I recently read a most inspiring book about an extraordinarily ordinary man. The book is Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. The subject of the book is the life and reflections of his late father, Tom Carson, a pastor who served for half a century in his native Canada. Tom worked through the heart of the 20th century to pioneer gospel-work in French-speaking Quebec.
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 to 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. They cannot possibly discern whether the constraints of their own sphere of service owe more to the specific challenges of the local situation or to their own shortcomings…Most of us–to be frank–are ordinary pastors.
What follows is a biographical sketch of his father, Tom, a man who faithfully served for decades as an ordinary pastor. Carson starts by acquainting the reader with the historical and cultural background of Quebec in the mid-20th century, assuming that most of his readers will need that point of reference. He then walks through his Dad’s life season by season, using personal stories from himself and his siblings, as well as a wealth of reflective insight found in excerpts from his Dad’s personal journals. The reader follows Tom from his early days in college and seminary through years laboring in a small work of a couple dozen people in Drummondville, to his later years as a bi-vocational pastor, through his final decade-plus as he cared for his ailing wife (Alzheimers) and faithfully prayed for, visited, and worked to disciple anyone he could until his death.
I was extremely refreshed by this book. The sketch of Tom Carson is skillful, honest, witty, and moving. It was great to be reminded that what matters most is simple faithfulness to Jesus. It can be so easy to fall into a trap where we are attempting to measure up to everyone else’s expectations of us, or to a perceived image, or to a desired status. What matters is faithfulness: faithfulness to God, faithfulness to His Word, faithfulness to the witness of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The kingdom of God is carried forward by people of simple faithfulness.
The final page of the book summarized the faithful legacy of this ordinary pastor:
Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais 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 far-sighted visionary, 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 children and grandchildren remember his laughter…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 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.”