Books about megachurch pastors are so discouraging. The success stories of how they built a church of thousands from a Bible study in their living room sell lots of books, to be sure, but they also hold up a worldly measure of ministry achievement, and promote an ungodly desire for celebrity status among pastors. For those of us who are faithfully plodding away, seeking to shepherd our normative and smaller-sized flocks, these kinds of books do more harm than good.
Enter Geoffrey Chang’s Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry (B&H, 2022). Charles Spurgeon was most certainly a megachurch pastor. The Metropolitan Tabernacle consistently had a membership of multiple thousands! However Spurgeon was also, as Chang so wonderfully portrays, the polar opposite of the typical megachurch pastor of our day. And because of that, I found this book to be a tremendous encouragement to my soul.
There are plenty of Spurgeon biographies out there. I would heartily recommend Spurgeon: A Biography by Arnold Dallimore (Banner of Truth, 1985). Chang’s book, however, provides a picture of the way Spurgeon pastored his local congregation. Chang takes us through Spurgeon’s work in preaching, planning and overseeing worship gatherings, managing membership and church discipline, delegating work among a plurality of elders, and raising up younger men to go pastor other congregations.
As I read about the way Spurgeon shepherded his flock, I found myself eager to become a better shepherd myself, even though he served in metro London while I serve in rural Kentucky, and even though he pastored thousands while I only pastor a couple hundred. This was no CEO pastor. Spurgeon was not focused on being a visionary, expanding out to more campuses, or building his brand. He had a shepherd’s heart for the sheep entrusted to him, and he consistently felt the weight that he would one day give an account for the souls under his care (Heb. 13:17). This is a book for us normal pastors.
Geoff Chang has done his homework. His research, reading, and even travel for this project was extensive. The information in this book is top-notch in terms of both quantity and quality. But Chang is not simply regurgitating research here—he is also an excellent writer and storyteller. I found myself reading for long stretches of time without wanting a break. One particular first-hand story he unearthed even had me in tears. I’ll let you read the book to find out about that one yourself.
Early on in the book, Chang writes, “At the heart of his pastoral strategy was the belief that the Bible is sufficient and speaks to how the church is to be led” (Kindle loc. 343). This commitment, above all others, is what made Spurgeon’s church so unique in 19th century London. Us normal pastors cannot hope to replicate Spurgeon’s talent, his prolific preaching and writing output, or his influence. But if we follow in his footsteps, and ruthlessly hold to the conviction that the Bible is a sufficient guide for how the church is to be led, we too can pastor churches that lead people to the glory of God and the kingdom of heaven.
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