Book Review: Spurgeon the Pastor, by Geoff Chang
Geoff Chang, Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry. B&H Books, 2022. 272 pages.
Do I Really Want to Read Another Book on Spurgeon?
What does Charles Haddon Spurgeon have to teach people like us about pastoral ministry? His wasn’t an “everyday” kind of ministry, was it? He was the pastor of a 5000-member megachurch, and I’m not. He was the “Prince of Preachers,” and I’m a pauper in the pulpit! I’m just going to feel like a loser studying him, aren’t I? Spurgeon falls into the category of “inspirational but inimitable.”
Or so I thought.
As it happens, contrary to a ton of wrong assumptions on my part, Spurgeon wasn’t just the prince of preachers, he was a prince of pastors. Not because he was exceptional, but because he was faithful. Whether serving in Waterbeach with a membership of 12, or the massive Metropolitan Tabernacle with 5012, his pastoral ministry was straightforwardly biblical and actually imitable.
That’s why you should read Geoffrey Chang’s excellent book, Spurgeon The Pastor: Recovering a Biblical & Theological Vision for Ministry.
THE FORGOTTEN CHURCHMAN
Dr. Chang is an assistant professor of church history and historical theology and a curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Nudged by a mentor and friend, he began exploring Spurgeon’s ecclesiology and found some significant gaps in the research.
Susannah Spurgeon herself, Dallimore, Nettles, Morden, Reeves, and many other writers have provided an ultra-high-definition biographical reel of Spurgeon’s life. Murray made sure Spurgeon’s theological convictions on Scripture and salvation would not be forgotten. But what kind of pastor was he? How did he spend his time? Chang went trawling through the minutes of Met Tab meetings and wrote this book, an insight into the functional outworking of Spurgeon’s ecclesiology.
SPURGEON, THE BAPTIST
One tiny niggle I had was with the title Spurgeon the Pastor; it should have been called Spurgeon the Baptist or Nine Marks of a Healthy 19th Century Church, for it reads like an ecclesiology textbook. I don’t know what he looks like, but I imagined John Hammett nodding approvingly at Chang’s table of contents! And yet, it’s not just ecclesiology. It’s “practical ecclesiology.” That’s what makes it so helpful.
Here are some examples of how Spurgeon’s ecclesiology drove his practical ministry.
1. Preaching: “Spurgeon didn’t occupy a preaching station but pastored a church” (15). Though his sermons were published abroad, to global acclaim, his primary concern, Sunday by Sunday, was to preach to those under his care as a means of magnifying Christ in them.
2. Gatherings: “Gathering was for him one of the dearest Christian privileges” (47). He warned those who preferred a preacher’s printed sermon (46) (the 19th-century equivalent of the live stream, I guess) to gathering together. But not only that. The organization of those gatherings, what the church did when it met, was handled with the greatest care.
3. Ordinances: “Spurgeon provides a model for a convictional approach to the ordinances” (98). He understood baptism to be an initiatory ordinance for believers only. But he wrestled with questions pastors wrestle with today. Chang explores how Spurgeon encouraged believers of all ages to be baptized, yet at the same time encouraged patience. He didn’t simplify the interview for anyone, not even younger applicants. Baptism fenced off the church from the world. And the Lord’s Supper was a memorial meal for the church, for those who had been baptized. Frequency and fencing were vital to maintain the purity of the church.
4. Regenerate Membership: Maintaining a regenerate church membership (120) was crucial to the life of the local church in Spurgeon’s view. Nominalism was rife in his day and a curse to the health and mission of the church. That’s why interviewing new members was a task Spurgeon refused to delegate. Other elders helped, but he was personally involved in thousands over the years. Spurgeon loved the church and knew every member on its roll.
Preaching in 1884, Spurgeon declared, “Oh, brothers, on that day, on which I lately saw forty persons one by one and listened to their experience and proposed them to the church, I felt as weary as a man ever did in reaping the heaviest harvest. I did not merely give them a few words as enquirers but examined them as candidates with my best judgment.”
5. Meaningful Membership: Spurgeon took great care, not only to guard the gate into the church, but to care for them and see Christ formed in them. He said, “I could never be satisfied with a full congregation, and kind expressions of friends, I long to hear that hearts have been broken. The tears had been seen streaming from the eyes of penitents” (124). That’s why pastoral visitation, communication (letters), and church discipline were vital.
6. Elders & Deacons: “The Metropolitan Tabernacle was a challenging congregation to pastor. But Spurgeon’s ministry is a reminder that the care of the church was never meant to be a solo sport” (171). Spurgeon so valued the collaborative contribution of fellow elders, deacons, and members, that I expect he might have had an issue with his picture being the only one on the front of Chang’s book.
7. Congregationalism: Spurgeon’s practice of congregational governance was far from the bureaucratic caricature painted of fighting Baptists, or worse, cursed pragmatists! Church meetings were never “business meetings,” but worship gatherings, opportunities to, with one mind, seek the mind of Christ.
8. The Ministry of the Church: Much is known about Spurgeon’s interests in so-called “externals,” the Pastor’s College, orphanages, and schools. But Spurgeon saw such endeavors not as separate from local church ministry but part of it. Every member that heard the gospel preached was compelled by the gospel to serve one another and the needs they identified around them. “Spurgeon refused to let his congregation be passive in hearing the gospel. He called them to live out their faith in service to others” (206).
9. Pastoral Training & Church Planting: Spurgeon longed to impact the world not only through the members of the church by serving but through training men for pastoral ministry. It started with Mr. Medhurst and “by 1890, 607 had been sent as Pastors, Missionaries, and Evangelists” (222). What’s striking is that it wasn’t just Spurgeon, or his brother, who trained these men. He encouraged the congregation to be fully involved. By praying for trainees, encouraging them, and sending or going with them to plant churches, Spurgeon underscored this simple fact; it takes a church to train a pastor.
PASTORS, CHECK YOURSELVES
I’m quite happy to commend this book not only as a good read but as a health check for pastors. Ecclesiological convictions matter. But they become surprisingly malleable, and sometimes dispensable, when a church grows (or wants to grow).
A friend sent me an article recently by a church planting organization that explained stages of church growth and the adaptations necessary to survive at a certain size or progress to the next. Pastors must adapt, specialize. Churches must be more staff-driven than “hands-on” elder-led. That’s fine if you want pragmatism to squeeze the living daylights out of your biblical ecclesiology. According to all that Chang presents in this book, Spurgeon would’ve choked on his cigar at such a proposal.
Pastors, you don’t have to become specialists if your church grows. Pastoral ministry is pastoral ministry. The church should be shepherded the way the Bible says it should be shepherded, irrespective of its size. If you give yourself to planning church gatherings, preaching prep, membership interviews, discipline, and pastoral visits, you will (without a doubt) be tired at the end of the day. But what a day it will have been! What good will have been done in faithfulness to the Word of God!
Buy this book and read it. Read it with your elders. The great man is inspirational (and surprisingly) inimitable.