Sometimes you come to the end of a book—something you randomly picked up off the shelf at Christian bookstore (never a good idea)—and you sadly realize that the only real good that has come from reading that book is that you can authoritatively explain to people how they can use their time wisely by not reading that book.
Most books are average (by definition). They represent reasonably worthy ways to redeem some time, to glean some useful insights here and there, and tend to promote less brain-rot than most of what’s on television.
A select few books fall into a third category. It’s a category I like to call the “if everyone in the church were required to read this the church would be a much less messy and screwed up and much more beautiful and joyful and God-glorifying community” category (IEITCWRTRTTCWBAMLMASUAMMBAJAGGCC for short). I probably should come up with something a little more concise for that category, but it’ll work for now. I’ve been blessed that the last three books I’ve read have all fallen into this rare third category.
Here is the first of the three:
I’ve heard Don Carson tell the story of his father and his ministry at least a half a dozen times. Never without tears. Tom Carson’s life exemplified humble, faithful service to Christ. Carson ministered in French Canada in a time when evangelical churches were few, saw very little growth, and endured what can only be called persecution by the local Roman Catholic churches. This book is a compilation of excerpts from Tom’s journals, Don’s memories of his father and his ministry, and those of people who knew Tom. There were dozens of helpful encouragements and reminders throughout:
“Dad’s mind was so full of Scripture—he spent quite a lot of time memorizing his Bible in both English and French—that not infrequently he addressed us in biblical quotations, even when they were, strictly speaking, out of context. The text itself had become the stuff of his verbal apparatus, with the result that this was the language he naturally deployed when he had something to say” (73).
From Tom’s journal: “It seems to utterly hypocritical to go on as though no sin has been committed without some kind of penance, but God says there is only one penance—Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, Jesus’ blood. I plead it and go on, knowing that I shall fall again” (102).
Probably the most important lesson of Tom’s life for myself personally, however, is one Tom himself never learned. He harbored a lot of frustration over lack of growth and progress in his churches despite his faithful ministry of the Word. His son writes,
“So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones [perhaps the finest preacher of the 20th century] comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair. …I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. This ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like” (92).
This short book is an absolute must-read for pastors. I strongly encourage lay people to read it as well—not only simply for the encouragement to faithful service to church and neighbor that it is, but also to gain insight into the joys, burdens, pressures and privileges of pastoral ministry, and to understand more fully how to support and encourage their pastors.