SONORA—Fifty years ago, Tony Carson became a full-time pastor. And he’s still at it, with no intention to retire, either. But the pastorate was never his life plan, he says.
“The call was so strong that I knew I had to do it,” Carson said of his undeniable call to the ministry in the 1960s. But right out of high school, he joined the navy. When he came home, he married Peggy, began their family that would eventually include four children, 11 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren, worked at the National Cash Register, and began serving as a deacon at a church in Dayton, Ohio.
He’d always felt a call to ministry, but his fear of public speaking was stronger. However, in a meeting for pastors that he “wasn’t even supposed to be in,” he recounts, he “knew he had to surrender.”
The family moved back to their hometown in Tennessee, and Carson commuted to Cumberland College (now University of the Cumberlands). Eventually they moved to Kentucky where he attended Southern Seminary, and eventually graduated from International Seminary.
Since the first Sunday in April 1968, Carson has been pastor of churches in Tennessee, West Virginia, Florida and Kentucky. During his ministry, he has served on numerous Southern Baptist Convention, Kentucky Baptist Convention, and associational committees. He even served for a time as the director of the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (now Sunrise).
However, one of the most valuable pastorate experiences to him was the opportunity to serve a church plant in West Virginia. From that, he learned the value of being open to change.
“One of the best things about it is that you have a fresh start. You know, we get kind of in a rut. It’s not easy to change things,” he shared. “In my 50 years, obviously, things have changed from 1968 to 2018 in the world, let alone the church.”
Carson continued, “So many times we try to maintain the church the way it was when we were younger growing up, even though in our society everything’s changing. And we don’t change the Gospel at all, but we do have to change the way we package it sometimes. I think that’s kind of difficult.”
But even in the established churches he has led throughout the decades, he’s seen that once a church starts to get past the hurdle of the “way things have been,” there’s joy in “watching people grow, seeing people come to the Lord, and knowing that you had an impact in helping that church to be stronger so it could move forward.”
Carson has no plans to retire, and in June celebrated his 50th ministry anniversary with his church, First Baptist of Sonora, where KBC executive director, Paul Chitwood, delivered the sermon.
“Bro. Tony has been serving Christ and his church in Gospel ministry longer than I have been alive,” Chitwood said. “To know that he is finishing well is a tremendous encouragement to me.”
He continued, “I pray that the Lord would give us more pastors across this state and across this nation who would live a life of enduring faithfulness to the Lord Jesus, who would be faithful to their wives, who would be faithful to their children and their families, who would be faithful to the Bride of Christ and faithful to their Lord as Bro. Tony continues to be.”
Reflecting on the fact that after so many years, that kid who feared speaking to groups of people is still preaching, Carson said, “I know that it’s not me, because I don’t have any strength to do it. I still have a fear of people. But when I preach, I’m relaxed in the Lord.
“As I look back over 50 years, I’m thankful that I got to pastor each church that I did,” he added. “I’m especially thankful for each experience, and those that may not have been so good that helped me to grow and be a stronger Christian, a stronger pastor.” (WR)