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We must live as global-minded Christians who are active on a local level. This blog is a conversation to equip and challenge you to live glocally.

What is a missionary?

What is a missionary?

An unfortunate loss of life this month has brought the topic of Christian missions to the forefront of conversations and news’ coverage around the world. John Allen Chau, an American Christian, lost his life attempting to make contact with the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island. You can read more about this sad story here.

Reading the police accounts of John’s last few days of life, along with the wide swath of online commentary by people across the globe, has left me thinking a lot about what can be learned from this tragedy.

Some people have focused on his disregard for laws forbidding contact with the islanders and his presumptive goal of converting them to Christianity.

Others have highlighted his passion for Jesus and his desire to help this remote island.

Some have labelled him a modern-day Christopher Columbus (not in a positive way).

Others are remembering his life as one deeply dedicated to Jesus, similar to David Livingstone or Jim Elliot.

The question that I am left wrestling with is this:

What is a missionary?

How we define that word will not only impact how we view John Allen Chau but it also will determine the type of ministry work we participate in throughout our neighborhoods and around the world.

  • If you define a missionary as someone who sacrifices everything to spread the Gospel of Jesus - then you will look at John and missions through one particular worldview.

  • If you define a missionary as a Westerner who imposes cultural and religious changes on a people group - then your opinion of John and missions will come from a very different particular worldview.

I’ve heard Christian missionaries described as those who cross a cultural border to share the love of Jesus, but I’ve also heard them described as those who bribe people with gifts to change their religion.

This post is not an attempt to answer the question of what is a missionary, because it is a complex conversation. There have been great stories and terrible horrors created by missionaries over the centuries. All in the name of Jesus, for good or ill.

And maybe that’s the deeper question. Because your opinion of Jesus will inevitably impact how you define the term missionary. How you identify Jesus determines how you identify missionaries.

So…

Who is Jesus?

  • Lord?

  • Liar?

  • Lunatic?

Is He white or Middle Eastern? Is He an Enlightenment European or an outcast refugee? Is He a good teacher or a God-man?

There is plenty of (divisive) commentary online this week about the life and death of John Allen Chau, you can find it here, here, or here.

But my point is not to be divisive, it is to challenge you and me.


I think wrestling with how we define a missionary is important. It is pivotal to analyze the good and bad (unintentional or not) of Christian missions. Because how we form our worldview on this topic will determine how we interact with the world with the love and Good News of Jesus Christ.

What we think about Jesus changes everything.

So who do you think Jesus is?

What is a missionary?

Who are missionaries?

What in the history of Christian missions do we need to repent of?

What in the history of Christian missions should we celebrate?

What of the past should we take into the future of Christian missions?

What of the past in Christian missions should be left in the past?

How does Christian missions need to change moving into a post-modern, Internet-centric future?


What are your thoughts on all of this? What do you think needs to be expounded on or corrected? What have I missed in my ramblings here?

Comment (in a civil manner) below and continue the conversation.

I’ll wrap up this post with these words from John Allen Chau, some of his last recorded writings,

“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.”

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