Durring the busy holidays The Good News was able to catch up with Larry Thompson, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale. With all the busyness of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the famous First Baptist Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant he still had time to answer a few questions.
How and when did you come to know the Lord?
Although I grew up in church all my life, it wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I realized the difference between being religious and having a true relationship with Jesus. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I were at an outdoor evangelistic meeting and the speaker, John Bisagno, said there was no reason to doubt where I’d spend eternity, that I could drive a stake in the ground and know for sure.
How and when did you become involved in Life ?
I was working as a life insurance agent in Las Vegas when the pastor of our church came to me and asked if I had ever considered being a minister. He had an opening for a youth pastor and said my name kept coming to mind. It meant leaving a big salary and good benefits, but Cynthia and I knew it was right and never looked back.
What is your church/organization doing that is exciting or unique?
During this holiday season, we’re very focused on the First Baptist Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. We truly consider it a gift from God that we’re able to share the story of Jesus in such a dramatic way with nearly 50,000 people live. Through the DVD and broadcast on hundreds of stations around the world, millions more will see the true Christmas story.
What is the best part of your job?
I love people, and I can’t imagine any other position where I’d have such an opportunity to know and love people. It’s true that we’re a family. Although our church has many people, we work diligently to make sure that we care for one another as Jesus taught us to.
If you weren¹t doing what you¹re currently doing, what would you like to be doing?
My college background is in theater, so I’d probably do something where I could direct and act. But with the Christmas pageant and our church’s many creative endeavors, I get to do a lot of that anyway. So it’s the best of both worlds.
What is your favorite Bible verse or area of Scripture, and why?
One of the most important passages for me has been from Galatians 1:10, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” A minister gets pulled in a lot of different directions, but his signal command needs to come from God alone.
Besides God, who has been the most influential person in your life?
My wife, Cynthia, is my best friend and we interact on everything.
What is your favorite way to relax?
I love to go to the movies. Every Friday, we find the latest movie to go see and escape in the story.
What is the last book you read (besides the Bible), and what did you think of it?
One of the most influential books I’ve read lately is “Who Stole My Church? a book by Gordon MacDonald that explores the dynamics of transitioning a congregation for the sake of the next generation. Our church is more than a hundred years old…we were recently honored for being the longest continuing organization in Fort Lauderdale as part of the city’s own centennial celebration. But our congregation is, and always has been, very forward-thinking. We want to be on the leading edge of what God is doing in our present time, so that means having an attitude that’s fully committed to the message of the Gospel but quick to be flexible and innovative when it comes to the methods we use to communicate the Gospel.
What is the most interesting place you¹ve visited, and why?
Every year, I have the privilege of leading a team from our church to the Holy Land. No matter how many times you go to Israel, the land is always changing. Between new archaeological finds and sacred sites which have stood since ancient times, the power of the life of Jesus meets me in a new way every time.
What encourages you the most/frustrates you the most about Christians in our society?
I’m encouraged by the way Christians want to have influence in our society. That works best when they exhibit excellence and compassion in whatever endeavor they have, whether it’s the arts, Current Events, education, medicine or any other involvement. It’s frustrating when we focus on nonessentials and build obstacles that inhibit nonbelievers from coming to Jesus.
What is something that God has been teaching you lately?
Our youngest daughter blessed our family with a grandson a few years ago. As I’m watching him grow through his toddler years, I’m learning to look at life in a way I haven’t looked at it since my own girls were that age. I’m also amazed at how technology is impacting his life. He’s two years old and he’s almost as good on my iPad as I am.
Tell us something about your family and/or something about yourself that most people do not know.
My older daughter works for an organization that rebuilds houses in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, cleaning up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before that, she helped start the ONE campaign that’s working to alleviate world poverty. Before that, she worked for National Geographic. My younger daughter is finishing her doctorate and specializes in providing social development counseling for underserved children.
The annual First Baptist Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant is back and has been such a blessing to our community for so many years now – What are some stories that you have heard from both believers and non-believers regarding how this pageant has impacted them?
Of course, I love to hear story after story of how someone discovered who Jesus was for the first time by seeing His life portrayed at the pageant. Or how surprised people are at the professionalism of the production, all accomplished by volunteers who rehearse thousands of hours combined to communicate God’s story with excellence. I also love it when people see the first act and say it’s better than Broadway, with all the dancing and Christmas favorites. We have a great team – both ministers and staff members and church members – and I’m very proud of them.
So seeing people embrace a relationship with Jesus is my favorite part of the pageant. But my second favorite part is how the pageant is a great experience of true community. During this season, we’re together for hour after hour and rehearsal after rehearsal. We have a common mission, to tell the story of Jesus, and it’s essential that we work in sync to tell that story well. We’re praying together constantly, just like in the book of Acts. The pageant makes true community come alive in so many ways.
For more information on First Baptist Fort Lauderdale or their Christmas Pageant visit www.ChristmasTickets.org
If you know a pastor or leader in South Florida that The Good News should consider featuring please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.