People come to seminaries—including New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College—for a variety of reasons. Some are drawn to a particular field of study. Others want to live in a specific part of the country. Each has his or her own reasons, and each follows God’s leading and direction.
Smith followed God’s call to New Orleans, but it wasn’t the city or the seminary that drew him. It was dental school.
After some rebellious years as a teenager, Smith became a Christian during his freshman year at Auburn University. Still a relatively young believer when he graduated, he began working on a master of divinity degree through Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. That experience convinced him that God was calling him to the local church, specifically in the area of church planting.
“I felt like God was calling me to church planting with the North American Mission Board,” Smith said. “So after graduation, I went to Atlanta and served as a church-planting apprentice with the congregation of M28 Church. They taught me how to engage the community and be an urban missionary. And I was able to exercise the evangelistic gifting I had.”
That’s also where he met his wife, Katie, who happened to be considering a dental school in New Orleans. That meant the Smiths knew they had a decision to make.
“We knew that we were falling in love and wanting to get married,” Smith recalled. “But I was trying to plant a church in Atlanta, and she was trying to get into dental school in New Orleans. So, we prayed about that and really felt like God was calling us to dental school. That required me to step away from my church planting efforts in Atlanta.”
Thankfully, even though New Orleans had never been on his radar, the move proved to be a blessing for Smith. Like Atlanta, New Orleans is a NAMB Send City for church planting projects and he was able to pick up in New Orleans where he had left off in Atlanta. He started serving at a church plant in the area and working as a full-time physical education teacher in a local school. He also decided it was time to continue his education, and NOBTS was a natural choice.
“I actually didn’t fall in love with New Orleans or NOBTS and Leavell College until I became a student there,” Smith confessed. “It wasn’t one of those deals where I had heard about the seminary or heard their mission statement and wanted to be a part of it. I just knew I was in a city with a Southern Baptist seminary, so I could work on my doctor of ministry degree.
“To be honest, the seminary mostly received my leftovers. It was probably my third or fourth priority. I only showed up on campus three or four times a year. I was just working through that degree as quickly as I could, filling up my schedule with a maximum course load.”
But as Smith began working on his doctoral ministry project, God started moving in his heart. For the first time, he began to see the benefits of education beyond simply gaining more academic credentials.
“Everything had been so new to me during my master of divinity degree. It was like drinking out of a fire hydrant,” Smith said. “I was a relatively new believer. I wasn’t raised in church. I was just trying to keep my head above water.
“I obviously learned a lot, but I didn’t really start connecting dots until my D.Min. project, as the seminary gave me the tools I needed to strategically lead our church and to advance the gospel. When I was able to apply my project in our local church and see it actually work, I fell in love with the thought of continuing my education.”
In fact, Smith was so grateful for his NOBTS experience that he enrolled in a Ph.D. program that he hopes to complete soon. Earlier this year, he also joined the NOBTS and Leavell College staff as the director of alumni engagement. Now, the young man who once simply went through the motions can genuinely talk with other alumni about the school and its potential for kingdom ministry.
“I love my job because it’s all about relationships and connecting with our alumni,” Smith explained. “That’s why we changed the name from ‘alumni relationships’ to ‘alumni engagement.’ I get to call alumni every day and engage them, whether things are hard or going great. I can praise the Lord with them or pray with them right there over the phone. I’m getting to minister to our alumni on a daily basis.”
As another way to give back to the seminary, Bo and Katie have become regular supporters of the Providence Fund. In addition to giving a tithe to their local church, they made the intentional choice to make additional offerings to ministries that advance the gospel—including NOBTS and Leavell College.
“We wanted to give toward the goal and purpose of equipping servants to fulfill Christ’s mission around the world. That’s why we started giving to the Providence Fund,” he said. “As a Ph.D. student, I still benefit from the Providence Fund, but Katie and I know that we have been blessed with the means to give back. And we don’t want to miss that opportunity.”
In addition, when his office initiated the NOBTS Alumni Association, he wanted all the dues paid by members to go into the Providence Fund as well. So, while alumni receive great benefits like auditing classes for free and discounts for conferences and merchandise, they are supporting students who will continue sharing the gospel around the world. According to Smith, that’s a win-win for the entire NOBTS and Leavell College family and it reinforces the most important aspect of the school’s existence—preparing students to fulfill the Great Commission.
“We are nestled in this city that represents nations from all over the world,” Smith noted. “We have this laboratory here at our fingertips, out our front door and back door. Once we finish our lesson in the classroom, we can walk outside our seminary gates and do ministry with people from India, Africa, China, you name it.
“Because of that, we believe students are more prepared for ministry after graduating from New Orleans than they would be anywhere else.”