January 15, 2021

Riffs: 06:29:09: Timmy Brister on the Beauty of Church Discipline and the Pastoral Faithfulness of Tom Ascol.

tomaRiffs are commentary on other blog posts that Michael feels are particularly significant.

Read Tim Brister’s post, Where Extraordinary Grace and Celestial Joy Meet.

I’ve been around Tom Ascol on occasion for more than 20 years. If you know much about the (dreaded) Founder’s movement, then you know everything I am about to say here, and everything that Timmy says in this post on an incident of restoration at Grace Baptist, Cape Coral, Florida, last night.

If Tom Ascol were Michael Spencer, or just about anyone else, the Founder’s movement, and the good fruit that has come from it (and you have no idea, folks. Really) would have almost certainly never come about. Grace Church would be on pastor five and the big issue would be whether to turn the music up to 11.

Tom is smart and articulate and ten other things, but he’s a pretty average guy in a lot of others. With all due respect to Tom, he’s what we call where I work “a plodder.” He’s not slow, he’s just not in a hurry. He does what’s right today, and twenty years later he’s still doing what’s right. He’s not out to grab hold of the next new thing or be credited for jaw-dropping innovation. He’s content to do the faithful thing that others have given up on, to show you that it can be done. When you’ve given up, quit, burned out and otherwise become of little use, Tom is still there, doing what he was doing when you started, keeping his hand to the plow and not looking back.

So last night, Grace Baptist received back a member they had disciplined 14 years ago. Read Timmy’s wonderful account. When you read that story, the heart of it is this: who did this drunk know- KNOW- he could call and who did that drunk KNOW would still be there, the same man with the same Gospel, more than a decade later? I’ll help you: it wasn’t the pastor on the billboard.

At most churches, if that desperate man had called the pastor of the church that he’d been baptized at, they would have had 4 pastors since, and the new guy would be too busy working on the problem of how to get a motorcycle into the service to stop and counsel that most famous of time wasters, a “repentant” alcoholic/addict. It would have wound up on a 21 year-old intern’s “to do” list between “be seen at Panera Bread. Twitter about it” and “buy new man purse.”

Tom stuck with his church through times when, as a Calvinistic pastor, the only things you heard about your church were criticisms from state and national voices about how you and your church were an insult to the concept of evangelism and missions. Tom never fired back in anger, he just came to work, nurtured Founders and Grace church, evangelized, started stunning ethnic work, sent missionaries overseas and kept at the task of preaching and pastoring. I notice that Tom is home a lot more than most of the names in the reformed resurgence. I assume that’s on purpose, and typical of Tom Ascol.

In the meantime, he kept his family, raised his kids, lived through enough hurricanes that you’d wonder what God was mad about, and then experienced- literally- a personal lightning strike that should have killed the rest of us. Tom wouldn’t die because he had things to do tomorrow. (I would have stopped ever preaching the book of Job after that, Tom.)

I’ll make a risky statement: I’ll bet Tom’s wanted to quit a few times, and didn’t. I’ll wager he’s had opportunities to leave the local church pastorate and do other things, but hasn’t. (Most people would make Founders full time, just to be impressive.) I’d be almost certain Tom has had opportunities at larger churches. But he’s stayed, to see it all through and to see it through to the good stuff, like what Timmy describes, that only happens in the years most people never see in ministry.

A lot of us are stuck in the evangelical wilderness. We long for a church that takes God seriously, and therefore takes this life seriously. We long for a pastor that is so dependably predictable that you know when you sit down you are going to hear about Jesus and the Gospel again. We long for a pastor that isn’t preaching the culture war, the denominational message-of-the-month, the latest church growth card trick. We want a man of God who could lead the church to put you out and still love you enough that 14 years later you’d call him and he’d bring you back.

But those guys and their churches are very rare. In my world, they are too far away to drive. Two hours to a good church doesn’t work for me. (I know you’re over there, Bill.) But for too many people with twenty churches five miles away, this pastor is still not there.

So take a moment and read about one faithful non-superstar servant who has, in the Kingdom, his denomination, his church and the life of one drunk, made a significant difference by “plodding” the Gospel in one place, in one calling, as long as God gives him opportunity. And despite the lightning strikes.

Thank you, Tom, for being one of those pastors I can always think about and remember that what scripture says about church and the men called to serve it isn’t describing the impossible in this world of ours. It’s just describing the rare and the seldom attempted.


  1. Michael,

    this is my first time on your blog. I’m not really a blogger (if that’s the way you say it) however, I am compelled to respond to say, Amen! Tom is a close friend and what I would refer to as the quintessential pastor/scholar. I’ve been at the helm of Knox for a little over a year and if we could produce a hand full of Tom Ascols I would be grateful to God.


  2. It would have wound up on a 21 year-old intern’s “to do” list between “be seen at Panera Bread. Twitter about it” and “buy new man purse

    LOL: is this the Driscoll effect ? funny to me, but then I’m 53.

    As an aside, because our church has just started a new intern program with said 20-somethings: it’s interesting, and a little sad, to me that I’ve rarely (never) heart of an intern program with 30 to 60yr olds. I guess if you haven’t made it by 25 tough luck, Sparky, there’s always Habitat for Humanity.

  3. Memphis Aggie says

    It’s refreshing to hear about a positive evangelical example.

  4. Some of us 43 and 11/12 guys wouldn’t mind it…being an intern that is.
    In Christ Alone,

  5. Michael,

    Tom is indeed a great guy and I appreciate this post. I’ve appreciated getting to know him a bit over the last few years. Also, that’s a great story of restoration!

    We could use more Tom Ascols and (dare I say it?) I’d even like more Michael Spencers!


  6. That will send ’em over at Frank’s blog.

  7. Ha! Probably so!


  8. If this was the Michael Spencer we always saw, I’d be in for more Michael Spencers. Until then, we have all we can say “grace” over.

    BTW, Michael: this is your best post ever. There’s nobody who deserves it more than Tom Ascol, and there’s no one who could have said this as effectively as you did. You’re like an enigma wrapped in a secret tangled in a question in the middle of a BBQ brisket samwich with a side of home-made slaw which prolly doesn’t have salmonella, but somehow we’re willing to risk it.

  9. Frank,

    I’d say Michael is a conviction wrapped in nuance peppered with humility smoked over coals of introspection dipped in confession garnished with tradition basted in orthodoxy and cut into bite-sized chunks of revolution.

    But that’s just my take.


  10. Frank and Wyman…great characterizations of Michael you did in the two above posts! Funny.

  11. Red Panda says

    Second Best iMonk post ever, ninth best “Turk-ish” affirmation.

    One of the best examples this morning so far of how the Church does, indeed, glorify God.

  12. Thanks so much. Wonderful news.

    I think of myself as a plodder, but am usually somewhat indignant because I am continually being encouraged to be something else. Like I’m wasting my potential or something.

    This helps me keep plodding.

    Really, thanks.

  13. Hear, hear. Amid the vast wasteland of evangelical nonsense out there, the shining jewels of faithfulness stand out brilliantly. God bless Tom Ascol, and thanks for sharing the story, Michael. And as a recovering Southern Baptist, let me express my appreciation for, and encouragement at, the signs of life I see in the Convention. I’m Free now, but I sure pray that the SBC keeps listening to the Ascol-types.

  14. I’ve had several exchanges with Tom Ascol over the last three years. I have been impressed and blessed by his gracious spirit and genuine humility. He’s the real thing! If “Plodder” is the word that describes it, please, Lord, make me a Plodder, and give your church a few hundred more!

  15. I just had one question about that story. I read it over at Founders blog and left my question there. I asked, what about the wife and Tom said, it was about Christ.

    In the story it says they flew to Tx and talked the wife into coming back to her husband. So, she comes back and the husband eventually goes back to his former life.

    But the wife is never mentioned again in this story. There is an implication of divorce but that is later. So my question is what about the wife they talked into coming back? What about the children? I would like to hear that side of the story and what the church did for them when the husband went back to his former life again.

    I praise God he was eventually truly saved (again?) but I am very concerned why the wife, who was talked into coming all the way back to Fla from Tx, is not mentioned again.

    Yes, this is about Christ but the wife and kids are at the very least somewhat significant since they talked her into moving all the way back to go through the same thing all over again.

  16. ive known tom for over 20 years and he’s always been there for me,in good time and bad times . most of all his always been the same.He’s the best pastor ive ever been under,the best father ive ever seen and on and on.

  17. Re: “He does what’s right today, and twenty years later he’s still doing what’s right.”

    Heck, what you have described for Dr. Ascol isn’t a bad aspiration for anyone, pastor or not.

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