Sunday, November 7

Locksmith or fireman: Understanding the primary missonary task

A few weeks ago I blogged Is there still a need for missionaries in the major cities of Latin America? Esteban, a fellow missionary commenting on the post contends, "Mobilization and connecting may be a part of that task but they are NOT the primary M task...Biblically the M task is the zero to one stuff of entering new communities, making new disciples and starting new NT groups where previously there were very few or no believers or NT groups."

He goes on to quote Ralph D. Winter who likens the missionary task to that of a locksmith, "Here is one way to look at it: Anyone can open a door and walk through it, but only a locksmith can deal with a locked door. Missions is "locksmithing" new groups. Once the lock is open (a very special skill), expanding the number of churches is by comparison a relatively simple task." (p.5 of the November-December 2002 issue of Missions Frontiers.)

So, is the primary task of missionaries today to "locksmith" new groups?

A few days prior to this post, Ron, a visiting missionary from Guatemala, helped us in a camp for missions mobilizers and described the missionary task/role this way,

"If there is a big fire needing to be put out, is it the wisest thing for the fireman to try to put it out himself, or would he be more effective to awaken 100 other firemen to come help him?"

For Ron, the missionary is primarily a fireman who awakens other firemen, who by working together, are better able to put out the fire than the fireman trying to do so by himself.

Both analogies are true and illustrate some of the tension going on in missionary circles these days about the evolving role of the 21st century missionary. Today missionaries are as likely to be referred to as either a mobilizer or a connector, as they are a church planter.

If the missionary task has evolved into something akin to "locksmithing new groups" and firemen awakening other firemen to put out the fire, then who is it that is supposed to actually carry out the task of making disciples of the nations?

The Church.

All of us have been charged with the responsibility of making disciples of the nations. It is no longer the responsibility of a few called, special, chosen, gifted, self-denying individuals traditionally known as missionaries.

Locksmiths and firemen are both needed. Each are but part of "the church." While these are certainly highly specialized giftings (callings) they were never meant to be the sole workers in the harvest. If we are to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus, all of us will have to do a lot more than what is currently being done by the church today.

As David Platt says in his must-read book entitled, Radical
"Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell. We owe Christ to the world...We are in debt to the nations. Encompassed with this debt, though, in our contemporary approach to missions, we have subtly taken ourselves out from under the weight of a lost and dying world, wrung our hands in pious concern, and said, "I'm sorry I'm just not called to that"...But what if we don't need to sit back and wait for a call to foreign missions? What if the very reason we have breath is because we have been saved for a global mission? And what if anything less than passionate involvement in global mission is actually selling God short by frustrating the very purpose for which he created us?"
I am encouraged to see so many signs that the global Church of Jesus Christ is awakening to her Acts 1:8 calling and role to take the Gospel not only to our Jerusalems, but to our Judeas, Samarias, and yes, ends of the earth. This is indeed an exciting time to be a missionary locksmith, fireman, mobilizer, connector...whatever you want to call us!


Strider said...

Good post Guy, it is good to see you writing again.
The issue here for me is how we transition from zero to one to the national church. If we stay too long at what point are we a hindrance to the young church? Once we pick the lock how soon do we get out of the way? I know you have wrestled with this but I am still wrestling!

GuyMuse said...


Yes, we go round-n-round about these issues too. I have a rough draft started of a post to address further the whole "how long do we stay" before becoming a hindrance. Stay tuned.

Kevin, Somewhere in Southern America said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Dr. Muse. I missed reading your posts, even if you rubbed me the wrong way from time to time. But iron sharpens iron, and man must sharpen man; so I hoped I rubbed you from time to time, too. We both need it to grow.

That being said, I continue to struggle with the entire missiological methodology currently espoused by too many in the world of missions.

The missionary task is given to both the church and to individuals. You pointed to the church in your post. But return to Acts 13 for a moment. God told the church to separate certain individuals (Saul and Barnabas) for the work that God had called them to. Two things stand out, if I may be redundant. The church heard the message. But God's specific calling was to two distinct men.

Our church is awakening to the same realization of its responsibility (though there is some resistance by the nationalists in this group). But at the same time, individuals are stepping up to the plate. One just returned from Asia and will return once she completes her seminary.

As for mobilization versus anything else, I think we must recognize that the terminology has changed, but the responsibility has not. The mobilizer is a discipler, at least from where I sit and sat. He/she prepares those churches and individuals for the great calling of God that will come upon them.

I think it is tragic that some organizations chose to make it an either-or situation in places where it should still be a both-and. We need both the mobilizers and the planters. As the latest Lottie Theme implies, we are not there, yet. But we behave as though we were. Therein lies the tragedy for me. Can't blame it on money, Guy. Can't do that; God owns the cattle and the hills they stand on.

Forgive the long reply. Your post was a good one and I enjoyed reading it.

GuyMuse said...


Good to hear from you again. We've been down in your part of South America and met some of your people who came up to Ecuador for a camp. Great place and great people!

Yes, it is a both/and thing about missions. And yes, God calls all of us (his church) as well as individuals. There is more work than ever, and we all need to be on board with what God is doing in the nations. I write from Spain tonight, on my way to Asia tomorrow. The needs seem greater here than in our "neck of the woods." We need all the above if we are ever going to finish the task.