Throughout Pastor Appreciation Month, we’ve taken some time to get to know our church staff. Today we get to know Northstar’s associate pastor, Neal Nelson.
Neal was born at a young age in Little Rock, Arkansas. He describes his childhood as one that was good, filled with bike riding, tree house building, woods exploring, and, of course, hunting and fishing. He attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Go Trojans!) and later attended both Southwestern and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminaries.
In describing his call to ministry, he says it took a long time for him to work it out. He says he “bumbled into ministry by basically saying yes to one request after another.” God used different people in his life who would ask him to get involved in various ministries and Neal would say yes, not thinking beyond individual ministerial tasks. Neal felt that he was called to Christian maturity first. This led to serving and taking opportunities in the local church and working with kids in lower socioeconomic situations, mission trips, and other ministries. Once he got into serving, people began to recognize his heart and encouraged him to consider full-time ministry.
Neal explains that Jeff Noble is what primarily drew him to Northstar Church. “We were friends and I’d heard a lot about Northstar and what God was doing here before I even entertained the idea that I would ever come. So when Jeff mentioned that Northstar was looking for an associate pastor, I already knew the church was a great group of people.”
Before deciding to make the move from Arkansas to Blacksburg, Virginia, Neal sought a couple important things: one was to work with a group of people that would be a good fit and that would encourage and support one another; another fell in with his conviction that he needed to be in a college community. “College students are a great demographic to equip to reach the next generation. Because of my own experiences and life stage, I was also wanting to work more with young families.”
Using three words, Neal describes Northstar as “tall, dark, and handsome.” He’s quick to say he is kidding and calls our church “authentic, Christ-centered, and joyful.” To describe himself, Neal again uses the word authentic, noting that he is something of an open book when interacting with people. In his humility, he admits that he is a struggler. Finally, he describes himself as gruntled (being the natural opposite of disgruntled).
When asked about his favorite book, Neal says his favorite is basically whatever he is reading in the moment. He also points to Sacred Romance by John Eldridge and Brent Curtis, saying that God used that book to teach him about the importance of fiction and the creativity that’s involved.
Neal has been married to his wife, Teresa, for 19 years and they have six children between the ages of 18 and 2. “Our house is never dull,” he says, describing the Nelsons’ home life. “It’s crazy, fun… sometimes more crazy than fun, sometimes more fun than crazy.” As a couple, Neal and Teresa complement one another well, balancing his outgoing extroversion with her more behind-the-scenes, reserved personality. “Our family has been a source of God’s grace in our lives. We’ve seen Him bless us and teach us to die to self and to give.”
At first, Neal had a hard time thinking about something that only a few people may know about him, referring back to his being authentic and something of an open book who is willing to talk to folks about anything. “There’s probably more things that people wish they didn’t know about me,” he said, before revealing that at the age of six, he was run over by a VW bug.
Since coming to Blacksburg, Neal says that he has met some of the most Jesus-like people in his last few years. “If I wasn’t an Arkansan, I would choose to be a southwest Virginian.”