What is the mission of the church? What has God put the church on planet Earth to do? Answers differ among Christians — some say the mission of the church is to serve the poor and needy, others to preach the gospel and make disciples.
Most people do not turn to Charles Spurgeon for help considering the mission of the church. And yet, when we look at his many sermons on the topic of missions, and the largest social ministry under his leadership (the Stockwell Orphanage), we begin to see that he thought carefully and biblically about the precise nature of the mission of the church.
According to Spurgeon, the priority of the church’s mission is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Priority of Missions in Spurgeon’s Sermons
Spurgeon made it abundantly clear in his sermons on missions that the proclamation of the gospel must be the priority in the church’s mission. Listen to his own words on the subject:
“The greatest help that can be given to any people, is the preaching of the gospel.”
“The mission of the church is to go into all the world…and tell out the gospel to every creature.”
“The great end and aim of Home Missions is to testify the gospel to every soul.”
“There will be oppression unless the gospel is spread. This is the one balm for all earth’s wounds.”
"Keep to the gospel, brethren, and you will keep to the one universal, never-failing remedy.”
The Mission of the Stockwell Orphanage
The priority of gospel proclamation in the church’s mission can also be seen in Spurgeon’s largest social ministry, the Stockwell Orphanage. Spurgeon placed only the Pastor’s College ahead of the Orphanage in importance. He believed that rescuing boys and girls from poverty and training them to know and serve Jesus was “one of the noblest of Christian labours.” He believed that Jesus would care for orphans if he still walked the earth, saying that his disciples should therefore “do in his behalf what he would personally do if he were still among us in person.” Spurgeon was deeply committed to the care of orphans.
The Stockwell Orphanage was a ministry designed to meet the immediate physical needs of orphans in London. Although the Orphanage appears to have been a ministry only meeting social needs, it was in reality a ministry where the proclamation of the gospel was prioritized. Spurgeon’s largest and best known social ministry was in fact a ministry where the meeting of children’s spiritual needs was the priority, and the meeting of their physical needs was secondary.
In 1867, as the Orphanage began to take shape, Spurgeon said that the orphans would be cared for by Christian people and that the Orphanage would be directly connected with a Christian church. Spurgeon also said he hoped that ministers and missionaries would be produced by the efforts of the Orphanage. This was sure to happen, he said, because the care of the children’s souls “will be our first and highest concern.” He said, “We have no object in view but the glory of God, by the instruction of fatherless boys in the ways of the Lord, having a special view to their souls’ salvation.”
Gospel Partnership In an Unexpected Place
Interestingly, Spurgeon was not the original architect of the Orphanage. Anne Hillyard, a widow of an Anglican clergyman, came across an article in Spurgeon’s monthly magazine about the need to educate the poor children of London. She knew immediately what she wanted to do with the £20,000 that her deceased husband had left her. She contacted Spurgeon and told him of her desire to start an orphanage to help the poor and uneducated children of London. Spurgeon believed that she was an answer to the prayers of his church and announced the building of an orphanage shortly thereafter.
From the outset, Hillyard desired that the Orphanage be built on the gospel. The Orphanage was, for Hillyard, not merely a social project designed to meet physical needs, but rather a gospel project designed to save souls. Hillyard states this explicitly in a letter to Spurgeon, where she says that “bringing the little ones to Jesus is [her] first and chief desire.”
Hillyard and Spurgeon’s partnership was the result of their shared view that Christian missions should prioritize proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.
Spurgeon as Our Example
Spurgeon was committed to the spreading of the gospel. He also worked tirelessly to help make London a better place to live. Social initiatives, however, took a place of secondary importance in his approach to missions. Spurgeon made it abundantly clear in his sermons and in his social ministries that the proclamation of the gospel must be the priority in the church’s mission.
The overemphasis on social action at the expense of gospel proclamation in contemporary evangelical churches needs the corrective that Spurgeon’s approach can provide. May Spurgeon’s approach to missions call the church back to the biblical priority of gospel proclamation. May his example lead the church to recommit herself to the spreading of the “never-failing remedy” of the gospel, and may the church embrace the truth that the good news of Jesus Christ is indeed the only sufficient cure “for all earth’s wounds.”
John Sypert is the pastor of Preston Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He received his M.Div and Th.M at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his Ph.D in Theology and Apologetics from Liberty Divinity School. He and his wife Suzy have the privilege of raising their two sons, Elisha and Gideon. You can find him on Twitter.