Extraordinary Ministry by an "Ordinary Pastor" (Pt 1)

I have previously posted on my appreciation for Dr. D. A. Carson as well as the great encouragement I have received from the stories he had shared from the life of his father, Tom Carson. I have just finished D. A. Carson’s recent book on the his father, Memoir of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson.

The book is all that I had hoped it would be when I first heard that Dr. Carson would be writing it. It blends the ups and downs of the life and ministry of an “ordinary” pastor along with the encouraging testimony of one’s faithfulness to God. As I read selections from Tom Carson’s journals I often felt that they could have come from my own. Some of his struggles were similar to mine, and seeing his faithfulness to God through all manner of difficulty was a great encouragement to me.

In in the end, the picture of an ordinary pastor that is displayed in this book is really an extraordinary one for our time. Many pastors fail to engage in things Tom Carson seemed to take for granted. Tom Carson’s life and ministry are exemplary models for any pastor today, no matter how ordinary they may think themselves to be.

For the next couple of posts I want to give you a taste of Tom Carson’s example and encourage you to greater faithfulness in your own life and ministry by giving some extended, related quotes.

First, I want to show something of the example of Tom Carson’s personal character and devotion to God.

[After hearing of Tom’s involvement in an important and controversial event in Canadian Baptist life, Dr. Carson writes:] The main outline of these events I learned when, about twenty years later, I was a student at Central Baptist Seminary. Reflecting on the abuse Tom had absorbed without retaliation, the lecturer ended his survey of these developments with the comment, “One of the first things I want to see when I get to heaven is Tom Carson’s crown.” . . . I had not heard a whisper of these events at home. . . . So the next time I went home, I brought the matter up. . . . “So how come you never told us kids any of this?” . . . . “There were two reasons. First, you were children of the manse, and although you have seen the outworking of the gospel, you have also seen more than your share of difficult and ugly things, and we did not think it wise to expose you to this history when you were young. Second, Marg [Tom’s wife] and I decided we needed to protect our own souls from bitterness. So we took a vow that neither of us would ever say an unkind thing about [another man involved]. And we have kept our vow.” A recent note from my sister Joyce comments, “As I look back on life with Mom and Dad, perhaps the one thing I recall most vividly is the memory that I don’t have. Try as I might, I cannot recollect one time when either of them spoke negatively about another person.”


Dad’s practice in private prayer was to kneel before the big chair that he used and pray loudly enough to vocalize, so as to keep his mind from wandering. Outside the door [of his study at home] we could hear him praying, even if we could not hear what he was saying. I can remember countless days when he prayed for forty-five minutes or more; strange to tell, at this juncture I cannot recall days when he didn’t. Jim [Tom’s older son] recalls barging into Dad’s study unannounced, finding him on his knees praying, and quietly backing out. “But that image has always remained with me, especially during my later, rebellious teen years. While walking away from God, I could not get away from the image of my father on his knees, praying for me. It is one of the things that eventually brought me back.”


Walter Tompkins, who roomed with Tom during part of their Seminary days, wrote about him, “His prayer life is a challenge and rebuke to most of us.”


Dad’s mind was so full of Scripture—he spent quite a lot of time memorizing his Bible in both English and French—that not infrequently he addressed us in biblical quotations, even when they were, strictly speaking, out of context. The text itself had become the stuff of his verbal apparatus, with the result that this was the language he naturally deployed when he had something to say. If one of us kids was pontificating on some subject of which we knew almost nothing (when did ignorance ever stop children and fools from pronouncing their opinions?), Dad would patiently hear us out, smile, and comment, “He wist not what to say” (Mark 9:6). Modern translations render this, “He did not know what to say,” describing Peter’s ignorant remark at the Transfiguration, blurted out when he should have kept silent. If any of us complained about the weather, Dad could be counted on to recite, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). He knew, of course, that the “day” in the psalm’s context is the time when the stone that the builders rejected becomes the “head stone.” Nevertheless his affirmation of God’s sovereignty even over the weather found happy expression in the quoted line, a sentence we heard on many occasions.


Part of Tom’s journal entry for Nov 9, 1959: “Prayer, the main source of strength of all, must find its necessary time in the early hours of the day, in the evening, around meal hours, without intruding on this ministry of teaching, preaching and visitation. Yet it must undergird all the ministry.”


Part of Tom’s journal entry for Nov 9, 1959 [in the midst of caring for his wife who had Alzheimer’s]: “I still purpose to go on, with this one great assurance, that God is really God, sovereign, in complete control, and will complete the warp and woof of His perfect design, always, and in spite of appearances, I repeat, in full control. Any other consideration is amusing to Him: He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.”


Toward the end of September [1992] Dad developed a persistent cough, then a fever. He stopped eating. But, of course, he was unlikely to call anyone for help: he wouldn’t want to “disturb” them. In God’s providence, Joyce phoned from Illinois. Finding him in terrible shape, she promptly called the pastors of the church, who bundled him off to the Emergency Room. He never came home again—not, at least, that home. . . . Throughout [his last] three weeks, Dad faced a great deal of pain, but as far as those observing him could tell, no fear. Typically, no word of complaint fell from his lips. On one occasion the nurses remarked to Jim, “Mon Dieu, qu’il sait souffrir!”—“God, he sure knows how to suffer!” Jim passed on the remark and earned Dad’s last rebuke: “Don’t say that.” The pained look on his face might have been because he did not want God’s name to be taken in vain, even in a reported utterance, or because he found it hard to accept positive evaluations of his display of Christian graces. Most likely it was both.

May God make many of us like Tom Carson.


  1. Have you seen the website http://www.sgmsurvivors.com ?

    might find it interesting. Your entire website is SGM propaganda. It encourages this cultish organization to fruther their brainwashing. Newsflash: CJ is not Jesus. But he certainly needs him.

  2. dear “fan” –

    my “entire website is SGM propoganda”? boy that’s a stretch! did you actually look at my site or did you just find it doing a search for cj mahaney? there is a lot more here than sgm materials. in fact, if you bothered to read the post you’re commenting on, you’d see that it has nothing to do with sgm or cj.

    i will check out the site, but let ask you to consider a few things. first, everyone has faults and so it will not be surprising to see if cj has dropped the ball on a few occasions. second, he has around him men that are not part of sgm that seem to think he’s okay – i highly respect all of these men. third, i don’t know you – you wouldn’t leave your name – so why would i trust you more than men like al mohler, mark dever, and ligon duncan?

    i am not trying to discourage discussion or disagreement, but there is a proper, respectful, Christian way of doing it – even on blog sites – that you seemed to have not figured out yet. trying coming back and actually discussing the issues on a sgm-related post and i will be happy to engage you in conversation. otherwise i will just delete your comment as spam next time.


  3. John,

    I live overseas and can’t get to a bookstore to flick through Carson’s book but I want to use the quote that you have from Carson’s book. If it’s not too much trouble can you tell me which page the quote below is found on?

    “Jim recalls barging into Dad’s study unannounced, finding him on his knees praying, and quietly backing out. ‘But that image has always remained with me, especially during my later rebellious teen years. While walking away from God, I could not get away from the image of my father on his knees, praying for me. It is one of the things that eventually brought me back.'”


  4. The page number is 72. I think this is also available as a free download from The Gospel Coalition site. If not, send me an email; I have a digital copy that I’m willing to part with now that I have it in print.


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