Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Jul 02, 2010

"This account gives us valuable insight into the life of a man who accepted the challenges of ministry with both integrity and grace, and into the life of a pastor in French Quebec. A powerful reminder that there are no little places if we are faithful to the God who called us."

-- from the back cover

When people ask me about books that I would recommend, or that have impacted my life, there are a few that are simply and clearly among the first-runners. This is one of them.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is well-known theologian D.A. Carson's compilation and commentary on his father Tom Carson's life. Drawing from his father's extensive journals, as well as personal, family, and friends' memories of Tom's life, D.A. Carson authors a wonderful and compelling look into the private and public struggles, disappointments, joys, and victories of a relatively unknown pastor.

I have complained to pastor friends of mine for years that most of the pastors' conferences seem to only invite famous, influential, mega-church pastors to speak at their events -- when in reality the people they are speaking to are usually ordinary, run-of-the-mill, struggling pastors who come fresh off the field of labor with sleeves roled up, dirt under their nails as it were, and laboring heroically in discouraging and painful and often solitary efforts in small churches.

There is an obvious disconnect between the experience and labors of the famous and influential speakers and their normal, unglamorous audience who is hungry for encouragement, instruction, and even honest conviction if it can help them labor more effectively in God's kingdom.

As a result, I have often wondered how many pastors go home from some of these conferences actually discouraged by all the glitz, and glamor, and prestige that was on display throughout the conference that presumably was supposed to benefit the local-church pastors in their meager and frustrating field of ministry. It seems obvious that a gifted -- but ordinary -- pastor would be a better choice for such a conference (which is why John Shearer was such an extraordinary bit of fresh air at Basics 2010 this year).

Well, this book made me wonder if my complaints had been from my mouth, to God's ear, to D.A. Carson's pen.

Here is a genuine, unsung hero of the faith.

Because I am not actually a history buff, I was also surprised by how interesting, readable, and inspiring Carson was able to make this simple biography of a little-known man. Carson is able to bring out -- with remarkable candor, considering it is his own father -- the faults, failings, and discouragements that Tom Carson faced in his ministry, and simultaneously remind us -- with remarkable humility, considering it is his own father -- of the tremendous impact that any such minister makes in the kingdom of God with his years of faithful service.

Instead of attempting to summarize a life that is summarized already so well in this book,  let me simply explain that Tom Carson knew what it was to labor for decades with only a handful of members and very little growth, to labor bi-vocationally while trying to balance family-provision and ministry, and to labor in the midst of church politics and personal grievances.

He was sometimes discouraged -- for a decade at a time or more! -- and he was sometimes hopeful and able to see the Spirit's working through his ministry. He was faithful in the small things -- like Bible study, visitation, peacemaking, and personal evangelism -- yet he never seemed to be given any great or noteable position as a result. It is for this very reason that he is the perfect reminder of Christ's promise concerning his kingdom, that "whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26-27).

Tom Carson -- like most faithful pastors -- served without a JumboTron, TV show, or book-signing to mark his ministry. He was servant to the least; he was minister to the poor; he was chief in the kingdom.

Resource: 'Finding Grace' Blog
Categories: Finding Grace, Pastoring

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