Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Wikipedia reports that as of 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention consisted of more than 40,000 churches. Those same 40,000 churches had more than 75,000 pastors all combined.

Like me, most of these 75,000 pastors will not be well-known. Most will not publish a book. Most will not be asked to speak at a conference or denominational meeting. Most will not pastor churches larger than 250 people in attendance. Most pastors are simply ordinary pastors.

One ordinary pastor, Tom Carson (a Canadian Baptist, not a Southern Baptist), fathered a particularly extraordinary son. D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He earned a doctorate in New Testament Studies from Cambridge University. He is an active guest lecturer, and he has written or edited more than fifty books. This is why Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor was published by Crossway Books last year. Why else would we want to read a book about any ordinary pastor?

As an ordinary pastor, Tom Carson served small congregations (and by "small", I mean less than 50 people, around the size the church I serve today). His field of ministry was considered fruitless by many. Conversions among French-speaking Quebeckers were few during the 1940's and 1950's. Family finances were tight. The few people he led to Christ often left to find work elsewhere, leaving him back at ground zero in growing the church. He fought dark battles with discouragement and despair repeatedly. He worked hard, and was extremely self-critical. His children grew up, he grew old with his wife, and others who followed him saw much greater fruitfulness as they ministered in the same place he did.

His wife died after a long and difficult case of Alzheimer's Disease (just as my own grandfather did).

Tom Carson died about 3 years later. "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. [Tom Carson] 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 in to the joy of your Lord." [p.148]

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson,
Crossway Books, 2008, 160pp. Click here to buy your copy, my ordinary friends!

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