Editor’s note: Longtime Tennessee Baptist pastor, director of missions and TBMB staff member John Parrott died April 26 after a lengthy battle with COVID-19. John Parrott was a friend and mentor to countless people within the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Joe Sorah shared his thoughts about his friend and co-laborer in a recent devotion for TBMB staff.
By Joe Sorah
Harvest Field 5 Team Leader, TBMB
A few months ago, Danny Sinquefield of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff shared a video interview with Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney with Harvest Field Team Leaders.
Coach Swinney outlined his coaching philosophy and what he asks of his players and assistant coaches. He said he wants them to follow the words of George Washington Carver when he said, “When you do all the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
When I think of John Parrott, I think of that quote. John was a common man but did all the common things in uncommon ways. He did everything with excellence and he commanded the attention of all of us who knew him.
John Parrott was a spiritual giant to me, a Barnabas yes, but also like an Apostle Paul. John mentored me in how to transition from serving as a pastor to serving as a denominational servant.
John demonstrated the proper attitude it takes to serve, like the attitude that Paul displayed in Philippians 1:3-6. Drawing from Paul’s words, I want to identify three attitude traits which I found in John’s life:
John served with a thankful attitude. The Apostle Paul expressed how he always gave thanks for the Philippian believers. He was thankful for their partnership and their prayers. There is something contagious about someone who is consistently thankful.
John was so thankful for the opportunity to serve the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. It was a dream come true and he never got over it. John was thankful to be a part-time employee with three fulltime jobs — Harvest Field team leader, bivocational ministry specialist, and church revitalization catalyst. He was thankful to serve alongside of his fellow TBMB employees. He never saw himself as anything other than a servant, serving alongside each of us and was very thankful just to be there.
John served with a joyful attitude. The Apostle Paul said he was “always praying for joy for all of you” in verse 4. The letter of Philippians is an anthem of his joy.
John was a man full of joy. His smile was constant, and his stories brought much laughter. Chris Turner used to join John and me for breakfast on each Thursday morning on staff days for our own staff meeting. Our staff meetings were for giving family updates and listening to John tell his famous stories of life in East Tennessee. There was a lot of laughter in those meetings. The hotel staff was used to seeing us at the breakfast table and enjoyed our banter.
I used to talk with John privately about working too long. I had witnessed my father work until his dementia set in. He and my mother did not take the trips they had planned. I knew from many meals eaten with John and his wife Kathie that they had a few trips planned as well.
I told John, “Man, don’t work too long.” He told me he wanted to celebrate his five-year anniversary with the TBMB, but he said he didn’t really want to retire because he was “having too much fun.” That was classic John. He was full of joy and his joy was evident to everyone around.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “When a happy person comes into a room, it is as if another candle has been lit.” John lit candles in every room he entered. When I told the workers at the hotel that John was very sick, they got tears in their eyes and spoke of how much they enjoyed John and how he brightened their lives.
John served with a hopeful attitude. Paul wrote in verse 6 that he was sure that God would complete what He started with the Philippians. In other words, he told them, “God’s not finished with you yet.” What an encouraging word to them and to us.
John was a Barnabas to many of us. He was always encouraging, always upbeat, always looking for the positive. The last sermon I heard John preach was at this year’s Bivocational Ministers Retreat.
He opened the message with an encouraging word to the pastors, “You are a precious gift to your church.” Following a couple of hard years of leading churches through COVID, John’s words were a needed reinforcement of how valuable they were.
He followed that remark by preaching the best sermon that I had ever heard John preach as he called all of us to faithfulness to our Lord.
Others have said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” John made people feel special, like they truly mattered, because they mattered to John. Everyone was important. He saw potential in each person. He was ever hopeful.
If you ever received a birthday greeting from John, he would usually say, “Happy birthday. Every day is a gift.” John valued every day and encouraged us to do the same. I will long remember a lot of John’s words, but I will never forget his attitude. For those of us fortunate to have known John Parrott, we witnessed how life ought to be lived. B&R