After avoiding God’s calling for years, this Truett alum now leads a growing Austin church
Joseph C. Parker, Jr. was raised the only son of a Baptist preacher in Birmingham, Ala. Growing up in the church, those around him always told him he would grow up to be a pastor just like his father — but Parker never wanted to be a preacher, and throughout the first half of his life, he ran from the call he felt to ministry.
“I am where I am, not because I thought life would lead me here,” says Parker today, “but [because] trusting the Lord God has brought me here, as He has ordered my steps. And I’m glad and joyful about it.”
Parker grew up in segregated Birmingham. Parker’s father, Joseph Parker Sr., was a friend and schoolmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a leader in the Alabama civil rights movement. The elder Parker marched with King in Selma and Birmingham, and worked with him to co-found the Montgomery Improvement Association. As a boy, Joseph Jr. would accompany his father to protest and organizing meetings, bombing sites, and more. Parker says his father’s actions eventually helped him both to understand his purpose in life and to see social justice through the lens of ministry.
In college — both during his undergraduate years at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, and on through law school at the University of Texas — Parker continued to dismiss the idea of full-time ministry, focusing instead on a legal career. It was only during his final semester of law school that Parker finally gave in to the call to ministry — but even then, he wasn’t ready to fully commit to pastoral life.
After graduating as one of UT’s top 10 students in trial advocacy, he went to work as lawyer, eventually working his way up to serve as chief of litigation for the State Bar of Texas. At the same time, he was serving as an associate pastor at Austin’s David Chapel. Finally, in 1992 — after a decade of working both fields — he gave in to his life’s calling and was named senior pastor of David Chapel.
Having focused on law for so many years, he decided to get the formal ministry training he had previously eschewed. In 1994, Parker enrolled at Baylor’s Truett Seminary — part of the school’s inaugural class — and in 1997, he became the first black graduate of Truett. He went on to receive Truett Seminary’s first Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award in 2004.
At David Chapel, Parker’s congregation tends to the underserved with an eye toward comprehensive neighborhood revitalization. “I have a calling to urban ministry, which leads to my inspired and motivated engagement inside and outside ‘the church’,” Parker says. “Accordingly, my biblical and theological orientations led to my belief that all Christians should have a passion or ‘heart’ for the community.”
Sic ’em, Pastor Parker!
[You can learn more about Parker’s life and ministry in this recent feature from Truett Seminary’s magazine, The Cord.]