Some people spend years trying to find a job they love. Then, there are people like Dr. Jim Parker, who has multiple positions that feed into his passions. Parker has made an enormous impact at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College for more than a decade, both in the classroom and behind the scenes.
A trained theologian and archaeologist, Parker serves as a professor of biblical interpretation and executive director of the Moskau Institute of Archaeology. In those roles, you might find him helping students resolve thorny biblical questions or leading a team on a summer dig at the school’s excavation site at Tel Hadid, Israel.
But Parker is a trained engineer, as well. His years of experience overseeing construction projects make him an excellent asset for a school with a growing infrastructure that often stands in the path of powerful storms. That’s why he serves as the school’s director of facilities, as well.
Whether he’s teaching in a classroom or thinking about the air conditioning that keeps the classroom comfortable, Jim Parker loves what he’s doing.
“I still use things every day that I learned in college,” Parker said. “I use my mathematics all the time and all kinds of chemistry and physics, along with the engineering. So it’s been good that I can tap back into those things because I’ve always enjoyed it.
“I also feel like God has gifted me for teaching to help the convention and the church, so I get to do that too. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Parker grew up in the small mining town of Blocton, Alabama, before enrolling in the University of West Alabama at the age of 16. Two years later, he left to take a job with United States Steel, where he would finish his degree. Then, a decade later, he accepted a position with a general contractor in Houston. That opened the door for his first experience with the city of New Orleans and NOBTS.
“In 1985, my company sent me to be the project manager on a multi-use building in New Orleans,” he explained. “It was called the Galleria, and it’s still standing at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Causeway Boulevard. While we were here, we got very involved in the First Baptist Church of Kenner. And through our church relationships and what the Lord was doing in our lives, we felt a distinct call to go to seminary.”
In response to that call, Parker enrolled in NOBTS. Taking advantage of early morning and evening classes, he completed about half of the requirements for his master of divinity degree before being called back to Houston. He eventually finished his degree through a local extension of Southwestern Seminary and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Mid-America Seminary.
“Coming out of seminary, I first taught at Beeson Divinity School, which is part of Samford University in Birmingham,” Parker said. “Then, I started teaching for New Orleans at their extension center in Birmingham. I taught there from about 2002 until 2007 before I came to the main campus full time.”
Once in New Orleans, he hit the ground running, both in teaching and in facilities management. The school was still struggling to recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina two years earlier. One of his first responsibilities was to finish getting the campus back on its feet.
In 2019, Dr. Parker tried to shift to what he dubbed “semi-retirement” in Alabama. But within a year, he found himself back in New Orleans.
“I was going to continue working with the (Tel Hadid) dig and teaching, but I was going to do it from Birmingham since we still have a home there,” he explained. “In November 2020, though, they invited me to come back. Since then, we’ve dealt with two more hurricanes. First, Zeta hit in late October 2020, right before I got back. Then, of course, Ida was another big one this fall.”
“So, I started right off the bat working on hurricane damage in 2007, and it continues today.”
Hurricanes aren’t the only threats to the facilities of NOBTS and Leavell College. Time has a way of creating problems as buildings start to show their age. Parker noted that “deferred maintenance” has put some smaller projects on hold, but he and his team are working hard to scratch those off the school’s “to do” list.
The lack of capital delays some projects, and because Parker has the unique grasp of both the classroom and the campus, he recognizes the valuable role donors play in meeting needs at every level.
“When I first came in 2007, we were receiving a little more than $9 million from the Cooperative Program. Now, that number is right at $6 million,” Dr. Parker shared. “It’s no one’s fault, but when you do that for a decade or so, that’s a lot of money. So, even with good fundraising, it isn’t easy to overcome. So, any donation without restriction—undesignated gifts that can go into the general fund—is excellent.”
“When we raise money, we try to emphasize that the whole institution needs it, not just one area,” Parker added. “So, for example, I know some donors want to give scholarships, and that’s wonderful. But at the end of the day, if possible, it’s best when donations come as undesignated gifts so we can direct them in different ways.”
Parker also realizes that a gift to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College has a more significant return on investment than many might imagine. Donations do more than fix a roof or reduce tuition. They make a difference for the kingdom as each new generation of Christian leaders fulfills their calling for the glory of God.
“We’re in the business of delivering theological education to students who are coming here,” Parker pointed out. “God calls them to be pastors, staff members, missionaries, and denominational workers. The return on that investment is souls, and that’s a great thing to be involved in.”
For his part, Parker is not planning to slow down anytime soon. Admittedly, he is excited about the quality of younger professors joining the faculty, but he also wants to contribute as long as the Lord allows. The direction he sees NOBTS and Leavell College moving, along with some wisdom from a former boss, fuels his enthusiasm about the future.
A former seminary president once said, “When nothing is certain, everything is possible,” Parker recalled. “As we meet the challenges of today, that’s never been more true. But when nothing is certain, everything is possible.”
Parker has found a way to lean into the school’s past to focus on the future. He genuinely believes the best days of NOBTS and Leavell College are still to come.
That’s why he’s going to enjoy every moment, no matter which of his jobs he happens to be doing at the time.