Charles Spurgeon on the Call to Ministry


“That hundreds have missed their way and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches around us. It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling, and to the church whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind” – Charles Spurgeon

How does a man know if he is called to ministry? What exactly is a ministry call? What are the evidences or signs that someone has been called to preach?

In the second chapter of Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon provides invaluable counsel to help God’s people discern the nature and evidence of a ministry call. Spurgeon argues that if a man is truly called to the ministry:

1. He must meet the Biblical qualifications of I Timothy 3:2-7

2. He must have an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work – I Tim.3:2

  • Spurgeon advised young men to “not enter the ministry, if you can help it.”
  • If a man can be content doing something other than ministry, he is probably not called to be a pastor.
  • This desire should not be a sudden emotional response to a sermon or the presentation of a great need. Rather, a man should carefully count the cost before responding to a potential call.
  • The prospective preacher should feel a “fire in his bones” (Jer.20:9), a holy compulsion to spend and be spent for the glory of God and good of His church.

3. He must have some ability to teach and some measure of other qualities needful for the office of a public minister / instructor

  • If a man is called to preach, he will have an ability to do so. His gifts, however, should be cultivated, developed, and increased over time.
  • Many men of God throughout church history failed miserably in their first attempts at preaching, but became mighty proclaimers of the gospel as time went on.

4. He should see a measure of fruit under his efforts

  • The conversion of souls provides a “seal” to a man’s ministry.
  • The world would never label a man as a fisherman who catches no fish, a soldier if he never fights, a firefighter who does not quench fires… how can a man who is commissioned by God for the gospel ministry bring no men to God?
  • Spurgeon acknowledges that there will be times of bareness. Dry seasons, however, will not produce complacency or apathy. Rather, they will stoke an even greater passion in the preacher’s heart to see souls saved and lives changed by the gospel.

5. Other godly men and women in the church should recognize the call of God on his life

  • A subjective feeling or experience is not enough. A man’s internal sense of calling must be confirmed by the external affirmation of God’s people.
  • A wise man will not be slow to set aside the counsel or concerns of the church, especially the counsel of other men of God.
  • God will provide opportunities for those whom He has called to preach.

Would you agree or disagree with Spurgeon’s assessment of a ministry call? Is there anything that you would add or take away?

Micah Colbert bio

Micah is the discipleship and outreach pastor at Community of Grace Church in Buffalo, NY. He is also the author of two outreach books: Good News for All Nations and Discovering Hope. Micah enjoys reading, coffee, hearty conversations, and time spent with his wife and four children.


Mostly agree w/CHS here. He emphasizes the wrong point on desire, though. It’s the intensity of the desire that matters most but the why of it. There are definitely more than a few guys in pulpits who are there for the power and prestige. If you grow up in church, it’s easy to imagine levels of prestige and respect that don’t really go with the role. They may seem to from outside it. So some guys are after that.

Others are after the authority. They still want respect and prestige but as a means to an end: exerting their will over other people.

So the desire can be plenty strong and still be profoundly wrong.

And it can be relatively mild but driven by biblical goals and a biblical understanding of what the work entails.

Of course it can be both intense and biblical! But the intensity is generally overrated, in my view.

Also, the old “don’t be a pastor if you can be anything else” tends get distorted into “don’t be a pastor if you have the skills to flourish in a ‘real job’ ” … I think there are more than a few guys in ministry that couldn’t do something else if they wanted to. This is an unhealthy dynamic. We should be cultivating leaders who could succeed brilliantly as doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, whatever—but who choose not to.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I agree with much of CHS’s thoughts, but agree with Aaron re: desire. However, the one thing I’ve always questioned is CHS’s conversion requirement. If we believe that God is sovereign over salvation, why would we place the responsibility to convert souls on the would-be preacher? If he preaches, but there are few if any conversions under his preaching, does that mean he’s not called to pastoral ministry?

[T Howard]

However, the one thing I’ve always questioned is CHS’s conversion requirement. If we believe that God is sovereign over salvation, why would we place the responsibility to convert souls on the would-be preacher? If he preaches, but there are few if any conversions under his preaching, does that mean he’s not called to pastoral ministry?

I agree with you. The Bible indicates that there *will* be fruit. I think, however, that maybe because of other verses that talk about the “harvest,” we often mistakenly equate fruit with conversions. (I have certainly heard preaching that did that in more than one of my past churches.) A good pastor might not be the absolute best at evangelism, but he may be a great shepherd of the church members, or he might be an excellent teacher. Discipleship and teaching are lifelong, and I would argue that the conversion is just the first step (and often not the hardest). I would personally say that a pastor who is great at “teaching them to observe all things…” has shown quite a bit of fruit.

Not all men’s skills (or fruit) will be in the same area, even if they are full-time ministers of the Gospel.

Dave Barnhart

The biggest weakness I see is not a willingness or desire to take on the task, but rather the ability. I see too many men ascent the pulpit who are really just repeating the spiel they learned in Bible college instead of exegeting the Scripture, and as a result, they tend to go back tot he same list of “soapbox” items they’ve been using for the past 10/30/60 years, even when it really does not fit the text at all. As a result the church tends to be theologically shallow, culturally driven, and unable to apply the Scriptures for themselves (what is their model, after all?). Either that, or they tend to hypocrisy—putting up with the soapboxes in speech, but disregarding them in practice.

That has a lot to do with what Aaron says about “what about someone who could be a great lawyer but chooses not to?”, and it has a lot to do with what Dave notes about the pastor who really excels at discipleship. It’s fairly easy to train someone to run a program that gets a certain number of people to pray the prayer, but working through the challenges people face day to day Biblically takes a lot more, IMO.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.