Theology Thursday: Quest for the Golden Key

people holding hands at a table

No, Beware the Quest for the Golden Key is not the name of the next Indiana Jones film. It is the term used by the late David Hesselgrave for the next big thing in the practice of ministry and missions. The golden key is that strategy or gimmick which will supposedly bring about missional success like nothing else in history. I have been blessed these past two years to be involved in a doctoral program in the study of missions and I must confess that the quest for the golden key is a siren song. After all, what minister of the Gospel; professor, pastor, missionary, Bible study leader or middle-school leader does not want to do what is best? Shouldn’t we want to be on the cutting edge of ministry and missions?


My own area of interest is in short-term missions. Those are often called “mission trips” because generally, travel is involved to such places as Central America, the Caribbean or Africa, and the commitment is ten to fourteen days in duration. Mission trips vary greatly and many people are working to make mission trips more successful and of value to everyone involved. There are several schools of thought, but they have a tendency to be quests for the “golden key”

  • Prioritism suggests that only true mission trip is that which involves interpersonal sharing of the good news of salvation in Jesus as the clear priority of the endeavor. Any other activity is a waste of time. Medical clinics, building homes or anything else that is not the direct preaching of the Gospel is a departure from what is pleasing to God.
  • Economic Missions says that what the world really needs is economic development and that while this might lead to people being reconciled with God, economic transformation is what really matters. How can a person hear about Jesus? Someone might ask, when they are concerned about their next meal, the insecurity of their job, or debts that they owe. Yes, they think missions, short-term or otherwise, could be helpful, but only if the members are conversant in microfinance or business incubation.
  • Practitioners of Social Action Missions insist that “Jesus… went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). In other words, preaching is not needed and medical clinics, dental clinics and the like are what missions and ministry is really about.

As I have sought to find best practices and perhaps even some that need to be abolished, I am tempted to join the fracas and declare one of these approaches as the correct and golden key. Is it possible, though, that Hesselgrave was correct and that there is no golden key? When Moses found himself confronted by God at the burning bush and advised of his purpose and calling, he argued that he could not carry out his mission. God’s responded by asking what Moses held in his hand. God knew, of course, that it was the shepherd’s staff that went everywhere with Moses and God showed Moses that if it were turned over to God, He would use it for His Glory.

It is commendable to search for better practices and strategies, but God’s servants need to certain to use what they already have and to be faithful with it. If you are a preacher, then preach. If you have talents with job creation or finance, surrender it to God’s use. If you can go on a mission trip of even one day in a neighborhood that could use your expertise, then consider doing that. Alas, there is no golden key, but there are great benefits from being faithful and using the talents God has given you, and that might be the thing that will change missions and ministry forever.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.