Ninety-year-old Thomas Thornton of Muscle Shoals has been in ministry 54 years. Currently he is pastor of Abbie Baptist Church in Leighton and has served 10 northwestern Alabama churches. As a bivocational pastor, Thornton worked at Reynolds Alloy Co., retiring after 33 years. He studied at Faith Baptist Institute in Monroe, Louisiana, and what was then Northwest Alabama State Junior College. The Army veteran now takes courses through Samford University’s Ministry Training Institute. Thornton and Mildred, his wife of 72 years, have two daughters, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Ministry title: Pastor
Church name: Abbie Baptist (Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association)
Life verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Describe where you focus your greatest ministry efforts.
Sharing the gospel and showing people that I love them; sharing the Word of God; visiting those that need to be visited, the sick and shut-in; and just showing them some Christian love. I work with the deacons and anyone else that wants to be a part of the ministry of sharing God’s love and compassion. I think one of the great things God has done for me is to let me live to 90 years old and still carry a loving heart for people, and to have the health to do that.
Q: Who was or is one of the most influential people in your faith life? Why?
A: There were two people: First, I must say that my wife knew before I did that God had a call for me, and she had purchased me a new Thompson Chain Reference Bible before I accepted the call. Her faith and her trust in me has carried me through the 54 years of ministry, even in the hard times. The second person was Reverend Ben Turner. He started and ran a children’s home, and even after these 50 some years, that children’s home is still very strong. His devotion to God and to children and the church he served was what showed me the helping hand of a loving God.
Q: Tell about a “turning point” in your life and how God was involved.
A: The turning point in my life was when my sister died. She and I were very close. My wife and I started going to a small Nazarene church — they needed someone to play ball, so I went there. It was in this church that I found the Lord, but this was not where the Lord wanted me to be. He led my wife and I and daughter to Second Baptist Church in Sheffield. What God had in store for us was my call to the ministry, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me and my family.
Q: What has God been teaching you lately?
A: We are never too old to learn and find what and where God needs you to know and be. As of Aug. 21, I just started my third group of classes from Samford University on biblical studies. What God has been teaching me is the fact that a person is never too old to learn and to study about the Lord and love and grace. The older I get, the more I want to learn about God and His love and grace, and the sweeter it gets.
Q: If there were one thing you could tell your younger self about faith, what would it be?
A: I could tell a younger person to trust God and walk in His calling for your life. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Trust in God, for He will care for you.
Q: Have you read a book or heard a song that changed the way you think about God and faith? What was it and what did you learn from it?
A: The song that has in the past — and does even today — change the way I think about God and faith is “Amazing Grace.” I learned from it that God can and will save a wretch like me. I learned, regardless, God will and can save anyone who will listen to Him.
Q: Does your church have any special traditions that mean a lot to you?
A: There are no special traditions, but there is an overflow of love shown to anyone who comes in the door; regardless, if they are saved or not, there is the feeling of being loved and cared for there.