Some pastors are extraordinary gifts to the church—Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Lig Duncan, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, and Thabiti Anyabwile among them. It is a privilege to listen to and learn from these men. When I think about these men, I often think of the PGA tour motto: “These guys are good.” These guys are smart. These guys are unusually gifted. (Although that certainly isn’t how they see themselves.)
Chances are, if you’re a pastor, you think of yourself as somewhat ordinary.
If you are like me, you feel very ordinary indeed. Every so often I get the privilege of having lunch with Al, Mark, and Lig. At those meals the conversation is fast and furious, and I get dizzy trying to keep up with them. The discussion sweeps from century to century, dropping into a particular year then zooming out again, a whirlwind tour of history, philosophy, literature, theology, politics—everything except sports. They kindly assume I understand what they are talking about. I can assure you that most of the time I don’t.
These guys are smart. I am not. I am comforted, though, and here’s why: most of the smart guys I know have no athletic ability whatsoever. I’ve got an extraordinary jump shot, but I am an ordinary pastor.
I want to introduce you to another ordinary pastor. His name was Tom. Tom’s life began in 1911 and ended in 1992. During those 81 years, Tom was a faithful and loving husband, a kind and wise father, and the faithful pastor of a small church in Canada. I doubt you have heard of Tom Carson. If you have, it’s only because he had a remarkable son: Dr. Don Carson, the brilliant biblical scholar and prolific writer. Dr. Carson has written or edited more than 60 books, including one about his dad: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson.
In his introduction, Don Carson explains the purpose for this memoir:
Some pastors, mightily endowed by God, are remarkable gifts to the church. They love their people, they handle Scripture well, they see many conversions, their ministries span generations, they understand their culture yet refuse to be domesticated by it, they are theologically robust and personally disciplined. I do not need to provide you with a list of names: you know some of these people, and you have been encouraged and challenged by them, as I have. Some of them, of course, carry enormous burdens that watching Christians do not readily see. Nevertheless, when we ourselves are not being tempted by the green-eyed monster, we thank God for such Christian leaders from the past and pray for the current ones.
Most of us, however, serve in more modest patches.…
Most of us—let us be frank—are ordinary pastors.
Dad was one of them. This little book is a modest attempt to let the voice and ministry of one ordinary pastor be heard, for such servants have much to teach us.¹
Let’s be frank: most of us are ordinary pastors. We mean well. We work hard. But our sermons are average at best. Thousands of people all over the world are not downloading our sermons on iTunes. No, it’s just average stuff, with maybe an occasional good sermon in the mix (or so we think until we talk with a few church members and realize, yeah, maybe not). Most ordinary pastors will not write a bestselling book. Most ordinary pastors will not write a book at all.
Most of us are ordinary pastors. We are truly called, and we are genuinely gifted by God for our task, but we are not unusually gifted.
Too often ordinary pastors are discouraged pastors.
Tom Carson was an ordinary pastor, and often a discouraged one. His son Don Carson devotes an entire chapter to this (chapter 6: “Discouragement, Despair, and a Vow”). In that chapter we get a glimpse of Tom Carson’s private journals, entries like this one:
Sunday, Mar. 5, 1961
Rose 6:50 a.m. Prayer and study. Preached (poorly) from 2 Cor. 2. Twenty-four present.…Rested. Studied. Evening 19 present. Preached from Rom 1:1–17 (poorly).²
Tom Carson wasn’t writing this for anyone else. He had no idea this journal entry would one day be published. And he is obviously discouraged. His son Don Carson writes, “The reasons for such discouragement are many, but some of them, at least, overlap with Tom’s self-doubt, guilty conscience, sense of failure, long hours, and growing frustration with apparent fruitlessness.”³ Perhaps this describes you. At some point in our lives, we can all relate to Tom Carson.
Next time: help answering the question, “Why are we discouraged?”
This post is part of a series entitled “Ordinary Pastors” and is adapted from a message I preached at T4G 2010, which was published in a compilation of sermons from that conference entitled The Unadjusted Gospel (Crossway, 2012. Used by permission.)