Christian Mission: Understanding The Meaning

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract 
  2. Introduction
  3. Conclusion


This essay discusses the meaning of a Christian mission and highlights the activities of Christian missionaries, such as Amy Carmichael, William Carey, and David Livingston, who proclaimed the gospel to all those nations where people never heard it before, and converted people to Christianity. The essay also explores the tension in broadening the definition of the Christian mission too widely and narrowing it down to a very limited understanding of the mission.

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When we start our sessions with my postgraduate students we ask them what is mission? They immediately reply to us saying that mission includes evangelism, social work, liberation, and dialogue. They assume that we are asking the question about Christian Mission as such. They often confuse themselves with the meaning of the word mission because very often this word is misused and misunderstood. Mission according to the Chambers dictionary is an act of sending to perform some functions. It can refer to a flight with a specific purpose such as bombing on a target (page 951).

Therefore, the word mission is a bit more than an act of evangelizing or an act of charity. Then we ask the question what makes a mission Christian? We mean what is Christian Mission that is distinct from that of a mission. So we show them the pictures of Amy Carmichael, William Carey, and David Livingston and ask them, do you consider them as Christian Missionaries? Surprisingly the first and immediate answer was ‘yes’. Some of them were aware of the colonial issues and connections that these missionaries had and were critical of their mission activities. However, the majority in the classroom agreed that we could consider them as Christian Missionaries. Then my question was why? In addition, what are the activities that they carried out in order to call them Christian missionaries and identify their work as Christian mission?

For this question, they tried to answer that they came and proclaimed the gospel in all those nations where people never heard it before. They obeyed the great commission of Jesus to go, to proclaim and to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is a Christian Mission. More than William Carey and Amy Carmichael promoted education among the downtrodden people and uplifted them. One can hear more comments about the particular missionaries such as though they did not support the colonial power openly they did not publicly engage against them either.

Some of the students commented that they are clearly Christian Missionaries. For them what they did was to proclaim the gospel to all those nations and converted people to Christianity. They also used a variety of methods to proclaim the gospel and enabled the Christians and non-Christians to become better human beings through education and social development programs. Some students commented that their education was too western, too modern and was not much relevant to their context at times. One of them referred to an interesting statement particularly in relation to African contexts, while missionaries and local natives prayed together before the prayer the Africans had land and the missionaries had Bible and after the prayer, the Africans had the Bible and the missionaries had the land. This metaphorically highlights the colonial agenda with which some missionaries operated in some parts of the world.

In some parts of the world, the missionaries encouraged the local people to be passive and thus not to go against the colonial rulers. In the Indian context, the missionaries and British Raj Company came into collisions very often. The British raj company and the colonialists did not want the missionaries to convert the locals and in fact banned conversion in many places. In some cases, the colonialists banned missionaries too. The colonialists did not want any revolts in the name of religion in India. In some contexts, British missionaries not only encouraged people to join the nationalist movement but they also educated the public towards such activities. This discussion went on a bit towards the next set of pictures and we asked them whether they would consider the people in these pictures as missionaries.

These pictures included Mandela, Gandhi and Mother Theresa. My question was the same: Can you consider them as Christian Missionaries? They had a discussion among themselves. Some of them were not sure about my question and some of them were confused. One of them came back saying yes one may consider them as Christian Missionaries from a different perspective. Some of them have agreed on Mother Theresa can certainly be considered as a Christian missionary from a charity perspective. None of them questioned about her denomination through none belonged to Roman Catholic denomination in my session. We begin to see how our definition of Christian mission begins to widen a bit, though there was a bit of argument on this. Then when it came to Mandela nearly all of them agreed that he was a Christian and was part of a mission towards an independent South Africa.

Then we challenged them by asking this question: what would make Mandela a Christian Missionary? Because of general, popular and public perception of Mandela, no one in the classroom question him being a Christian missionary. Then we provoked them asking was he not using violence as part of his strategy. Then they defended him saying he was in prison and used later dialogue as a way forward for independence. Then they began to argue whether we should categorize Mandela as a Christian Mission as they did to Mother Theresa or William Carey. It is interesting to note at this time postgraduate researchers began to see two sides of an argument. In addition, they expressed difficulty on the one hand in narrowing down the definition of Christian Mission and on the other hand in widening it to include everything as the mission.

Bishop Stephen Neil (1959) stated that ‘if everything is mission nothing is mission’. Many of our students recognise the tension in broadening the definition two widely at the same time in narrowing down to the very limited understanding of mission as well. At the end, we have to come to some kind of broad description of Christian Mission while recognising the fact that there can be more than one definition for it. We have highlighted a few relevant points relating to Christian Mission as follows:

We discussed together on Christian Mission as highlighted by David Bosch in his famous book on Transforming Mission.

  • Sending of Missionaries to a particular place
  • Activities by Missionaries
  • The geographical area where missionaries work
  • Propagation of the gospel
  • Expansion of the reign of God
  • Conversion of the heathen
  • The founding of the New Church

At some historical point, some interpreted Christian Mission as expansionism. (Kirk 1999, Cardoze 2002)

  • Expansion of the churches
  • Expansion of Christianity
  • Expansion of business operation of Christian countries
  • Expansion of colonial power
  • Expansion of Land and fields

Then we discussed and identified a few possible areas that can help us to recognise the broader definition of Christian Mission though we accepted our limitations in doing a universal and unchangeable of these two words. We put together what can be the possibilities of explaining Christian Mission from the life and words of Jesus. Though the majority of my students agreed to the main points such as evangelism, they disputed other points including witnessing and emptying because at times churches may lose their identity in doing such mission activities.

Then we looked at the way different churches, mission theologians and others look at Christian Mission before we try to describe the idea behind Christian Mission.  

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In conclusion, the definition of the Christian mission is a complex and often debated topic. While most people understand it as the act of evangelizing or engaging in charity work, it is much more than that. Christian mission involves the sending of missionaries to a particular place, the activities they carry out, the geographical area where they work, the propagation of the gospel, the expansion of the reign of God, the conversion of non-Christians, and the founding of new churches. The definition of a Christian mission is not set in stone and can be broadened or narrowed depending on the context. It is important to understand that if everything is a mission, nothing is a mission. Therefore, it is crucial to define the Christian mission clearly, while also acknowledging that there may be more than one definition for it.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Christian Mission: Understanding the Meaning. (2023, April 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Christian Mission: Understanding the Meaning.” GradesFixer, 17 Apr. 2023,
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