The great 19th century pastor, Charles Spurgeon, was committed to training young men for pastoral ministry. One of the ways he did this was by giving regular lectures to the young men attending his Pastors’ College. Spurgeon wanted to prepare the young men for the rigors of ministry:
The solemn work with which the Christian ministry concerns itself demands a man’s all, and that all at its best. To engage in it half-heartedly is an insult to God and man.
Ministry methods have changed over the decades, but the challenges and joys of ministry remain the same. Spurgeon’s lectures to his students are just as relevant today as they were 150 years ago. In the “Spurgeon Speaks” series, we’ll be spending some time auditing Spurgeon’s lectures so we might learn from him, just as his students did.
The Priority of Confirming Your Call
One of the most pressing issues in Spurgeon’s mind was the reality that many men who were pastors actually weren’t called to ministry. As Spurgeon surveyed the religious landscape of his day, he came to the conclusion that many churches were failing primarily because the men leading them weren’t called by God to be pastors. He said:
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.
Churches were fruitless and failing because the men leading those churches had “missed their way,” when it came to the divine call to ministry. When a man who is not called to ministry tries to lead a church, the results are often disastrous.
With this potential disaster always looming in front of him, Spurgeon pressed his students to confirm that God had indeed called them into the ministry.
O my brethren, make sure work of it while you are yet in this retreat; and diligently labour to fit yourselves for your high calling. You will have trials enough, and woe to you if you do not go forth armed from head to foot with armour of proof. You will have to run with horsemen, let not the footmen weary you while in your preliminary studies. The devil is abroad, and with him are many. Prove your own selves, and may the Lord prepare you for the crucible and the furnace which assuredly await you.
Spurgeon offered his students three ways by which they might test whether or not they were called to the ministry. The first sign of a call to ministry was an all-encompassing, inescapable desire to for the work of ministry. He said:
In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others what God has done to our own souls…
Spurgeon was convinced that a man called to ministry simply would not be happy in other lines of work. The man called to ministry had a “fire in his bones”, an inescapable drive that compelled him into ministry. Spurgeon placed significant weight on this internal drive, saying:
We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.
The second sign of a call to ministry was an aptness for teaching. In Spurgeon’s experience, many men who desired to be in ministry were simply unable to teach. An inability to teach was a sign that a man was probably not called to pastoral ministry.
God equips each part of his creation to fulfill his purposes. He gives the birds wings to fly. The “leviathan” wasn’t intended by God to fly, and would make a fool of itself if it tried to fly. In the same way, the man who is not called to ministry will find himself unable to preach.
God certainly has not created behemoth to fly and should leviathan have a strong desire to ascend with the lark, it would evidently be an unwise aspiration, since he is not furnished with wings. If a man be called to preach, he will be endowed with a degree of speaking ability, which he will cultivate and increase. If the gift of utterance be not there in a measure at the first, it is not likely that it will ever be developed.
One of the ways that a man can test whether he has the ability to preach is by actually preaching to a congregation. This practice, though it may be somewhat painful for those in the congregation, gives a man honest feedback on his aptitude for teaching:
It is by no means a law which ought to bind all persons, but still it is a good old custom in many of our country churches for the young man who aspires to the ministry to preach before the church. It can hardly ever be a very pleasant ordeal for the youthful aspirant, and, in many cases, it will scarcely be a very edifying exercise for the people; but still it may prove a most salutary piece of discipline, and save the public exposure of rampant ignorance.
The third, and final, sign of a man’s calling is that men and women are actually brought to Christ through his work. The salvation of souls under a man’s ministry was, in a sense, the divine “seal” of God’s approval of that ministry:
…it seems to me, that as a man to be set apart to the ministry, his commission is without seals until souls are won by his instrumentality to the knowledge of Jesus.
If a man labored for quite some time without ever seeing any fruit, the man’s calling should be brought into question.
The problem of uncalled men entering the ministry has not gone away. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need churches that are led by men who are firmly convinced that God has called them into his service. As we interact with those who are considering a call to ministry, we would be wise to heed the words of Spurgeon.
Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us…according to His own purpose. 2 Timothy 1:8-9 NASB
Paul made it clear to Timothy that he had been saved, not because of his own efforts, but “according to the power of God.” And the reason for His actions was that He “called us…according to His own purpose and grace.” This is such an important perspective that it should be the key fact of our lives.
Paul was explaining that each of us has been summoned by God and has been given a specific name and vocation. There is a personal objective to our lives, which has been established by God Himself. These are objectives that give our lives purpose and meaning.
Applying these principles to Timothy, Paul underscored that this should change his attitude toward everything. He did not have to be afraid or worried about difficult situations in which he might find himself. There was no reason to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner.” He needed to embrace his calling, whatever it might be.
This is a perspective that all of us should remember every day. It is a statement that should give us peace when we are troubled, reassurance when we face doubts, and meaning when our lives are filled with questions.
Today, remember that God has a special calling just for you, a plan for your life. Surrender to Him. Trust Him. Serve Him.
The Apostle Paul’s Call to the Ministry – 1 Timothy 1:12-14
by Pastor Ricky Kurth
Why would Paul tell us to thank God the Father for “all things” (Eph.5:20) while he himself thanked the Son for one particular thing (ITim.1:12)? I believe it is because when the Lord saved Paul He did something for him that he doesn’t do for us, especially when it comes to being called to the ministry. God calls all men to be pastors, and those who “desire” to respond can consider themselves called (ITim.3:1). God calls them by showing them in His Word that sinners need to hear the gospel and saints need to be edified in the faith.
But that’s not how Paul got saved! God chose him (Acts 9:15, probably before he was born, like Jeremiah (Jer.1:4,5). God didn’t choose Jeremiah to be saved, he chose him to be a prophet. He himself had to choose to be saved. Jeremiah and Paul did, Balaam didn’t. But being chosen individually to be an apostle makes Paul’s call to the ministry different than all others, which may explain why Paul thanked God differently than all others.
The Lord “enabled” him (ITim.1:12) by making him an “able minister” of the new covenant (IICor.3:6). He didn’t do that in any supernatural way, but by giving him a great message, New Covenant grace, the world’s best product at the world’s best price — free! Pastors today have been given the same ability, as have all Christians who wish to minister God’s grace to others.
Since “for that” (ITim.1:12) means because (IChron.15:13; Pr.1:28,29), Paul is saying the reason the Lord enabled him and put him in the ministry was because he counted him faithful. To “count” means to judge, as our translators translated the Greek word for “count” in Hebrews 11:11. But we like to know a man years before counting him faithful enough to make him a minister, how did the Lord count Paul faithful? After all, He put him in the ministry the day He saved him (Acts 26:16,17).
Well, Paul counted Lydia faithful enough to stay with her the day she got saved (Acts 16:13-15) because she “attended” to Paul’s words. That word means to pay attention to and respond (Ps.66:19). So when Lydia responded to Paul’s words he was able to judge her faithful, and when Paul said, “What wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:5,6), when he agreed to do a complete 180 and go from being a persecutor to being persecuted, the Lord was able to judge him faithful on the basis of this response.
Since Paul was a “blasphemer” (v.13) he couldn’t have been saved under the kingdom program (Mt.12:31,32). He never blasphemed the Father, he kept the Father’s Law, and he doesn’t appear in the four gospels so didn’t blaspheme the Son. It wasn’t till the apostles were filled with the Spirit that he blasphemed. Since he couldn’t be saved in the Lord’s world or “the world to come”, we know God introduced a whole new world, a world the Lord knew nothing of because it was a mystery (Eph.3:1-3). The “world to come” He spoke of comes after this dispensation, a world the disciples tasted at Pentecost (Heb.6:4,5).
More proof that the Lord introduced a new world with Paul comes when he says he was a “persecutor,” for you couldn’t be a persecutor in the Lord’s world and be saved, you had to be a follower (Mt.18:18-22;Mt.19:27-29; Jo.10: 27,28), and in the world to come as well (Rev.14:4). Paul wasn’t a follower, he persecuted followers. You couldn’t be “injurious” in the Lord’s world either (Mt.18:6,10) or in the world to come (Rev.16:5,6), but Saul was (Acts 9:1,2).
When Paul claimed he killed the saints “ignorantly” (v.13), that’s the loophole Peter gave Israel when he charged them with the manslaughter of Christ (Deut.19:3,4 cf. Acts 3:17) and not His murder (Num.35:16), something he did with the Lord’s permission (Lu.23:34). But Peter could use it for the Jews who blasphemed the Son; Paul couldn’t use it since he blasphemed the Spirit. His only hope was grace, which God gave him in “exceeding abundant” measure (v.14). He gave it with “faith” (v.14), the faith of Christ (Gal.2:16), who is faithful to give it to whosoever believes on Him. He gives it faithfully because of His “love” (v.14)