“Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor” is a war story. It has the cast about it that all war stories do. Bitter-sweetness pervades. There is tragedy. And there is no “jump up and shout” victory.
This is the kind of war story that chronicles the unsung heroes. The ones stationed at the lonely, desolate outposts. They never charge up the hill. They are not the ones who throw themselves on the explosives in front of their comrades to take the impact so that others live to tell about it. The don’t get decorated. At least not here.
Few know their names. In faithful, willingness of heart they discharge their duties – and love to do so, but sometimes wonder if their part in it all is really meaningful. They don’t shoot the bullets that bring down major opposition. They never drop the decisive bomb. Often, they slog more than march. The ones under their command are often rag-tag, perhaps at times seemingly clueless, unaware that this is war at all.
They labor because they care – but sometimes they question if they really should care – at least so much. Not because they doubt the eternal ramifications of the war itself, but because they have little outward indication that they are making any real difference. They have a glimpse of the larger theater, but from where they are, it is mostly flashes over the horizon or mortar fire sounding like soft thunder in the distance.
But they love their Commander. They wait His orders. They are about the business they’ve been given to do. The necessary business of Heaven’s flawless appointments. They want to contribute all they can. They weep silently under the pall. They are committed and submitted – unreservedly. They are God’s men.
Such is the story of “Tom” (Thomas Donald McMillan) Carson. Tom was father to the well known scholar, preacher, evangelist and author D. A. Carson. His outpost was French Canadian Quebec. “Memoirs” is Don Carson’s selflessly raw accounting of his Dad’s missionary ministry to the French speaking peoples there from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. It should be required reading for all young men (and women) seeking to serve vocationally in the ministry.
As perhaps no other book I’ve read, Memoirs recovers the need for us to remember that in the cause of Christ – we dare never forget “this is war.” If we do forget, we will never hunker down and stay the course like the rank and file the cause of Heaven requires. We will instead shrink and fail under the unbearable weight of seeking some slice of the Christian celebrity that characterizes so much of American Evangelicalism. And as Don is reminded when questioning his father as to why he remained as he did – we will never reach “the much people in this place” God has. Heaven help us.
At first, I thought the book left me somewhat sad. I was mistaken. It isn’t sadness one is left with – it is a restored sobriety. A very much needed and virtually missing quality in many ministries today. I am grateful for this gentle brush of it.
As a pastor myself, I winced at seeing so much of myself in places. As a son of the manse, I winced at seeing some of the struggles of my own Dad in his faithful ministry in clearer light. I saw why the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 4:3-4 so wisely avoids too much self-assessment, and immerses himself instead in faithfulness, committing the assessments to his Lord alone. I saw a living exegesis of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 “3We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (ESV)
Tom, epitomized these verses.
It bid my own heart to pray: “Lord, grant me such faithfulness in any outpost your wisdom chooses.”
Don Carson is to be commended for so willingly laying bare some things which were no doubt uncomfortable that we might be instructed, edified and encouraged. He has given us a costly gift.