I have always enjoyed a good biography. In the past few years, I have read biographies of a great variety of people from a great variety of walks of life. There is one thing in common with all those biographies – biographies generally get written about famous people. Authors write biographies about generals and kings and financial giants. They tend not to write biographies about people you and I have never heard about.
That is where the book Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor comes in. This book is about Tom Carson, a man I had never heard of. I am familiar with his son, the Bible scholar D. A. Carson, and have been blessed by what he has written over the years. In Memoirs, Dr. Carson sets out to chronicle his father’s life of ministry in the Canadian province of Quebec. Using a collection of personal reflections, excerpts from his father’s journals and remembrances from family and friends, Dr. Carson presents a portrait of a man who was far from ordinary.
Tom Carson, although not French Canadian by birth, spent his life as a shepherd in Quebec, Canada. In order to familiarize the reader with the culture Tom Carson ministered in, his son begins the book with a sketch of the history and culture of French Canada. Even though I grew up in Canada and was born in the largest French Canadian enclave west of Ontario (St. Boniface, MB), I was surprised by what I learned. Tom Carson began ministry at a time and in a place where the Roman Catholic Church had complete control of most aspects of life in Quebec. Converts were few, churches were small, harassment and opposition was common, and ministry was hard. On top of it all, Tom Carson had to learn the language and the distinct culture of Quebec in order to be effective in reaching the people of Quebec. In many ways, today we would describe what Tom Carson did as the work of a missionary, rather than the work of a pastor.
The thing that struck me most about this short book was the profound portrait of faithfulness found in Tom Carson. He was faithful in so many ways. He was faithful to his Lord. Throughout his life, Tom Carson kept journals, and from those journals the reader receives a portrait of a man who never stopped seeking God. Even when times were tough and discouragement was there, he looked faithfully to God. Tom Carson was faithful to the gospel. He never wavered from teaching the truth of the Scriptures and the good news of salvation, even in the face of opposition from the Roman Catholic church and influence from various cults. Tom Carson was faithful to his family. Although life was busy, he fought for time with his family. When the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease reached into his wife’s life, he faithfully cared for her at home until he could no longer physically do it. After that, he was faithfully present at her side until the Lord called her home.
What stood out to me as a pastor was Tom Carson’s faithfulness as a shepherd. He was faithful to the flock God had called him to. He was faithful in small churches in difficult places. He was faithful in teaching the word and visiting the sick and struggling. He was faithful in doing the work God set before him – reaching into the lives of French Canadians with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
His son titled the book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. If only every pastor in North America was ordinary as his dad was ordinary. We need more “ordinary” pastors like Tom Carson – men who are faithful to their Lord, His Word, their family and their flock. All too often spiritual leadership is about building our kingdom or making a name for ourselves or pursuing our satisfaction. But God is not interested in any of that – he calls us to be faithful servants.
Tom Carson was not perfect – his son shares both his triumphs and his struggles. He was also not ordinary. He may have ministered primarily in little churches in out of the way places far from the halls of power or prestige, but he did not live an ordinary life. Lord, help me to be an ordinary pastor in the mold of Tom Carson, faithful in all things till the end, for your glory. Amen.