Pastor Profile: Pastor Leo Thomas • Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church
Name: Leo Thomas
Church: Mt. Sinai in San Pedro
Hometown: South Central, L.A.
Education: BA in business, degree and honorary Doctor of Divinity from Saint Thomas Christian University
Married/children: 23 years to Lady Kimberly Thomas, father of four
How did you get saved and why?
When I got saved I was 26. My fiancée, now my wife for 23 years, was attending Central Baptist Church. At that point I was already seeking spiritual awareness. I just didn't know how or what. But I had attended some churches
and when I went there is when I accepted Christ.
Part of it was just an innate desire. Knowing that I had been very fortunate growing up in South Central and seeing friends killed or go to prison. Being involved in gangs, which my brother and I were, and knowing that, just by luck or by chance, I had escaped some of that, caused me to seek God. I knew people who were religious and that seemed to be a source of strength for them. It was just something that I had a desire to know more about.
When did you answer the call to preach?
In 1991 I accepted Christ. I was making moves in the church and by ‘93 I was a deacon. In ’94 I kept having these visions of preaching—visions of a church setting with a panoramic view and me leading the service behind the pulpit. I had conversations with my father in the ministry and another church leader and at that point I was seeking direction on how to know if you’re being called to preach. I shared with them the visions I was having and they both confirmed for me that they definitely felt I was called to preach. That validated it for me. I preached my first sermon October 29, 1995. I was ordained in 1997.
How did you come to Mt. Sinai?
Mt. Sinai is my first pastorship. The Lord started speaking to my heart and told me it was time for me to leave my home church. I really didn't know what that meant but a week or so later I got a call from my pastor. He told me there was a church in San Pedro who was looking for a younger preacher. Out of 21 preachers at Central, I was the only one my pastor felt was called to pastor.
I went down there and met with the deacon board, who said their pastor was looking to retire soon, and seeking a pastor who might replace him. I joined that church in December 2005 under the impression that in a few years there might be an opportunity for me to step into that role. The following year, in December 2006, I was voted in as a pastor.
What is your preaching style?
That’s a great question. I’m a exegetical preacher. I don't do a lot of topical preaching. I believe in opening the word of God and expounding on that specific text and building a bridge between what was being done and how it currently applies to our lives.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since becoming pastor?
One is to not take the behaviors or the demeanors of church people personal. It’s really about staying focused on what you’ve been called to do, and to have a desire and a heart for people, and wanting the best for people—even though the same people who are praising you today could be asking you to be crucified tomorrow. My grandmother used to say, “a pat on the back is eighteen inches away from a kick on the butt.” I try to remember that. It almost puts up a wall and you’re hesitant to trust. That's difficult as a pastor because you have to be able to trust—not only your calling—but you have to be able to trust the people that God surrounds you with. It does require a certain level of cautiousness.
Another challenge is trying to convince people that you have to love in “spite of.” The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins and we’re required to love people. We think about what happened in South Carolina. One of my associate ministers—that’s his home church. Here’s a person that does such an atrocity and the Bible says we still have to love them. That's a hard thing to do.
What would you characterize as your greatest strength?
I believe I’m a pretty good administrator. I’ve worked in the leadership field in restaurants for over 30 years. At one point I ran an organization where I had over $1 billion dollars in annual sales that I was responsible for and a lot of folks that worked underneath me. I’m able to identify skills and assess talent and able to administer through that and get the best out of people in those positions. I’m also able to identify potential de-railers and weaknesses and keep the train moving. As a matter of fact, if someone asked me if I’m an exceptional Sunday morning preacher, I would say no, but my administrative skills are what has helped Mt. Sinai be what it is today.
What are your defining moments?
Accepting Christ. April 1991. Since then I’ve been all in.