D.A. Carson is no ordinary pastor or theologian. He has served as research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 35 years and as a pastor and itinerant minister in Canada and the United Kingdom. He has also authored or edited more than 45 books; yet Carson would not be the person he is today if not for his father—Tom Carson. The elder Carson spent the majority of his adult life as a pastor in Quebec, faithfully serving Christ when Roman Catholicism held sway over the vast majority of Quebec’s French-speaking citizens and stood vehemently opposed to evangelical Christianity.
Tom Carson never wrote a book; he was never wealthy, and he never preached to thousands of people at one time. He was an ordinary pastor, just like untold numbers of pastors who have served in the past, present, and will serve in the future. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is the younger Carson’s telling of his father’s ministry with the help of Tom Carson’s journal entries, letters, and sermon manuscripts compiled from nearly 60 years of ordinary pastoral ministry. The book’s aim is “to convey enough of Tom Carson’s ministry” and personal thoughts to encourage “ordinary ministers” (p.11).
The book achieves this purpose by demonstrating how Tom Carson managed to remain faithful to Christ and his family, despite the ever present threat of persecution, years of poverty, difficult parishioners, and long stretches of little to no gospel fruit. Despite a difficult ministry, Tom Carson remained a man of principle, prayer and evangelism. He was an ordinary pastor, whose faithfulness produced much fruit beyond his life because he instilled in those with whom he had influence the virtues of faithful gospel ministry. He was “simply a pastor committed to the gospel, to evangelism, and to principled integrity” (p.58).
Critique and Application
Ordinary pastors who serve in ordinary ministries will discover that they can identify in many respects with Tom Carson’s life and ministry. His struggles, which included long stretches of discouragement and seemingly fruitless labor, are the struggles of many pastors today. The encouraging aspect is not in the struggles, but in demonstrating how pastors can remain faithful to their vocation and families through it all and for the glory of God. Though he was an ordinary pastor, his faithfulness to Christ, his flock, and his family would eventually bear much fruit. This book should encourage all pastors to remain faithful to their duty and to trust that God will grow his church in his time and according to his will. To that end, the book hits its intended mark.
There is much to apply from Tom Carson’s life. He was a man of principle and integrity. Although he was poor, he never boosted his numbers in an effort to gain more financial support. Though other ministries around him grew much faster, he never expressed “any jealousy or malice toward other ministers who seemed to be eclipsing him…” (p.68). Despite his small church, “he scrupulously avoided any temptation to play the sheep stealing game” (p.69). Although some people hurt him emotionally, he guarded his heart to avoid becoming bitter. His integrity is an example that I will strive to emulate in my life and ministry.
Perhaps Tom’s greatest achievement came as a father and husband. He shielded his children from the uglier side of ministry, protecting their hearts and their view of the church. He was a godly father, demonstrating Bible devotion, Scripture memorization, and a strong prayer life. His prayer life, in particular, left a lasting impression on his children:“Dad’s practice in private prayer was to kneel before the big chair that he used and pray loudly enough to vocalize, so as to keep his mind from wandering” (p.72). In fact, the image of his father praying was instrumental in bringing Tom’s youngest son, Jim, back to the faith after years of rebellion (p.72). My goal in ministry is to shepherd my wife and children in much the same way as Tom cared for his family. Because Tom was a faithful father and pastor, his children went on to have extraordinary ministries. Perhaps I can do the same for my children.