What does a missionary do anyways?

Recently I was asked what a missionary does all day?

While I appreciate them trying to understand our work, the question reflects confusion, and suspicions, people have about missions.

It’s in vogue today to look down on the work of missionaries, where they are often perceived as colonizers; people who try to change culture for the worse.

Researcher, Robert Woodberry [1], studied the impact of missions and missionaries on culture and society, and wrote a very interesting article in the American Political Science Review. His research found that Protestant missionaries, contrary to what some might claim, have made a significant positive impact on culture and society. And he wasn’t even looking at the spiritual impact of the gospel.

 Woodberry found that missionaries have helped the spread of stable democracies around the world, initiated the development and spread of religious freedoms, mass education, mass printing, and colonial reforms. Missionaries invented the alphabet for previously unwritten languages, taught new skills like carpentry and advanced agricultural techniques, all of which helped people prosper. They fought human trafficking, sought healthy solutions to poverty and were good stewards of the environment. Rather than changing culture, missionaries were redemptive within culture.

Today in Canada, evangelicals are being disparaged and maligned. We are rapidly losing our privileged place in society and there is a growing chorus of voices demanding tax advantages be eliminated for churches. Again, the facts and truth about the positive impact of the church on society are being distorted. Academic research shows contrary.

A submission to the Canadian Senate [2] by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, is worth reading, but let me highlight the summary of the research:

- Religion develops and activates prosocial attitudes and behaviours, resulting in high levels of generosity and volunteerism that benefit both religious and secular charities, and improves public civility.

- Religion results in better personal outcomes that reduce demand on the states resources for rehabilitation and health care and improves quality of life and individual contribution to society.

- Religion has tangible community benefits in terms of social capital, infrastructure, and neighbourhood viability and a 12-times return on investment related to tax concessions.

- Religion creates tangible benefits for the public at large based on a core of people who are other-centred, civically engaged, and willing to work together sacrificially for the common good.

Every dollar donated to a church returns $12 dollars in positive societal impact! Isn’t that an amazing return-on-investment? And it’s true for every country Christians minister to bring the Kingdom of God.

So, what does a missionary do? We are sent to “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (God).” Acts 26:18.

And, oh yes, along the way we bless society.


[1] Woodberry, Robert American Political Science Review 106(2):244-274 May 2012

[2] www.cccc.org/news_blogs/cccc/2019/03/12/cccc-recommends-the-senate-affirm-advancing-religion-as-a-charitable-purpose

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