Behind the Scenes With a Part-Time Local Pastor
John Thomas brings the same level of passion to the pulpit as he does to his full-time job as a teacher in East Texas.
When Rev. John Thomas retraces his spiritual journey into ministry, there are several surprising twists and turns. “Although my dad was a preacher, I would not say that my faith was my own until I was grown and on my own,” recants John. “I moved from Texas Tech in Lubbock to East Texas because that was home for my wife, and my plan was to teach – certainly not to preach,” he shares. Initially, John’s parents helped move him in to an apartment in Frankston to start his coaching job, while his wife stayed in Lubbock to tie up loose ends. In his solitude, John says he and the Lord “had a few conversations.”
Thinking back on how he meandered into the ministry – or was recruited, perhaps, John realizes leaders that see potential in other leaders can be sneaky. “Rev. Doug Howell in Frankston started pulling me in to help on occasion with a children’s sermon, or do a devotional at an event, or preach at a nursing home,” he says, “and before I knew it I was doing some legwork-ministry for him – and liking it!”
Adds John, “I guess he saw energy and potential in me because I was already a teacher. He was subtly encouraging me to apply my gifts to the gospel, which I have done.” John was appointed as lay supply in 2010.
“When Jack Albright came to hear me preach he encouraged me to get licensed, so I followed through with that,” he says. John became a Licensed Local Pastor in 2014 as a member of Frankston UMC, and within a year or so began pastoring a 2-point charge in East Texas: Mt. Vernon UMC in Frankston and Neches UMC. In the early days, Mt. Vernon UMC averaged around 22 in attendance; nowadays it is closer to 42.
“Now I get to see a revival around me in the students I teach and people I come in contact with,” he says. “I have relationships with kids and parents and that has been a key to the growth we’ve experienced in the church. In days passed pastors would preach and keep office hours, waiting for people to come by, but these days they need to be seen.” John is privileged to communicate church news in the school newsletter and personally invite students to youth events. “When you watch, feed and teach teenagers at weekly youth rallies,” he adds, “parents drop them off, and sometimes decide to come check me out on a Sunday.”
Emily Buck a 7th grader and current student in John’s class says, "I like going to Mt. Vernon because pastor John cares about kids and does a good job getting the community together on youth nights. It helps that pastor John is accessible on social media so if I miss church, I can listen to him online on his podcast station."
His basic secret to growth: loving on people. “It’s not about how much you know. People want a church that cares about them.” Neches UMC is just four miles from Mt. Vernon UMC. “The church just voted to start a community garden, so we can hand out food in the name of Jesus,” he adds. He is also excited about a regional alliance of pastors that work together to improve the community.
Being a fulltime teacher and part-time pastor is taxing on his time, but that’s where John’s high energy kicks in. “I work on my sermon on Sunday afternoons, because my week of teaching and grading papers will start again on Monday.”
Mike Bennett, Chairman, Board of Trustees and Retired School Administrator occasionally visited Mt. Vernon UMC 30 years ago after purchasing land nearby. “My wife Cindy and I were consistently welcomed by the friendliness of the members. After we retired and moved here, we were embraced into this loving church family. God continues to bless us as the congregation grows in the same loving manner with opportunities to witness and serve.”
Neches UMC member Kimberlyn Snider says that the church is a blessing to her small community. “The church is able to reach out to community members through a ½ acre garden that provides fresh vegetables to the elderly and less fortunate,” she says, “and we have ranchers giving hay to other states suffering from the fires in the Panhandle. Linda Thornell, a 30-year member of Mt. Vernon, adds, “Our church has always had a mission driven mindset in spite of our small numbers. We help with local, regional and state needs and Methodist charities.”
People of all ages are feeling the love from “Coach” Thomas and the churches he pastors. College freshman Zach Phillips shares, "I like Mt. Vernon UMC because I love the people and Pastor John and because I don't feel judged or hated I only feel love.” Frankie Bammel, an elementary student at Neches ISD says, "Mt. Vernon UMC youth nights are fun and I can understand what Coach Thomas is talking about."
Matt and Ben Wages are current and former students of Coach John that feel their preacher is very personal and easy to talk to. Will Phillips, a high school senior, adds, "I love attending Mt. Vernon because the people are welcoming and the preaching is amazing!"
Whether he pursues seminary and ordination next, or signs up for the ABIDE program for small churches, one thing is for certain. “I’m all about growth,” he says.