Once Jerry Nance earned his music degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he didn’t think he’d ever return to the city or the school. In his mind, he had everything he needed to fulfill his kingdom mission and to follow God’s call to music ministry.
But, as so often happens, God had other plans.
“As a young man, I said that I was going to be a music minister,” Nance recalls. “And when I left New Orleans with that first degree, I said that I was never coming back. But I guess I was putting God in a box. I’ve now learned that you don’t tell Him what you’re going to do.”
After several years in music ministry, Nance began feeling God call him in a new direction. He believed the Lord was leading him into the pastorate; and, while his education and experience would have qualified him to serve behind most any pulpit, he also sensed God moving him back toward New Orleans.
“When God calls you to ministry—any kind of ministry—He calls you to prepare,” says Nance. “ I really believe that. I surely could have gone ahead and pastored. But I really felt like I needed to pursue more education for this new position.”
That meant he would earn a second master’s degree, this time in Biblical Languages. And even though God eventually called Jerry back into music ministry after a decade of pastoring, he believes his time working on both degrees at NOBTS and Leavell College helped him become a well-rounded minister. The balance between academic rigor and practical application provided just what he needed to fulfill his mission focus at each stage of his ministry.
“One thing I’ve always appreciated about the seminary is that it has called faculty members who have real ministry experience,” Nance explains. “They have done missions or done pastoral ministry or whatever before becoming faculty members. And because of their experience, they’ve always had a heart for people to either come to the Lord in salvation or have a stronger relationship with Him.”
Jerry also understands the impact of NOBTS and Leavell donors. As a boy, Nance’s parents didn’t go to church. Instead, he and his brother plugged into the bus ministry of First Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. That’s where he came to know Christ as Savior and where he crossed paths with a music minister and mentor named Jimmy Cutrell. With Cutrell’s guidance, Jerry grew in his faith and discerned his own call to ministry. But he never could have pursued his theological training without the generous financial support of those who gave to the seminary.
“I had no way to pay for school without the scholarships and donations that kept the price of theological education reasonable,” he says. “It’s made an eternal difference in my life, and I’ve also seen it with so many of my friends.
“Students go out across the country and across the world sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. They are prepared and more confident because they are given not just academic preparation, but also the practical preparation that is built into each degree. I can’t imagine where I would be without the seminary and the experiences I had there.”
Over time, Jerry has enjoyed a front-row seat for God’s work through the mission and ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College. His connection to the school runs deep, including three generations of students that began with his father-in-law in the 1950s.
“He was an electrician by trade; and, at the time, they had a program called the Tentmakers through the Home Mission Board (now called the North American Mission Board),” Jerry says. “They were seeking students who had skills to go to the Midwest and start churches while earning a living through a trade. He went into that program, and they moved to Illinois to start a church. For 52 years, he pastored that church and made his living as an electrician.”
Nance’s wife and sister-in-law also studied at the seminary, as have his son and daughter-in-law. And, coming full circle, Jerry returned as well. He currently serves as the minister of music and adults at Woolmarket Baptist Church in nearby Biloxi, Mississippi, but he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the school of music. And he will receive his third NOBTS degree—a doctorate in Musical Arts—in December.
So, what happened to the guy who thought he’d never return to New Orleans? Turns out that God wouldn’t let him stay away.
“It was a place that I kept wanting to come back to,” he explains. “I think it’s because of the people and because of the spirit that I know is in the hearts and lives of the faculty and staff. God kept drawing me back. And now I’m able to give back some of what was given to me.”