worship and our words are designed to proclaim the presence of God in Christ. Our words and actions are the result of Spirit-transformed lives, the effect of Christ’s redemption — our adoption as children of God (Gal. 4:4–7). Our identity as ‘mini-sons’ (the literal meaning of christianoi — ‘little Christs’), who look a lot like Jesus, is therefore the basis from which we as kingdom people operate. It is through our very lives as children of the Father that we re-present — or more precisely re-presence — God to the world around us through mimicking (or as I often say, leaking) the character, or spirit, of the Son, Jesus, and therefore the Father.
Given that God is shalom, this includes living or practicing shalom. As Jesus states, peacemakers are called children of God (Matt. 5:9). Paul makes it one of our primary goals to pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding (Rom. 14:17–19). So what might shalom-ing community look like?
First, given that shalom includes the absence or reduction of conflict, peace-making might include stepping into conflict and helping others recognise a way forward that leads to unity and peace. For many who, like me, tend to avoid conflict, this can appear daunting. However, it can be as simple as, in the presence of a bully, standing alongside the bullied. This action shows them a respect due to everyone, and the value they have in Christ. Or peace-making may look like confronting a difference of opinion on social media with a grace-filled, thoughtful response, not in the form of an attack, but rather posing a series of questions that lead readers to consider other possibilities, including your own.
Ephesians 4 presents some more shalom-ing practices:
- Having the humility to support one another
- Ongoing reconciliation
- Integrity at work
- Generosity — especially to the poor and those in need
- Grace-filled speech
- Faithfulness and forgiveness
These characteristics, among others, promote peace through unity, the result of a reconciled life and community (Ephesians 2:13–22). By embracing these as core to our identity, and not just occasional responses and choices, we become people who practice, encourage, and manage peace-making in our homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and churches. As Gorman states,
‘[this is the] form of life that is both true human living (4:24) and, simultaneously, participating in the life of God (4:18). In fact, we could describe the mission of the church in this very language: to participate in and to be agents of enabling others to participate in the “life of God”’.
And isn’t that the main focus of Christian life and ministry? To live in God’s shalom and bring others to experience God’s kingdom come so they, too, can experience life and shalom as they follow Jesus through the power and presence of the Spirit?