To Backstreet (and Back) - An Interview with Burk Parsons
It was several years ago now that I first met Burk Parsons. If you know Burk (or know his name, at least), it is probably through a connection with Ligonier Ministries or Saint Andrew’s Chapel (where R.C. Sproul is Minister of Teaching and Preaching). At Ligonier Ministries he serves as Editor of Tabletalk Magazine while at Saint Andrew’s he is Minister of Congregational Life. When I first met him it did not take long for someone to tell me a little bit of Burk Parsons trivia that quite surprised me. A mutual friend asked, “Did you know that Burk used to be a member of the Backstreet Boys?” I assumed he was joking but snooped around just a little bit and found out that it appeared to be true; before he was a seminarian and before he was a pastor, Burk was a member of a boy band—and one of the world’s most famous boy bands of all time, at that.
This was something I had to know more about. Recently I asked Burk if he would be interested in talking about those days. The facts of what happened and how he walked away from untold worldly wealth and fame has never really been told, at least not beyond his circle of friends and associates. Yet it is a tale worth telling, I am convinced. As we did this interview, as I heard Burk tell about his call to ministry, about his desire to serve the Lord even at great cost to himself, about the wisdom, even as a young man, to realize that he could not serve two masters, I was greatly encouraged. And I hope and pray and trust that the same will be true for you. Burk’s story is interesting on a human level (how does someone get to be in a boy band and what on earth would compel someone to walk away from such fame?) but there is much interest even beyond that. His story has something to teach us all since his story is just a piece of God’s greater story in which Burk’s chapter, right here and now, gets to intersect with our own.
This tale cannot be told properly without going into some level of detail, and for that reason the interview will be posted here in a few installments. Today Burk will tell about his life and family, how he became a Christian and how he knew that God had called him to the ministry. In the days that follow he’ll talk about his days with Backstreet Boys, tell whether or not it is true that he was also made an offer by which he would be the guy at the front and center of ‘N Sync, and learn about how he came to minister alongside R.C. Sproul. I hope you will check in day-by-day.
Let’s get started.
Tell me about yourself, Burk—your family, your job, your ministry.
Amber and I have been married nearly ten years. Amber is a sweet southern Florida lady and the oldest of seven children. She grew up in a Southern Baptist home with a father and mother who pray together as a family every morning before her father (a law-enforcement officer) goes to work. By His grace, the Lord has provided me an overseer and mentor (R.C. Sproul) who is insistent that I have plenty of time to spend with my wife and our children, Claire (5 years old) and Elizabeth “Lizzy” (2 years old). We hope to have more children, possibly through adoption. As you know, I serve as the associate pastor at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, Florida, where Dr. Sproul serves as senior minister. I have served the congregation for eight years, and I have had the honor of serving churches, on staff or as intern, for about fifteen years now. I also have the great privilege of serving as editor of Tabletalk, the monthly Bible-study devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries, where I have served for more than ten years now. Many people ask how I do both—serving as pastor and editor. It’s really quite simple, I serve the people of Saint Andrew’s all week, and I have set aside Fridays for my Tabletalk and Ligonier related meetings. On Friday mornings I go to the Ligonier offices to pray with the great group of men I have the honor of serving with at Tabletalk, and then I usually lead our weekly devotional time at Ligonier Ministries. Next, I meet with my overseer and dear friend Chris Larson (Exec. VP), and then go into planning meetings with the Tabletalk editors or designers. Often, I do my writing and editing in the early mornings and evenings. Of course, every day of the week I discuss pressing matters with the other editors, and every Wednesday I gather with RC and Vesta Sproul to discuss the ministry of the church and, secondarily, matters involving Tabletalk and Ligonier.
When and how did you become a Christian?
I first heard the Gospel when I was thirteen. My Father (at 65 years of age) had just recently trusted Christ after having lived apart from Christ and the fellowship of the saints most of his life (incidentally, he was the son of a small-town Presbyterian pastor in Missouri in the 1920s and 30s). For my thirteenth birthday, my father told me he wasn’t going to get me a gift but that he was going to take me to hear someone speak at Farhills Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio. The man we went to hear is Arthur Blessit, the fellow who carried the cross around the world in the 1980s. All I remember is my father’s tears after the service. In fact, every time we went to church he cried after the sermon. It always seemed to me his tears were those of a life wasted unto self. He was a very successful man in the world of politics and fundraising.
After hearing the Gospel for the first time, I began to hear it all the time, and every time I heard it I responded doing whatever the preacher told me to do—raise my hand, walk an aisle, stand up. Over and over again, I responded to the call to repent and believe—it was the only thing that made any sense to me.
Tell me about your call to the ministry. When and how did you know that God had set you apart for the ministry?
After coming to Christ, the Lord immediately put me under the care of several gracious men who mentored me—these men came from Southern Baptist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and fundamentalist backgrounds. Our Lord used them mightily in my life. They were godly pastors and teachers who pointed me to the Word and to our Lord (as I write this, Tim, it’s early morning; I’m in my study at home, and I cannot hold back my tears as the Lord reminds me of these men—it is sobering). They shepherded me with humility and wisdom.
Since the time of my parents’ divorce when I was eleven, considering all that kids have to struggle through when their homes are divided, I was forced to question everything I thought I knew—I was forced to consider the end for which God created the world and the end for which He placed me in it. These are questions every kid thinks about I suppose, but I sincerely asked them and desperately needed answers. And when the simple, clear Gospel of Jesus Christ consumed me at my conversion, my questions were answered. From that point on, the only thing that really made any sense to me was Gospel ministry. It was the only thing I could see myself doing, and it was clear in my mind what the Lord was calling me to do. At fifteen, I was a pretty serious kid, for better or worse, and I always found myself struggling with the deep issues of life and death, which is generally the case with most kids who have to endure the divorce of their parents. God used my parents’ divorce to drive me to depend on Him alone.
Go to Part 2 where I ask, “People may have heard rumors in the past that you were an original member of the Backstreet Boys. Is this true?”