Some definitions:

Tourist                        –           a person who is traveling for pleasure.

Pilgrim             –           a religious devotee who journeys to a sacred place.

One who embarks on a quest for some end conceived as sacred.

Stranger          –           one who is neither friend nor acquaintance; foreigner, newcomer or outsider.

Visitor             –           a guest; caller

A sightseer or tourist

Implications which arise from prospect of tourism v. pilgrimage:

  1. A person on a pilgrimage is at once a part of the Kingdom of God and destined for the Kingdom. He realizes that he is spiritually poor (impoverished), often sad, humble, desiring to do what God wants, merciful, pure in motives, working for peace, and unfortunately, persecuted. He will be lied about and yet in all this he will believe God rewards the just. (Mt. 5)
  2. On the other hand a tourist is very much a part of the world. He is spiritually OK, happy, alert and proud, in care of his own destiny, cynical and opportunistic, aggressive, and unafraid to protect his own interests. A tourist is out to enjoy, to see as much as he can so that he can become even more apparently knowledgeable.
  3. Jesus teaches us to be pilgrims; our culture encourages us to be tourists. Within either context it is possible for us to be strangers or visitors. In what manner does Jesus teach us to be pilgrims?

Compare for the moment some differences between His teaching and ours:

  1. – no worry for food, clothes, etc. a’ + worry for security, benefits, etc.

Our rationale is that we don’t want anyone to have to look after us and so no one needs to, often including God!

  1. –do for others what we want b’  do for others so that they will reciprocate

them to do for us

The difference is not so subtle: we want kindness, help, and understanding, in a reciprocal relationship, not one of indebtedness or esteem.

  1. – a task to be performed along c’  sights to be seen, places to be

the way: heal the sick, teach,                      enjoyed along the way

disciple, etc.


Today we combine the two: a trip to the Holy Land by tourists is a pilgrimage to others. Bible games, Jesus junk and other items associated with sacred purpose become objects of pleasure.

  1. Our security is being challenged as never before. We can retreat or become vulnerable. Tourists make every attempt to protect themselves: pickpockets, hotel rooms, flight bookings, reservations, etc.

Pilgrims are vulnerable: placed in the hands of their environment and left to the mercies of God. Not beggars but confident, expectant travelers.

Conclusion: Tourists have a different life-style than pilgrims.

  1. I have often commented on aspects of life-style. At the risk of being misunderstood, let me quote from an article “God is an American”. One paragraph in the article reads:


“Their very life-style is an influence. The missionaries have always owned the largest, best-built and, whenever they are in camp, cleanest house in the village. Between 1970 and 1973, they paid for the building of a new, larger and even more elaborate house and suggested the Cuvia build their houses in a semi-circle around it. Half the band did and the impression is that of a small medieval kingdom. Furthermore, the material wealth of the missionaries is awesome.  They usually reach the village by means of a small plane filled to the brim with petrol tanks, cooking equipment, stove, plates, books, tape recorder, cloth hammocks, mosquito nets, etc. Life in their house is a pale effort to model middle- America, with hair-curlers and Jello pudding. It is not always easy for two women to live in a remote Indian village and they are tough enough to get by on what must seem to them the bare minimum. To anyone else the contrast is shattering: two tall women, adult but not married, using radio to keep in daily contact with Lomalinda and sometimes even with the US, while a few meters away Cuiva houses are little more than simple lean-to shelters protecting a family of 6 or 7 in a crowded space littered with pieces of old cloth, oil cans and broken knives.”

The author is implying, quite wrongly we believe, that SIL people are trapped in materialism, quite incapable of helping the people in any credible way.

  1. In an interchange with Gadsup people [neighboring Ukarumpa in PNG], one of their most vocal spokesmen said with contempt: “Some of your people are only here to see our country, they are not really interested in us.” This was his impression, that some of us are tourists who are only here for pleasure.
  2. Tourists go for the sheer pleasure of travelling, to see, to record, but not to become a part of the scenery that they record. A pilgrim has a purpose: a quest for knowing the Will of God as he travels. A pilgrim is motivated. The disciples were motivated by Jesus who told them to go, to preach, to heal, to minister to those with whom they came in contact.
  3. The roll call of faith in the Book of Hebrews is a roll call of pilgrims:
  • Abraham journeyed to a land that God commanded and started over. He did not keep thinking about the country which he had left. He, and others, longed for a better country. Abraham made a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain with his son, Isaac. He did not go there to take pictures.
  • Moses refused to be a tourist in the king’s company and left Egypt without being afraid of the king’s anger. Tourists are afraid and live from stop to stop. A pilgrim keeps his eye on the future reward.
  • Others were mocked and shipped, poor, persecuted, mistreated. They wandered life refugees living in caves and holes in the ground. They were not sightseers and explorers.
  1. In Heb. 11:13 and 1 Pet. 2:11 we read of God’s people as foreigners and refugees in this world, without permanent residence. In the O.T. we read of the sojourning, again with the idea of foreign residence important and not the notion of travel. In other words a pilgrim always has some other place in mind as his true home.

The same is true for a tourist, i.e. he is away from home but the home is simply his base of operations, where the processed film is sent to, where the next trip is planned from, etc.

  1. A pilgrim operates from his own weakness which demands the strength of Christ to overcome. Paul travelled a lot – shipwrecks, floods, robbers, urban unrest, wild areas, hunger, pressure, distress.

Tourists operate from resources which imply strength: travelers’ checks, hotels, good food, cameras, i-Phones, and confirmed bookings.

For a pilgrim there is no guarantee that the present residence will be comfortable at all. A tourist, on the other hand, demands that it will be. He makes every attempt to ensure that this is the case.

  1. A tourist has divided loyalties. Sometimes there are so many good things to see that a second visit is necessary. Should I go on the Caribbean cruise or the Mississippi paddle-wheel boat? The decisions are not crucial, except that one particular avenue of pleasure may turn out to be more important than another.

A pilgrim cannot have divided loyalties. The goal must be to do what God requires. In the Gospels Jesus does what is required, for example He is baptized. Baptism speaks of repentance and Jesus had nothing to repent of. He did this as an example for us. When tempted Jesus replied that (a) He could only live as God gave strength; (b) God should not be put to the test; (c) He would serve God only. Jesus as a tourist would have had to try out the sights.

  1. A tourist is controlled by his material possessions. A pilgrim leaves everything for the sake of following Christ.

Haven’t we left everything? We have sacrificed TV and foam rubber for His sake. We have left family and friends. Or perhaps this was really for an earlier age of the Gospel and the Kingdom. In the technological age it may be unnecessary to “sacrifice”.

Are we ‘permanent’ tourists? Has the task for us dimmed?

  1. Tourists tend to adopt the same strategies – pilgrims do not. (A strategy is a particular means used to carry out a particular objective. A plan of action). A tourist uses maps, motels, rent-a-cars, tour guides, Kodak film, postcards, and assorted memorabilia to show his fellow tourists or admirers what he has accomplished.

Pilgrims cannot become encumbered, they need speed, mobility, and flexibility. They need to be able to respond to new situations, move quickly, make decisions that are not based on the weight of their suitcases.

At an airport a tour group is carefully herded to the same place, follow the same patterns, ride the same buses, eat the same food, etc. If you want to be mobile don’t be part of a tour group.

  1. Tourists function best in groups, with similar vested interests. Indeed most tourists can hardly stand to be alone. Pilgrims, on the other hand, are often alone – if not socially at least in their dedication to a particular task.
  2. Tourists get tired easily. A two hour ‘walk’ thru Disneyland is accomplished only by means of several trains, buggies, and boats, accompanied by meals and snacks, and the final drinks, TV, and a good motel.

A pilgrim, by definition, must be taught to endure. He must condition himself for inevitable hardship for, if it is to follow His master to the very end, there will be difficulties along the way. Strength and growth come from these.

  1. It is difficult to combine higher purposes with tourism or even tours of duty. Example: Viet Nam war and the one year tour over-seas, based for many on their no. in a lottery. Suddenly, men who thought they had some control, who were heroes in their own sight were viewed with contempt by the very people they had gone to help. Devotion to ones country, patriotism, freedom and other virtues were absent as soldiers tried to survive the tour. Just because there is hardship does not mean that a tourist’s view-point is absent.

The contrasts between a tourist and a pilgrim are illustrations, pictures to help us better understand the Scriptures as we know them and attempt to apply them to our own lives.

At times we have been more tourist than pilgrim, and each of us will see some aspects of both in our lives.

I want to encourage us, of course, to live more like pilgrims. I believe there are more Scriptural teachings for this sort of life. I want to encourage us toward renewal, if our tendency is definitely on the tourist side because only then can we understand what it is like to lose our life, i.e. our quest for a particular mode of living and at the same time find our life in Christ.


Because we are pilgrims we can understand that all privileges, whether social, spiritual, or physical are transitory. They are transitory because of the general decay of mankind and the environment. Regardless of how strong I feel today, it will not always be so. No church survives for centuries, except as a building. The generations of people preserve the faith, but do not ensure it simply by their presence in the church. Governments and societies change drastically: Rome and Greece today do not reflect their Biblical counterparts, except in the most superficial manner.


On the incoming or departure cards at various countries throughout the world, the passenger is asked of what country they are residents. Where do we make our home? This question applies equally to tourists and pilgrims. Where is our home, in a spiritual sense?


The cards also ask about the purpose of our visit. Various options are given: departing temporarily, business, holiday, etc. There is also a section where the passenger can mark “in transit”. Anywhere along the line a pilgrim is in transit, regardless of residence. I think that this can help us in our work and motivation if we keep this in mind.


At this time of the year we should remind ourselves that we are representatives of Jesus who was born 2,000 years ago and lived as a pilgrim, even as a resident of Galilee. He was not a tourist and while we are not interested in pilgrimages to sacred sites we do want to follow his commandments in our walk. (prayer – to those who wish to examine the issues, make choices on the way we live).


There is also a misconception shared by many that tourists are happy, because they laugh and smile a lot. In fact pilgrims are often told to be happy, in the modern sense of the world, and books abound on love, husbands, wives, sex, total fulfillment, etc., which extol happiness as a virtue. In the Scriptures, as a matter of fact we are exhorted to be full of joy, which comes from within and is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness comes from our adjustments, attitude and circumstances. (tickling, laughing, etc.)


So if a tourist is seeking the ever elusive happiness, the pilgrim is following duty and responsibility which is full of joy.  Eph. 4:1-3

“Live a life that measures up to the standard that God sent when he called you. Always be humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds us together.”