North Carolina pastor chose souls over computers

Gastonia, North Carolina

Joe Bell pastors the Eastside Church of the Nazarene in Gastonia, North Carolina (The Gaston Gazette photo).

Joe Bell is passionate about his job. 

As pastor at the Eastside Church of the Nazarene, his job description implies that he preaches on Sundays, but it doesn’t stop there. To him the job is a lot more than the sermons he delivers. He’s using his role to try and create unity within Gastonia.

With Bell’s help, Eastside Church of the Nazarene has become one of Gastonia’s biggest supporters of the Hispanic community. They’ve established an additional congregation for Spanish-speaking members.

Bell first saw a need for a Hispanic congregation during the church’s free after-school tutoring program, Gaston Hope in Christ. He realized that some of the parents couldn’t speak English and either hadn’t found a church or had been mistreated. 

“There were churches that charged people to come in and made people start off by cleaning the toilets when they became members and things that were just demeaning,” Bell said. “That’s not what the church is suppose to be.”

The church, Dios de Amor y Paz Iglesia del Nazareno, has around 30 members. 

Bell is also working with a group of pastors to plan Bible studies based on reconciliation of different races and denominations.

Working with these pastors is just one of the ways he strives to create collaboration between the local churches.

Eastside is planning a large Thanksgiving service for the fall. In years past, they’ve had four or five churches join in. This year, they want all of the local churches involved.

“We believe we’re one church. We’re not a bunch of different churches,” Bell said.

From observing his commitment to his job, you wouldn’t be able to tell that Bell had never planned to become a pastor.

While studying at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Bell had mentally committed himself to a life working with computers. He was ready to accept one of multiple job offers, where he’d make a good salary.

“I really had people saying ‘you get your degree and we’ve got you hired,’” Bell said. 

Everything changed when he was told he was going to be a great pastor, by another pastor.

“I really turned around wondering who he was talking to,” Bell said. “Over the course of about a year, many different things happened that said ‘this is God’s path for you.’”

Looking back, Bell says he couldn’t imagine himself in the career he had originally planned.

“For me, having people learn about God and having them learn about loving each other, man, that’s a high,” Bell said.

When Bell first arrived in Gastonia, he thought he’d only be in town for two weeks. When his plans to leave for another job fell through, he stayed. A few years later, he accepted the role of pastor. Eastside celebrated Bell’s 20th anniversary at the church last month.

Also last month, he received the Church of Nazarene’s Timothy Award, given to him for his work at summer camps, where he influenced the lives of hundreds of children. 

“I was humbled. I know the other people in our state who have gotten it and they’re great, godly people,” Bell said.

But he says his most rewarding moment as a pastor was helping his son receive his local minister’s license. This summer, his son is home from college and interning at the church. 

With roughly 100 members, the church is a collection of all different ages, ethnicities, and political views. Bell describes the church community as “different.”

“They’re allowed to be themselves here,” Bell said.

--Republished with permission from The Gaston Gazette

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