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?
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!