Recently I started reading again Charles Spurgeon’s classic book, Lectures to My Students, and I noticed something in the introduction that I had not seen before. Lectures to My Students is a collection of messages given to the men of Spurgeon’s famous Pastors College, which produced hundreds of Jesus-loving and Bible-preaching men for God’s work.
In those opening words, Spurgeon described his idea of what kind of students to accept to the Pastors College:
"The institution receives no man in order to make him a preacher, but it is established to help in the further education of brethren who have been preaching with some measure of success for two years at the least."
In other words, the Pastors College didn’t accept a man unless he had already been preaching (with some measure of success) for at least two years. They knew they could not “make him a preacher,” but they could help those who were called and inclined to the work – and who were already doing it.
I’m not suggesting that as a new policy for Bible Colleges and Schools of Ministry, but I think that I understand what Spurgeon was getting at. Many people pursue some kind of schooling for God’s work with only a vague idea of what it really means to serve God. The education they receive will hopefully be good and helpful. Yet it could be so much better for them if their Bible or ministry education sharpened what they already had a start in, more than hoping to create something in them.
Here is a lesson that I believe abides: if you want God to use you, get busy doing something. If you want to be a pastor or a teacher, then get busy teaching regularly. Teach children or young people. Find a small group of people who will lovingly endure your youth, your fits and starts, and all your inexperience – and start teaching them. If you can’t find such a group, then create one. If you can’t create one, then prepare the Bible studies on your own and teach your house pets or plants.
In doing so, you will help to build an important concept in your heart and mind: that before anything else, your teaching or preaching is for God as your audience, and you want to honor Him in your service. It’s easy for pastors and teachers of all types to think that a message is important based on the audience who receives it; a bigger or more influential audience somehow deserves a better or more prepared message. Instead we must remember that God is always an audience to what we do. Remember what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” That applies to everything in life (“whatever you do”), but especially to whatever teaching or preaching God gives us the opportunity to do.
I know a pastor in Europe who, for nearly six months, preached to an empty room every Sunday. He prepared and taught faithfully, believing that God called him to do such an unusual thing. The experience made him a better pastor, leader, and teacher for those people he now serves every week.
God uses educational opportunities and institutions in wonderful ways, but it seems to do the most good in the lives of those who are already doing something.