“Ordinary” pastors don’t usually get press. They don’t speak at conferences. They don’t write books. Their ministries are on the whole fairly average. They work hard, they faithfully serve the flock God has entrusted to them, and generally go unnoticed.
Tom Carson was, by all accounts, an ordinary pastor. Yet, he was a most extraordinary man.
Tom worked in the most difficult missions field in Canada (Quebec), striving to make in-roads for the Gospel with its Francophone population. Roman Catholicism has long been entrenched in Quebec, and is at the heart of many of the great divides between the French and English in our country (this subject is far too long to get into here, but there is an excellent primer on many of the cultural issues in Chapter 1 of the book; Canadian History books at your local library or bookstore will also be helpful in fleshing out the conflict). Protestant Christians in the 1930s through the 1950s faced a great deal of persecution, including the possibility of imprisonment for being a Protestant minister. Missionaries often gave up because they saw so little fruit and so much opposition. Yet these were the people to whom God chose Tom Carson to minister.
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, working in large part from the elder Carson’s journals, describes a man who sought to faithfully teach the Scriptures with honesty and integrity. Tom Carson was a man who loved Jesus and loved the Bible. He understood the importance of teaching sound doctrine. He was a man who understood the meaning of toil and sacrifice, working hard to fulfill his calling and be a good husband and father. It also shows a man plagued by deep insecurities about his abilities as a pastor, and who, because of those same insecurities, could not truly see the fruit of his ministry.
There are two things that stand out most vividly about the portrait of Tom Carson presented in this book. First, his humility: He never appears to have thought of himself more highly than he ought, nor did he become embittered by the success of future ministers. Even his role in the formation of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, he downplayed, with his son Don not even learning the details of his involvement until he was in seminary. He simply served faithfully and loved people well.
The second, his prayer life: Tom Carson understood what it meant to rely on the Lord, especially the salvation of those to whom he ministered. A poignant example appears on page 80:
I [D.A. Carson] went looking for Dad after the morning service to entice him to come and play the piano while the rest of us sang or played instruments. He was not where he usually was. I found him in his study, the door not quite closed. He was on his knees in front of his big chair, tears streaming down his face, as he interceded with God for the handful of people to whom he had just preached. I remember some of their names to this day.
I don’t pray like this. I don’t think I know anyone who does. I am inspired by Tom Carson’s example, and ashamed because of my failure. Even now, looking back on those few sentences, I’m on the verge of tears.
I want to be a man like Tom Carson.
I wonder how Tom would feel about this book having been written: Would he have felt embarrassed? Honored? I don’t know. Regardless, I’m grateful that D.A. Carson has written this memoir and for showing us that there is much to be learned from so-called ordinary pastors like Tom Carson.