Larry Parsley has been senior pastor of Valley Ranch Baptist Church in Coppell in northwest Dallas County almost 18 years. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on church and ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
• Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
I’ve served as a youth minister at First Baptist Church of Three Rivers and First Baptist Church of Jasper; college/senior adult/interim pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco; and singles/teaching pastor/associate pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
• Where did you grow up?
• How did you come to faith in Christ?
My parents are strong Christians and helped lead me to Christ when I was 7. I was baptized at Parkdale Baptist Church—now Community of Faith—in Corpus Christi.
• Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I have a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Baylor University, a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of philosophy degree in Christian ethics from Baylor.
• Why do you feel called into ministry?
I believe God wired me with a desire to communicate the gospel creatively within a relational context. This gives me great joy.
• What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
I enjoy every aspect of preaching—dreaming up sermon series, digging into the text, reading commentaries, writing the sermon and then delivering it.
• What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?
Ironically enough, I would say funerals. I believe funerals today are the new “open-air preaching.” Often, people with very little gospel exposure gather together with a keen ear to what the preacher has to say. It provides a chance to honor a fallen friend, comfort the family, acknowledge God’s presence and testify to the power of the gospel. As hard as it is, I find great fulfillment in it.
• What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?
Church shopping. Today, we often seek churches that give us the best bang for our buck—pastors included! And when the return on investment shrinks, we tend to quickly look for something new. This reality can turn clergy into the customer service department. It also weakens perseverance, abandons friendships, cheapens commitment, encourages unhealthy competition among churches and puts a futile faith in the promise of the next church to meet needs that only God can meet.
• How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
I used to work hard to know every detail about what’s going on in our church. I now realize that is futile, and even counter-productive, because it can keep me from focusing on God’s word and on my primary priorities of preaching, praying and leading.
• If you could launch any new ministry—individually, through your congregation or through another organization—what would it be? Why?
The Center for Creative Preaching—primarily, so I could benefit from it! I believe the church rises and falls with preaching, and pastors need help in crafting sermons that are thoughtful, biblical, practical and intensely interesting.
• What qualities do you look for in a congregation?
Humble, hospitable, prayerful and oriented toward serving others—see Valley Ranch Baptist!
• What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, national or local?
I am grateful to be a product of Texas Baptists—brought to faith and discipled in a Texas Baptist church, responding to the call to ministry at Super Summer, educated at Texas Baptist schools and seminaries, etc. I admire the tireless commitment of those who lead our denomination. Still, I am saddened by the fact that while, in the middle of the 20th century our denomination was known for its entrepreneurial approach to church life, today we have largely outsourced innovation to others. I fear we are not as invested today in pioneering new ministries to meet new needs and contexts in the 21st century.
• Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I was blessed to serve twice under Dr. Jim Johnson at Calvary in Waco and Dunwoody in Atlanta. He taught me how to baptize, do communion, lead staff meetings, and do weddings and funerals, among other things. He also gave me tremendous opportunities to preach and lead, and was—and is—one of my greatest cheerleaders. More recently, I have been blessed by my friendship with Tillie Burgin, director of Mission Arlington. Tillie is an amazing leader, and her passion for the gospel regularly inspires me.
• What is the impact of ministry on your family?
My wife, Jaletta, is my best counselor and one of the wisest people I know. I know it is really hard for her to see me struggle and endure criticism, and who knows where I would be without her support. All four of my children have been active participants in the life of our church, and that fills me with great joy.
• Name some of your favorite books (other than the Bible) or authors, and explain why.
John Ortberg’s The Life You Always Wanted—great primer on spiritual disciplines; profound, practical and funny). John Stott’s The Cross of Christ—great read during Lent; Stott is my favorite theologian. Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God—revolutionized my reading of Luke 15 and understanding of what “elder brother lostness” looks like. The commentaries of Frederick Dale Bruner on Matthew and John—brilliant exegesis, and a willingness to let older theologians speak into the text.
• What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
2 Timothy 1:7—“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” I identify with timid Timothy!
• Who is your favorite Bible character (other than Jesus)? Why?
Barnabas. I think his ministry of encouragement and willingness to build bridges of friendship are vastly underrated.
• Name something about you that would surprise your church.
I am easily distracted during worship, especially by evaluating aspects of the worship service and struggling with anxiety over my sermon. I would not want to worship anywhere else, but I still have to fight to stay engaged as a worshiper.
• If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
I launched a new service once and said we always would maintain that service at that particular time. When we later canceled the service, it understandably created a great deal of frustration and sadness. If I could do things over again, I would make it clear at the outset that our programs—and worship service times—always serve our mission, not the other way around.
• Write and answer a question you wish we had asked: What’s it like being Marv Knox’s pastor?
A tremendous privilege! Marv and Joanna are a joy, and I treasure their friendship!
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