A church generally will follow the example of its pastor. Through their teaching, through their example, pastors play a huge role in setting the culture of the church. Whatever the pastor is passionate about, that will come through, and the congregation usually will follow. As a general rule, the pastor will generally be the most spiritually-minded person in the congregation, because they’re the ones giving themselves to studying and preaching God’s Word. Which means how we live really matters. We want pastors to be men of “eminent piety.”
For Spurgeon, the Pastors’ College, out of all the many institutions of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, was the one that was “dearest to his heart.” Every Friday afternoon, after a long week of study, one of the favorite times of the students was when Spurgeon would lecture on a variety of topics related to pastoral ministry. And out of the many topics that he preached on, the one that he emphasized the most was the importance of the pastor’s “eminent piety,” that is his character.
We live in a day when so many gifted pastors and church leaders with large public ministries go astray in their private lives, in their character. And as a result, all that public ministry comes crashing down. This was no different in the 19th century. Spurgeon understood this well and he placed “eminent piety” as his first qualification for his students who were aspiring to be teachers. All who find themselves in the position of being a teacher of God’s Word should follow Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching.” This is what Spurgeon called “the minister’s self-watch.”
But why does a pastor’s character matter?
We Are Our Own Tools
Spurgeon puts it this way:
We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Christ Jesus. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for 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 spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle ax and weapons of war.
When it comes to the ministry of the Word, we are the tool, the instrument for conveying the gospel. That’s not to say that we ourselves are the Good News. No, we are jars of clay, bearing the treasure of the gospel. But at the same time, it matters how we conduct our lives. I think of Paul’s words to Timothy
2Tim. 2:20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
It is interesting to think about all the other things we think make for an effective minister: the latest laptop, a massive pastoral library, a powerful Bible study software tool, resources to help with sermon illustrations, on and on it goes. There is no shortage of pastoral tools and resources that Lifeway, Crossway, Logos, and everybody else wants to sell you. And in one sense, all those things are fine. But at the end of the day, as a minister of God’s Word, those things are not what carry the gospel. You are the vessel, the instrument of the gospel. As a pastor who owned thousands of books, Spurgeon reminds us that in the end, it’s character and life that matter.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne writing to a minister friend who had gone to study German theology put it like this,
I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man — I mean of the heart.