There was a time when the Rev. David L. Thomas thought about retiring.
"It was back when I turned 80, but I was too busy to do it," he said.
Thomas turned 87 this week ,and the pastor is still busy leading Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fortson, Ga.
"I do have a little more help now," he said. "I've got an assistant pastor and three ministers."
For his 30 years of service at Mount Olive, the church congregation will honor the pastor with a special service at 3 p.m. Sunday and a black-tie banquet tonight in the conference center at Callaway Gardens.
"I am looking forward to all of it," Thomas said.
When asked about his tenure at Mount Olive, he replied, "I never thought I would be here this long."
Thomas said the 167-year-old church has a tradition of keeping pastors for a lengthy period.
Through the years, Thomas has been associated with other churches such as Mount Olive Baptist in Seale, Ala., Bethlehem Crossroads in Fort Mitchell, Ala., and Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Phenix City.
The popular preacher said there have been Sundays when he delivered three sermons.
Since 1964, Thomas has performed throughout the South, with the popular gospel group The Five Trumpets, appearing on an album in 1984 titled "He Never Left Us Alone."
"I love to sing, but I am not that active anymore. I just don't have the energy," he said.
Thomas is a native of Dawson, Ga., but came to Columbus in 1949. Currently living in Phenix City, he has worked at the Bickerstaff brick plant and performed maintenance work for the Muscogee County School District.
The married father of four said through the years he has had chances to lead bigger churches in other places, some offering "big dollars," but he chose to stay.
"I know my limitations," he said.Also, he said he has been comfortable at Mount Olive, where there is a wonderful relationship between the pastor, deacons and congregation.
"It was a little difficult in the beginning," Thomas said. "I had to learn them and they had to learn me. People here know I have always put the church first. I am always doing for the church."
Before taking major church action, he always talked to members to explain what he was doing.
Thomas said Mount Olive has about 300 members on the roll, but less than half are active.
There was a time when the church had one of the largest church youth programs around, but there are not many children anymore.
"They grew up and moved away," the pastor said. "We are an older congregation." Thomas recalled a time when he held special candlelight memorial services, something of which he was proud. Eventually, it was decided to be too expensive.
There was a time when the congregation would charter a bus and take trips to places such as Panama City, Fla., and the Dollywood amusement Park in Nashville, Tenn., but the high cost ended that as well. "I loved those trips," Thomas said. "I would preach right there on the bus."
These days, he admits to revising sermons he has given in the past. Laughing, he said he just tries not repeat himself when giving a sermon.
As for retirement, he is not quite ready. His physician has told him his health is good.
"I'll keep working until the Holy Spirit tells me it is time to go," Thomas said. "He's my guide."