Everyone around the small town of Lake Arthur, Louisiana calls Jered Thomas “pastor.” As of Jan. 1, they also call him chief of police.
Thomas, a student in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College, ran in November for police chief and won with 84 percent of the ballot count, a total just over 600 votes. But his election as police chief doesn’t mean he is giving up being the full-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Lake Arthur.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Thomas reassured his congregation when he announced his run for police chief last fall.
Thomas’ service in the DeQuincy, Louisiana Police Department during his earlier days in bi-vocational ministry made him know that being pastor and police chief can complement each other.
When Thomas learned the chief’s position was open, the words of his former pastor and mentor, Ron Fox, pastor of Bible Baptist Church, DeQuincy — where Thomas had served on staff — came to mind. Fox had pulled Thomas aside as he prepared eight years ago to leave DeQuincy and step in as pastor at Lake Arthur to give him a word of advice.
“Do not go and be the pastor of First Baptist Church. You go there and be pastor of that community,” Thomas recounted Fox’s advice. “You will reach so many people … being pastor of the community.”
“So, I took that to heart,” Thomas said. As he considered a run for police chief, Thomas prayed, “Lord, what kind of impact could I have in that position?”
As a pastor, Thomas sees ministry as a whole-hearted commitment to reach people and share the gospel.
As a recipient of the full-tuition Caskey Center for Church Excellence scholarship, Thomas sees its requirement to share the gospel weekly as a natural fit with everything else he does.
Ready for anything
A self-described “people person,” Thomas may speak to a “couple hundred” people per week in his roles as pastor, neighbor, police chief and also as chaplain to the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office. When his truck is parked outside the church, people often walk in off the street to see him.
Being pastor to the community requires flexibility.
The funeral director called Thomas one day when the minister scheduled for an 11 a.m. funeral failed to show up. Though the call came in at 11:12 a.m., Thomas’ response when asked to step in and lead the service was, “You better believe it.”
Thomas had not met the person whose funeral he found himself leading, but he used the opportunity anyway to “share the gospel and the love of Jesus.”
“The Bible says you have to be ready ‘in season and out of season,’” Thomas said. “You gotta be ready.”
Whether the phone call is a request to visit a sick loved one or a call out from the Sheriff’s Office to comfort a grieving family, Thomas sees each as an opportunity to serve.
“That’s how I connect with people in our community. I do so many services for people that have no ties to our church,” Thomas said. “I’m there with them in the ‘good, the bad, and the ugly.’”
Some might think that a pastor, especially one who is a “people person,” would have no trouble finding opportunities to share the gospel. Thomas admits that most of the time that’s true for him, but that he still relies on former Caskey director Dr. Mark Tolbert’s lead in praying the “Monday morning prayer,” asking God to provide opportunities to share the gospel that week.
“I won’t say it’s always easy,” Thomas said, adding that “with the Monday morning prayer, God always opens a door.”
While Lake Arthur is not far from DeQuincy, where Thomas grew up, it is located south of Interstate 10 in what Louisianans call “Cajun Country” in the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Arthur is surrounded by water and many make a living harvesting crawfish ponds, duck hunting, or fishing the Mermentau River, a culture quite different from Thomas’ background.
“I was raised in a cow pasture,” Thomas quipped.
But from the moment he walked in the church years ago to fill the pulpit as a supply preacher, he knew he was where he was meant to be.
“I fell in love with them my first time here,” Thomas said. “They loved me like I’d been here a 100 years.”
For Thomas, running for chief of police had nothing to do with politics.
“It was just another outlet of who I am and the ministry that I do. God’s already opened doors with some of the guys,” Thomas said. He added, “That’s why I ran.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Marilyn Stewart and originally published by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.