Parker Windle says there are a lot of things about his life that have surprised him over the years. One was that, after growing up in Alabama, he ended up becoming a pastor in Paris, France.
A second was this—he found out his time at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School had prepared him for ministry in the French-speaking city of 14 million in a way he never would’ve guessed.
“Ministry here is big city; it’s urban, and it’s multicultural,” said Windle, who graduated with his Master of Divinity in 2007.
According to Windle, Paris has anywhere from 3 to 4 million English speakers but very few English-language evangelical churches. So, at Emmanuel International Church, where he serves as a pastor, “you end up getting people who come from a variety of theological backgrounds just because you’re the closest thing to them.”
Because of that, Windle says his church has become a bit of a melting pot of evangelical believers who unite on the vital aspects of the gospel and agree to disagree on non-essential issues of biblical interpretation, such as women in ministry. He said Beeson got him ready for that.
“I think Beeson is excellent preparation for the specific type of ministry I’m involved in, because of the interdenominational nature while still having an emphasis on doctrine,” Windle said.
Thinking across time and culture
Studying historical theology in seminary stretched Windle to think across time periods and understand people from other eras who thought differently from him.
“It’s very similar to thinking across cultures,” he said. “And that’s often what you’re going to encounter when you meet people from different countries in your ministry.”
Windle said while he was growing up and in college, he was too narrow in what issues of biblical interpretation he thought were acceptable for disagreement.
“But then when you go to Beeson, you’re like, ‘OK, I think this person’s wrong, but they love Jesus. And we can agree to disagree on some of these points,’” he said. “There are a lot of questions Beeson made me reflect on. Theological diversity is a very tricky thing, and you have to know and settle in your mind to what level you can work with people with different disagreements.”
Working through that at Beeson Divinity helped prepared him to find that balance at Emmanuel, where he’s served as pastor since 2015.
“Beeson helped me ask questions on how we can equip the saints for ministry without causing division,” he said. “Finding that kind of balance in a church like ours is very important because you can be too accommodating and it ends up in everybody fighting, or you can be not accommodating enough and have people with real needs who aren’t able to take advantage of the Word being preached and the community that we have to offer.”
David Parks, director of the Global Center and Contextual Learning at Beeson, said this is the kind of equipping that the faculty aims for.
“Beeson was founded on an ‘ecumenism of conviction,’” he said. “Our commitment to the Bible, in combination with church history and interaction with students from other denominations, produces a fluency of gospel understanding that is foundational when it comes to identifying partners in other parts of the world. I know it helped me in Southeast Asia, and it helps Parker in France.”
Since Windle graduated, Beeson Divinity has created a Missions Certificate for M.Div. students who feel called to pursue cross-cultural ministry.
Becoming a missionary pastor
Windle’s journey to serving at Emmanuel began after his time at Beeson when he went to Paris to serve as a Journeyman, a two-year missionary, with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008.
He was excited about the short-term assignment, but he also felt some confliction. Ever since he’d experienced a call to ministry in high school at First Baptist Church of Aliceville, Alabama, he’d had a heart for the nations. But as time went on, he also felt like God was calling him to be a pastor.
“I wanted to be a missions-minded pastor,” Windle said. “I expected to do the Journeyman program, come back home, and get a pastor job. I felt that if I did a missionary term, I would be a better pastor.”
But he said when he got to Paris, God showed him a way to put those two passions together. The city draws the “poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich and everyone in between,” and Windle wanted to reach them all, starting with the Punjabi people.
During his Journeyman term, he helped start a church among this people group after eight men heard the gospel and decided to follow Jesus.
“The work among that people group was slow at that time back in India, and there was an unusual openness among them in Paris,” he said. “It had nothing to do with me; they were just hungry when they got out of their context, and they reached out.”
And as Windle continued to work with that church, he began to see the possibilities of reaching people like that for years to come and drawing them into a diverse body of believers who could encourage each other in the faith and reach their city together.
A combined baptism service with Emmanuel's church plant on April 10, 2022, representing six nationalities.
So, when another church in the city, Emmanuel, asked him to be their youth pastor, he said yes. Three years later, he became its lead pastor.
Emmanuel’s membership reflects around 30 nationalities. They’re part of the International Baptist Convention’s church planting ministry, which aims to plant English-speaking churches for internationals throughout non-English-speaking countries.
And Emmanuel has already planted another church in Paris that started meeting in 2018.
Despite the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, both churches are continuing to thrive.
“For us, I feel like we came out of COVID stronger than when we went in,” Windle said. “Because of the way the church organized breakout rooms online during lockdowns, church members were pulled out of their comfort zones and built deeper friendships with people they might not have known well before the pandemic. At the end of it, I just felt like the church was way closer than when it started.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for the church, whose members faced loss, or for Windle personally. His wife, Kyrah, had a serious case of COVID-19 when she was six months pregnant, and for a little while doctors thought they might have to take the baby early.
She recovered and delivered safely and on time, but in the months that followed, her father died, and their infant daughter had a fever and had to spend two weeks in intensive care.
On top of that, the couple had other complications with paperwork and job-related issues that come along with being expats living in France.
But Windle said he has seen God’s graciousness every step of the way.
“The church was super supportive for us during that time, and we’re thankful for how ministry is going despite it being a hard year,” he said.