How Spurgeon Avoided the Calling Calamity

(this article also appears on the the Crossway blog, where the newly revised and updated version of the book Am I Called?: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry was released last month.)

 

How Spurgeon Avoided The Calling Calamity

With his inimitable blending of charisma and candor, Charles Spurgeon – the Prince of Preachers – once dropped these insights on his students:

How may a young man know whether he is called or not? That is a weighty enquiry, and I desire to treat it most solemnly. O for divine guidance in so doing! That hundreds have missed their way, and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us.

It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling, and to the church upon whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind.[1]

Spurgeon understood the critical importance of helping men evaluate whether they were genuinely called to pastoral ministry. If they were, Spurgeon wanted to help them move forward. If not, Spurgeon wanted to help them move sideways, away from the pulpit. But it was essential to aim his effort at both groups.

A pastor called by God had the potential to achieve great, life-changing things for God. A pastor not called by God had the potential to cause great, soul-damaging destruction to the church. Both needed direction and care.

It’s more important than ever for us to heed Spurgeon’s counsel.

What specific lessons can we learn from his example?

 

Choose The Right Men

“How may a young man know whether he is called or not?”

This question was deeply etched upon the soul of Charles Spurgeon. He spent his early ministry years occupied with this ‘weighty enquiry’ until its urgency demanded action. For the church to move in the right direction, she needed the right men in the pulpit. So Spurgeon made it a lifelong quest to find them.

He looked for men with proven ministries; men who possessed the ability to preach but lacked the requisite training. But most importantly, Spurgeon looked for me who would not be triflers in the church.

Spurgeon said:

He that can toy with his ministry and count it to be like a trade, or like any other profession, was never called of God. But he that has a charge pressing on his heart, and a woe ringing in his ear, and preaches as though he heard the cries of hell behind him, and saw his God looking down on him—oh, how that man entreats the Lord that his hearers may not hear in vain![2]

Spurgeon understood something highly strategic to the future of the church: Good leaders find the right men. Spurgeon had an eye for locating them. But it wasn’t enough to merely find them; Spurgeon knew he needed to a plan to equip them as well. Thus the Pastors’ College was born.

 

Train The Right Men

When Spurgeon founded the Pastors’ College, his goals were modest, straightforward and remarkably simple:

It was not Spurgeon’s purpose to produce men who were scholars and little or nothing else, as was the case with many schools. In his college, learning was a means to an end – to enable men to be powerful preachers and fervent soul-winners. The whole of the institution’s life was patterned to fulfill this purpose.[3] What was wanted was an institution where these rough-and-ready men could be drilled in the simple rudiments of education, and so fitted for the work of preaching and the discharge of plain pastoral duties. From the commencement our main object was to help men who, through lack of funds, could not obtain an education for themselves. These have been supplied not only with tuition and books, gratis, but with board and lodging, and in some cases with clothes and pocket money …[4]

It was not enough for a man to simply feel ‘called.’ For vocation to bear good fruit, it must be watered by education and fertilized by application. A man called to medicine must be trained in human anatomy. A man called to police work must be trained in the law. And a man called to the ministry must be trained in the work of the pastor. Men must be fit for ministry.

The Pastors’ College sat near the heart of Spurgeon’s enterprises, and its maintenance was never far from his mind. Yet, his burden was lifted and shared by his wife also. Susannah, gripped by the vision and potential of training men to plant churches, movingly demonstrated her faith and enthusiasm through her own sacrifices.

“I rejoice,” said Mrs. Spurgeon, “to remember how I shared my beloved’s joy when he founded the Institution, and that together we planned and pinched in order to carry out the purpose of his loving heart; it gave me quite a motherly interest in the College, and ‘our own men.’ The chief difficulty with regard to money matters in those days was to ‘make both ends meet’; we never had enough left over to ‘tie a bow and ends’; but I can see now that this was God’s way of preparing us to sympathize with and help poor pastors in the years which were to come.”[5]

 

Position The Right Men

The fruit of Spurgeon’s sacrifice grew sweet as men were identified, trained and released. It was said, “…churches wanted Spurgeon men. Some were fairly large, some were smaller, and some were suffering difficulties. Knowing the situations, Spurgeon personally chose the men he believed would best meet them.” [6]

And Spurgeon kept an eye on the harvest outside of the UK.   One biographer reported, “Spurgeon was responsible for sending men to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Haiti, the Falkland Islands, North and South America, South Africa, Amsterdam; the ministry of the Pastors’ College began to extend itself worldwide.”[7]

Think about it. A mega-church pastor with a global ministry took the time to become personally and particularly involved in the selection and positioning of his graduates. This was not just a mission-phase of ministry that Spurgeon eventually grew beyond – this was a life project! “Spurgeon led the training of over 900 men for the ministry, and arranged their settlement in charges or worked to have new chapels built.”[8]

The result? Hundreds of churches were started or supplied by Spurgeon.

 

Conclusion

Finding and training called men is hardly expedient. It consumes an enormous amount of time, energy and finances. It’s also messy. But pastors must be gripped by a vision for their role ensuring the guarding of the gospel deposit, a vision for the kingdom that extends beyond their own boardrooms, budgets and building projects. If the Church would avoid “the fearful calamity” that comes upon us when a man misses his calling, we must dedicate ourselves to this glorious cause.

Spurgeon did. May his priorities become our practice as well!

 

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (reprint of 1875 ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 22, quoted in George, “The Call to Pastoral Ministry,” in Pastoral Ministry, ed. MacArthur, 103–104.

[2] 2,200 Quotations From The Writings Of Charles H. Spurgeon

[3] Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Chicago: Moody, 1984; 1995 reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 105

[4] C.H. Spurgeon, quoted in Dallimore, Spurgeon Biography, 102.

[5] Charles Ray, Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon (reprint, St. John, IN: Larry Harrison, 1997), 35.

[6] Dallimore, Spurgeon Biography, 108.

[7] Drummond, Prince of Preachers, 413.

[8] Curnow et al., Marvelous Ministry, 67.

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