18 March 2007

A Recipe for Church Growth

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Christ Lifted Up," a sermon preached on July 5, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

he question is asked in these times, "How are we to get the working-classes to listen to the word?"

The answer is, Christ is his own attraction, Christ is the only trumpet that you want to trumpet Christ. Preach the gospel, and the congregation will come of themselves. The only infallible way of getting a good congregation, is to do this.

"Oh!" said a Socinian once, to a good Christian minister, "I cannot make it out; my chapel is always empty, and yours always crammed full. And yet I am sure mine is the more rational doctrine, and you are not by any means so talented a preacher as I am."

"Well," said the other "I will tell you the reason why your chapel is empty, and mine full. The people have a conscience, and that conscience tells them that what I preach is true and that what you preach is false, so they will not hear you."

You shall look through the history of this realm ever since the commencement of the days of Protestantism, and I will dare to say it without fear of contradiction, that you will almost in every case find that the men who have attracted the greatest mass of people to hear them, have been men who were the most evangelical—who preached the most about Christ and him crucified.

What was there in Whitefield to attract an audience, except the simple gospel preached with a vehement oratory that carried everything before it. Oh, It was not his oratory, but the gospel that drew the people. There is a something about the truth that always makes it popular.

You tell me that if a man preaches the truth his chapel wild be empty.

Sir, I defy you to prove that. Christ preached his own truth, and the common people heard him gladly, and the multitude flocked to listen to him.

My good ministering brother, have you got an empty church? Do you want to fill it? I will give you a good recipe, and if you will follow it, you will, in all probability, have your chapel full to the doors.

Burn all your manuscripts, that is No. 1. Give up your notes, that is No. 2. Read your Bible and preach it as you find it in the simplicity of its language. And give up all your Latinized English. Begin to tell the people what you have felt in your own heart, and beseech the Holy Spirit to make your heart as hot as a furnace for zeal. Then go out and talk to the people. Speak to them like their brother. Be a man amongst men. Tell them what you have felt and what you know, and tell it heartily with a good, bold face; and, my dear friend, I do not care who you are, you will get a congregation.

But if you say, "Now, to get a congregation, I must buy an organ."

That will not serve you a bit.

"But we must have a good choir."

I would not care to have a congregation that comes through a good choir.

"No," says another, "but really I must a little alter my style of preaching."

My dear friend, it is not the style of preaching, it is the style of feeling. People sometimes begin to mimic other preachers, because they are successful. Why, the worst preachers are those who mimic others, whom they look upon as standards preach naturally. Preach out of your hearts just what you feel to be true, and the old soul-stirring words of the gospel will soon draw a congregation. "Where the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."

But if it ended there, what would be the good of it? If the congregation came and listened to the sound, and then went away unsaved, of what use would it be? But in the next place, Christ acts as a net to draw men unto him. The gospel ministry is, in God’s Word, compared to a fishery; God’s ministers are the fishermen, they go to catch souls, as fishermen go to catch fish.

How shall souls be caught? They shall be caught by preaching Christ. Just preach a sermon that is full of Christ, and throw it unto your congregation, as you throw a net into the sea—you need not look where they are, nor try to fit your sermon to different cases; but, throw it in, and as sure as God’s Word is what it is, it shall not return to him void; it shall accomplish that which he pleases, and prosper in the thing whereto he hath sent it.

The gospel never was unsuccessful yet, when it was preached with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. It is not fine orations upon the death of princes, or the movements of politics which will save souls. If we wish to have sinners saved and to have our churches increased; if we desire the spread of God’s kingdom, the only thing whereby we can hope to accomplish the end, is the lifting up of Christ; for, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

C. H. Spurgeon


Peculiar Pete said...

I love Spurgeon!

I think a great problem with our modern church is that we are trying to please men and not God. There is nothing wrong with having a nice choir, or a beautiful church building. But if we are dwelling on those things and not the Gospel, than we have a big problem! The church is to glorify God, not to make men happy.


Tom said...

The world is looking for a revelation.
We're always under their investigation.
They look at us to hear what we've got to say.
They can't see Jesus when we stand in the way.
They don't need no more elevated speeches.
We're keeping Jesus just beyond their reaches.
Can't see the forest for all of the trees.
They won't see Jesus till we fall on our knees.
Lift Him up higher and higher.
Lift Him up set the world on fire.
It doesn't take much theology.
Just lift Him up so the world can see.
Lift Him up tell the gospel story.
Lift Him up let them see His glory.
It doesn't take any Bible degree.
Just lift Him up so the world can see.
Sometimes they just can't see beyond the haze.
Or find their way through the religious maze.
Just like Zaccheus they're trying to see.
They've got to somehow see beyond you and me.
Oh - how the world needs to see him.
So they can believe Him.
Oh - how can we ever hide Him.
As if we had denied Him.
Oh - How could He ever draw them.
If they never saw Him.
Oh - How can they see His glory
Without you and me.
Lift Him up tell the gospel story.
Lift Him up let them see His glory.
It doesn't take any Bible degree.
Just lift Him up so the world can see.

-Petra circa 1983

Jonathan Moorhead said...

"Burn all your manuscripts, that is No. 1. Give up your notes, that is No. 2. "

I guess I'm done.

Phil Johnson said...

Jonathan Moorhead:

I had a similar reaction when I first read this.

But you have to remember that Spurgeon was encouraging young preachers not to adopt a particular Victorian style of affected "piety" that depended heavily on a nasal tone and a lot of words carefully chosen to sound erudite and academic rather than the kind of language that would communicate to common people. He was right to deplore that.

I don't think he's suggesting that notes and manuscripts are themselves the problem, or that it's inherently wrong to preach a prepared sermon. (Otherwise, a lot of us would be sunk.) He's simply saying that a more exptemoraneous style driven by real, heartfelt passion, would cure a lot of the ills that made so many Victorian sermons so dull and ineffectual. The message wasn't the problem. Even style wasn't the root issue. The real problem was a lack of passion and conviction in the heart of the preacher. And one sure cure for that would be what Spurgeon proposed.

Jim Crigler said...

If I hadn't read a batch of Spurgeon (thanks in no small way to you for that, Phil), I'd be worried over "Preach out of your hearts just what you feel to be true". Of course, CHS meant that the preacher should so embed the Truth in his heart that it causes him to feel something, not that you should feel something and preach it. That would lead to preaching from "a bit of undigested beef" or "more gravy than [grace]".

C. M. White said...

I'm going to replace "organ" with "Playstation 2" and "choir" with "50-inch TV" and email this to my youth pastor...haha.

Doug McMasters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug McMasters said...

Excellent word, excellently put.

One note of observation:

Spurgeon's focus is on building a congregation by reaching the lost with solid, authentic, heart-felt gospel work and preaching. That presupposes we are consumed by gospel truths, compelled by them so deeply we possess a compassionate longing for the lost, and committed to seeing Christ magnified by the unadorned and unadulterated declaration of His redeeming work.

When our focus is fixed on becoming that, questions of style don’t even show on the radar.

donsands said...

"And behold a woman in the city, who was a sinner, ...stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anoited them with the perfume. ... she showed her love ... And He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:37-38,47,50

This powerful example of who Christ is in the midst of religion and sin, and repentant sinner who loved Christ, and believed in Him, came to mind as I read these words from Spurgeon.

John said...

As you know Spurgeon would be surprised at how few people are attracted in to hear even the best preaching in London today. I am convinced of his reasoning that it is right to preach the Word in season and out of season but I have a couple of questions about how his convictions might have changed over his lifetime.

• Was he and did he always remain convinced that people would always flock to hear faithful preaching no matter the state of the nation?

• Did he stick with the conviction of his prime that a preacher must expect conversions every time he preached?

The second question is most important because many men have felt the burden of that through long ministries in which they have seen conversions at a much slower rate than every week. I don't believe that Spurgeon would have wanted to place burdens on the backs of his brethren without doing all he could to help carry them. Did he ever voice the realization that things could change with respect to the hearing of the Word?

Phil Johnson said...

John: "Was he and did he always remain convinced that people would always flock to hear faithful preaching no matter the state of the nation?"

I don't think he ever believed people would always "flock" to hear. He knew there are times when the preaching of God's Word is "out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). I think he would say, however, that one of the main reasons for the want of an appetite for biblical preaching today is the church's own failure to remain faithfully at that task.

John: "Did he stick with the conviction of his prime that a preacher must expect conversions every time he preached?"

Again, I don't think he ever believed or suggested that the norm is to see conversions "every time" we preach. Spurgeon himself didn't see that many conversions. What he said was that the Word always achieves its intended purpose. Sometimes God's purpose in the preaching of the Word is merely to bring conviction. Other times its the hardening of a sinful heart. Conversion is by no means the only work the Word accomplishes. Look at the fruit of Jeremiah's ministry in the OT for proof of that.

However, if we faithfully plant and water, we have every reason to anticipate that God will give the increase. Sometimes that's the culmination of years of faithful ministry.

You do have a living example of this in London at today's Metropolitan Tabernacle. Currently, the auditorium is packed full every Sunday with people flocking to hear the faithful preaching of God's word. Forty years ago, there were hardly enough people in that whole congregation to fill a medium-sized Sunday school room. But Peter Masters has been diligent in sowing and watering for more than 35 years, and God has indeed given the increase.

David Rudd said...

what would spurgeon say about men like joel osteen and rob bell?

clm said...

This is a crushing sermon to read. I have been pastoring a church for almost four years and have honestly tried to proclaim God's Word expositionally. But I have seen our church shrink over that period of time. So in reading this quote it has made me think and search my heart and preaching. How do I honestly and objectively evaluate my preaching? Does anyone know of a good and honest and objective evaluation of preaching to see if it is truly expositional?

Thanks for putting this sermon up, even though it is quite painful to read.