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Charles Spurgeon and the Ministry of Church Planting

Editors’ note: 

To learn more about the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, check out this resource by Nathan Finn and Aaron Lumpkin: The Sum and Substance of the Gospel: The Christ-Centered Piety of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Few pastors are more beloved than Charles Spurgeon. The “prince of preachers” delivered thousands of sermons, wrote scores of books, founded a theological college, oversaw an orphanage, and much more during his lifetime. He worked tirelessly to win souls for Christ. The missionary David Livingstone once asked him, “How can you accomplish so much in one day?” Spurgeon replied, “You forget, Mr. Livingstone, there are two of us working.”

We need this reminder. In a season of cultural change and endless spiritual warfare, pastoral ministry and the labor of church planting require that we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. We’re sent as sheep among wolves, so we must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). Much like what we face today, Spurgeon lived during a time of social and theological distress. Yet he maintained a consistent orthodoxy and a robust orthopraxy. I want this for you and me.

Even with Spurgeon’s prodigious ministry, I’ve found many who are unfamiliar with his passion for and promotion of church planting. In fact, he wrote in 1881, “It is my greatest pleasure to aid in commencing new churches.” Here are three lessons from his life and ministry that help us in this work today.

1. Need for Gospel-Centered Preparation

Spurgeon recognized the significance of ministerial preparation. His work in church planting was organized through the Pastors’ College, which he founded in 1856 and which served as a ministerial training ground situated in the local church. In his autobiography, Spurgeon wrote, “When the Pastors’ College was fairly molded into shape, we had before us but one object, and that was, the glory of God, by the preaching of the gospel.”

Church planters who are not equipped in the gospel will not be able to lead others deeper into the gospel.

Although Spurgeon didn’t have a college education, he advocated for theological education and taught classes through the college, where he worked to equip pastors to preach the truth of God with boldness. Between 1856 and 1892, his school trained more than 900 ministers. Students were immersed in Scripture because Spurgeon understood its power. They learned that “the gospel is, to the true believer, a thing of power. It is Christ, the power of God.”

Church planters who are not equipped in the gospel will not be able to lead others deeper into the gospel.

2. Significance of Piety and Evangelistic Zeal

Spurgeon wanted to train those already devoutly committed to Christ. He sought men who had “evident marks of a divine call”—who exemplified preaching abilities, deep piety, and genuine faith. But this faith was not simply intellectual. Spurgeon wrote in a letter:

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—men of the people, feeling, sympathizing, fraternizing with the masses of working men—men who can speak the common language . . . men ready to visit the sick and the poor, and able to make them understand the reality of the comforts of religion.

Spurgeon committed himself to seeing lives changed by the good news of Jesus. The first question for prospective Pastors’ College students was, “Have you won souls for Jesus?” Spurgeon’s dedication to evangelism continued throughout his ministry. This work was fundamental to the success of the Pastors’ College and is essential for church planting.

Spurgeon believed the church planter who lacked personal piety and evangelistic zeal was not prepared for gospel ministry.

3. Requirement of Faithful Endurance

Before Spurgeon sent graduates from the Pastors’ College to plant new churches, he presented them with a charge for the work that laid ahead. One biographer described the exhortation: “Several students, at different periods in the history of the College, on being sent out as pioneers to start new churches, received this singular charge: ‘Cling tightly with both your hands; when they fail, catch hold with your teeth; and if they give way, hang on by your eyelashes!’”

Spurgeon knew church planting is not for the faint of heart, so he prepared his students to endure. And the majority of pastors who graduated from the college remained faithful in both faith and practice.

Spurgeon believed the church planter who lacked personal piety and evangelistic zeal was not prepared for gospel ministry.

The Pastors’ College didn’t begin keeping statistics related to its graduates until 1865. By 1878, records indicate graduates had baptized more than 3,600 people. Graduates were serving all over the globe, including India, China, Japan, Africa, Spain, Italy, West Indies, South America, Australia, Canada, and the United States. And by 1889, students had planted more than 80 churches in and around London, and in all, more than 200 around the world. More than 40,000 people were baptized through the labors of these Pastors’ College graduates!

Spurgeon’s life and ministry offer numerous instructions for the work of church planting. It most assuredly reminds us to be rooted in, zealous for, and reliant on the gospel. Church planters, be faithful in the work and trust God with the harvest. And remember to run the race with endurance, even if you must hang on by your eyelashes.

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