I was at once drawn in when I first heard of Don Carson’s project to write a book reflecting the life and ministry of his late father. I eagerly awaited the book’s publication, then received a copy and was, ironically, in a very busy period of ministry and so therefore unable to get to the book. However, I picked it up during my son’s baseball practice last weekend and pretty much could not put it down. This book was a tremendous blessing to me.
Tom Carson was involved in ministry for a span of six decades. His station was the French Canadian area around Quebec. The younger Carson combed through the journal entries, letters, notes, and sermon notes that were left behind. Apparently Don was significantly aided by Tom’s regular notes and his tendency to hang on to everything. What results is this book that I will refer to as a ‘journal-ography’. Don Carson interacts with the development of his father’s ministry via his journal, the letters and his own first hand observations.
The title is fitting: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. Carson notes in the introduction that many men seem to be extraordinarily blessed by God; their ministries grow, they see many conversions and they leave a large imprint as they pass from the scene. But, Carson writes, “Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies, and preaching…Most of us—let us be frank—are ordinary pastors.”
In chronicling the development of Tom’s ministry there are several encouragements that I took away:
1- Tom was faithful to do the important things because it was what God wanted, regardless of the human concept of success.
2- Tom’s burden for French Canada to be saved seemed only to increase amidst the persecution from Roman Catholics, the lack of conversions, and his own shortcomings.
3- Tom believed that faithful preaching would accomplish God’s end.
4- Tom believed that God was sovereign while at the same time laboring with tenacious zeal for souls.
5- Tom was a pilgrim. He loved ministry because it emphasized the transcendent message and the coming kingdom.
6- Tom did not get disqualified. He was faithful to his wife, his family, his church, his city.
7- Tom loved his wife. The chapter on Marg’s Alzheimer Years was a heart wrenching chapter. Tom and Marg were very much in love with each other, even till the end.
8- Tom did not fire in vengeance back when wronged. Several times in the book he was unjustly accused or mistreated. Instead of retaliating he was prayerfully compassionate. Even his children had not heard of some of the conflicts until they were older. When Don asked his father why he had not told them he replied, “he did not went to become bitter.”
9- Tom taught his family the Bible.
10- Tom took a job as a civil servant after his Drummondville ministry and still was as engaged as ever in ministry while also being a faithful evangelist at work.
Some other interesting points, particularly if you, like me, enjoy D.A. Carson… “…after he (Tom) was gone I found he had carefully gone through most of the books I had written, often with little ticks or marginal notes or question marks, neatly written in pencil.”
As a pastor this book was a delight to read. Tom Carson is a pastor I wish I could have known, now, thankfully, it is as if I had. He has influenced me greatly, causing me to be more thankful for the blessings of divine grace, the power of the gospel, and the time remaining in ministry, that I might be more faithful. That is, more like Tom Carson.
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is available at Westminster or at Amazon (link below).