A common topic of discussion I have seen regarding mission preparation is ‘What are the characteristics of a good missionary?’ President Joseph F. Smith, LDS Church President from 1901 to 1918, had much to say on this subject. While it would be difficult or impossible to create an exhaustive list of good missionary characteristics, here are a few highlighted by President Smith:
- Constant Communion with the Spirit
- Knowledge of Gospel Principles
- Concern for the Welfare of Others
- Unspotted from the World
1. Constant Communion with the Spirit
President Smith said that the best way to do missionary work “is to live so that the spirit of God will have communion and be present with us to direct us in every moment and hour of our ministry, night and day.” He said, “No man can preach God and godliness and the truth as it is in Christ Jesus except he be inspired by the Holy Spirit.” President Smith further said that “Men are not converted by eloquence or oratory; they are convinced when they are satisfied that you have the truth and the Spirit of God.” 2 Ne. 33: 1 “When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”
Said President Smith, “No man is able to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ of himself…We can not preach the gospel of Christ without this spirit of humility, meekness, faith in God and reliance upon his promises and word to us.” 1 Corinthians 2:11 “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”
See my previous post on Missionary Characteristics: Humility.
“Every missionary should strive to devote part of each day to study and prayerful thought on the principles of the gospel and the theology of the Church,” said President Smith. “Missionaries are sent forth to preach and teach the first principles of the gospel, Christ and him crucified, and practically nothing more in the way of theological doctrine. They are not commissioned to expound their own views on intricate questions of theology.” He further said that a missionary’s “mind should be well stored with thoughts worth uttering, worth hearing, worth remembering; then the spirit of inspiration will bring forth the truths of which his auditors are in need.” D&C 11: 21 “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed.”
President Smith taught that as a missionary, “You must get acquainted with a man, learn him and gain his confidence and make him feel and know that your only desire is to do him good and bless him; then you can tell him your message, and give him the good things you have for him.” He counseled missionaries to “avoid contentious argument and debate regarding doctrinal subjects…[Missionaries] are not to go out and make war upon the religious organizations of the world when they are called to go out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Instead “they should teach as nearly as they can after the manner of the Master—seeking to lead by love for their fellows, by simple explanation and persuasion; not trying to convince by force.”
See my previous post on Missionary Characteristics: Sociability.
5. Concern for the Welfare of Others
President Smith taught that missionaries, “are sent out to offer the olive branch of peace to the world.” Additionally, missionaries should be ready to say with him, “I am happy to say that I am ready to go through thick and thin for this cause in which I am engaged; and truly hope and pray that I may prove faithful to the end.” He further taught that “Every missionary boy who returns from his mission full of faith and good desire should take it upon himself to become a savior as far as possible of his young and less experienced associates at home.” D&C 88: 81 “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.”
6. Unspotted from the World
President Smith pleaded, “We want young men … who have kept themselves unspotted from the world, and can go into the nations of the earth and say to men, ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ.’” “No objection is offered to men being called who in earlier years may have been rough or wayward, if in later years they have lived a godly life and brought forth the precious fruits of repentance,” said President Smith. He further taught, missionaries must “let our lives correspond with our professions, our words be consonant with the truth we bear, and our acts agreeable to the revealed will of God”
Aside from the scriptural references, all the quotes regarding characteristics of a good missionary are taken from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Chapter 9: Our Missionary Duty.