Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reflection on “Ordinary Pastor”

Last February my dad and I went to Minneapolis, MN to the Desiring God National Conference. D.A. Carson, one of my favorite New Testament Scholars, spoke on the theme of Father and Son in Scripture. While there I picked up Carson’s new book, “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson,” a book that spans the life and ministry of his father. Honestly, I picked this book up because I love D.A. Carson; I knew nothing of his father and was more interested in reading the book for his son’s encouragement about the ministry. In my mind, Tom Carson was the medium I could use to learn from his son. Boy was I wrong!

This may be one of the best books on ministry I have ever read. It is not the story of a world-renowned scholar, or the story of a pastor who built a mega-church from the ground up. It is the story of a pastor who dug into the trenches of service where few want to go or will ever answer the call to go. It is a story about a man who saw little fruit through years of intense labor. It is the story of a pastor who we would have never heard of or cared to hear of, had God not seen fit to place his son, a generation later, at the top of the evangelical ladder of scholarship. More than anything, it is the story of most ministers and how success is judged in God’s eyes not in terms of numbers, but faithfulness to the call. This is the way Carson opens the book about his dad:

Some pastors, mightily endowed by God, are remarkable gifts to the church. They
love their people, they handle Scripture well, they see many conversions, their
ministries span generations, they understand their culture yet refuse to be
domesticated by it, they are theologically robust and personally disciplined …
Most of us, however, serve in more modest patches. Most pastors will not
regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write
influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see
more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at
their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies and preaching.
Some will work with so little support that they will prepare their own bulletins
… Most of us – let us be frank – are ordinary pastors. Dad was one of them. This
little book is a modest attempt to let the voice and ministry of one ordinary
pastor be heard, for such servants have much to teach us. (9)

The conclusion of the book, so powerful my face was streaming with tears, summarizes the life of this man of God:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of
people in Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a
book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealth or powerful, but he kept
growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough … He was not very
good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists. When he died, there
were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no
announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the
nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the
quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would
never need it again. But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won
entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or
a great man – he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor – but because he was a
forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well
done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord” (147-148).


Jamie Fugate said...

Thank you John, I am certain that I will resemble Tom Carson much more than D.A. Carson at the end of my days, thank you for a beautiful reminder of the importance of faithfulness. This one will be purchased.

Anonymous said...

Good job. Praying for you and Emily. Uncle Tag