I like so many others am tempted by the glamour and glitz of pastors who write books, have large ministries, speak at many conferences, and the like. Frankly, my own selfish pride gets the better of me at times and says to me, “Allen, you can be the next John Piper.” I wonder sometimes at the purpose of my pursuing a PhD. Is it to help my ministry, or another academic credential. Isn’t being an “ordinary pastor” sufficient? Does the world even need another John Piper? Or does the world need more ordinary pastors?
I picked up my copy of D. A. Carson’s book about his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson, a few weeks ago and picked it up to start reading it last week. At a brief 160 pages, and in a well-written narrative format, the book is a quick read. It is not your normal D. A. Carson faire. Instead of rich biblical studies or philosophical thoughts on postmodernism or some other topic, it is a simple biography of a simple man. It is a biography of his father, pioneering missionary in Quebec, Tom Carson.
I knew of Tom Carson and some of the other men who made their way into Quebec to face the predominently Roman Catholic French population. As one who grew up in a Fellowship church (a descendent of the Union that Tom started in) I was aware of “Fellowship French Missions” and the men that started it. I also learned more as I studied Canadian Baptist history in school and on my own and even more as I served at Toronto Baptist Seminary where Tom had attended school.
What is so important about Tom Carson? Nothing ultimately…
What I mean is, nothing ultimately about Tom is important. Tom was a man who simply strove to follow Christ by serving Him in the ministry. Tom was not a great man. Tom was an “ordinary pastor.” That is what makes this book so important for so many people today. It personally reminded me of the point in which I began pursuing the pastoral ministry. It was not about me, it was about serving Christ.
The reality is, 99% of us will never be John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, or Mark Dever. 99% of us pastors will be Tom Carson’s. Men faithfully plodding along in the vineyard where God has placed us. We will work in small churches, often see few converts, and will be discouraged and frustrated and wish we were more effective. We won’t write books and we won’t be on the radio. We won’t be invited to speak at conferences or the like. But, then again, that’s not really the point is it? The point of the Christian ministry is not fame but faithfulness in following our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Tom’s story moved me as it was faithfully told by his son. Through first hand account, journal entries, letters and such, Don Carson takes us into the life of an ordinary pastor. After reading it, I felt the need to repent of my sinful selfish desires for fame and fortune and rededicate myself to simply being an “ordinary pastor.” The point of the pastorate is not having the biggest church, the most converts, the best Sunday School, planting the most churches, writing the most books, having the most sermons downloaded, or being asked to the most conferences. God has called some men to this truly, but He has not called most. He has called most of us to be faithful servants and to plod along as “ordinary pastors.”
There are so many rich gems in this book but I simply want to leave you with an extended quote which finishes the book. Here Carson clearly points out the point of the life of this ordinary pastor. I hope my life will be found as worthy as his.
Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structure, but hundreds of people in the Outaousais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a farsighted visioary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator; but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his chilren and grandhildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on 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 h 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.”