Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College: A Model for Pastoral Training
By Aaron Lumpkin | July 18, 2022
Topic: Applied Theology—Leadership—Pastoral Theology
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) remains one of the most prominent and famous preachers and evangelists of the Victorian era. Spurgeon served as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, where he preached to thousands each week for the majority of his ministry. Spurgeon became a convictional Baptist committed to Calvinistic theology. This theology proved to be a rich motivator for reaching the masses with the good news of Jesus Christ. He founded and participated in a wide range of ministries, including forming almshouses and an orphanage. Overall, he was involved in an impressive sixty-six institutions and ministries.1 His faith could be seen in his actions, not solely in his words. His orthodoxy shaped his orthopraxy.
Next to his love for preaching stood his passion for the Pastor’s College. Spurgeon committed to training pastors to preach the Word and shepherd the flock of God. Spurgeon’s educational background and conversion serve as the foundation for his commitment to founding the Pastor’s College. Through the formation and organization of the college, Spurgeon maintained his commitment to training leaders who would be well-equipped for gospel ministry.
Spurgeon’s Education and Conversion
Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834, to John and Eliza Spurgeon.2 Due in part to financial struggles, they entrusted Charles to his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. James Spurgeon, in Stambourne.3 Spurgeon learned of the Christian faith at an early age, as his grandfather served as pastor of a Congregational church; his father also became a Congregationalist pastor. His first schooling came from Aunt Ann and Mrs. Burleigh. Through this schooling, he learned to read by himself at age five or six.4 He was introduced to Foxe and Bunyan early on due to spending time in his grandfather’s study. Spurgeon returned to live with his parents in Colchester by age six, although he would return to stay with his grandparents in the summer months. Upon returning to live with his parents, his interest in reading continued, and he found much pleasure in reading Puritan writings.5 Spurgeon excelled as a student at the Stockwell House School in Colchester from age ten to fourteen. Then, he was moved to St. Augustine’s Agricultural College in Maidstone. By age fifteen, he was a strong student who had high moral character and was knowledgeable of the Scripture and Puritan theologians.6
Despite his studies and contact with the Scriptures, Spurgeon remained unconverted. He knew about God and understood that he was a sinner, but he could not connect the truth therein to his own life. In 1850, Spurgeon was converted while attending a Sunday morning service at a Methodist church. The regular pastor was not there, as he could not make it to the church due to snow.7 As a result, someone else filled the pulpit. Through the simple preaching of the word and calling for sinners to repent, Spurgeon “saw at once the way of salvation . . . the darkness had rolled away.” Now, he knew of “the precious blood of Christ.”8
In August 1850, Spurgeon moved to Cambridge to attend school. This school, founded by his former usher at the Colchester he attended, laid the groundwork for his teaching and preaching ministry.9 Spurgeon served as a teaching assistant, which allowed him the opportunity to hone his craft of teaching and preaching.
While in Cambridge, Dr. Joseph Angus, the principal of Stepney College, desired to meet with Spurgeon about furthering his education. Spurgeon showed interest in theological education, but he did not want it to be a burden to anyone. An appointment was set for Dr. Angus and Spurgeon to meet at the house of Daniel Macmillan, the famous publisher. Upon Spurgeon’s arrival, he was seated in the drawing-room. He waited two hours, wondering if Dr. Angus would arrive. Little did he know, Dr. Angus had been shown to a different room. After leaving, Spurgeon was burdened by the thought, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!” As a result, he decided not to extend his formal education.10
Spurgeon may not have continued his formal education, but he was most assuredly equipped for ministry and training others. Spurgeon may have been the most well-read pastor in England during his time.
Spurgeon would not have been who we now know him to be if it were not for those who invested in him and pointed him to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. His encounter with the living Christ through the Scriptures transformed his life. The Puritans and many others shaped Spurgeon to embrace a Christ-centered ministry that emphasized conversion, discipleship, and good works.
Spurgeon and the Pastor’s College
Spurgeon served as a leader in not only preaching and evangelism but also in training future pastors. Spurgeon believed the Pastor’s College was one of the most significant ministries he began. He wrote, “I was bound over not only to preach the gospel myself, but to see that others were helped to do the same.”11 He committed to training leaders to preach the gospel. He wanted to see lives changed by the gospel.
The Pastor’s College began unofficially in 1855. Spurgeon began to mentor Thomas Medhurst, a man converted under the ministry of Spurgeon who was baptized in 1854. Medhurst exhibited much fruit as a new Christian, so Spurgeon encouraged him to consider pastoral ministry. Soon after, Medhurst began training with Spurgeon for pastoral ministry. As time went by, Spurgeon realized that he would need assistance if more men were to receive pastoral training.
Spurgeon, upon the recommendation of two deacons, called George Rogers to serve as a tutor in the Pastor’s College in 1857. Within ten years, the number of students grew from one to between eighty and ninety.12 The college began by meeting in the Rogers’s home, but it moved to the basement of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861 due to increased enrollment. In time, the school raised money to build a new on the Temple Street. The school would remain there from 1874 until 1923 when it relocated to South Norwood Hill.13
Spurgeon believed that the ministry of the college was an utter necessity. This school, however, proved to be different from other schools. Spurgeon described its emphasis, writing, “It seems to me that many of our churches need a class of ministers who will not aim at lofty scholarship, but at the winning of souls.”14 Spurgeon intended the Pastor’s College to be a soul-winning training ground. Further, he said the Pastor’s College was “to maintain and spread the gospel of the grace of God by the education of faithful men called of the Holy Ghost.”15 He believed other schools during his time were not sufficient for the students God had sent to him. While many of the colleges were too expensive, more disheartening was their stance on the gospel. Spurgeon, rather than mourning that which was not, determined in his heart to establish what ought to be.
Spurgeon wanted to raise leaders’ theological clarity and evangelistic zeal.16 He followed the example of Luther and Calvin. He wrote,
These men became what they were largely through their power to stamp their image and superscriptions upon other men with whom they came in contact. . . . As soon as [the Countess of Huntingdon] perceived that the masses needed to be leavened with the Gospel, she saw at once that there must be an institution for the further training of these young men who had begun to speak. It is nothing but sanctified commonsense that leads the church to the formation of a college.17
Spurgeon believed in the need for the college. This desire ran deep, and he sought to train men in the gospel.
The Pastor’s College did not admit every applicant. The only men accepted into the college were those who had been preaching for at least two years. Spurgeon did not believe he could make a minister. Rather, he could only train those who had already been called and gifted by God. Because of this, students who were unable to afford the tuition or who did not meet educational requirements would not be turned away if they were believed to be gifted by God.18
The college incorporated a unique approach to theological education. It combined classroom training with a mentored internship. Students in the college were involved in the ministries at the Tabernacle. As a result, students applied what they learned and observed the applied theology teaching them in the classroom.19
The work put into training leaders brought about a great return. The school proliferated in its first decade. In 1865, statistical reports began to be provided during the Pastor’s College Annual Conference. In 1865, there were 7,359 church members in churches that the graduates served in. By 1891, there were 63,211 members. While the net increase was generally higher from 1875 and after, the average net increase each year was 2,911 members. Between 1865 and 1891, graduates from the college baptized 96,035 people, with an average of 3,557 baptisms each year.
“Spurgeon accomplished his intention for the school. He identified and trained men gifted by God who were committed to evangelism and discipleship.”—Aaron Lumpkin
Spurgeon accomplished his intention for the school. He identified and trained men gifted by God who were committed to evangelism and discipleship.20 Some of these men were sent to preach in other countries, a wish Spurgeon had for some time.21 Spurgeon encouraged those coming out of the college to plant new churches if no pastoral positions were available.22
In time, the college’s success would be recognized by others in the denomination. A denominational paper noted that the Pastor’s College had an income almost equal to that of three other colleges—Bristol, Rawdon, and Regent’s Park. In reviewing some additional information, the paper concluded that “Mr. Spurgeon and his friends are more earnest and liberal in the work of providing collegiate training for the ministry than are the major part of our pastors and ministers.”23 The Pastor’s College, formed to train men to proclaim that gospel, proved successful in its mission.
Spurgeon’s Lectures to His Students
Spurgeon trained men at the Pastor’s College primarily through lectures. Spurgeon’s lectures to his students frequently took place on Friday afternoons.24 During this time, he would teach students on several topics. Spurgeon emphasized the spiritual health of his students. A fruitful ministry needed a healthy pastor.
Spurgeon first taught his students that they must be closely connected to the Savior. The pastor must first and foremost be saved, for, without this, all ministry was in vain. The saved pastor must also be mature and continually pursue holiness and piety. Through this pursuit, the pastor should be blameless, having a high character consistent with the Scripture. Without these foundations, the minister would be no minister at all.25
Spurgeon emphasized the call to pastoral ministry. First, the student must have a robust and consuming desire for pastoring. If there is any desire beyond the glory of God, the student should not pursue the ministry. Second, the student must have some ability to preach and teach, for, without this, one cannot prove they have been called to preach. Third, the student must have some fruit in his life concerning the lost being saved. If people were not being converted by their influence upon their lives, the student’s calling was not sealed. Finally, the teaching that does take place should be acceptable to the church. By this, Spurgeon meant the student should edify the church and meet the qualifications and standards outlined in the Scripture.26
From the start, Spurgeon taught the importance of prayer in ministry. This was not only taught but also practiced by Spurgeon himself. He sought to teach and model a lifestyle of prayer that earnestly sought after God. Prayer was made for people, whether converted or unconverted.27 Spurgeon’s instruction on prayer applied both to personal and public prayers. Concerning private prayers, Spurgeon taught that prayer was ongoing, as prayers were to be made privately throughout the day. Private prayer assisted in sermon preparation. He considered those who did not do this to be conceited. Then, after preaching, private prayers should be made for the hearers. Private prayer was a necessity for the pastor.28 Spurgeon also provided instruction on public prayers. Public prayers were scriptural, less liturgical, and focused on God. Prayers also should avoid vulgar talk, useless repetition, and demands. Instead, they should flow from the heart. He taught that it is beneficial to intersperse them in worship gatherings. Also, prayers should not be too long or too short. Spurgeon believed prayers would be beneficial to his congregation by following these guidelines.29
Spurgeon stressed both content and delivery in his training. Students were taught interpretive skills to understand the Scriptures and were instructed in theology. Only then were students taught the importance of delivery and illustrations.30 At times, he would critique students after they would preach. He was very open with the students and sought their best interests. Spurgeon objected to reading sermons. Students were required to preach without a manuscript, for this was viewed as a strength that contributed to success in preaching.31
Sermons were to contain teaching that centered on the text. However, it should not be flooded with details. A sermon should be filled with the doctrine that is connected to the gospel in an organized fashion.32 Spurgeon also advised his students how to choose a text for a sermon. He believed that the text should be one that is not picked for you by some other individual. Instead, the text should be one that is shaping the pastor. All the while, the pastor should be seeking to learn to read texts and then write sermons.33
Spurgeon also taught on the importance of illustrations in preaching. As his lectures on Friday were typically the last lectures of the week, he understood that students may have been exhausted. As such, he sought to model through his lectures the way to appropriate illustrations. Through this, he hoped the students would see the value in illustrations and apply them to their own preaching.34 Illustrations were not to be viewed as the strength of the sermon, just as a window is not the strength of the house. Because of this, they should not be numerous in a sermon. Instead, they should be used sparingly, as they helped captivate the audience and bring light upon a subject.35 Even during his lectures on illustrations, Spurgeon advised that pastors should preach only what they know and refrain from saying what they do not know.36 Thus, illustrations were to be used only in assistance to leading people to understand that truths of the Scripture.
Spurgeon, along with other tutors at the college, taught on several other key topics. The students were instructed in the Scriptures, theology, history, biblical and extra-biblical languages, daily pastoral ministry, and knowledge in general.37 Students were taught to bring the Scriptures to life. It was not sufficient to have good interpretive skills. They had to connect the Scripture to the people. Students were also encouraged to engage with Christian thinkers and theologians of the past. Spurgeon and the tutors understood the importance of the original languages, for language was the medium by which the revelation came; as a result, the students were to learn the ins-and-outs of the languages. Students were also provided with recommended reading lists to promote spiritual growth and critical-thinking skills.38 They were trained to be hard-working and to be visionary motivators who would lead their congregations to pursue God’s glory.39 Overall, these lectures show that Spurgeon sought to train leaders who would continue in the paths that were set before them by the fathers of the faith, specifically in regard to prayer and preaching, which were essential to pastoral ministry.
Charles Spurgeon, a man deeply committed to fulfilling God’s call upon his life to preach and to raise up leaders, has proven over the generations to be a monumental figure in the history of Christianity. Time will continue to tell how his influence has shaped generations of Christians.
Spurgeon’s desire to make much of Christ seeped into every crevice of his life. His love for Jesus, the Church, and those separated from Christ led him to develop a robust preaching ministry as well as a school committed to seeing others make disciples all around the world. Through the Pastor’s College, Spurgeon continued a legacy of training men to preach the gospel. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
- Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 154. ↩
- Dallimore, Spurgeon, 4. ↩
- Rodney Douglas Earls, “The Evangelistic Strategy of Charles Haddon Spurgeon for the Multiplication of Churches and Implications for Modern Church Extension Theory” (PhD diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989), 26-27. ↩
- Dallimore, Spurgeon, 6. ↩
- Dallimore, 9. ↩
- Dallimore, 10–11, 15. ↩
- There is debate about the nature of these circumstances. See Peter J. Morden, Communion with Christ and His People: The Spirituality of C.H. Spurgeon (Eugene,: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 48–55. ↩
- Dallimore, 18–19. ↩
- W. Y. Fullerton, C.H. Spurgeon (London: Williams and Norgate, 1920), 43. ↩
- Fullerton, 53–55; Dallimore, 38–39; G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1894), 1:71–74. ↩
- C.H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1883 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1883), 85. ↩
- Ian M. Randall, A School of the Prophets (London: Spurgeon’s College, 2005), 2–3. ↩
- Randall, A School of the Prophets, 3–4. ↩
- C.H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1856–1878, vol. 3 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1899), 129. ↩
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Annual Report of the Pastor’s College,” The Sword and Trowel, 21 (June 1885), 307. ↩
- Earls, “Evangelistic Strategy,” 81–82. ↩
- Pike, Life and Work of Spurgeon, 4:356. ↩
- Timothy Albert McCoy, “The Evangelistic Ministry of C.H. Spurgeon: Implications for a contemporary model for pastoral evangelism” (PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989), 279–80. ↩
- Dallimore, Spurgeon, 105. ↩
- McCoy, “Evangelistic Ministry,” 282–85. ↩
- Pike, Life and Works of Spurgeon, 2:383. ↩
- Earls, “Evangelistic Strategy,” 85. ↩
- Pike, Life and Work of Spurgeon, 3:154. ↩
- Pike, Life and Work of Spurgeon, 4:294. ↩
- Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 7–21. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 22–41. ↩
- Dallimore, Spurgeon, 107–08. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 42–52. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 53–69. ↩
- Randall, A School of the Prophets, 17. ↩
- Pike, Life and Work of Spurgeon, 3:78. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 70–80. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 81–96. ↩
- Earls, “Evangelistic Strategy,” 95. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 349–53. ↩
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 436. ↩
- Randall, A School of the Prophets, 11. ↩
- Randall, A School of the Prophets, 12–16. ↩
- Randall, A School of the Prophets, 20. ↩