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Spurgeon on the Marks of a Missionary

Charis Gonyo April 26, 2024

One of the proudest achievements of the Pastors’ College was the increasing number of missionaries sent out internationally. However, Spurgeon did not forget that there was much work still to be done at home. Speaking to the Baptist British and Irish Home Missionary Society in 1870, Spurgeon sought to encourage all Christians to engage in the work of home missions.

There are certainly differences between evangelistic efforts at home and international missions. The differences may involve in the specific calling on the individual’s life, the means of the work, the cross-cultural dynamic, and the potentially greater risk that comes with international work. However, the common core of both efforts is obedience to the call of our Lord Jesus Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom. Therefore, whether serving at home or abroad, the missionary will share many of the same qualities.

But what are the qualities of an ideal missionary? Spurgeon listed five qualities: ability to teach, willingness to toil, prayerfulness, compassion, and sacrifice. To the missionary of any rank, aspiring, current, or retired, these are encouragements from Spurgeon to lift you up and push you forward. And the best way to know the attributes of a missionary is to behold and imitate Christ Himself: “Behold the Model Missionary in the person of the Lord Jesus.” [1]

Ability to Teach

First, of the disciplines of a useful servant missionary, Spurgeon speaks of the importance of one’s ability to speak and preach the Gospel clearly and appropriately to the hearers.

If you want a man to spread the gospel among his fellow men, he must be one who can preach. He must be apt to teach. He must have a way of making plain what he means, and of winning attention, so that men may be willing to listen to him. Our Lord had this grand capacity in the highest degree. He could bring the sublimest truths down to the level of his hearers’ comprehension. He knew how, with a divine simplicity, to tell a story that would win even a child’s attention; and though the truth be spake was such that archangels might well marvel at it, yet he put it into such a form that the little children gathered around him, and the common people heard him gladly. Aptness to teach this is what we want. Pray ye, my brethren, the Lord of the harvest to send us many who have this choice gift. The pulpit, the Sunday-school, and every form of Christian service need earnest workers who have the power of translating their thoughts into the language of those with whom they come in contact, so that they may be interested and impressed.

It is central for the missionary to not only know how to speak clearly and directly but also how to properly and faithfully contextualize the Gospel to the receiving culture and language, to “bring the sublimest truths down to the level of his hearers’ comprehension.” This is not to change the message but to clarify it against cultural misunderstanding. Therefore, he must know the culture and language of his hearers while holding fast to the biblical message.

Willingness to Toil

In addition to the ability to convey the Gospel effectively, there are yet more qualifying attributes than this. Too often, gifted teachers are put forward without sufficient consideration of their character and overall maturity. The missionary must be hardworking and willing to toil, as our Lord did.

[Jesus’] life was a scene of unrivalled labor. We can hardly conceive how thoroughly our Redeemer laid himself out for us. Christ’s kingdom will never be extended by persons who are afraid of labor. God will bless his church by the power of the Holy Spirit, for all the power lies there, but he will have his church travail, or the blessing will not come.

Missionary work will be toilsome. But as Spurgeon reminds us, we do not toil alone. It is in faithful toil and dependence on the power of the Spirit that we experience the truth of Jesus’ promise, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (ESV).


The difficulty of ministry can certainly weigh upon the missionary, but we must carry it all to Christ in prayer, for He is our source of power. Apart from prayer, the missionary can do nothing. If Jesus prayed amid his ministry, how much more should we?

What a proficient in the art of prayer was Jesus! He was as great with God in prayer as he was with man in preaching. I heard a brother speak the other day of our Lord’s coming from the mountainside with the wild flowers on his garments, and the smell of the heather on his vesture, for he came fresh from the lone spot where he had spent the night in prayer. Ah! my brethren, here is the center of power. Prayer breaks hearts. These granite rocks will never yield to our hammers till we go down on our knees to smite. If we prevail with God for men, we shall prevail with men for God. The main work of the minister must be done alone. Let him do as he pleases when the multitude are listening, he shall not bring them to Christ unless he has pleaded for them when none heard him but his God. Our home mission wants men who can pray.

“The main work of the minister must be done alone.” How often have we considered prayer as primary and our preaching secondary? But if we believe that God alone can save, then we must follow the example of the apostles and devote ourselves to prayer first, and then to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).


In his incarnation and in his earthly life, Jesus modeled a humility that is to be a pattern for all his disciples. To reach sinners, we must be willing to go to them and sometimes this will mean meeting people in their low and difficult situations.

Our Lord received sinners and ate with them. They must have seen how different he was from themselves, but he affected no distance, he pretended to no caste, he drew no lines of social demarcation. He was not a Pharisee, who stood apart in his pious eminence: pride and assumed dignity had no attractions for him. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, in the highest and best of senses, but in other respects he was the friend of publicans and sinners. If we are to have London blessed, it will never be by ministers who are too great to speak to the poorest of the people; nor will your benevolent societies work much good if your lordships and ladyships cannot mingle with the humbler classes. We must be one with those whom we would bless; we must not be ashamed to call them brethren; we must without being conscious of stooping, reach out a fraternal hand to the fallen and the degraded, that we may lift them up for Christ’s sake.

As we meet people in their suffering, the missionary must have a soft heart and an ability to weep over the plight of man. This is not sentimentality or fearfulness, but a heart that feels deeply the eternal lostness of man and the coming wrath of God.

Manly weeping is a mighty thing. Our Lord Jesus was thoroughly a man; far too masculine to fall into sentimentalism and affectation, but when he beheld the city, and knew all the sufferings that would come upon it from the siege as a punishment for its sin, he could not restrain the waterfloods, his great soul ran over at his eyes. If he had not been a man who could weep himself, he could not, humanly speaking, have made others weep. You must feel yourselves if you would make other men feel. You cannot reach my heart till first of all your heart comes to meet mine. Lord, send into thy field men of strong emotional natures whose eyes can be fountains of tears.


Perhaps the most powerful model that Jesus offers is that of his sacrifice. His death is utterly unique. But his death also provides a model of sacrifice for the Christian missionary.

Zeal for God’s house must eat us up; love of life must yield to love of souls; trials must be counted as nothing for Christ’s sake, and death must be defied, or we shall never capture the world for Jesus. They who wear soft raiment will never win Ireland, or Africa, or India, for Christ. The man who considers himself, and makes provision for the flesh, will do little or nothing. Christ revealed the great secret when it was said of him, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” In proportion as a man saves himself he cannot save others, and only in proportion as he is carried away with self-sacrifice, willing to renounce luxuries, comforts, necessities, and even life itself, only in that proportion will he succeed.

While we can never give our lives as the Lord Jesus Christ did, we offer our lives as living sacrifices in order that Christ may use our lives to bring the aroma of life to the perishing.


Whether at home or abroad, may the Lord raise up many evangelists and missionaries for Himself. As those who claim to be his disciples, let us live for the cause of Christ; let us labor for the glory of God; let us hate what He hates and love what He loves; let us not look to our own burdens in self-pity but take up each other’s burdens in selfless love; let us be moved for the lostness of the world and weep for the praise of the mercy we have found in Him; and let us strive for the multiplication of the worship of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ among the nations.

[1]  Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit NO. 929