C. H. Spurgeon, maybe more than any pastor, knew how busy pastoral ministry can be. In addition to preaching four times a week, he led his elders and deacons in caring for a church of five thousand. Together, they visited members, interviewed membership applicants, led prayer meetings, chaired congregational meetings, pursued non-attenders, and much more. Additionally, Spurgeon published a weekly sermon, wrote numerous books, edited a monthly magazine, served as president of The Pastors’ College, oversaw two orphanages, corresponded with hundreds weekly, planted churches, supported denominational efforts, and the list goes on. The scale of Spurgeon’s ministry in the 19th century remains unmatched. But the essence of his work wasn’t all that different from any pastor today: caring for members, leading worship gatherings, training church leaders, overseeing benevolence and evangelistic efforts, engaging in church associations, and, as with Spurgeon, the list just keeps going. To some extent, these are the kinds of things that will fill up every pastor’s task list.
And yet Spurgeon would say that the most important thing to which he gave himself week after week was the preaching of the Word. Spurgeon once said to his students,
Brethren, you and I must, as preachers, be always earnest in reference to our pulpit work. Here we must labor to attain the very highest degree of excellence. Often have I said to my brethren that the pulpit is the Thermopylae of Christendom: there the fight will be lost or won. To us ministers the maintenance of our power in the pulpit should be our great concern, we must occupy that spiritual watch-tower with our hearts and minds awake and in full vigor. It will not avail us to be laborious pastors if we are not earnest preachers.
Just as the future of Greece depended on King Leonidas’ stand against the Persians, so the future of the church depends on the faithful and earnest preaching of the Word of God.
In other words, Spurgeon believed that every other ministry in the church, as important as they were, existed downstream from the pulpit. Rather than all church ministries existing independently of one another, with the corporate gathering simply being one more silo, Spurgeon envisioned the corporate gathering as the central ministry of the church (the “Thermopylae,” if you will). And in that corporate gathering, it is the Word of God preached (and sung and read and prayed) that gives life to God’s people and energizes all the ministries of the church. This vision of the power of God’s Word to revive God’s people drove Spurgeon’s commitment to preaching. Amid the busyness of pastoral ministry, here was the one thing that could not fail. No matter the pressures and responsibilities, for the sake of his people, he had to give himself to preaching excellent sermons.
What advice would Spurgeon give to busy pastors today regarding their preaching? How can we be faithful in this primary responsibility without neglecting other ministerial duties? Here are three ideas.
This would likely be the most important advice Spurgeon would give:
Maintain your walk with the Lord.
This would likely be the most important advice Spurgeon would give:
Too many preachers forget to serve God when they are out of the pulpit, their lives are negatively inconsistent. Abhor, dear brethren, the thought of being clockwork ministers who are not alive by abiding grace within, but are wound up by temporary influences; men who are only ministers for the time being, under the stress of the hour of ministering, but cease to be ministers when they descend the pulpit stairs. True ministers are always ministers.
In other words, don’t separate your devotional life from your ministerial duties. Instead, understand that the Holy Spirit must guide your life not only when you are “on the clock” but also in your private life. This will mean giving yourself to daily Bible reading and prayer, even when there may not be a direct ministry responsibility attached. As Spurgeon reminded his students,
We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order… books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service… my battle ax and weapons of war.
One of the private ways Spurgeon kept himself sharp for ministry was by leading his household in family worship. Twice a day, morning and evening, he led his household in prayer, singing, and Scripture reading, offering brief teaching on the text. Even when on vacation, Spurgeon commented how family worship kept him tethered to the Word and trained for ministry. All of this provided a consistency of life that strengthened his preaching ministry.
Carve out time to prepare.
Spurgeon loved spending time with visitors and would regularly open his home to them on Saturdays. They would stay through dinner and family worship, but at 6 PM, Spurgeon would often playfully say, “Now, dear friends, I must bid you ‘Good-bye,’ and turn you out of this study; you know what number of chickens I have to scratch for, and I want to give them a good meal to-morrow.” Spurgeon’s sermons tended to be delivered extemporaneously in their words. But in their biblical exegesis, theological considerations, devotional reflection, practical application, and homiletical arrangement, lay hours of intense meditation and preparation. Spurgeon warned his students, “I have no belief in that ministry which ignores laborious preparation.”
To be sure, every pastor will need to figure out their sermon preparation schedule. Most pastors should not wait to begin their formal preparations on Saturday evening! Younger pastors may need to carve out two or three days. More experienced preachers may do just as well with ten hours over multiple days. Spurgeon did not recommend any one particular process. But the process that worked for him involved all the typical elements of every preacher’s preparation: prayer, personal Bible study, consulting external sources, and arranging an outline.
Certainly, there will be interruptions in pastoral ministry. Spurgeon describes how “just as a sermon is shaping itself,” all kinds of people will drop by and insist on seeing the pastor. In our day, this can take the form of an urgent text message or repeated phone calls. This is where the elders can play an important role in helping to guard the pastor’s time by taking on these pastoral needs. Even so, there will be no way to make everyone happy. And yet, Spurgeon knew what had to be prioritized:
If we do not see every one, there will be such an outcry. All we can say is—they must cry, for we cannot neglect our Master’s business to play lackey to everybody who is moved by the powers of darkness to call us away from the word of God and prayer.
Always be preparing.
Even though Spurgeon had a scheduled time in the week for sermon preparation, there was another sense in which he was always preparing. As Spurgeon met with people, as he led in family worship, read books and newspapers, and trained his students, he was always thinking about his sermon and looking for material he could use. He once said this to his students,
We ought to be always in training for text-getting and sermon-making. We should constantly preserve the holy activity of our minds. Woe unto the minister who dares to waste an hour… We have no leisure as ministers; we are never off duty, but are on our watchtowers day and night… The leaf of your ministry will soon wither unless, like the blessed man in the first Psalm, you meditate in the law of the Lord both day and night.
The pressure of the weekly sermon should also cause the preacher to live in constant prayer for himself and his people. “If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept — ‘Pray without ceasing,’ surely it is the Christian minister.” Prayer does not begin on Saturday nights or a few minutes before our sermon. Instead, it is the posture of dependence that should characterize the life of the preacher.
Spurgeon refused to confine his ministry to his study, but he gave himself to the work of a pastor. But his pastoral work was not separate from preaching. Rather, in knowing his people – their struggles, questions, doubts, and suffering – Spurgeon was better equipped to preach and apply God’s Word to them. He modeled what he taught his students,
Take care, also, to be on most familiar terms with those whose souls are committed to your care. Stand in the stream and fish. Many preachers are utterly ignorant as to how the bulk of the people are living; they are at home among books, but quite at sea among men. What would you think of a botanist who seldom saw real flowers, or an astronomer who never spent a night with the stars?
Commenting on her husband’s schedule, Susannah Spurgeon once declared, “Surely, there never was a busier life than his; not an atom more of sacred service could have been crowded into it.” And yet, out of this busy life came the greatest preaching ministry of the modern era. Indeed, Spurgeon’s busy pastoral, evangelistic, and benevolent ministries were not disconnected from his preaching. In many ways, they contributed to his success as a preacher, as Spurgeon used all his experiences to shape himself and his preparation. All this was only possible as Spurgeon maintained his walk with the Lord, guarded his time, and made preaching part of his lifestyle.
So it is today, as pastors face a busy schedule, we must prioritize the preaching of the Word and give ourselves to preaching excellent, earnest, faithful sermons. Only then may we hope for God’s blessing upon our ministries.
 C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students: A Selection from Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Second Series (London: Passmore Alabaster, 1883), 146.
 C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students: A Selection from Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, First Series (London: Passmore Alabaster, 1875), 13.
 Lectures, First Series, 1.
 C. H. Spurgeon, The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records by His Wife and His Private Secretary, Vol. IV. 1878-1892 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1900), 64.
 Lectures, First Series, 97.
 Autobiography, Vol. IV, 65-68.
 S&T 1882:424
 Lectures, First Series, 97.
 Lectures, First Series, 41.
 Lectures, Second Series, 160.
 Autobiography, Vol. IV, 89.