The Difference Between a Sojourner and a Settler

Continued from Monday (What is a Christian? How should he view himself and his mission? Part 1)
“What is a Christian: How Should He View himself and His Mission? (Part 2)    

A settler, like a sojourner, is a person who is on a journey.  My image, as a white-middle class 49 years old,* who grew up watching western cowboy movies—is of a covered wagon, with all the earthly belongings the settlers can fit inside, headed for the promised land of what would become the western United States.

Ready to roll A line of oxen and wagons along the main street in Sturgis in the Dakota Territory which was taken between 1887 and 1892

On the surface, a settler has a lot in common with a sojourner but there are striking differences as well. The settler can’t wait to get moving, he wants to make progress toward his new home on the range.  He takes along everything that he thinks he will need. The trip may be dangerous, there may be hardships, it may be that much of the stuff he thought he “needed” will be discarded along the way. But those difficulties aside, he sees them as relatively short term heartaches. He is going to the “homestead.” When he gets there, he begins to settle it, to tame it.

Clear the land. Find water. Get a shelter built. Cut firewood. Build an outhouse. Put in a garden. Put up fences. Dig a well. Replace the dirt floor with a hardwood floor. Order some glass for his windows.  Move the outhouse a little further from the house! Get some cattle.  Clear some more land for a bigger crop.  Eventually, build a town, put up a school and a church.

Life revolves around basically three things: Security, comfort and convenience. Life becomes an endless pursuit to gain security, to move from less comfort to more comfort, and from less convenience to more convenience. Security, comfort and convenience are the driving passions of the next forty years.  The devastating thing to the settler, the unthinkable thing to a settler, the thing that creates the greatest fear and anxiety to the settler, is when his or her security, comfort, or convenience is threatened.  He has labored too hard, too long and at too great a cost; he has dreamed the American dream for too long to risk living for anything but the security, comfort, and convenience that he has carved out of the countryside.

A sojourner on the other hand has a different dream.

Like the settler, he is going somewhere, and like the settler he can’t wait to make progress.  But, he is not traveling to a physical home that he will tame so much as he is traveling toward and in the companionship of a relationship he/she values. He is on an adventure with new vistas to explore and new people to meet around every new bend and dip in the road.

Wagon train Oxen lead out the wagons in a photograph titled ‘Freighting in the Black Hills’ taken between Sturgis and Deadwood

The sojourner lives for the stories he will tell around the campfire at the end of each day. He longs to retell the adventures he had and to celebrate with the people he meets in the lands of his sojourn. At the end of his journey he will retell and swap the adventures with a large family who traveled the same path before him. Since the relationship and the stories he will tell about his travels are what he is living for, he isn’t so much interested in security, comfort, or convenience. He is “just passing through,” learning, growing and enjoying the companionship of his friends. He is on a quest to learn and grow and observe, and love and serve so that when he arrives “home” he and his beloved, will have wonderful memories and stories to remember.

He isn’t collecting things. Things slow him down. He is not driven by greater comfort. Comfort might keep him from his next adventure. Convenience for him is nice but not necessary. And security is far less important than faithfulness to his traveling companions and honoring those who have traveled the same path in the past. He also wants to leave a legacy to those who will come after him. Not a physical trust of things, but a pattern of behavior and a way of living. He wants others to go on the journey that he traveled because the journey and the companionship and yes, the destination too, but even more importantly the Person at the end of his journey, is the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46). In fact, he will lay down his life for his companions because the companionship that he shares with his fellow travelers—past, present and future—is pretty nearly, the whole story for him.

He isn’t in a hurry, but he is living lite, celebrating each moment, and risking everything to get to the end of his journey and tell his stories to all those who have loved and traveled the road he has traveled. The sojourner’s life looks risky and foolish to settlers because settlers live for a different set of values. The settler keeps asking him, “where is your stuff? What do you have to show for your journey? Don’t you ever just want to settle down?”

And the sojourner keeps responding, “Every day I am tempted to settled down. But I keep reminding myself that this is not my home (see Hebrews 11:9-10). There is a better one up ahead. I have been promised an inheritance that is being prepared by the Master Himself (John 14:1-7), so I am enjoying the companionship of my friends (cf. Heb. 10:24; Phil 2:3; Rom. 12:16, 15:5, 7; 1 Pt. 5:5; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13), and longing for the day of my redemption” (cf. Rom. 8:19; 2 Cor. 5:2; Eph. 4:30).

On the surface, the settler and the sojourner might look similar, but the difference between them is radical.  They might sit in the same pew or row at congregational gatherings. They might read from the same Bible. But one is living for security, convenience and comfort—things that will burn and never enter eternity. The other is living for things that will forever expand and deepen with savor in the glow of the Father’s glory and grace.

We are called by the Great Shepherd to love Him and journey with Him, to love nothing we find (or that He gives on our journey) more than Him and to celebrate with all whom He calls to travel with us on the journey.  I love the song by Caedmon’s Call, You Created.[1] The chorus goes like this:

           “But you created nothing
            That gives me more pleasure than You
            And You won’t give me something
            That gives me more pleasure than You.” 

That captures both the sojourner’s heart and the heart of God’s design for us in Christ.

Tomorrow: What the lifestyle of a Sojourner does to the spirit of a settler in a church.

* I wrote this a number of years ago but decided I would leave my age the same. It’s kind of nice to be perpetually 49!

[1] Cademon’s Call, Back Home, Essential Records, 2003.

6 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Sojourner and a Settler

  1. This has influenced me ever since you first taught it to me back at TEDS. We have way way too many settlers in the church. I have worked this thinking into my discipleship and have found that it is very difficult, not to get people to understand, but to get people to embrace the idea.

    There is a strong influence and attachment to worldliness in the church and most Christians are blind to it.


  2. Based at all in Brennan Mannings thoughts? Just wondering. The similarities are evident. I’ve used his stuff to teach the same concepts.


    1. No though I have noticed the similarity too. I appreciate Brennan Manning, especially the Ragamuffin Gospel (and his obvious influence on Rich Mullins) but my own take is more “up from the source” than anything else.

      I was meditating on some of the psalms and then 1 and 2 Peter, and then remembered Hebrews and started putting all the thoughts together. Around the same time I was asked to give a lecture at a conference on multi-ethnic ministry and it all gelled.


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