I’ve long had a theory that the most effective pastors are ones we’ll never hear anything about. It’s hard to believe this in a day of celebrity pastors and megachurch conferences, but our values are so far out of line with God’s that I’m sure we’ll be surprised one day at how God’s estimation of things is different from ours.
Chances are that you’ve never heard of Tom Carson. He was an ordinary pastor who gained respect but never rose to prominence. He planted a church in Quebec when this was no small feat. He eventually left the church when he was not seeing the conversions that he had hoped for, and he finished his working life as a civil servant and a tent-making pastor. Throughout his ministry he struggled with a sense of inadequacy, no doubt in part because he was just an ordinary pastor. I’m sure there many pastors who can relate.
If Carson’s son, noted New Testament scholar D.A. Carson, had not written this book, we probably never would have heard of Tom Carson’s life, or benefited from his story. But I’m thankful that he did. Any pastor who feels ordinary, and who sometimes feels discouraged – and that’s pretty much every pastor – could benefit from reading this book.
Memoirs helped me see the beauty of ordinary pastoral ministry as I observed it in Tom Carson’s life. I was inspired by his example of faithfulness, integrity, and humility, especially when lesser men would have compromised. I recognized some of my struggles in his life. I was frustrated to see Tom Carson get discouraged when he probably did a better job in many areas than I’ll ever do. The book helps us understand how the Gospel can help the pastor deal with discouragement in ministry.
D.A. Carson has managed to write an account of his father’s life that is neither hagiography nor a tell-all memoir. The book concludes:
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…
When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television…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.
May God raise up more ordinary pastors like Tom Carson.