Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Don Carson is best known for his robust, hefty theological writing. His huge commentary on the Gospel According to John, or his work on The Gagging of God, are among his better-known works. Whatever he turns his hand to is always thorough, and thoroughly good.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is in a different genre, and yet not so different. Don's father, Tom Carson, was the ordinary pastor in the title, and Don tells his father's story, using journal excerpts written through the many years of Tom's pastoral work in various parts of French-Canada, around Quebec.

Tom was an ordinary pastor because he wasn't famous beyond his own sphere, just a quiet, godly, faithful pastor working in his little corner. Yet the journals of this ordinary pastor provide an insight into pastoral ministry, and can provide encouragement and consolation for other ordinary pastors working away with little sign of 'fruit'. There are some bleak times, when Tom gets very discouraged after seeing no increase in numbers, or any signs of life, particularly in Drummondville. His response is to resign his charge and take up a job in the Canadian Civil Service.

Don fills in the back story, helpfully explaining some of the situations and circumstances his dad was going through, with church politics and local personalities providing challenging problems. His affection for his dad is plain from the first page, and continues throughout - indeed, one of the great features of the book is the behind the scenes confirmation of what was happening, from an eye witness.

Yet what makes for one of the book's strengths may also be a weakness. Perhaps not wanting to share too much of the negative material, Don shares very small extracts, as may be natural for it being his dad's story. There are also a few times when he seems to be overly defensive of his dad, when discouragement may in fact be completely justified.

Another strong theme of the book is the need for being aware of and immersed in the culture you're ministering to. Tom Carson had been born in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and his parents emigrated. Yet there was still a lot for Tom to learn as he moved from English evangelism to a new pioneer work in French-speaking Quebec. The particular culture and values had to be carefully observed and infiltrated for successful mission work. Why would we need to prepare any less for mission work in our own country, with its alien culture too?

Towards the end, the book provides a tender and inspiring picture of the Christian commitment of marriage, as Tom's wife Marg develops Alzheimers, and Tom continues to love and serve her, even without any recognition and response. May we see many more committed marriages, in sickness as in health, like Tom and Marg's.

The last page is the most touching, the most inspiring, and the most challenging. Don Carson writes of the things that Tom never did, and the many more important things that he did do. I don't even want to repeat a portion of it, because it's the fitting conclusion to the whole book, and is best read at the end.

Suffice it to say that my ambition is not to be popular or famous or a superpastor. Reading Tom's story, and hearing it in his own words, is an inspiration to be an ordinary pastor, faithful to the end. Amen!

No comments:

Post a Comment