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Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson Paperback – February 5, 2008
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"This account gives us valuable insight into the life of a man who accepted the challenges of ministry with both integrity and grace, and into the life of a Protestant pastor in French Quebec. A powerful reminder that there are no little places if we are faithful to the God who called us."
—Erwin W. Lutzer, Senior Pastor, The Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois
"How can the application of a Bible-saturated mind (Don's) to a Bible-saturated life (Tom's) produce an even more helpful story to encourage pastors? Let the 'mind' be carried on a river of love because the 'life' is his father's. Then add a kind of narrative creativity. That's how."
—John Piper, Founder, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
"A rare and precious gift from one of evangelicalism's greatest scholars. How generous of Dr. Carson to bequeath his father's quiet legacy to us all."
—C.J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville
"Carson strikes at the heart of what's wrong when we forget that, as servants, we were meant to live ordinarily under the gospel of grace. Read this book. You will be deeply encouraged in your life and ministry."
—Michel Lemaire, Pastor of Eglise Baptiste de la Foi, Drummondville, 1984-2005
"This personal testimony is a healthy reminder of heavenly priorities in the pastorate and Christian ministry."
—Pierre Constant, Associate Pastor, Eglise Baptiste Montclair de Hull, 1982-1997
"Read this book and be strengthened. You hold in your hands history, humor, and an amazing amount of wisdom for the Christian life (especially for pastors!)."
—Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; President, 9Marks
About the Author
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
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Tom Carson served the Lord in Quebec--the French-speaking province in Canada. He ministered there during an extraordinary time where the population transitioned from being among the most religious people on earth, held firmly by the grasp of the Roman Catholic Church, to a population almost entirely secular. He labored there faithfully, despite adversity and despite both pain and failure.
Part of the appeal of this book is its sheer "ordinary-ness" (I couldn't find just the right word so decided to coin one). I may have to admit a measure of bias toward the book as the area in which Carson labored is Les Cantons de l'Est or the Eastern Townships. This is the region of Quebec where my mother grew up and it is not far from Montreal where my father was born and raised. The story takes place in a familiar setting, something I've never before experienced in reading a biography. Yet there was also comfort in the ordinary nature of Tom Carson himself. He was not extraordinarily gifted--not the kind of man who typically merits a biography. Instead, he was a very ordinary person, one who labored long and who labored faithfully. The power of this biography is not in the great accomplishments of its subject but instead in his faithfulness and his enduring love for the Lord.
The book closes with some beautiful and memorable words that aptly summarize his life and ministry.
"Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people ... testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday's grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators." His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.
"When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.
But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man--he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor--but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.""
Oh, that each ordinary pastor and each ordinary Christian may be so faithful and enter into that same reward. I can only hope that many young pastors will commit to reading this book. But it is not just they who can benefit. Any Christian will appreciate reading about this ordinary man who somehow seems so much like you and me. Though it is good to read about Calvin and Edwards and Whitefield, men who had extraordinary ministries and who continue to exert a worldwide impact through their writing and preaching and evangelistic efforts, it is good to see as well how God has more commonly used ordinary men to do His work. Tom Carson was an ordinary pastor, a man who struggled with depression and who saw his ministry bear visible little fruit, but he was a man who remained faithful and who served the Lord with all his heart. More aware of his faults than his strengths and more prone to humility than pride, there is much we can learn from this man.
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is a book I enjoyed reading from the first word to the last. It strengthened me, challenged me, moved me (to tears, even!) and ministered to me. This book is a gift to the church and I hope that you will read it too. You'll be glad you did.
If it is true most pastors will never be those things, and that the work of the Church gets done by most of us in our towns, cities, neighborhoods and communities, then we are looking to the wrong set of heroes.
D. A. Carson's book about the life of his father and mother is an antidote to a success-driven, bigger-is-better pastoral culture. He tells the story of a pastor who follows God's call to a surprisingly hard mission field. His father stayed true to his call to his family and ministry even when things were difficult, as he and his congregation suffered persecution, and when his wife contracted Alzheimer's disease. In many ways, the story of Tom Carson is the story of most pastors. His pastoral career saw its share of glorious moments - baptisms of converts in a land determined to squeeze out the Protestant movement - and difficult years. His pioneering work in Roman Catholic, French Quebec was long, hard, and his congregations never became "mega" churches.
One of the more interesting portions of the book to me was the historical setting in which Tom Carson planted churches and evangelized. The Catholic hold on Quebec for several decades around the 1940s and 1950s was unusually strong, and essentially formed the culture at large. As a result, it was very difficult for a Protestant work to gain a foot-hold and be free from social and governmental harassment. Nonetheless, Tom Carson felt a call to this community, and stayed there through many thin years.
The book is loaded with letters and journal entries by Tom Carson revealing the deep pastoral concern he had for those around him, his love for Scripture, and his bouts with depression and feelings of inadequacy. In these moments, D. A. Carson is objective about his father's work ethic. For instance, Tom Carson worked hard until his death (even recording 11-hour days well into his 60s) and always felt he was slothful. D. A. discusses where this work ethic came from, and the benefits and drawbacks it had.
All in all, this is a wonderful little book dedicated to the kind of pastoral life and call that is more common than not. Our eyes are on the unordinary, and thus our workings lives can become filled with inappropriate visions of success. Read this book and put your eyes back on your call, your roll in the Kingdom, and the place God called you to be.