The limousine pulled up and Burk Parsons climbed in. Four other teenagers sat beside him - laughing, chomping on snacks, and watching the world through the lens of luxury. Burk was living the teen dream.

       Just a few months earlier, he'd been contacted by a high-powered financier to audition for a new boys' singing group. Burk and his mother made the short drive from Sarasota, Florida, where they resided, to Orlando. He danced and sang.

       Soon afterward he got the call: "Congratulations! You made it."

       Sixteen, and suddenly Burk's world was big money, great food, and serious rehearsals.

       After several months working with a host of choreographers and voice coaches, financier/owner, Lou Pearlman, pulled the boys together and made the long-awaited announcement: "Your group's name is going to be 'The Backstreet Boys'."

       "We were going to be the next New Kids on the Block," recalls Parsons, now 25 and in his third year as a master of divinity student at RTS-Orlando.

       Life was a dream. Then God intensified the plot.

       Burk, whose parents were divorced, sat on the verge of superstardom and it didn't feel right. He sought counsel from a godly Mennonite man who had observed Burk's preaching gifts as early as his eighth-grade year. "This isn't what God has for you," the man told Burk regarding pop stardom.

       Over a period of time, says Burk, "God just kept bugging me. I realized that God had other plans for me. So, the week before we signed contracts, I walked into Lou Pearliman's office and told him this wasn't what God had for my life.

       "It was a very difficult decision. And Lou Peariman was quite upset. They had lost a lot of money."

       The Backstreet Boys found another teen to round out its group, and the group went on to fame. Burk entered his sophomore year in high school in Sarasota, where he engaged in ministry with Youth for Christ and at his church.

       Then, two years later; in the spring of 1995, Pearlman again called "out of the clear blue sky," recalls Burk. "He asked me to come up to Orlando. He was starting another group. The Backstreet Boys bad had just gone to Europe, and that's where they made it. I was offered a salary right out of high school, and all of my expenses were to be paid up front. Lou gave me a week to think about it, but by that time I had come to a much stronger sense of a call to ministry. I called Lou up and said no."

       That second group, 'NSync, became an even more popular singing group. The second time it was certainly a more difficult decision, because I had it right on the table before me. But I recognized a much stronger call to the ministry. I had an overwhelming peace."

       Burk attended Trinity College of Florida and at the age of nineteen began working officially in ministry at his home church, Sarasota Baptist Church. The call to a life of ministry grew. "Not just pastoral ministry," explains Burk, "but I was headed toward ministry in all aspects - in all realms of ministry. It is somewhat like the ministers of old who were ministers in all aspects of Christendom: they taught, they were preachers, they wrote, they traveled. They did all sorts of things. They weren't segmented off to one branch of Christendom."

       Upon college graduation, he looked at several seminaries, choosing RTS because of its solid, Reformed emphasis. His life was being shaped profoundly by the writings and life of Reformed thinker Francis Schaeffer.

       At RTS, he enrolled in a summer extension course taught by RTS-Charlotte professor Harold 0. J. Brown that was to be held in the Reformation-rich German hamlet of Wittenberg. Burk was 23, and Brown - who had taught alongside Schaeffer for years - spoke deeply into Burk's life.

       Brown recalls first thinking that Parsons seemed to be "a very nice and mild sort of guy I soon learned therre was much more to him. He gave up a very lucrative career to pursue the ministry."

       Says Brown: "Burk strikes me as a very pure, very clean type of guy. I'm not talking specifically about sex, although certainly in that fashion, too. But Burk's character is just genuine."

       So genuine was Burk's appreciation of Brown that, after meeting his fiancee, Amber, the pair invited Brown and his wife to observe their relationship and offer advice. "I've been blessed," Burk says, "I can only begin to describe how wonderful my wife is; she is a godly woman."

      These days, Burk spends most of his time studying, working around his house, or hanging out in local coffee shops. "I like going to coffee shops, and going out and talking with folks. If I have free time, that's what I'm going to do - just go and talk with people. But it's not necessarily a matter of assessing culture. I go out and talk with people, and not primarily to find out how to better this or that, but to help them recognize who they are and who God is."

       Through his studies at RTS, Burk has become convinced of the importance of pastoral ministry. "The entire pastoral aspect of RTS focuses the primary call to ministry on the local congregation. That's RTS - they did that and they continue to do that."

       RTS-Jackson professor Duncan Rankin especially influenced Burk's understanding in this regard during a class Rankin taught at Orlando. "With great fondness I remember Burk's keenness in the ecclesiology class I taught," Rankin says. "His interest was not merely in the theoretical, but a real love for Christ's Church was reflected in his searching questions and practical concerns. Burk caught a vision for approaching the ministry not merely with human wisdom but with the divine Word of God! The Bible, the light of nature, and a good slice of Christian prudence animated his thinking."

      Another key influence on Parsons has been R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries, where Burk has worked since the Fall of 1999.

      It was through a series of Ligonier conferences Burk attended in the mid-1990s that he made a shift from committed Arminian to convinced Calvinist. His shift of understanding the doctrines of grace and covenantal theology came after a long study over a couple of years discussing with anyone he could the distinctions of Reformed thought. "I once wrote a college paper entitled, 'Calvinism and Arminianism: A controversy that shouldn't exist.'" Now, from the other side of the fence, Burk adds, "Even more, I believe that it is a controversy that, biblically speaking, cannot exist.

       "I've been very thankful for these last seven years as God has brought various influences my way. In college I attended a Bible Presbyterian Church - which is more of a separatist Presbyterian church. In the end, what's fundamental is Scripture. And although many cheer, 'Scripture, Scripture!' very few care to acknowledge its power. So I have great respect for men such as J. Gresham Machen and his regard for the unbridled teaching of Scripture and its theology."

      Currently, Parsons works as a teaching assistant to Richard Gamble as well as for Ligonier Ministries as a staff writer and editorial assistant for TableTalk.

      "I really don't [have a goal].That's the honest truth. I wouldn't want to presume upon my God to have a goal. Acall - that's different: to minister to the people of God in all aspects."

      And so Parsons continues to follow the friendships God grants in his life. He and Amber have house meetings with a group of folks, including college students. One of the guys who attends, Colin Rowley, also lives with the Parsonses and works at Ligonier.

      "It's a great, great friendship," says Colin. "In very many ways, Burk's a mentor to me. I look up to him in that way. He has so much knowledge about life and theological issues. And he's a great friend, always there for me. A lot of people will ask 'How are you doing?' and really don't mean it. When Burk asks, he really means it."

       Burk says the relationship is a mutual blessing, and he is proud of 2l year old Colin's growth. "He has developed quite a grasp of theology. We study the Puritans together, and we always find opportunities to pick each other's thoughts."

       Burk and Amber look forward to his graduation and to being used however God chooses. "The problem has been to narrow it down. It's a matter of assessing all of my desires and attempting to go and minister to the people of God in many contexts."

       His mentors and professors believe Burk clearly has gifts for preaching, which he defines "primarily as biblical teaching."

       Whatever the case, Burk Parsons wants his whole life - not just some segment spent in a church building - to ring true. "I think that a Christian man in this world is called to live a godly and holy life." He acknowledges that it is a challenge to live within the culture and understand it while remaining as a prophetic witness. "I'm an idealist without illusions. An idealistic, conservative churchman without illusion.... I want to lift up the Word of God and not myself."

       Says Harold Brown of his student: "We have some fine students at RTS, and I wouldn't want to rate them on a scale. Burk's unusual in that I would say he's very unpretentious, so much so that you probably wouldn't notice him until you've been around him for a while.

       "I would say that is a testimony to his faith."

       Brown continues: "One thing that always worries me about a guy like Burk is he is almost too good for the fallen world, the very imperfect world that we have. He's going to need a lot more of God's grace to keep up the way he has."

       Where will you find Burk in future years? His friend Colin notes that, even though Burk has a great singing voice and plays the guitar well, he declines to sing in their church's choir. "For sure he's got a gift of personal relationships," insists Colin. "He's really, really good with people. And so the choir is not really where he wants to be."

       Burk passed on singing with The Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync - but the church choir too? Burk explains why he eschews the choir, and it seems applicable to his whole life. "I like to be in the congregation," says Burk, "talking with the people in the pew."




Reformed Quarterly, Volume 20, Number 4
© 2001 Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.

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