The Pastors’ College: Spurgeon’s Vision for Church-Based Training

Since the early days of his pastorate, C.H. Spurgeon tutored and trained up gifted young men for the ministry. Over the first seven years of his ministry, Spurgeon would send out seven ministers, and yet more men were approaching him for training. By the spring of 1861, with sixteen men under his care, the financial cost of training these men was becoming too much. So at a special meeting on May 19, 1861, Spurgeon shared with his congregation his vision for pastoral training and took up a special offering to support the work.

But the congregation would do more than just give an offering. On July 1, 1861, the congregation passed the following motion:

Our Pastor having told the Church of his Institution for educating young ministers, and having informed them that several were now settled in country charges and laboring with great success, it was unanimously agreed, – That this Church rejoices very greatly in the labours of our Pastor in training young men for the ministry and desires that a record of his successful & laborious efforts should be entered in the church-books – Hitherto, this good work has been rather a private effort than one in which the Church has had a share, but the Church hereby adopts it as part of its own system of evangelical labours, promises its pecuniary aid, and its constant and earnest prayers.

The Pastors’ College was born. No longer would the training of future ministers be the private effort of their pastor, but now it would be an official ministry of the church, supported by the giving and prayers of the members. This college would share many of the characteristics of the pastor, his robustly evangelical and Calvinistic doctrine, the focus on producing preachers of the gospel, the warm and personal form of instruction, and more. But more important than the college’s connection to Spurgeon was its union with a vibrant local church. This set it apart from all the other academic institutions of the time. Spurgeon writes,

The relation of the College to a large and active Church, by which it is principally sustained, and which takes a lively interest in its welfare, is one special means of its prosperity. The intercourse of the Students with the Members of the Church contributes much to their social and their spiritual welfare. The officers of the Church cheer them by their kindness and aid them by their counsel. A familiarity with Church discipline is acquired, and with all the appliances by which a flourishing Church is sustained and enlarged, which is treasured up for future use, and supplies what has hitherto often proved to be a serious deficiency in a College education for the pastoral office.

More than simply financing the ministry of the Pastors’ College, the congregation played an active part in the training, showing students what a healthy church looked like. Rather than allowing the college to substitute for the church, students were immersed in the life of a vibrant church. Most students either joined the church or were already members of the church. This involvement in the church meant not only discipleship but also accountability. The tutors of the college were often not only scholars but also recognized elders in the church. They not only taught the students doctrine but also modeled godliness and leadership in the church. Many of the students lived with approved families in the church, where they would see a well-ordered Christian home. The support of the members allowed the students to graduate without any debts. And as they participated in the worship, ministry, and discipline of a healthy church, the students gained a solid understanding of Baptist ecclesiology and a vision for pastoral ministry, “treasured up for future use.” By this tight association between the Metropolitan Tabernacle and the Pastors’ College, Spurgeon sought to address an ecclesiological deficiency in pastoral training in his day.

Today, many churches have outsourced pastoral training to para-church institutions. Certainly, seminaries and Bible schools still play a vitally important role in theological training. But there is a great loss when pastoral training is entirely separated from the local church. 

As theological training becomes more flexible with online and modular formats, there is a growing opportunity for local churches to partner with seminaries in pastoral training. If you’re a local church pastor, even if you don’t have the resources to start a formal training program, consider how you might intentionally invest in men who are interested in the ministry. The seminary should do a good job of providing instruction in theology, hermeneutics, biblical languages, church history, and other academic areas. Your job is to bring it all together, showing how these disciplines are deployed in pastoral ministry and how they serve a congregation.

One way to do this is simply by letting others see the behind-the-scenes work of the church. Open elders’ meetings to these students and let them hear you discuss difficult pastoral and theological issues. Allow them to walk through a discipline process with you or sit in on a membership interview. Bring them in on service planning and service review meetings. Read through good books on pastoral ministry and ecclesiology. And make sure they are steeped in healthy relationships in the church. Give them a vision for leadership and love for the local church, shaped by the gospel.

Pastors have a critically important role to play in pastoral training. This is not something that can be outsourced. Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 2:2 is part of the pastor’s job description (the Timothy Track at Midwestern Seminary combines theological training with local church mentorship; learn more here). But this is not something they can fulfill by themselves. They require the support of their congregations in this task. May God give churches and pastors a vision for training up the next generation to proclaim the gospel.

  1. This article was first published on The Spurgeon Center blog on January 12, 2021.
Written by
Geoff Chang

Dr. Geoff Chang is Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology and the Curator of the Spurgeon Library.

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Written by Geoff Chang