The Work Ethic of John Calvin


John_Calvin_2I have been teaching a class on Reformed worship and the formulations of Presbyterian liturgies. This class will have to have the story of Calvin and Geneva to make sense of how some of these liturgies were made. A source on the life of John Calvin I found helpful and well-written is John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by Robert Godfrey. Clearly there is more read than can be taught in a single Sunday School class. Thus for this post I wanted to highlight the work ethic of Calvin. It was a work ethic that would serve as an example of how much we can do in a week. 

John Calvin brought to the Genevan church strong leadership and instituted a work ethic that would ensure the Reformed Church’s strength and endurance. Calvin was intentionally intense in his activity as a minister. He preached a total of eight or nine times every two weeks. In Geneva, ministers preached every Sunday morning and afternoon. They also preached every workday morning. Calvin’s preaching was expository through the books of the Bible. When he preached he would usually preach on three or four verses in the New Testament and ten to twelve of the Old. (61) On Sundays, Calvin would always preach from the New Testament, with the exception of a series of sermons on the Psalms on Sunday afternoons. How long would his sermons be? Calvin would generally preach for thirty minutes. And during the Congregation meetings he would preach for the ministers. A tool to train the ministers. Calvin’s proficiency of Hebrew and Greek was such that, when Calvin preached he preached without notes directly from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Ministry to the children is something many churches leave to the inexperienced or even non-ordained people. But in Calvin’s Geneva, ministers would catechize the children every Sunday at noon. Children were not beneath his efforts. As a matter of fact, Calvin wrote a catechism for children. He believed that catechism was one of the best ways to train young minds of the Reformed faith.

Fridays the ministers, and others who wished to attend, would meet at the gathering called The Congregation to hear a sermon and discuss the preaching.(59) The Venerable Company of Pastors would also meet to discuss and decide matters of doctrine. Elders, with ministerial participation, would meet weekly as the Consistory (Session). Here they discussed matters of discipline and regulations of the moral life for citizens in Geneva. And every quarter the elders visited families before Communion (Communion was celebrated quarterly on Christmas, easter, Pentecost and 1st Sunday of September).

Additionally, Calvin would lecture frequently at the Academy of Geneva as part of the education of future ministers. And he would visit the sick often. But in 1542, when the Plague broke out in Geneva, he was forbidden from visiting the sick by the city Council. Somehow, during all this he found time to study and write. Starting in 1546 (he died in 1564) he produced an average of one commentary a year on a book of the bible. He wrote various theological treatises, wrote many letters to answer questions of friends all over Europe and around 1500 of his sermons were published (some were lost).

If you are a minister, the bar is set high. We should be encouraged to see how much can be done in a week, to increase our input and output.