by Frank Turk
I've had this book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, sitting in my pile of things to blog about for about 2 months now, and I seem to be getting distracted from it by some infernal purpose over and over again. Well, before some other devil's work gets in the way, let's get after it.
A fellow who trained a few pastors in his day wrote a letter to one of his students -- probably one of the last things he ever wrote -- in which he told the young man this:
Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.And in this letter, this fellow goes on to point out to this young man that many of the fellows he knows and was trained with have fallen away to other things.
It's funny to me that this guy, who is in prison as he writes this letter for having preached the Gospel, never asks Timothy, "how many people now do you have in your church?" And never exhorts him, "if you do these things, you'll be successful."
D. A. Carson's book about his father is sort of haunted by this letter from Paul to Timothy -- Carson never directly mentions it, but as I read the book, 2 Timothy kept coming back to me again and again. And it's not, btw, that Tom Carson (Dr. Carson's dad) was somehow like Demas -- far from it. It's that Pastor Carson served God, prayed for conversions, made great sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel in a place where, in spite of its western history, the Gospel was hardly heard -- and he didn't get a large church and a book deal out of it.
In fact, Tom Carson didn't any material gain from his work at all -- and this is the point.
A lot of pastors read this blog, and most of you -- let's face it, almost all of you -- have churches which are a lot smaller than it would take to get you upper-middle class salaries, and often your children are not the best-dressed. Some of you are bi-vocational to make ends meet; many of you have wives that work. And your churches, as far as you can tell, are sort of stuck on one step of spiritual maturity (which is a nice way to avoid saying what you sometimes fear -- that your church is stagnant).
And in that, you should read this book by D. A. Carson. You should read it because this is a book about ordinary pastors like Tom Carson, and frankly, like Timothy, the student of Paul. It is not a manual for church growth or evangelistic explosions: it is a study of how one man suffers for the sake of Christ toward a people who, frankly, don't deserve him and the message he brings -- but he loves them anyway, not with fluffy emotions but with commitment and endurance, and at great personal sacrifice.
The wrong take-away from this book is, of course, that it's OK to have a church which isn't growing either in faithfulness or in head-count -- even though Pastor Carson's church never grew much. The right take-away is that you can't see all the effects of faithful ministry right now, today. That was Paul's encouragement to Timothy, my friends, and through the life of Tom Carson, it should be the encouragement to you.
Read this book, and think about what you value in your work with God's people and God's word. And think about the fact that Timothy was stoned in the streets of Ephesus by these people he was trying to deliver the Gospel to. That's what pastoral ministry is about, and if you are trying to make it something else, read 2 Timothy over again for your own sake.