14 May 2008

The Ordinary Pastor


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.







23 comments:

DJP said...

Thanks for this, Frank. Sounds like another title that has to go on my list.

I've often thought in this conceptual neighborhood — that, by the necessity of the case, there aren't many books along the theme of "How I pastored a small church that never grew much numerically and was happy as a tic." And there's got to be something poignant, too, in the fact that the author is a man who is indeed wildly "successful," internationally-renowned and respected.

Thanks.

GOODNIGHTSAFEHOME said...

I feel better already - and that was only reading your review.

frenchcanadianmissionary said...

I am a church planter in Quebec, building on the foundation that was laid by pioneers like Tom Carson and live the privilege of working amongst these modern heros of the faith.

This book is worth it's weight in gold on several fronts:
1) For the first chapter where Don does an excellent job outlining recent evangelical Quebec history, the nearly all-powerful and abusive Quebecker Catholic church which recently fell, and the Silent Revolution (I wrote briefly on that here: http://worldventure.com/Community/blogs/karch/archive/2008/03/20/a-response-to-chuck-colson-s-article-on-quebec.aspx, and here: http://worldventure.com/community/blogs/karch/archive/2007/04/19/2448.aspx) 2) For his (unexplicit) re-definition of the word "hero". People like Tom Carson and my grandfather who were faithful for decades with no accolades.
3) For Tom's unwavering integrity, unintentionally and single-handedly facing down the most influential pastor in Canada in the 1920's, as well as his faithfulness to the ACCURATE proclamation of God's Word.
4) For the last chapter where the Carson family struggled through her Alzheimers, and finished with his death all alone in an empty hospital room. My wife and I wept as we read it together.

I know that John MacArthur has been passionate about Quebec for decades. We pray that hundreds of other American pastors become passionate about spreading the gospel throughout the French Quarter of N. America (and the French-speaking world), and that hundreds more give their lives to faithfully proclaiming the gospel in places where tangible fruit is extremely hard to come by.

Blessings,

-Rob Karch

Jerry said...

Frank, when you write:

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).

You described my situation to a T. I read this book last month, and was greatly blessed. I am presently reading Keny & Barbara Hughes book on "Liberating your Ministry from the Success Syndrome" and highly recommend it.

I saw Dr. Carson last month at a conference, and thanked him for this work. His Dad's situation was very similar to the Roman Catholic hotbed in which I find myself.

DJP said...

My experience is: other people say they pastor a "small" church, and you think, "Whoa... that's four times the size of my church!"

DJP said...

...or more.

frenchcanadianmissionary said...

Jerry,

This is not simply a response to you, but a response to hundreds of Americans I speak with. Many Americans I know compare their situation with Catholic Quebec pre-1960's as they say "a lot of Catholics live in my area too". However, there is almost no comparison. The pre-1960's Catholic church in Quebec was nearly all-powerful with zero competing faiths.

How many of your parishioners lost their jobs when they became Christians because of the Roman Catholic church? How many pastors in your community were thrown in jail by the Roman Catholic church? How many cars of evangelicals burned by the Roman Catholic church? How many church services interrupted by the Roman Catholic church? How many parishioners moved out of the state because they couldn't make a living because of the pressure of the Roman Catholic church? How many politicians in your area are considered servants of the clergy?

The tapered off in the 1960's during the Silent Revolution and today Quebec is one of the most secular societies in the world.

frenchcanadianmissionary said...

The faithfulness of these warriors set the stage for an evangelical explosion between 1975 and 1985 where the evangelical percentage in Quebec climbed from nearly zero to about half of one percent.

Today, the baptist association (The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches) is planting new churches every year all over Quebec with nearly HALF of all healthy Baptist churches in the Fellowship in Quebec involved in church planting in one form or another... of which our church plant is a part.

blessings,

-Rob

Jerry said...

frenchcanadianmissionary,

As a fellow Canuck (born in Newfoundland) let me just say that here in New Mexico many catholic priests have yet to hear of Vatican II.

We have 400 years of catholic history to contend with, and a history of oppression which is "very similar" (my original statement) while not identical to that in Quebec. Just as the persecution has gone somewhat underground in Quebec we see a similar situation here today.

Your situation is rooted in French catholicism, ours in Spanish. I don't want to get into a "my persecution is more intense than yours" discussion, but simply remind you that Quebec holds no no monopoly in this area.

frenchcanadianmissionary said...

Jerry,

I agree whole-heartedly that Quebec holds no monopoly in the area of Catholic persecution. In fact, several friends of mine who are missionaries in S. America recount similar experiences.

Here is what I was speaking to: many Americans I speak with, from NY to Oregon and everywhere inbetween (and I am one), believe that simply because many Catholics live in their town that it must be similar to Quebec pre-1960's. This is simply not the case.

My point (which you obviously understand very well) is that the Catholic church in American society has generally never held the kind of monopoly that it had in French (and Spanish... and Portuguese... etc.) societies.

For many American pastors I have spoken with, the fact that systematic Catholic persecution occurred in N. America in the 20th century is an eye-opener.

Thanks for the enlightenment on New Mexico as well, brother.

blessings,

-Rob

R said...

Cent,

I read this on the plane back from Shep Conf. Humbling at every level. One question that rung in my ears as I read and one I think you're in a place to answer because of your views on staying at a church is this: How does a pastor know when to leave and go vocational/bi-vocational?

Truth be told, a lot of pastors struggle with an emotional workload unlike many other professions. Couple that with the financial inability to take time away and recharge your personal or family battery (meaning get away from ministry, out of town and other family). It seemed to me [my impression] that Tom Carson was more effective and free to do ministry when he was unshackled from the chains of a paid position in ministry.

I’ve known men who’ve done this, I think for the better. But they are often seen as a failure. I know others who are sticking it out but are miserable. It’s a double edged sword no matter how I look at it.

Thoughts?

Rich

northWord said...

After about a year of attending a 2800 hundred seat "really cool" non-denom church with mega sound systems, professional quality musicians, very gifted speakers (though biblical, they concentrated more on relevant-to-life-today type messages) in an architecturally beautifully-designed building, with parking lot attendants-n-everything....we left for a small, financially struggling church in an outdated and failing building because the pastor stands in the pulpit and un-abashedly and un-apologeticly preaches the word, taking the scriptures and expositing and exhorting his flock with all the conviction of a shepherd in the midst of a forest full of wolves, and he lives it too. The Holy Spirit is in da house, and nobody is falling down slain or shouting out weird sounds.

Thanks, Frank, for this timely review, I think I will get this book for Pastor J, although he "gets it" I still think he would be blessed by it - (if he doesn't already have it!)

Mark Patton said...

"In fact, Tom Carson didn't any material gain from his work at all -- and this is the point."

As a Pastor, I all to often find myself still focusing on the "all these things will be added to you" part of Matthew 6:33. It's as if I am using the seeking first of God's kingdom as a "spiritual formula" to get. My thoughts seem to be that if I will just be faithful for (you fill in the blank) many years, God will bless with the "all these things." It seems my theology of suffering until the end needs to be updated. Thanks for the great post.

lawrence said...

good book...good blog review...

witness said...

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."

Frank thanks for the heads up on this book and I look forward to reading it. I have now been pastoring a "Small church" for four years and during that time I have seen most of the original congregation who called me leave. Over thirty people have left in four years because I refused to fall in with the Purpose Driven and Promise Keeper crowd, refused to allow unsaved musicians play, or lead worship, and even objected to using a manure spreader for a Church float with the sign "Spreading the Word".

I have had people leave because I preach our responsibilty to evangelize the lost, the Sovereignty of God in salvation over man's free will, and for preaching verse by verse through books instead of self help, life enhancing sermons. I have seen people leave because I don't "focus" enough on the latest end-times hub-bub and it seems I have no desire for "Da Gifts".

I weep and mourn for those who have left and worry about where they will end up (in this life and the next). I am under no delusion about what spells success... I do not have any book deals going on, no radio/tv shows and I really haven't even started a blog, but I have seen four people get saved during these four years and two young families join our congregation. So, I have nothing to complain about. After all, I am not writing this from prison nor have I been stoned... yet.

MooMa said...

It would do Christ's church well to stop devising gimmicky ways to draw in the people, and, like the puritans, concentrate the focus on the centrality of preaching.
I read a great quote by Ryle today:
---that knowledge of Christ, obedience to Christ, and the fruits of the Spirit—are the only tests by which God weighs and measures any Church.---
The context of Ryle's statement was dealing with religious externalism, but it did make me think about the fixation on head-count, and the mistake that is made when we think numbers are the barometer of how well a church is thriving.

Billy Rhythm said...

you can't see all the effects of faithful ministry right now, today.

Right. We're not all going to see the increase. Some of us are scattering. Some of us are doing the watering. And we're called to keep doing that, not knowing what seeds are being planted, and in whom, and not knowing when the growth will take place.

Jerry said...

...and even objected to using a manure spreader for a Church float with the sign "Spreading the Word".

I haven't had to deal with that one. I am very blessed, indeed.

Solameanie said...

I think a lot of us will be surprised in Heaven as to who gets the most praise from the Master. Many of them will have labored in relative obscurity compared to some of our Christian celebrities. Coolest of all, God gets all the glory.

Hadassah said...

We do the labor, God is responsible for the outcome, and in the end we get a reward just for laboring. Our reward isn't tied to our success at all, because God is the one who is responsible for the outcome.

I think that is an amazing deal.

1 Cor 3:6-8

Caleb Kolstad said...

Thanks for this, Frank!

Puritan said...

Thanks brother. It's now on my to-read list.

Stefan said...

I'm not a pastor, although I indirectly serve the kinds of pastors you're addressing.

Anyhoo, two days late and a dollar short, but great review, Frank.

I was naive, too, re recent Catholic persecution in Quebec. It was an eye opener when I heard Dr. Carson mention that Baptist preachers had been thrown in jail in the 50s. Talk about your echoes of 2 Timothy!