NEW ORLEANS (BP)–In the Garden District of New Orleans, students from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary stand with Ken Taylor, associate professor of urban missions, facing one of the many houses in this historic part of the city. The only thing that sets this house apart from the rest is that it stands where one of the seminary’s original buildings once stood. The stone bases that once supported the seminary’s iron gates remain on the sides of the steps leading into the lot’s front yard.
The students here are a part of a class which the seminary offers each fall. For five years, NOBTS has, through its New Orleans Mission and Ministry class, sought to introduce students to the many ministry opportunities in the city.
One of the reasons the Southern Baptist Convention founded a seminary in New Orleans was to be a lighthouse to the city. And that desire to reach New Orleans for Jesus still draws students to NOBTS. However, many students face a challenge in learning about the many ministry sites throughout the city. That’s where the New Orleans Mission and Ministry class comes in.
“I think it’s a wonderful class for introducing students to all the various types of ministry opportunities in New Orleans,” said Nate Bauman, a member of the class this fall.
Taylor said students who take the class often say to him, “I wish I had this my first semester here.”
In the Atlanta area, Taylor taught a similar class designed to familiarize students with the ministries there. He believed the class likewise would be an asset to NOBTS students. New Orleans Mission and Ministry was first offered as an undergraduate class. It became a master’s-level course just after the seminary began awarding a master of divinity in urban missions.
New Orleans Mission and Ministry meets on five Mondays throughout the semester from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the semester, the class has visited several area Baptist churches, the first being Coliseum Place Baptist Church, the oldest continually meeting Baptist church in New Orleans.
Coliseum Place was, in many ways, a logical first stop for the class. It has a rich history that includes being occupied by both the Confederate Army and the Union Army during the Civil War. Southern Baptist leaders in 1917 decided to begin a theological school in New Orleans while meeting in Coliseum Place. And typical of urban churches, Coliseum Place, by the late 1990s, was on the verge of closing its doors.
Now, with Mike Melon as pastor, more than 40 people worship at Coliseum Place each week. Youth groups come during the summer to help renovate the building and to lead Bible camps in the community. The church is beginning to see new life. The challenges Melon and Coliseum Place face are common for urban churches as the community around them changes. In Coliseum Place, the students saw the harsh, yet exciting realities of ministering in an inner-city church.
Taylor also has taken the class to some of the Baptist missions in New Orleans. Rachel Sims Baptist Mission, the first one visited, is the oldest Baptist mission in the United States. The class also visited Carver Baptist Mission, which is similar to Rachel Sims. Both are community-based mission sites that minister to neighborhood children, teens, young adults and senior adults.
The class also visited Baptist Friendship House, a shelter for battered women and children located on the edge of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Kay Bennett, director of the Friendship House, was encouraged when she saw the class.
“It’s good for us [at Baptist Friendship House],” Bennett said, “because I know I have them praying for us.”
Bennett said that on several occasions a member of the class has gone to the Friendship House, returned to their home church, told Christians there about the mission and brought people back to the mission for volunteer service.
The class also spent time prayerwalking in a Vietnamese community in New Orleans East, where a local Vietnamese congregation is currently without a pastor. Even though very little ministry work is going on there at present, the experience in prayerwalking for complete strangers taught class members the importance of praying for a community.
Students came to see that prayerwalking is like preparing a field for the harvest. Prayerwalking also develops a minister’s love and passion for an area. Bauman said prayerwalking in the Vietnamese community was one of the most powerful parts of the class.
“This class allows students to get off campus, get out of the bubble and really see where the rubber meets the road as far as ministry in action,” Bauman said. “You’re not just here to get an education. You’re here to do ministry while you get an education.”
“I want students to be more efficient with their time in New Orleans,” to actively serve the community in which they live, Taylor said.
The prof added that as students see the different spiritual gifts used in the various ministries and as they meet the leaders who make them happen, he hopes students will develop their own ideas for ministry.
So far, several students have become involved with ministries visited by the class.
“We’ve actually had four or five students that found a ministry position … through visiting ministry sites,” Taylor said of the class that helps familiarize students with a city that, although a sometimes-intimidating place to do ministry, needs to be transformed by Jesus.