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My Book Bag: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson is a quick and delightful read. It will especially buoy the heart and mind of those in ministry. D.A. Carson, the author, is a former pastor, theologian, and professor who has risen to prominence in his ministry. He writes this book not about himself and his own ministry, but about his father and mother, Tom and Marge Carson, and their faithfulness to the Lord over many years. Tom Carson ministered in French-speaking Quebec. He never pastored a large church or lectured theology to an auditorium of future ministers. He was just an ordinary pastor. But as D.A. Carson shows us so beautifully in this short book, God likes to use the ordinary.

Tom Carson never wrote a book, but he did keep journals. After his father’s death, Don (D.A.) Carson decided to write about his ordinary, and amazing, father. The journals of Tom Carson are filled with his own private pleadings with the Lord to help him overcome his sins, like laziness, yet he was not lazy. He labored long and hard each every day preparing sermons, working on his French, visiting the sick and corresponding with those who not yet come to Christ and yet, he felt lazy. Perhaps this was because he never really saw the results in number that he so longed to see. Tom Carson served faithfully behind various pulpits, sometimes as the second man, others as the pastor or interim pastor, never feeling adequate enough for the job. His journal often describes how horrible his preaching is, or how poorly he preached, in his own opinion, of course.

At one point in Tom’s ministry, he became the center of a controversy. Simply put, Mr. Carson was promised funds from a fellowship to start a church, and the board- men he knew and admired – reneged. Mr. Carson firmly pointed out the problem, but ultimately, he was forced to separate from several men who had been his mentors. This was a painful time. Mr. Carson was in the right and could have slandered these men to his son, who would hear about the controversy much later in college. What a man Tom Carson was to keep his silence in order to protect his son from bitterness!(p. 59)

One journal entry that struck me was from April 7, 1973: “A pretty good day, but I’m not on the ball for my Lord. How different my diary is than that of David Brainerd.” (p. 105)

Don Carson observes of his father, “In some ways, he was replicating the stance of the apostle Paul. Most people go through life afraid that people will not think enough of them; Paul went through life afraid that people would think too much of him. (2 Cor. 12:5-6)” (p. 131)

In later years, Marge was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Tom lovingly and faithfully cared for her until her death. He then lived out his days quietly serving the Lord as best he could, admiring his son, Don’s, great success in ministry in England and the states.

Near the end of the book, Don Carson says this about his father: “Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond 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 very good at putting people down, except on prayer lists.” (p. 147)

I enjoyed this book on two levels. First, I was blessed by it as a pastor’s wife, often identifying with that feeling of being ordinary, and perhaps a little useless. What a blessing to be reminded that obscure doesn’t mean worthless. Second, I identified with it as being the daughter of an ordinary Christian. My father was not a pastor, but he certainly was the greatest Christian man I knew. He worked tirelessly in the world, often feeling that same defeated and hopeless feeling that Tom Carson felt – and that I often feel – yet he got up and kept going. He got on his knees, even when they ached, and he got up to work, even when he was discouraged. He kept a Bible verse in his shirt pocket and worked to memorize it. He kept a smile on his face and a funny song ever-ready at his lips. He walked faithfully with the Lord, as just an ordinary guy, until he saw his Lord face to face! This book was certainly a balm for my heart and a blessing to my soul.

I implore you to read Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor and be encouraged in the Lord.

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