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Steve Saint: Advice to Christian Missionaries

Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint, a missionary pilot who was martyred with Jim Elliott in 1956. We had the opportunity to hear him at a medical missions conference, where he listed the 15 most common mistakes made by Christian missionaries.


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These are remarkably insightful (not that I'm qualified to judge them). Give them some thought. I've explained a couple that seemed to need it. Those are marked with asterisks. The rest you should meditate on!

See bottom of page for why Steve Saint is an authority on Christian missions.

  1. Thinking that God needs us
  2. Staying too long* (asterisked items are commented on below)
  3. Thinking that it's from the West to the rest*
  4. Trying to make them like us
  5. Making them use our pitcher (you should pour water into their pitcher)*
  6. Confusing investment with sacrifice; it's about investing, not sacrificing
  7. Marginal commitment
  8. Thinking that only those who go count. It's as much about the sender as the go-er
  9. It's not about being safe
  10. Using God to accomplish what you're doing instead of serving him
  11. Adding our requirements to God's requirements
  12. Celebrating the wrong thing, as though only those who go overseas are in God's will; start celebrating the parents who stay home and raise the next generation for God
  13. Thinking inside the box
  14. Living too high (misuse of money)
  15. Marrying wrong; getting married to someone who isn't equally committed

I'm certainly not going to be able to add anything to Steve Saint's insights on Christian missions, but I can explain a couple of these based on what he said:

2. Staying too long

We don't think about this much, but I've heard it a lot of places. I don't put a lot of stock in some of the people I've heard that from, but from Steve Saint it matters.

People are prone to being dependent. If you don't give them responsibility, they won't grow.

In any country, the people will be best served by leaders who know their culture and their ways. Pastoring is not just preaching the Gospel from the Bible. Pastoring involves caring for people and helping them in the most difficult of Christian tasks: getting along with one another, staying in unity, and sincerely loving one another. That is best done by a native who understands the ways of a nation, people, or tribe.

3. Thinking that it's from the West to the rest

This means thinking that the Gospel will always go from the western world to other parts of the world. Or, worse, it can refer to thinking that the West has some special understanding of the Gospel!

5. Making them use our pitcher

This isn't a literal reference to a pitcher. Christian missionaries are to be bringing living water, but Steve Saint warns us that it's the water that matters, not the vessel it's carried in. American clothes, American church services, and American culture are not essential to the Gospel. In fact, they will very likely be detrimental to the Gospel.

Why Steve Saint Is an Authority on Christian Missions

Steve's father, Nate, and four other Christian missionaries, including the well-known Jim Elliot (Lives of Faith) were speared to death by the Auca tribe in Ecuador before they had a chance to reach them with the Gospel.

Amazingly, it was the wives and family of these missionaries that eventually converted the Auca tribe. Steve returned there when he was a mere 9 years old.

It is the remarkable conversion of the savage and feared Auca tribe, plus the legacy of a great father and mother, that makes Steve Saint an authority on Christian missions. He is by no means the only one, but when he lists the most common mistakes made by Christian missionaries, he speaks from 50 years of effective and astounding mission experience.

It would be wise to give heed.

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