From ‘serve us’ to service
It’s just that he’s impressed with the young man at the end of the table.
“He’s probably as smart as you and me put together, you know what I’m saying?” said Shannon, pulpit minister for the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ, a growing congregation 20 miles east of Nashville.
The young man’s name is Alan Cantrell.
He’s a freshman Bible major at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., studying to become a preacher.
“Young and old alike love hearing Alan preach because of the way he brings unique insight and application to a text,” Shannon said.
Like a dozen students majoring or minoring in ministry at Freed-Hardeman, Cantrell grew up in the Mt. Juliet church and receives help from the congregation with his tuition.
“As little as two, maybe three years ago, I was just planning on doing computer science and going to Tennessee Tech,” said Cantrell, 18. “And I guess I started to mature spiritually because there were so many good examples around me. I saw them making a difference in the world … and I started to be kind of excited about that.”
In high school, he and other Mt. Juliet youth group members traveled to smaller churches and led worship: singing, Scripture reading and preaching.
“It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, I want to be a preacher,’ if you’ve never had any experience preaching,” Cantrell said. “But being given multiple opportunities to do that makes you find out whether you’re good at it or not.”
The concerted spiritual training that led to Cantrell’s decision to preach can be traced to an experience by Mt. Juliet church leaders a decade ago.
The congregation, which averages Sunday morning attendance of nearly 1,000, has met at the same address since Christians who rode horses to worship cleared a thicket to build a church in 1891.
In 2001, a committee planning the church’s 110th anniversary celebration decided to invite all the full-time ministers raised at Mt. Juliet to return home to teach Bible classes and preach.
The only problem: Not a single name came to mind.
“Our eldership had real, serious, sobering and disappointing talks after that,” said Shannon, the church’s preacher since 1999. “They asked, ‘How could we be around for 110 years and not have anyone in full-time mission work or ministry that we knew of?’”
Those talks resulted in intentional efforts by the Mt. Juliet church to encourage young people to develop their God-given talent — be it in full-time ministry or part-time service as Bible class teachers, song leaders and other key roles in the Kingdom.
That change in approach reflects just one example of the 120-year-old congregation’s willingness to reinvent itself for the future while not compromising its commitment to New Testament teachings, church leaders said.
In a fast-growing suburb with 25,000 residents, the church’s attendance has nearly doubled in the past 12 years.
“We want to meet everybody where they are and help them take one step closer to God,” Shannon said of Mt. Juliet’s evangelistic approach — a mix of old-fashioned Bible studies and contemporary outreach programs.
In 2011, the combined attendance at Mt. Juliet’s two Sunday morning assemblies averaged 981.
That’s up from 521 in 1999.
“When I came here in 1985, there were less than 300 people,” said David Fleming, one of the church’s nine elders. “We came to visit, and we were kind of sucked in by some of the members here. We found family here.”
Despite the growth, Mt. Juliet has maintained the feel of a small family, Fleming said.
“We’re blessed to be in an area and a time when people are moving to us,” he said. “We don’t have to fan the doors and create suction to draw them in. Our problem is the back door, like most churches.”
That’s why it’s so important, he believes, to plug in members — to help them make friends and provide them with opportunities to serve.
Mt. Juliet emphasizes active ministries — led by 47 deacons — ranging from local evangelism to an addict recovery program to domestic and foreign mission trips that involve hundreds of members, young and old.
‘ALWAYS HAPPY TO SEE YOU’
“Pizza! Pizza!” Debbie Guerrier’s younger cousin yelled when the doorbell rang two summers ago.
But when Debbie got to the door, she found no pizza deliveryman. Instead, two smiling faces invited her family to visit the Mt. Juliet church.
“The people are so kind,” the 16-year-old said before a recent Sunday night assembly. “They’re always happy to see you. When they don’t see you, they will call you. … And I like the youth group.
They’re very caring.”
Jaime Harper, who overcame drug and alcohol addictions, oversees the church’s Recovery Through Christ program.
“Church is a spiritual hospital, and our little area down there is kind of a soul rehab,” he said. “We’re just out to save souls and get ’em stronger.”
Like the nationally known Celebrate Recovery program, Mt. Juliet’s ministry serves anyone with a hurt or hang-up.
“Women in the church sometimes feel like we’re supposed to come in and be the perfect people,” said Debbie Banks, who is involved with the ministry. “We come in and act like everything’s OK and everybody’s good and my kids are great and my life’s great. And it’s not.
“We’re a church of broken, hurting people, just like everybody else … so it’s just giving people a place to go and say, ‘Hey look, I’m hurting,’” she said of Recovery Through Christ. “And it’s really been a good experience to be able to open up and feel safe.”
AN EXTERNAL FOCUS
At an annual ministry fair, Mt. Juliet members receive a booklet titled “S.O.S.” — standing for “Serving Our Savior.”
The directory of ministry opportunities contains a checklist to help identify each member’s spiritual gifts.
“There’s so much to do. If you want to be involved with something, you’ve got no excuse,” said Brandon Adcock, who attends Mt. Juliet with his wife, Bridget, and their three boys.
While Adcock serves as the deacon for the World Bible School ministry, he and his wife also help with the church’s annual car care clinic. Besides free oil changes and inspections, single mothers receive free pedicures and even hair styling while they wait.
“Oh, the women loved it,” Bridget Adcock said of the most recent clinic. “They thought that they were just coming to get their car done, but then they got pampered.”
The endeavor emerged as an outgrowth of the church staff asking a few years ago if anyone would notice if the congregation ceased to exist.
“We started evaluating and realizing that almost everything we did was just for us, for our membership,” Shannon said.
Now, members donate sweat to a youth league ballpark workday.
They help build Habitat for Humanity houses. They sing and play games with nursing home residents.
They give away school supplies. They dedicate time to “simple acts of kindness.” They fan out to do service projects on “We Are The Sermon Day.”
When the Nashville area experienced record flooding in the summer of 2010, Mt. Juliet members who had made repeated trips to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina rushed into action at home.
“Actually, we even had a trip scheduled the week after the flood to go back to Mississippi,” crew leader Glen Caughman said. “We thought it didn’t make a lot of sense to go down there and rebuild … when we had it in our own back door.”
Patty Willoughby coordinates the church’s teddy bear ministry.
Volunteers cut fabric, stuff and sew thousands of bears given to hospitals and emergency responders and taken on mission trips around the world.
“When words won’t do, a hug and a teddy bear will,” Willoughby said.
During the holiday season, the Mt. Juliet Christmas Parade passes right by the church property. The church provides free hot chocolate and allows the use of its restrooms.
“We get special cups printed up that have ‘Mt. Juliet Church of Christ’ on them,” said Jeremy Keopf, who volunteers along with his wife, Marie. “It’s kind of like gourmet hot chocolate, I guess. We’ve got all the different toppings and stuff.”
Filling up one woman’s cup, in particular, made an impression on Shannon.
“She said, ‘I love this church. They’re always doing good things,’” he recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s a pretty neat description.’ That’s what you would hope they would see the Lord’s body as.”
SEEDS PLANTED EARLY
Starting in second grade, Young Soldiers Serving Christ — as Mt. Juliet dubs its children — learn to serve.
Girls gain experience teaching children’s classes and women’s studies. Boys speak at youth devotionals, teach in adult classes and lead worship in full assemblies.
“I was in high school probably when I decided I wanted to be in ministry,” said Matt Collins, 21, a senior Bible major at Freed-Hardeman.
But as he looks back on his time at Mt. Juliet — his home congregation since age 5 — he said he can see the seeds that were planted all along.
Lacie Shannon, a sophomore at Freed-Hardeman, is double-majoring in business and Bible.
After graduation, she hopes to work with a nonprofit or plant a church outside the Bible Belt.
“From the age of fourth grade, I taught a little kids’ Bible class,” the 19-year-old said, stressing that Mt. Juliet provides spiritual growth opportunities for girls as well as boys.
Male or female, students from Mt. Juliet who major or minor in Bible receive at least $1,000 a semester from the church.
“We’re not bragging about it,” David Shannon said. “We’re just saying our heart was broken, and we’ve done some things intentionally to say, ‘Surely we ought to be growing the next generation to serve in the Lord’s Kingdom.’”
MT. JULIET CHURCH OF CHRIST, TENNESSEE
LOCATION: Middle Tennessee, about 20 miles east of Nashville.
WEBSITE: mtjuliet.org (Sunday services streamed live online).
ATTENDANCE: Sunday morning worship: 981. Sunday Bible
classes: 790. Sunday night: 550. Wednesday night: 576.
LEADERSHIP: Elders David Burka, Albert England, David Fleming, DeWayne Griffin, Pat Hackney, Tony Huddleston, Dennis Nosal, Hoyt Smith and James Whiteaker. The church has 47 deacons.
STAFF: Ministers David Shannon, Philip Jenkins, John Michael Kennedy, Tim Martin, Elias Roque Jr. and Bud Lambert.
FeedbackThe Lord has surely blessed Mt. Juliet and we could only learn from them. We have just harvest our first organic vegetables which was planted on the Churches grounds and I can just see many more ministries happening.I am the Churches Bulletin editor and have taken many information from Mt. Juliet website to inspire our congregation. Many thank you.Gail Bradford-DavidsonRiverlea Ext.2 (Horseshoe) Church of ChristJohannesburg, Gauteng
South AfricaJanuary, 7 2012I have met the young Alan Cantrell, and he is just as wonderful and promising as this article has said. I appreciated the article, and the highlight on the Mt. Juliet congregation, which is most definitely impressive. I have visited myself, and know many students at FHU from Mt. Juliet. All of it is great.Elsa SimsRiverchase Church of ChristHelena, AL
USAJanuary, 6 2012What an encouraging, beautiful story. God bless them in their efforts.Jason GoldtrapCentral Haines CityDavenport, florida
usaJanuary, 4 2012