Someone once defined missionary success as working oneself out of a job. When Linda and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador as missionaries in December of 1987, we served in 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. Our advice and opinions were respected and listened to. Constantly we were called upon to preach, teach, administer, counsel, train, and coordinate ministries, institutions, and strategy. 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 today on multiple levels than anyone could have ever imagined. But our own personal influence and role has diminished from what it once was. Our 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 once poured ourselves into years ago. The very men/women/youth we taught, counseled, trained, and encouraged have today taken our place. They are the ones now that others call upon, serve in "important" capacities, speak, teach, train, travel, lead, preach, etc.
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 and we are so proud of them and the way they have risen to the task and call of our Lord!
So what are we still doing here if we have successfully worked ourselves out of all our jobs?
The task itself is far from completed. With only 7-10% of the population in Ecuador followers of Jesus 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 continuing to come from other parts of the world, but a shift in role existing missionaries play. Ecuador is today positioned to be a primary missionary sending nation, and less a missionary receiving nation.
We "outsiders" who remain must see ourselves more in the apostolic roles of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators who are principally engaged in mobilizing God's people into the ripe harvest fields--not as fun as front line stuff, but necessary!
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 focus 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 God is giving.
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 planted all over the region.