Burk Parsons is editor of Tabletalk magazine and associate minister at Saint Andrew's in Sanford, Florida, where he serves alongside Dr. R.C. Sproul. Recently, he sat down with Dustin Neeley, church planter, pastor, and founder of the ministry Church Planting for the Rest of Us, to discuss what it is like to pastor with Dr. Sproul and the lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us.
Watch the video or read the transcript below:
Dustin: Hi, my name is Dustin Neeley, and I’m here with Burk Parsons, who is the associate pastor of the church where R.C. Sproul is also a pastor. And he’s also the lead editor of Tabletalk Magazine. So I want to talk to you about both of those things. Let’s start, first, with: What is it like pastoring alongside of Dr. Sproul, and what are some lessons that young guys like us can learn from these older brothers that have gone before us?
Burk: It’s an honor to serve with R.C. I’m 35 now, and I started serving with R.C. about 12 years ago as I was working my way through seminary—finishing Bible college. It’s, quite frankly, an honor just to serve alongside him and learn from him and grow from him.
As we grow, and as we learn, and as we study, we’re learning from everybody—as you are. We’re learning from everyone that God places over us and around us and beside us—older men, younger men. But when God places a man like R.C. in your life—a man who’s been in ministry for almost 5 decades—someone who’s lived through so much and who has lived through so many battles theologically, ecclesiastically, biblically—a man who’s stood the test of time—and he’s done it winsomely with a smile on his face—he’s done so graciously—I learn from him things that I don’t think I could learn from anyone else. I learn from him what it means to love people and to love God and serve people. I learn from him what it means to love the Word and study the Word—proclaim the Word and be faithful to the Word.
R.C. is 72 now, and like I said, he’s been doing it for decades. But what we need to do, I think, more so—as younger men and as younger pastors—whatever age and whatever experience level—we need to spend time just listening at their feet. We need to spend time studying them, learning from them—and we’re going to disagree at times—we’re going to disagree with the way in which something is said, or how it is said, or whether something should be said or isn’t said.
But the truth of the matter is we have a lot to learn, and our forefathers understood that. They understood what it was to sit and to listen to learn and to study. They knew what it was to simply shut up and listen. And we need to do more of that. We need to be careful not to say too much when we’re young, especially. I think we need to allow the fathers to speak. We need to listen to them. We need to listen to their tone, because, so often, young guys just quickly say too much. They lose their audience; they lose their voice—because, too often, I think they are speaking when they should be listening. Being with R.C. has really helped me to really just do that and shut up and listen. And God tells us in his Word, constantly, to listen to the wise—to gain wisdom from multiple counselors—to listen to the experience of the aged.
There is something that is lost in our generation where we have almost put aside the older generation, and put aside our fathers, and said, “We know better than they do. We know beyond what they do. They’re not as missionally minded as we are. They don’t understand church planting. They don’t understand contextualization. There’s so much they don’t understand.” So people stop listening altogether, and what they never to stop to realize is that these guys have been thinking along these lines and thinking through these things and trying to wrestle with them and understand them all their lives.
Dustin: And longer than we’ve been alive, quite frankly.
Burk: Absolutely. So, being with R.C. and serving there with him at Saint Andrew’s as a pastor has been an incredible honor, and most days I just wake up saying, “Lord, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve anywhere,” quite frankly. That God puts us in ministry and gives us a stewardship that’s not ours—it doesn’t belong to us—it’s something that belongs to him and that he says, “Now, this is my gift to you. Use it well and use it faithfully and be a good steward of it.” To me, I’m just amazed. I’m amazed that I get to serve people, and I get to work in people’s lives and help them and counsel them and help train them and disciple them—and working with R.C. is amazing because he’s actually extremely gracious. He’s very encouraging. He wants to allow someone to mess up. He wants to allow someone to do their work and do it well and do it as God has called them. Interestingly, R.C. is not interested in trying to make you like him, because he doesn’t think that he’s that great of a guy.
Dustin: [laughing] That’s great.
Burk: He wants people and anyone he’s working with or anyone who works for him—and wants them to be who they are and who God has created them to be. He’s not interested in making anyone like him. And so, when we understand the grace of God, and we understand the Gospel of God, and we understand the Word of God—the truth of the matter is that it frees people up to be themselves, and it frees leaders, pastors, and mentors and disciplers—it frees them up also to allow their students to be whoever God has made them to be—however he’s gifted them to be. And I think we need more of that.
Dustin: Yeah, that’s a good word.
Burk: We’re not trying to replicate anybody. We’re not trying to mimic anyone. And so, it’s fascinating, because R.C. has been there and done it. He’s been around for a long time. The truth is, he hates the celebrity. He is amazed still—to this day—that people give him credit for things that he doesn’t think he has any business getting credit for. I really do believe in his heart he wants to just reflect God’s glory and give it back to him.
Dustin: Wow—and that makes sense in the cosmic scope of sovereignty why God has raised him up to do just that. Brother, thanks for sharing your story.