Pickett, Jarrell W.

1890 - 1981
Bishop, social scientist

Jarrell Waskom Pickett was born in Texas, in February 1890, and raised in Wilmore, Kentucky.[1] His father, Leander Pickett although not formally educated, had an incredible knowledge of Scripture and spent his time evangelising, debating Scripture, and writing hymns.[2]His mother, Ludie was an English professor as well as an organist for the  church.

Pickett attended Asbury College and graduated in 1907, receiving a master’s degree at only 18.[3]Throughout his education he showed exceptional aptitude. Thanks to his mother, he was able to read fluently by age four and finished schooling at an unusual pace. Before he turned six, he had read the entire New Testament and many books of the Old Testament. After graduating from college, he taught Greek. In 1910, Pickett’s friend and college mate E. Stanley Jones urged him to succeed Jones and take over as pastor of an English-speaking Methodist church in Lucknow, India. His decision to heed E. Stanley Jones's call to serve in India marked the beginning of a transformative chapter in his life.

On his journey to India, Pickett led his fellow passengers in the ship in Bible studies and prayer services every morning and evening.[4] Eventually he even led the captain of the ship to the faith. Arriving in and acclimatising to India was not easy, given all the diseases that were rampant in the region at the time; dysentery, malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis–the most threatening of the lot. Pickett eventually contracted tuberculosis because he regularly interacted with an elderly man who suffered from the disease.[5]The man was a new convert and lived in a congested area of Lucknow. Pickett attended to him through the nights. When Pickett was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he was told that he would not live for more than a few months and was ordered to return to America. Pickett had only been in India for about four years at this point.[6]

But several weeks later, a doctor in San Francisco could find nothing of concern in an x-ray evaluation; Pickett was miraculously healed. So Pickett returned to India.

Pickett married Ruth Robinson, who was born and raised in India and the daughter of a missionary bishop. Pickett served in various roles: pastor, evangelist, superintendent and editor of the Indian Witness, a Methodist publication in South Asia.[7]Pickett was sent to serve in Arrah, Bihar, where a “mass movement” was taking place.[8] It was at this point that Picket’s “discovery of the real India” began.[9]

Pickett’s miraculous recovery prompted him to work towards making modern medicine available in India.[10]Pickett was instrumental in raising funds for several clinics, hospitals and medicines. He hired gifted doctors and medical professionals and pioneered the establishment of teaching hospitals in the country. Pickett quickly grew to love India and her people. In fact, after 46 years spent serving in India, he told his friends that he was “leaving home and going to America.”[11]

As editor from 1925 to 1929, Pickett gained popularity for espousing his passion for evangelism and concern for the marginalised.[12] He believed the caste system to be one of the root causes of many social evils. Even so, he encouraged his readers to be well-versed with the Hindu worldview and well-read about Indian affairs, for the purpose of evangelism; to be able to communicate the gospel message in “Hindu forms”.[13]

Pickett was exceptionally skilled at meeting top government and national leaders and was able to garner favour for himself and the Indian Christian movement.[14] Of all the leaders he came in close contact with, three notable names include, B. R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi. Ambedkar and Pickett became close friends when Pickett was appointed bishop of the Bombay region and Ambedkar was president of the law college there. Ambedkar expressed to Pickett his desire to be secretly baptised. He feared that a public event would adversely affect his political career, but Pickett refused and insisted that he openly profess Jesus as Lord.[15]Ambedkar was not willing to go that far.

Pickett and Nehru were close friends. Nehru even gave permission to Pickett to “rebuke” him if he faltered ethically.[16] In 1947, when Nehru became India’s first prime minister, Pickett was resident bishop in Delhi. As communal violence increased in the region at the time, Pickett desired to organise a relief committee of Christians who would help Muslim victims in Delhi. Nehru was initially hesitant about such a committee but eventually gave his consent. Later, when the situation got out of hand, Nehru requested Pickett to take charge of the government relief centre that sought to care for victims and stop the slaughter of Muslims. Over 200 Christians worked for the centre then. Pickett had arranged for medical supplies to be brought in from the US to hospitals in Delhi.[17]

Gandhi and Pickett also remained good friends. In fact, when news of a plot to assassinate Gandhi had broken out, the Delhi commissioner requested Pickett to inform Nehru, then the Prime Minister, about the news. Nehru then asked Pickett to convince Gandhi to leave the city.[18]

One of the most significant contributions that Pickett made to the Indian church was his research in the area of mass movements, which he undertook under the direction of the National Christian Council.[19]In the early 1930s, several church leaders questioned the authenticity of large groups coming to the faith, claiming that salvation was an “individual matter”.[20] However, Pickett investigated the matter thoroughly and proved the integrity of such group movements in India; he published his findings in Christian Mass Movements in India (1933). He explained how it was easy for individuals to make faith decisions in the Western context, but in the Indian context where community is an integral part of the fabric of the society, individual decisions can hardly be made without excommunication from one’s family/caste.

Donald McGavran, who was influenced by Pickett’s findings, began applying the principles and insights to other regions of the world and learned that they held true for other communities outside India as well. He published his subsequent studies in The Bridges of God and How Churches Grow. What Pickett began and Mc Gavran furthered led to the study of the church growth movement. McGavran would later say, “I lit my candle at Pickett’s fire.”[21]

In his book Christian Mass Movements in India, Pickett stressed the need for further research focusing on groups more than individuals, the power of group identity, the damaging effects of dislocating new Christians and the value in having them remain in their social circles, and the need to adopt more indigenous forms in Christian worship, among other points.[22]

Pickett has eight books in total to his credit, of which the most popular is Christian Mass Movements in India. As mentioned above, this pioneering survey laid the foundation for the study of church growth.[23]The work also paved the way for applying social science methods for research on Christianity and evangelism.

Waskom Pickett served the people of India willingly and lovingly for 46 long years, impacting both church and state, a feat very few people have been able to accomplish. Pickett and his wife eventually returned to the US and spent the remainder of their lives in a retirement village in Ohio.[24]Pickett died in 1981 at the age of 91.

His deep understanding of Indian culture and his emphasis on contextualized forms of worship demonstrated his commitment to bridging cultural divides in the pursuit of spreading the gospel. Pickett's enduring legacy extends beyond his years of service in India, influencing subsequent generations of scholars and practitioners in the field of church growth and cross-cultural mission work.



  1. ^ Matt Kinnell, “Jarrell Waskom Pickett,” Biographies, History of Asbury University, accessed March 18, 2024, https://www.asbury.edu/academics/resources/library/archives/biographies/j-waskom-pickett/.
  2. ^ Arthur G. McPhee, The Road to Delhi (Bangalore: SAIACS Press, 2005), 17-18.
  3. ^ McPhee, The Road to Delhi, 22.
  4. ^ McPhee, The Road to Delhi, 49.
  5. ^ McPhee, The Road to Delhi, 72.
  6. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 13, no. 3 (1989), 122.
  7. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 122.
  8. ^ Arthur G. McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 19, no. 3 (Fall 2002), 32.
  9. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 32.
  10. ^ McPhee, The Road to Delhi, 82.
  11. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 32.
  12. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 32.
  13. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 32.
  14. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 123.
  15. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 123.
  16. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 123.
  17. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 123.
  18. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 123.
  19. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 124.
  20. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 124.
  21. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 35.
  22. ^ McPhee, “Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India,” 35.
  23. ^ Kinnell, “Jarrell Waskom Pickett.”
  24. ^ J.T. Seamands, “The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett,” 125.

Christina Martin

Christina, a former business journalist, pursued her desire to study theology, earning an MDiv from the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore, India. Currently a stay-at-home mom, she delights in reading aloud to her two young boys, nurturing their curious minds and fostering a love for learning through storytelling.


Kinnell, Matt. "Jarrell Waskom Pickett." Biographies. History of Asbury University. Accessed March 18, 2024. https://www.asbury.edu/academics/resources/library/archives/biographies….

McPhee, Arthur G. "Bishop J. Waskom Pickett's Rethinking on 1930's Mission India." International Journal of Frontier Missions 19, no. 3 (Fall 2002), 31-37.

McPhee, Arthur G. The Road to Delhi. Bangalore: SAIACS Press, 2005.

Seamands, J.T. "The Legacy of J. Waskom Pickett." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 13, no. 3 (1989), 122-126.