Reflections on Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Today I finished a book I’ve been reading for about four weeks now. It’s not long, but it’s been my bedtime reading and I’ve enjoyed taking it slow – its given me time to ponder the lessons learned from the life of Tom Carson, an ordinary pastor, husband and father to DA Carson (and two other children as well).

This book is one of the most encouraging and also horribly (wonderfully) convicting at the same time. Tom Carson was a church planter/pastor in French speaking Canada at a time when there was no evangelical witness and little toleration for the ‘damned Protestants’. What stands out about Tom Carson’s life is not, however, the pioneering courage of this pastor. It’s there, but it wasn’t the aspect the author, his son, really highlighted. Instead, what stands out is the often painful ordinariness of Tom Carson’s ministry (painful to him, not those how where shepherded by him). His churches struggled for converts, struggled to maintain viable and consequently Tom’s family often struggled.

Tom Carson, in his son’s words, never reached any positions of influence or notoriety in ministry, and by many (all) worldly standards his ministry was a meager success – even when others around him were making great strides in the advance of the gospel.

Here’s a few things I’m taking away:
1. I was convicted by how Tom Carson loved his wife, even during her last losing battle with Alzheimer’s. Tom Carson never wrote a book or published a scholarly article, but his marriage was a book on steadfast, committed love – even though he was at times overwhelmed by his failures as a husband. I’ll probably never write a book either, but I hope, and by God’s grace will strive, to make my marriage a humble, gentle testimony to Christ’s love or his church.

2. I was also convicted by Tom Carson’s pastoral ministry. He was constantly moving from his knees to his people and back to his knees. Both his prayer life and the hours and hours a week he spent going to meet his people in their homes is astounding. Granted, this ministry is easier when you have a small ministry, but that can easily be a cop out for not having a truly pastoral ministry marked by prayer and care for the flock.

3. Tom Carson’s life and ministry are also a powerful call to perseverance. Even when he resigned from fulltime pastoral ministry due to a lack of ministry fruit, he was active for decades more in ministry. At times, when he was working as a translator fulltime, he also worked as many hours for a young church with no compensation. Up to the last weeks of his life he was praying, visiting, preaching, playing piano, writing letters and more. There was no retiring from ministry for Tom Carson because life was short and eternity long. I pray that God allows me such a long ministry.

4. The final thought isn’t a conviction or encouragement, but a question – by what standard will I evaluate my ministry. Tom Carson was never blessed with numbers or great revivals or pools of converts, but the impact of his steady plodding and faithfulness to the gospel ministry is profound. He could easily have fell into jealousy and been angry with God for not making him more flamboyant, more visionary, a better leader, etc. He did fall into periods of despair, but it seems so different than the funks I sometimes fall into. His despair centered on his failure to make God famous in his area of calling, not because he wasn’t famous.

I think this book is a must read for pastors or future pastors and even those involved in lay ministry as deacons, elders, teachers, etc. It is a touching tribute to a father who loved God above all, Christ’s church and his family well also.