A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. –Charles Spurgeon
Here are some facts about Charles Spurgeon, one of the most effective ministers that ever lived:
- Spurgeon read The Pilgrim’s Progress at age 6 and went on to read it over 100 times.
- He read about 6 books per week and remembered what he read and where he read it.
- Spurgeon’s congregation grew from 232 members to a 5311, making it the largest congregation in the world at the time.
- Spurgeon’s works have sold more that 1 million copies worldwide
- Spurgeon often preached up to 10 times a week.
- He also started an orphanage, which was run by his son after he passed.
- Oh yeah. And both his sons became preachers.
Are you feeling shameful about your efficiency yet?
Yeah, Spurgeon has that effect on people.
His Prolific productivity dwarfs that of even the hardest working preachers today, which is exactly what makes him fit to teach us the secrets to effective ministry.
The Secret to Effective Ministry
In 1875, Spurgeon gave a series of 10 Lectures aptly titled “Lectures to my students”, (read them digitally here for free), in which he shared practical advice for Christian preachers of the time.
However, he wrote this with you in mind too:
I am conscious of no motive in printing them but that of desiring to keep my counsels alive in the memories of those who heard them years ago, and impressing them upon others who dwell beyond the precincts of our class-room.
Writing in the picturesque way that characterized his preaching, Spurgeon lays before us all, 2 requirements for every Christian that feels the pull towards ministry and of being involved in the welfare of others. Here’s the general ethos of what he is saying: A Christian must intensely seek his own personal holiness and welfare before he is able to pour into the lives of others.
It helps to think of a cup. An empty cup cannot pour into another. But a cup that is full in itself can pour into many others. He writes:
EVERY workman knows the necessity of keeping his tools in a good state of repair…
We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Christ Jesus.
It will be in vain for me to stock my 12 library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle ax and weapons of war.
As tools in the hands of a mighty God, let us do what we must to prepare ourselves to be wielded by God.
For that to happen, Spurgeon gives 2 requirements:
The first requirement for maximum effectiveness in ministry: You must be saved
Spurgeon first argues that the pastor or youth worker or praying wife must first be a Christian before they attempt to persuade anyone else of Christianity:
Many men have warned others that they come not to that place of torment, which yet they hasted to themselves; many a preacher is now in hell, that hath an hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refused it themselves, and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglected and abused? Many a tailor goes in rags that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarce licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes.
He continues his argument in detail in the lectures, further arguing that the unsaved Christian worker is:
- Stuck in a horrible state of living- forever philosophizing about what he does not see or experience. (I wonder if this is the reason we have so many false prophets running around?)
- An unhappy person, seeing the difficulties of people around him and finding no lasting comfort in Christ
- An ineffective person, since how can he give advice if he knows not Wisdom?
- A “terribly mischievous” person (i.e. Prosperity Preachers, deceiving themselves and others)
If you are not sure you are saved, you have no place in ministry, or service of any kind.
The second requirement for maximum effectiveness in ministry: You Must Have An Intense Desire to be Holy
Translation: You must have a certain intensity about you.
You must be intensely determined to be personally holy. You are concerned about your personal progress before you concern yourself about anyone else’s.
Your intensity about being holy must be unparalleled.
“The highest moral character must be sedulously maintained… As John Angell James remarks, “When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin.”
To Spurgeon, the weakening of a minister’s spiritual life was like the inevitable breaking of the physical body. As the organs fail and the vibrant look in a living person’s eyes fade away, so the Christian servant who is not concerned with his spiritual progress is also breaking down both himself and everyone around him.
Recollect, as ministers, that your whole life, your whole pastoral life especially, will be affected by the vigor of your piety. If your zeal grows dull, you will not pray well in the pulpit; you will pray worse in the family, and worst in the study alone. When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savor for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps, before you perceive it yourself. Your discourses will next betray your declension. You may utter as well-chosen words, and as fitly-ordered sentences, as aforetime; but there will be a perceptible loss of spiritual force. You will shake yourselves as at other times, even as Samson did, but you will find that your great strength has departed
You are the most important member of your congregation.
If your heart is falling away, it is showing. DO what you must to ensure that your spiritual life is vibrant, forward moving, deepening, and growing in wisdom. If you are not, you death swiftly coming. And death never comes to take just one life.
Spurgeon ends his lecture with these words:
His private life must ever keep good tune with his ministry, or his day will soon set with him, and the sooner he retires the better, for his continuance in his office will only dishonor the cause of God and ruin himself.
Compliment this with Michael Hyatt’s modern take on personal vigorous piety (who advocates the idea that ministry is an overflow of your personal life) and the late Martyn Lloyd Jones’s lectures on the personal life of the preacher (listen for free here.)