You don’t have to be a pastor to profoundly benefit from Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson, a moving biographical account written by Pastor Carson’s son, eminent author Dr. D.A. Carson. This is simply an outstanding book for any Christian who wants to fight sin, grow in grace, and be faithful until the end. I read it straight through, and was quite moved.
Dr. Carson writes poignantly about his father, Tom Carson, who spent much of his life in pastoral ministry in small churches. Tom Carson never wrote a book and was never a sought-after conference speaker, but he was a faithful, consistent, Christian man. Though imperfect, Mr. Carson was an overwhelmingly godly example to his children, leading them in both family worship and by his own exemplification of Christian virtues. He faithfully prayed for and loved his congregation, and sought to redeem every relationship for good.
The book begins with a brief history of Canada, to give the reader some perspective as to where Tom Carson ministered. Interesting historical details are given as to how Canada viewed and was impacted by the American War for Independence. Carson gives emphasis to language issues; much of the Quebec area (where Carson’s life centered) was predominantly French speaking. This would become an issue in Mr. Carson’s ministry because the congregation he served was bi-lingual, and toward the end of Carson’s life most churches were bifurcating into English-speaking and French-speaking congregations. Chapter 2 walks us through Carson’s early years. He was soundly converted in high school through the influence of a godly mother. Carson’s father, however, was not a Christian until the last few years of his life–long enough, however, for Don Carson (a grandson) to discern the difference conversion makes in an older man’s life. [An application: Don’t stop praying for your unconverted father.]
The next few chapters walk us through some of the difficulties of Mr. Carson’s ministry. He occasionally received unfair treatment from denominational leaders, but never returned evil for evil. The book quotes at length from Mr. Carson’s journals and we’re given access to how he led his family. Mr. Carson’s story motivates me greatly to authentically live the Christian faith before my wife and children. It also motivates me to want to suffer well and work vigorously for the Audience that truly matters. Mr. Carson, even to the very end of his life, was one who redeemed his time. His journals document that he was up early for intimate prayer and devotional reflection in the Word, and then sought to be fruitful in study as well as in visitation with his parishioners. He also did not neglect to pursue healthy relationships with his children (e.g., encouraging Don in his sports and his studies).
Mr. Carson died well, three years after his wife Margaret succumbed to a painful, extended season of Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Carson’s final suffering was relatively brief: a persistent cough, followed by a fever. A month later he breathed his last. You’ll have to read the book to find out why, in God’s providence, he died alone. The last two paragraphs of the book are particularly moving–but read this 148-page book straight through — regardless of your calling, you will be blessed:
When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on 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.”