I’m so very thankful for the wisdom of men and women who have gone before me into ministry and have felt the need to offer advice and direction to those following similar paths. Charles Spurgeon is one such man who has impacted countless souls for the sake of Christ both before and after his death. “Lectures to my Students” is a collection of manuscripted lectures given by Spurgeon to the young men in training at his seminary, and it has proven to be one of the most helpful, challenging, and encouraging books that I’ve read to date. I would encourage any who have felt the call to ministry or seminary to read it and take his advice to heart. What follows is a reaction to one of my favorite quotes from “Lectures” which rests in a wooden frame on my desk.
“It will be in vain for me to stock my 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 axe and weapons of war.”
– Charles Spurgeon (from ‘Lectures to my Students’)
It seems to me that all too many seminarians fall into the trap of writing papers, reading books, and being concerned with climbing the ministerial ladder… and seminary does train you to do those things. But let us not forget our calling – to minister to people, and to administer the Word of God correctly, by the power of the Spirit, under the authority of Christ, to the glory of God. While ‘stocking the library’ can bring new ideas to light, share experiences, and sharpen the mind, it can become a pursuit that allows the excuse for avoiding ministry and inflating the ego. And while ‘organizing societies’ (conversations over coffee and/or lunch, etc.) is the medium of a precious sort of ministry, it can take precedence over those times that fill our tanks so that we can be sharp during such conversations and offer that bit of wisdom, that spiritual insight, or that word of encouragement that makes such meetings worthwhile. Finally, as a strategist I am no stranger to spending countless hours ‘projecting schemes’ and getting ministry-oriented things organized in my head. However, if this energy is divested of both the foundation and the end goal of such plotting – that is, the glory and renown of Christ – then it is less than in vain. Obsessive planning and ‘strategery’, when pursued without having been anchored in a solid consistent walk with Christ, become filled with prideful sin (self-importance and self-reliance) and will rarely be honored by the Lord.
And let us not forget that all of the theological training, exegetical papers, and seminary professor recommendations on our resumes will be completely useless if we neglect the culture of ourselves and fall into egregious sin that disqualifies us from serving as shepherds.
[As a quick aside, if you find yourself struggling with sin while serving in ministry, please, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, do not let yourself become a wicked pastor. Get help; pursue repentance-oriented counseling, resign from your position, or begin by confessing your sin to another pastor before it finds you out and you must deal with it publicly. Enough men have walked down that path – we do not need any more.]
Getting back to my original train of thought, it is not as though stocking libraries, organizing societies, and projecting schemes is bad; rather, they are all secondary and we should treat them as such. Do them in as much as they further your sanctification and help you develop your spiritual faculties.
God has called us to the ministry – not our books, not our social schedules, and not our church planting proposals. He has called us to steward our minds, our bodies, our hearts, and ultimately our walks with Him in such a way as to serve him faithfully and glorify him with our successes and our failures. So do spend the appropriate time relating to God and anchoring your soul in Him first and foremost every day. Read the Bible regularly and conform your life to its mandates rather than conforming the Word to your life and in so doing justifying sin. Get to know yourself, find out where and when you are most vulnerable to sin and build up your defenses so as to not fall into Satan’s numerous traps. Honestly examine your soul and let the Holy Spirit show you where the rough and unpolished areas of your life are. Find true biblical accountability and have the hard conversations that will lead to solid growth – do not allow yourself to get by with the auspices of battling sin, all the while allowing sin to fester and rot the foundation of your ministry. Pray fervently for the Gospel to continue transforming you and your flock, for without it we are adrift and most of all to be pitied.