Born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, John Berry McFerrin was admitted to the Tennessee Methodist Conference at age 18, and began preaching in the area. He was ordained in 1829. He served as pastor of McKendree Church, and during President Polk's last illness McFerrin took him into the membership of the church. At the president's death in 1849, McFerrin conducted his funeral and burial.
From 1862 to 1965 McFerrin served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. He preached in nearly every town in the Southwest and attended many Methodist conferences including every Quadrennial Conference between 1836 and 1884. He edited the Southwestern Christian Advocate from 1840 to 1844, the Christian Advocate from 1855 to 1858, and was the manager of the Methodist Publishing House from 1878 to 1887. McFerrin edited a three volume "History of Methodism in Tennessee", published between 1869 and 1873.