In his book The Memoirs of an ordinary pastor (the life and reflections of Tom Carson) Don Carson makes 9 observations of his father’s life and ministry which he hopes will guide and encourage other pastors in situations like his father’s. There are clear parallels between life in a small British church in the inner city today and that in 1960s Quebec. When the culture of a nation is diametrically opposed to the gospel, as it was in French speaking Canada and is in Britain today, for different but no less devastating reasons, gospel ministry is tough.
The longer I have spent getting to know pastors in many small and medium-sized churches (and some larger ones!), the more I have become aware of the chasms of discouragement through which many of them pass. 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. Some reflection on these matters some four and a half decades after the events will not only put some of Tom’s comments into perspective but may help discouraged ministers of the gospel today.
(1) Dad had a view of work that sprang in part from the Great Depression: anything less than working all the time was letting down the people and the Lord. There is no hint in his journals or letters of the proper place of rest, of pacing himself, of Jesus’ words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31, NIV). In Dad this was married to a bit of a perfectionist streak. That, I suspect, played a big part in his failure to finish his thesis: the work was never good enough, so it was never complete. And the sense of failure from not completing it added to the pattern of failure, which in turn engendered more defeat.
Since I was at theological college I have tried to set aside time each week for study and work. I do the work I need to do in that time and what I achieve has to be good enough. I will not often work outside these hours as I know it will lead to the burnout I suffered in Malaysia while working as an engineer. If I work hard for a long stretch its generally because I am disorganised and have heaped lots on my plate, most of which is self imposed. I need to learn to prioritise and organise.