By Rachel Phillips
April marked The Master’s College annual Spurgeon Fest, a week of chapels held each spring semester where three upper class Bible majors preach a sermon.
Many students know why it’s called Spurgeon Fest. Charles Spurgeon, known as the “Prince of Preachers,” was called to take on the pastorate at famed New Park Street Chapel in London at the tender age of 19, the same age as the students who are asked to preach in chapel. Few know, however, what goes on behind the scenes in both the selection and preparation of the men who are picked.
The program was created by the Bible faculty at the college more than 20 years ago. Bible Department chair Tom Halstead helps to advise these young men and oversees the process from selection to sermon. He first looks at the basic qualifications. They must be Bible majors, and it is preferred that they took sermon prep and are seniors. There’s more to it than that, however.
“The main thing we look at is their character. We want someone who is respected by the student body. They’re considered godly men and in our department we have respect for them.” Halstead said.
Once a list is compiled, Halstead sends it out to the Bible faculty and they pick their top three. After the three are finalized, he sends an email to the students telling them they’ve been selected.
“I've never had anybody turn me down,” said Halstead. “I've had a lot of people scared to death, but never turned me down.”
From there the chosen students meet with Halstead in his office at various times throughout the semester. They work first on an idea, then a rough draft and finally a complete transcript. Some years the men will pick a theme for their sermons, other years they decide it’s best to each preach on different topics. Either way, Halstead gives them free reign on the content (provided it’s biblical, of course).
This year, the three speakers chose a theme: “The Awesomness of God.” Jared Kingsley, a favorite among the students, preached on Revelation 5. He explained how Jesus is the “greatest hero champion in all of redemptive history,” and that a proper view of His awesomness should lead us to greater worship and dedication to Him.
“I (wanted) people to have a greater depth and breadth of the God that we worship,” Kingsley said. “We try to condense things and simplify them to the point where Jesus isn’t quite as glorious and awesome as He ought to be viewed.”
As encouraging as it is for the students to hear their peers preach, it can be somewhat intimidating for the men before they step behind that pulpit.
“I talked to Matt Nerdahl,” Kingsley said. “And he explained that preaching in front of his peers was like jumping off a cliff into water. When you’re going up you’re super nervous and you think you’re going to die, but on the way down it’s fun and it’s OK. I thought that was a fair way to describe before and the preparation when you’re about to go up.”
Along with choosing the sermon topic and theme, each student gets to choose the worship songs and the Bible professor who introduces them. It’s often while they’re singing the songs they chose that the nerves kick in.
Roger Festa, another student favorite, preached at Spurgeon Fest in 2011. Many recall not only his powerful sermon on Psalm 124, but also the introduction given by his favorite professor, Dr. Stephen Boyd. As he was about to go up to preach, he turned to Boyd and asked him a question.
“I asked Dr. Boyd,” Festa said. “If he ever gets nervous before preaching. He said, ‘The day you stop getting nervous for preaching the Word of God, you have forgotten how important what you're doing is.’ I'll never forget that…”
While preaching at a Bible college that holds the Word of God with such high regard in front of students your age and faculty whom you look up to can be daunting, the students find it is often a great blessing and privilege.
Festa, who is now actively involved in church ministry on the East Coast, looks back on his experience with gratitude.
“To be able to speak in a room full of people who were all … looking for the encouragement that comes from the Word of God and really wanted to see what the Lord has to say through you was nothing short of an honor,” Festa said.
Kingsley reflected on that same thing.
“I never really realized how humbling preaching is … You’re handling a book you don’t deserve to handle, you’re saying things you don’t deserve to say … you’re helping people you don’t deserve to help and you’re representing God who you don’t deserve to represent,” Kingsley said. “In all those ways I felt like the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time, but by God’s grace I had the opportunity to (preach).”
Spurgeon Fest is an experience like no other, both for the students who preach, and their peers who listen. It’s a tradition that will hopefully continue for many years to come.
As these young men learn what it means to wrestle through a passage, overcome their fear of preaching in front of the student body, and finally stand in front of hundreds and preach the Word of God, they realize it is only through the Lord they can have lasting impact on their peers.
“I don’t know of any other schools that do this,” Halstead said. “We’re somewhat unique in that area.”
Rachel Phillips is a TMC communication major.