Tuesday, November 10

Our changing roles

My wife and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador as missionaries in December of 1987. In those early missionary days we labored at the center of where "the action" was taking place. We were in high demand by the churches, associations, and Ecuador Baptist Convention and all their related institutions and programs. A lot of our time was spent attending all the different meetings of both our own denominational work, as well as the events and programs of other evangelical denominations. I served on various denominational boards, committees, and task forces. Our advise and opinions were respected and listened to. We were constantly called upon to preach, teach, administer, counsel, train, and coordinate ministries, institutions, and strategy. Each of us wore multiple ministerial hats. All of us were responsible for carrying out an assortment of assignments, often in areas we were not particularly gifted in, but "someone" had to fill those shoes, so we took on these tasks as well. Our phone rang incessantly. Rare were the days when we had an entire evening to ourselves without someone in our home, someone dropping by to chat, or the phone ringing day and night.

Over the years, all of the above has continued to decrease to, what is today, a mere trickle of what it was 20 years ago. Has the work diminished? Not at all. In fact far more is happening now on multiple levels than anyone could have ever imagined. But our personal influence and role has definitely diminished from what it once was. Probably to be fair, a better description would be our influence and role has changed. While we are certainly still loved and respected by our Ecuadorian brethren, the things we used to do--as "principal actors on stage"--are now being done by those we poured ourselves into years ago. The very men/women/youth we taught, counseled, trained, and encouraged have taken our place. They are the ones now that others call upon, serve in "important" capacities, speak, teach, train, travel, lead, preach, etc.

One of the hardest missions lessons is the one John the Baptist must have also struggled with: "He must increase; but I must decrease." Someone once defined missionary success as working oneself out of a job.

But actually saying these words is a lot easier than living with the consequences of someone else now doing and filling the roles one used to have. We too want to be needed, sought after, consulted, and called upon. In fact, instead of the phone ringing in the evenings with yet another crisis for us to solve, we now can sit most nights quietly reading a book without interruption.

As I reflect back over the years of all the assignments, responsibilities, tasks, and roles we have played; ALL, without exception, are today in the hands of nationals who are doing an excellent job--including our current assignment of leading a church planting team.

So what are we still doing here if we have successfully worked ourselves out of all our jobs?

The task is far from completed. With only 5-7% of the population in Ecuador followers of Christ, much remains to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our region of the world.

What I sense is most needed is not more missionaries coming from other parts of the world to help us, but rather a needed shift in role we missionaries play.

We must begin to see ourselves more in the apostolic role of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators who are principally engaged in mobilizing God's people into the ripe harvest fields He has prepared over the past decades.

While there will always be room for the first generation apostolic church planter who goes into unreached/under-reached territory to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and leave a NT ekklesia; in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) we best serve the King by shifting our tasks to helping the church see what remains to be done, how to accomplish the task, provide tools and training, and mobilize to lead hundreds of laborers to bring in the harvest the Lord has given.

Another way of understanding this role change is to explain it this way: I can feel great about spending 30-40 hours a week directly engaged in proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing 15-20 and hopefully planting 1-2 churches in a year's time...or, I can spend that same time modeling, training, mobilizing several hundred others to do the same things, and at the end of the year see the Kingdom grow by dozens of churches and hundreds of baptisms and scores of new disciples also equipped to going out and making even more disciples.

In the first role we are the primary actors on stage. Everyone sees us, needs us, and looks to us for direction. In the second we are behind the scenes and the ones "seen" are those we are coaching. The difference in the way we understand our apostolic/missionary role is between planting a church, and being an instrument in the Spirit's hands for dozens of churches to be planted all over the region.

What do you think? As usual, your thoughts and observations are welcome.

6 comments:

Michelle Ann said...

Thank you for this. Tonight in my small group, we talked about the humility of Jesus (Philippians 2) and how he poured His life into twelve people, who in turn, poured into the generations to follow. I think this is such a beautiful picture of "dying to self," and most certainly one we should strive to model in our own lives and ministries...

Far too often, our sinful nature convinces us that we NEED to be in the forefront; we need to be "needed," to be "pat on the back" for our actions, given a gold star, a trophy--something. Unfortunately this is by no means how God calls us to serve. Genuine servanthood means "dying to self," and with that, I want to share some points from our study by John MacArthur that speak pretty powerfully on this concept...

Dying to self is...
-"When you are not forgiven or you're neglected or purposely set aside and you hurt with the insult or oversight, but your heart is happy and you're content to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ- that's dying to self"
-"When your good is evil spoken of; when your wishes are crossed, your advice is disregarded, your opinions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger arise in your heart or even defend yourself but take it all in patient loyal silence- that's dying to self"
-"When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with foolishness, extravagance, spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus endured it- that's dying to self"
- When you see another brother prosper and see his needs being met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor even question God while your needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances- that's dying to self"
-When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up in your heart--that's dying to self.
-"When you never care to refer to yourself or record your own good works or seek commendation; when you can truly love to be unknown- that's dying to self."

Truly loving to be unknown... faithfully serving so that others may prosper and draw closer to Jesus. Accepting any and all tasks, regardless of where that leaves you.

Gracias a Dios that HE can do all these things in us...

Blessings as you serve,
Shelly

Ben Hooper said...

I'm sure you don't remember me. I was only a boy at the time, but my father, Greg Hooper, served with you as missionary in Ecuador for what was then the FMB in the mid 90's. It has been a blessing for me to scroll through your blog and read about what God is still doing in Ecuador! I will come back often to read your updates. Thank you so much for what you do and may God truly bless you and your ministry!

-- Ben Hooper

Strider said...

Thanks for this good post Guy. You have described a straight-forward progression from doer to mentor and it is very helpful to see the missionary task this way. My own experience however is somewhat more muddled. I seem to go from doer to mentor in one ministry sphere and then back to doer in another less developed sphere. As you know earlier this year I broke up our national team as those guys all went out to their own ministries. Now, I am in the position of going back to square one and being the primary EVer training more national guys to pick up the ball. Our paradigm for all this is 'Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave' but rather than a straight forward cycle I am finding this to be a never ending wheel within a wheel. Maybe when I have been here 20 years I will see things differently.

GuyMuse said...

Shelly,

Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts that go hand in hand with what I was sharing in the post. I think the following that you wrote pretty well sums up the matter: Genuine servanthood means "dying to self" . If we could just understand the full implications of what "dying to self" entails, it would unleash such a tidal wave of God's presence and power in our midst that our nations would never be the same thereafter!

GuyMuse said...

Ben,

Sure I remember you! Actually I remember you as a "little kid" but have fond thoughts of your family. I think we might have shared a room one time when your dad and I were helping out with a volunteer team to Portoviejo. I always remember him and me both loving the music of Twila Paris.

Thanks for the kind words. Come back any time and feel free to share on any post that catches your attention.

Tell you dad HOLA from us!

GuyMuse said...

Strider,

I agree with you that the MAWL process has been often a mixture in our experience as well. Going from doer to mentor, and mentor back to doer seems to be more the norm for us as well. However, overall, living and working in one of God's Harvest Fields, has definitely led us to understand our greatest contribution is not so much to be a laborer out there picking the ripened fruit, but more the guy on the phone (laptop) trying to get the needed 1000 workers down here in time before the fruit rots on the vine!