New campus minister brings youthful enthusiasm, prayer for ‘awakening’ on BPC campus
|Lauren Parnell (Photo by Kelley M. Arnold)
By Kelley M. Arnold
Director of News and Public Information
MOUNT VERNON – At first introduction, Lauren Parnell seems like your typical college student – young, bright-eyed and bubbly, dressed in a trendy albeit professional ensemble of slacks, flats and a simple jewel-colored top. Yet, give her a few moments to share with you how God brought her to the Brewton-Parker Campus in rural south Georgia, and you will find a mature wisdom and a “heart for college-aged” youth that sets her above – but not apart – from the students she will serve.
Lauren Parnell, 29, was born in Anderson, S.C., and like many children of ministers and military, she moved around many times with the family in her youth, until her father returned to Anderson to serve Concord Baptist Church as its youth pastor, a role he has always served, never considering a full pastorate position, according to Lauren.
“He always felt like youth ministry was his calling, and he still knows,” said Lauren of her father, Bill Parnell. She adds his church refers to him as the “grandfather of youth ministry” as he’s typically older than most youth pastors and has pioneered the position in modern Baptist leadership. He’s served as a youth minister for 34 years, the last seven at Concord.
Lauren’s mother, Janet, is an elementary school guidance counselor, and as she explains, student ministry is something that not only comes natural to her, but it’s something she is called to do.
“My mom has always worked in the elementary school system, and with my dad serving middle and high school students, I believe that student ministry is just something that is in the blood,” said Lauren. “I am definitely influenced by my parents but I know I am uniquely called to student ministry. I’ve known since I was 16. I have a heart for college-aged students. Mom and dad get them in elementary school and middle and high school, and when they get to college, they come to me.”
|Tony O’Neal of First Baptist Church of Vidalia (right) and Gady Youmans, a Brewton-Parker College student and leader in BPC’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries, work together on a yard work/clean-up outreach in Vidalia Saturday, Sept. 11. The church and BPC’s BCM are partnering together in these outreaches. BCM hopes to send a student-led team out each weekend into the community to help with these kinds of projects, said Parnell. The group mowed two yards, trimmed bushes and cut back limbs, as well as removed debris. (Photo by Lauren Parnell)
Dr. David R. Smith, Brewton-Parker College president, welcomed Lauren into the BPC Family August 19 at the faculty-staff banquet, just four days into her tenure. He is already impressed with her ability to relate to Brewton-Parker’s students.
“In the months when Georgia Baptist officers and BPC representatives were perusing resumes, it became obvious that Lauren Parnell was an exceptional candidate for this position. But it was during her interviews with our students that she really became the leading candidate. She brings a wealth of missions and student ministry experience to her post. She also comes to BPC with a wonderful combination of youthful vigor, mature and stable Christian leadership perspective, and an inner strength from which we will all profit in the years ahead,” said Dr. Smith.
One of the first projects Lauren tackled was establishing a clear “why” students are involved with Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) at BPC – particularly among the BCM leadership. She discussed this and their goals for the year at a leadership retreat in Milledgeville, August 27-29.
“I wanted to find out why they felt BCM exists, why it exists on this campus, why they wanted to be a part of the leadership,” said Parnell. “After all, ‘I inherited them,’ I told them. What I found amazed me. I was so moved by their heart and their passion for this campus.”
|“We are praying for an awakening,” said Parnell. “I challenged the leadership team to pray for ‘immeasurably more’ for Brewton-Parker. God says we are able to do immeasurably more through him (Eph. 3:20).”
Brewton-Parker College was awarded a national student deployment award in 2008 from the North American Mission Board (NAMB); only seven colleges and universities were recognized with a Courts Redford Award for Excellence in Student Missionary Deployment. It is a tradition Parnell plans to grow. The former missions coordinator for Baptist College of Florida is exploring mission possibilities in South America, Europe and Africa, as well as a few stateside trips.
Parnell said the leadership team intends to spread weekly Bible studies into four separate studies, creating smaller groups and a more intimate setting. The groups will be geared to freshmen guys and girls, and then two others for male and female upperclassmen. The study leaders are students learning from BCM leadership team members Andrew Tucker (president), Gady Youmans, Parnell and BPC Wellness Director and Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Jana Reynolds.
“We’re hoping to train student leaders under our four main leaders in hope of expanding the number of studies we have next semester,” said Parnell.
The leadership team also opened their semester with a prayer walk around the campus, laying hands on every door and praying over every person in residence either as a student or staff and faculty member.
“We are praying for an awakening,” said Parnell. “I challenged the leadership team to pray for ‘immeasurably more’ for Brewton-Parker. God says we are able to do immeasurably more through him (Eph. 3:20).”
The BCM Leadership team is also working on a partnership with Vidalia First Baptist through BPC student, Eric DePratter, who is serving an internship with the church. There are opportunities for a larger, more centralized outreach with the church’s local mission projects, such as God’s Storehouse and Rachel’s House. She is looking for more opportunities, and welcomes area ministers and lay leaders to contact her.
In campus ministry, especially Baptist college ministry, it is a rarity to find a woman in a top position, but it is a placement Parnell says she’s acclimated to throughout her education and is encouraged in by her “calling”. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies from North Greenville College (S.C.) and a master’s in missions from Southwestern Theological Seminary (Texas) – degrees that are typically higher populated by male students, said Parnell.
“I was one of five females in my graduating class at North Greenville. We worked hard,” said Parnell.
She is the first female campus minister at Brewton-Parker College, an appointment made by Joe Graham of the Georgia Baptist Convention. She is the fourth campus minister assigned to BPC since 1986, joining David Roland, Al Rahn and Glenn Wallace in appointed leadership.
“Lauren impressed me from the very first time I interviewed her months ago as a prospective Campus Minister,” said Graham, Collegiate Ministries State Missionary. “Her experience is in empowering and enabling students for missions. Her heart is for discipleship and for students to grow in their faith. Those two things come together very impressively in Lauren.
“She also understands the uniqueness of a Baptist College – having attended one and ministered at another. We are delighted to welcome her to the GBC staff as a State Missionary assigned to Brewton-Parker.”
Brewton-Parker College is the only accredited four-year Christian college in south Georgia. With its main campus located in Mount Vernon, the college also offers bachelor’s and associate’s degrees at its external site in Newnan.