Three Questions is a semi-regular series introducing individuals across the NAB by asking them about their story, their ministry, and what they are learning. This week, we hear from Joseph Thomas, the pastor of Neshaminy Valley Baptist Church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. He will also be speaking at the 2024 Triennial during the Friday night General Session.
What’s your story?
I grew up in India in a Christian family and migrated to America in 1988. Having now spent more of my life in America than India, I have the benefit of two different cultures, values, and predominant religious backgrounds, with their many blessings and challenges. In my mid-20s, I did a risky and counter-cultural thing by falling in love and marrying Elizabeth of my own choice – she is Sri Lankan and grew up in America. Ours was not an arranged marriage, as is more typical for someone from India or Sri Lanka, and we are from two different countries, which means different languages, cultures, and so forth. Elizabeth and I have three adult children, and we have no dogs or cats, but we do have a koi fishpond.
What’s ministry like for you (what is your ministry context)?
Prior to entering the ministry full time, I went to school and worked in the financial industry. Though my calling brought me to pastoral ministry, I have been able to broaden my “ministry” outside the “church” through entrepreneurial involvement. I’m in my 26th year of pastoring Neshaminy Valley Baptist Church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. This has been a wonderful haven of ministry where I’ve gotten to teach the Word, introduce people to Jesus Christ, and disciple them into maturity. While the congregation is predominantly White and suburban, more recently God has also led me into a church plant in Germantown, Philadelphia, an African American urban community. Rather than start with a church that eventually reaches out to the community, conceptually we are trying to reach the community with Kingdom work and expect them to see the “reason for [our] hope” (1 Peter 3: 15) and turn to Jesus. Ministry for me also includes entrepreneurial efforts with a Kingdom focus; it is not confined to just what I do in classical ministry.
What are you learning (how are you being challenged in ministry)?
I am learning that ministry skills are less important than character and surrender to God. In the pastoral ministry, my Sunday morning preaching and teaching is just an introduction to loving my congregants and being their shepherd Monday to Saturday. I am led to ask the simple question: Do I love the people I serve? I love Jesus, I love the Kingdom of God, I love God’s Word, I like to preach and teach, I love God’s Church. But the question is whether I love them ‘more than these.’ Loving Christians is hard and intentional work, especially when they place nationalism over Kingdom priorities, say foolish things on social media, treat with contempt their fellow Christians with whom they disagree, and are experts on everything because they either watch a particular TV channel or regurgitate what someone else said. At some point, the challenge of loving them is more a reflection of my own heart and Christian character than their spiritual immaturity.