Ministering Without R.C. Sproul
Burk Parsons joins us one more time. He is the editor of Tabletalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries, and senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, a church founded in 1997 by R.C. Sproul. R.C. passed into glory 38 weeks ago, on December 14. Burk, today I would love for you to share with us the legacy R.C. had on your ministry. And what’s it like now for you, pastoring without him? But maybe begin by telling us when you first came across R.C.
I first came across R.C. Sproul and began to sit under his teaching in 1992. I first met him, if I’m not mistaken, in 1997, and then began working for him in 1999.
“R.C. Sproul did not care at the end of the day if he offended men, so long as he honored the Lord.”
It’s very important, as in all our lives, that we have numerous men and women that the Lord has raised up to help us and come alongside and encourage us and mentor us.
I had numerous men — from the time I was converted to the time I went on staff at a Baptist church at the age of 19 — I had numerous men, not only from the Baptist church, but even from some sort of Pentecostal churches as well as an independent, fundamentalist Baptist church. Then numerous godly men mentored and shepherded me from the Mennonite church.
Not growing up in any one tradition, and not growing up really in the church at all, I came in and was immediately surrounded by godly, loving, gracious men that mentored and taught me.
When I came to hear R.C. and sit under his ministry, I thought, “You know, this is a guy that I believe.” I’d begun to listen to a lot of different pastors and preachers and had begun to study and to read.
Of course, there are many fine men that God has raised up, but there was something about R.C. When I heard him and read him, I thought, “I believe this guy. He’s the real thing. He doesn’t care at the end of the day if he offends men, so long as he honors the Lord.” He cared about what people thought, of course, but he was less concerned about offending men than he was offending God.
Ligonier and St. Andrew’s
In 1999 I went to work under him at Ligonier Ministries. In 2001 I went on staff at St. Andrew’s Chapel. In 2004 I was ordained to the gospel ministry of the pastorate. Really from that point on, we were preaching together and leading worship together.
The church continued to grow, and the Lord continued to add to our number as we just really honestly strived to be faithful to very ordinary things. We called these things “ordinary means of grace” — the word and prayer and baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We were not really being a program-driven church. We’re an attractional church really just because we were striving to be faithful to those ordinary means of grace that the Lord has given us, and trusting his sovereignty in their use in the church.
Mentor, Father, Friend
As I began to serve under him over the years, what became very strange for me is I began to sort of serve alongside him. That was a very strange thing, especially for such a young man, young in ministry.
“R.C. Sproul’s life gave me the picture of a man striving to be faithful with the stewardship that God had entrusted to him.”
I was learning to preach, learning a whole host of things about life — growing into adulthood, really. I was in my twenties. I was learning under him, and he really became not just a mentor, but in some ways like a father, and his wife, Vesta, like a mother to me. In time, as I got older and as I grew, we became closer friends. He really became more and more of just a buddy.
It’s been a number of months now — over six months — since R.C. went to be with the Lord. I’ve felt that it’s just been recently where I’ve begun to really talk about him, because it’s like I didn’t just lose a mentor or a father. I lost a friend; I lost a buddy.
We would get together throughout the week, and we would of course get together on Sundays. We were together for lunch on Mondays. That was such an encouraging time because, as any pastor knows, Mondays are very difficult — the emotional roller-coasters that we’re on and what the devil is trying to do to us in getting us to doubt and getting us to feel the shame and the weight and the burden of everything.
Meeting with R.C. and Vesta on Mondays was really such a great encouragement to me over the many, many years that we did that.
Herald of Jesus
To your question regarding R.C.’s impact on my ministry and life, it’s so hard to put it into a few words. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been so impacted and influenced by him — and of course by many others, many other preachers and many other teachers and many other pastors. Sinclair Ferguson has been a longtime friend and mentor of mine.
At the end of the day, if I could sum it up and boil it down into just a few words, R.C.’s life and his example gave me the picture of a man striving to be faithful with the stewardship that God has entrusted to him, doing what he was gifted to do and called to do by the Holy Spirit.
He strived to help people and to point people, not to himself, but to Jesus Christ. He wanted to get eyes off of him and to get eyes on Jesus. He strived to help those that were serving and those that were teaching to get their eyes on the Lord — our holy, gracious, loving, and sovereign Lord.
He wanted them to know the Lord and to love him more and more with all their hearts, souls, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves, so that people would really feel free, assured as they’re resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
It’s really very simple. R.C. lived that very simple life of a pastor-churchman-theologian, striving to work with any that he could. At the same time, he was willing to draw the line and do what needed to be done, to say what needed to be said — where lines needed to be drawn in the sand, to say, “This is right. This is biblical.” Or even the antithesis, which is much harder to do, to say, “This is not right. This is not biblical. This is not in accord with our confessional standards and with the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Voice of Truth
R.C. has a balance: striving to be at peace with others — striving to have a unity of Spirit and a bond of peace — while at the same time contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. That example, that legacy of R.C.’s, I think is going to be passed down by the work of the Lord and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Not just to me, hopefully, but to thousands and hundreds of thousands of men and women throughout the world.
“He wanted to get eyes off of him and to get eyes on Jesus.”
One of the chief aims of R.C. in his life, in his ministry, in his preaching and teaching was to give God the glory. He wanted God to be the one glorified and not the man, not the messenger. He wanted — in preaching the word of God and the whole counsel of God, in season and out of season, and not wavering, but remaining steadfast and on course — the Lord to use R.C.
He hoped that the Lord would use all faithful ministers to draw the attention to the Lord. R.C. detested this idea, as do I, of “the celebrity pastor.” No good pastor, no faithful pastor, likes that or idealizes that. Every faithful pastor wants to get the eyes of all people upon Jesus Christ and not upon himself.