Thursday, March 12, 2009

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (2) advice to the ordinary

Last week I told you about Don Carson's tribute to his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. This week, I'd like to share Don Carson's 9 reflections on his father's depression and discouragement in ministry.

You'll appreciate these 9 reflections if you minister to others in any way, especially if you sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy and discouragement in ministry (and don't we all?!).

  • People in ministry (especially workaholics!) need to remember the proper place of rest, and that we live in the freedom of God's grace. "The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace."
  • "Mum used to tell us kids, 'Work hard, and play hard, but never confuse the two.' ... Mum's maxim should be posted on the mirrors of most ministers."
  • "It is always disconcerting to see other ministers in your own sphere of service working effectively and fruitfully while you are plagued with stagnation. When that happens, there may be things to learn from more fruitful ministries, but sometimes one must simply rejoice that some ministers are more fruitful and more blessed than you are."
  • "Tom had a remarkably tender conscience. On so many fronts this is a good thing. Indeed, it is an almost universally recognized truth that the closer a believer is to God, the more deeply he or she recognizes and feels the weight of personal sin. This might become an insupportable burden if it is not joined with an ever-deepening grasp of the limitless dimensions of the love of God (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21). ... In Tom's case, he not only felt his own sin, but the failures and sins of those in his congregations ... Tom was developing a glass-half empty analysis of himself that was not, finally, realistic."
  • "To his enormous credit and his family's good, at no point did he ignore his wife and children. ... Tom did not fall into the assorted temptations that sometimes detach a minister from his family or even lead him to betray them."
  • It helps if we're aware of the most effective way of ministering in our particular fields (in Tom's case, he was slow to realise the importance of single language French congregations in Quebec).
  • "Much Christian contentment turns on perceiving things in the right grid." When we're experiencing failure in ministry, it's hard to combine contentment in our situation with humble confession of our sins and failing.
  • It's important to know ourselves, and how we minister most effectively. "Tom worked best on a team on which others were ordering his life and work for him, and he was set free to play to his strengths. ... Self-knowledge ... is vital."
  • "We should recognize that Tom's journal entries expressing deepest anguish frequently have the texture of biblical lament. Tom never stands in judgement of God; he never curses God. In his gloomest moments Tom ends up with a cry for help."
I pray that when you and I face inevitable discouragements in ministry, we would remember these lessons from the life of a faithful, ordinary pastor: the importance of rest as we accept the limits of our creatureliness and enjoy the freedom of grace, the ability to rejoice in the success of others without despairing over our failures, the wisdom to see ourselves clearly and to work effectively in the situation God has placed us in, the faithfulness to care for our families, and the faith to cry out to God when we feel discouraged and alone.

These 9 reflections are from Don Carson's Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor pp. 92-96.

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