Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Cross of Ordinariness

A few years ago, D. A. Carson wrote a book entitled Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. Another book is ordinary for D. A. Carson, who has written more books than many people have read. But this was no ordinary book, not even for Carson. It was a book about his dad.

Now the truth is that we would have never known of Pastor Carson were it not for Doctor Carson. That’s because, by all human standards, Pastor Carson was just ordinary. He never pastored a big church. He didn’t publish a lot of books. He wasn’t even a full-time pastor for much of his ministry. He spent some of his latter years tenderly caring for his ailing wife. And then he died.

He was, in a word, ordinary.

He was, in two words, like me. And like you … just a guy you’ve never heard of, living somewhere you’ve never heard of, pastoring a church you’ve never heard of. And doing it without giving up. He was just ordinary.

In these days, it is easy to fall in love with big. It is easy to see the extraordinary pastors and measure ourselves against them. It is easy to get discouraged by their visible fruit. It is easy to wonder what they are doing that we aren’t. It is easy to listen to them preach and copy their style, or God forbid, even their messages. It is easy to dream about what could be, if only you had a little bit more of this or a little bit less of that.

Then, it is easy to despair when driving to your second job, wondering if you shouldn’t just pack it in, box up the books, and go dig ditches or sell widgets because you will never be whatever that other pastor is. It’s not that it’s too hard to be that. It’s that you can’t get there from here. Your gifts, your abilities, and your opportunities simply are not sufficient for that.

And so you resign yourself to being ordinary. And let’s face it: In a world driven by success, ordinary is hard.

This is where a reality check helps.

The reality is that most churches are less than one hundred people and they will never be bigger than that. In fact, tens of millions of Christians meet every week in assemblies that wouldn’t even move the needle in a megachurch. And these small churches are pastored by people whose name will never show up on a conference speaking list or an Amazon search result. They will never be known outside their small church. They even wear a name tag at their local pastor’s fellowship to remove the awkwardness of having to introduce themselves yet again to the same people who forgot them from last year.

And the reality is that that’s okay. Being ordinary is, well, ordinary. What’s extraordinary is someone who is okay with being ordinary.

You see, most us of will have to bear the cross of ordinariness. It will weigh heavy on us. It will threaten to do us in and drive us off. If we give it too much thought, we still stumble under its weight. We will seek for the next best method or the next best church. We will lay in bed in the dark and wonder with tears if we are wasting our life. We will get up on Sunday and put on a good face and summon the energy to preach from a heart weakened by ordinariness. We will go home on Sunday afternoon and sleep off the disappointment and try to forget we have to start all over tomorrow. We will drift through a football game tempted by the fast food commercials, not because we are hungry, but because we think “Would you like fries with that?” has a better chance of a yes than “Will you follow Jesus with us?” And let’s face it, hearing “no” is a lot easier to take when it is about French fries than it is when it is about Jesus.

The reality is that though the cross of ordinariness may stress us and alarm us, it need not kill us. You see, to some God has given ten talents, and to others five, and to others one. He does not judge the man with one talent by the same standards he judges the man with five or ten. He will judge us according to the talents he has given and the vineyard in which he planted us for this season, however long it might last.

And when this season is over, whether by being planted in another vineyard or by being planted in the ground to await the great resurrection day, he will judge us only by the gifts and calling he gave to us. He will not judge us by the calling he gave to someone else.

So, like Tom Carson, grow where you are planted. Serve in an extraordinarily ordinary way. And be content to let God keep the final score.

It’s doubtful your son will write a book about you. But that’s okay too. Just be encouraged by the book that Doctor Carson wrote about Pastor Carson.