This past week I had the joy of reading Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. At 160 pages it is a quick read, and provides an interesting window in life and ministry in French Quebec that for most readers will be unfamiliar. But it is in that context of Carson’s ministry that we see a compelling picture of a “real” pastor who labored faithfully despite his own perception of inadequacies. Along the way D. A. Carson recounts some humorous incidents from his childhood (e.g., the time his sister punched a bully who later went on to become a professional hockey player). But the most valuable part of the book may be the nine observations Carson makes regarding his father’s often melancholic remarks about his own walk and the slow pace of growth under his ministry (pp. 92-96).
Rather than reproduce them here (go out and buy the book!), I want to quote at length a section where Carson addresses his father’s combination of: (1) a work ethic borne out of the Great Depression; (2) a streak of perfectionism; and (3) a lack of proper rest and refreshment. D. A. Carson writes (pp. 92-93) …
So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace.
Amen! Oh that God would raise up a generation of “ordinary” pastors, missionaries and Christian leaders!