An interview with Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey, co-authors of Steal Away Home
By Carol Pipes
While primarily chronicling the story and friendship of Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, who spent 28 years as a slave in the United States before training at Spurgeon’s college and being commissioned to Africa as a missionary, Steal Away Home also offers a unique glimpse into Spurgeon’s day-to-day life.
You see Charles’ marriage to Susannah, his daily struggles, his bouts with depression, and his ministry as a pastor in London.
The book released on August 1. Facts & Trends had the opportunity to talk to co-authors Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey about the book and the lessons gleaned from the lives of Spurgeon and Johnson.
This is the second half of a two-part interview. Read the first part of the Q&A: “The Unknown Story of Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson.”
Charles Spurgeon was pastor of a large church with an expansive ministry. You mention in the book that he was a strong leader but that the secret of his pastorship was his vulnerability. Why does vulnerability seem rare today, and why is that an essential characteristic to bring to the role of pastor?
Ivey: That struggle has always been true of any pastor or public figure, but I think it’s harder in our current culture. So much of life is lived in a very public, fast-paced sort of way.
You see people’s lives lived out in 140-character tweets or a single photo that captures a perfect moment on Instagram.
There’s a tendency to run away from vulnerability because we only want people to see this sort of outward perspective of us.
Vulnerability has always been crucial in the life of a pastor, but even more so now because so much of our life can be edited and filtered.
We’ve found, and I think Spurgeon found, the key is to have real-life relationships with people who don’t just see the filtered, edited version of you but who know all the parts of your heart and your character, your struggles, your wins, and your failures.
Ultimately, what keeps pushing me toward Jesus is knowing I have brothers in my life who see every area and can keep pushing me toward confession and repentance. Without that, it’s easy to hide.
Carter: What I’ve found incredibly powerful as a pastor is that people are not really changed or motivated by a picture of perfection; what’s been powerful and brought real change is when they see God’s grace through imperfection.
As a pastor, you have to walk a fine line, but you want to present yourself in the reality that says, “Look, I’m just like you. I struggle and fail just like you do, but this is how God has brought me victory in this.”
Whenever I’m vulnerable like that, it’s shocking how much feedback I get from people saying, “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I needed to know I’m not alone, and I love to hear how God has brought you victory in those areas.”
What other lessons can pastors take from Spurgeon’s life, his relationships, and how he led his church?
Ivey: One of the things that made the Spurgeons’ family life so strong was their marriage. Susannah was, in many ways, a hero in their marriage and friendship.
Even though both Charles and Susannah had a lot of suffering in their lives in the form of illness, doubt, depression, worry, and anxiety, they were rocks for each other. They supported and encouraged each other.
Thirty-three years of Charles’ life were spent sick or depressed. We have historical records that show how Susannah kept reminding him of the truth of the gospel.
She helped him write articles and sermons when he was unable to pick up a pen and write because his gout was so bad. The flip side is true, too.
After the birth of their sons, Susannah was bedridden. Charles served her and was by her bedside reading the Bible to her and encouraging her.
One thing that comes to the surface in this story is how amazing their marriage was because they were so supportive of each other and kept reminding each other of the truth of the gospel.
You see the exact same thing in Thomas and Henrietta Johnson’s marriage. There’s an exact parallel theme of husband and wife really cheering each other on.
Both of these marriages were way ahead of the times they were living in.
The theme of human suffering runs throughout the book. What do you hope readers will learn from this?
Ivey: Every character in this book endured some type of suffering.
I think we have the tendency as leaders and pastors to try to avoid suffering at all costs and acquire comfort. But you see God used every bit of suffering in the Spurgeons’ and Johnsons’ lives.
I hope as people read this book they are encouraged not to run away from suffering but to see God’s grace in the middle of the suffering and see how He shapes us through pain, sickness, and sadness.
We have the opportunity to lead others because of the suffering we experience.
Carter: Only a person who walks through suffering can say, “In the house of mourning, we can hear every whisper of God.” You have to experience suffering to say something like that to someone else who is suffering.
Read the first half of the Q&A, “The Unknown Story of Charles Spurgeon and Charles Johnson.”
Buy your copy of Steal Away Home today.
Matt Carter (@_Matt_Carter) serves as the pastor of preaching and vision at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. In addition to Steal Away Home, he has co-authored multiple books, including a commentary on the Gospel of John in The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series and two group studies, Creation Unraveled and Creation Restored, which trace the gospel message through the book of Genesis.
Aaron Ivey (@AaronIvey) is the pastor of worship at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. In addition to Steal Away Home, he has written and produced 10 worship albums and has written hundreds of congregational worship songs. His songwriting includes works represented in Worship Together, Jesus Culture, Capital Music Group, Doxology & Theology, and Austin Stone Worship.