When Pastor Jeremy Lane thinks about the new home of Shelter Church of Maryville, a passage from Deuteronomy 6 (KJV) comes to his mind: “And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, and houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (verses 10-12).”
The journey to the place Shelter Church congregation did not build is a remarkable one, and Lane credits the God he serves with making it possible for the church to move into the former Liberty Christian Church building — a building offered to Shelter Church at no charge.
In the beginning
Shelter Church of Maryville, a Southern Baptist church, began as Foothills Baptist Church five years ago. Lane said, “Our church actually began in the living room of my house, just me and my wife. We prayed, obviously, about what to do and how to go about doing it, and we felt impressed that we needed to follow through and obey right away. We weren’t looking for a magical number in the bank account, we weren’t looking for a magical number of people before we set out on this endeavor. We just felt like this was what God was leading us to do, so we did it.
“We started out meeting in a Music Row building there on East Lamar Alexander, and had a fine group of people. It was a small group, but we were able to do some things to get established, and about three years ago, we felt like the time was right, not really for a new beginning, but to shift gears a little bit and change our philosophy, change our name. There were other churches with ‘Foothills’ in their name, and they were bigger than we were, and it was causing some confusion. All those things worked together for us refocusing and redirecting what we were doing.”
The name “Shelter Church” arose as a result of Lane’s first ministerial position at a Chattanooga church and the ties he maintained with the pastor and congregation there. The Chattanooga church was going through some of the same changes. Lane said the pastor shared his vision for that church, based on some of the same ideals and philosophies as Lane’s church. Lane said, “We were talking one day, and he said, ‘Why don’t we pray about calling the church down here Shelter Church of Chattanooga, and you all pray about calling yourselves Shelter Church of Maryville?’ So we did. And that’s how it came about. Since then, we’ve really been able to get on our feet, get grounded, grow, really find an identity, and, I think, we’ve created a dynamic fellowship here.”
On the move
The church moved from Music Row to another building at 2710 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway after the building was vacated by another congregation.
“That was a big step for us, because we able to not have any restrictions as far as when we could be in the buildings and what we could do,” Lane said. “We didn’t own it, we rented it, but it helped us as far as ministering other than Sunday morning. Soon after that, we changed our name, and voila, we’re here now, which is good.”
Lane found out about the possibility of moving into the Liberty Christian Church building after a friend discovered that the church had dwindled to only a couple of people attending.
“I think the owners were looking to get rid of the building, so we came out and looked at it last November,” Lane said. “There were two sisters, and they were about all that was left meeting here. They weren’t really sure what they wanted to do with it at that point, so we all agreed to pray about it and left it at that.”
Lane said the Shelter Church congregation prayed about the situation, specifically that they wouldn’t incur any debt.
“After the first of the year, we got a call back from the people at Liberty Christian saying, ‘We would like to give you the church,’” Lane said. “Their only concern was the cemetery. They really wanted somebody to be able to do upkeep on the cemetery. So, we came out here, met with them some more, and built a good relationship with them.” The Shelter Church congregation prayed over the proposal, and agreed to accept the gift and the responsibility.
Lane said, “This is one of those deals where you’re praying about it and praying about it, you say, ‘God, we don’t want any debt, but we’d like a place to call our own.’ Then, voila — God says, ‘Here you go.’ How do you argue with that?”
The first official service at the new location was Easter Sunday.
“We obtained the property in early March, and we knew Easter was coming up,” Lane said. “We also knew that we were going to have to start moving things, so we decided we’d meet here on Easter even though we knew it wasn’t going to be ready, we wouldn’t have everything in place.” That was on March 27, and by April 10, everything was in place other than the pastor’s office.
“We’ve ordered a TV to go on the wall for our music, words and things like that,” Lane said. Lane’s wife, Rachel, does the music for the church.
Focus on God
Lane described the congregation as a “laid-back group of people.”
“We’re obviously not perfect, by any means, but we pride ourselves on being a close group of people who are happy and very flexible,” Lane said. “It’s OK if we sing from hymnals, it’s OK if we sing modern music, contemporary music, it’s OK if we sing Southern gospel. The people are very flexible and they’re happy that way — and I’m very thankful for that.”
On a typical Sunday, an average of about 30 people attend worship services.
“It’s been a challenge,” Lane said. “We’ve been self-funded from the very beginning, we’ve not had any checks coming in from the state association or anything like that. It’s just been us. We’ve done things not based on fads or trends — we’ve done things based on what we think God wants us to do to fulfill the mission he has for us. Sometimes that means you’re not doing the things that are crowd pleasers, I guess. And that’s OK with us because we feel like we’re doing what God wants us to do, and he is accomplishing his purposes through what we’re doing with the group of people we’re coming in contact with, and that’s where we want our focus to be.”
Lane said Shelter Church wants to change individual lives and families.
“Yes, we’re a small group, we’re a small church right now, but the people here have been impacted in such a way,” he said. “That gives me great joy as a pastor, knowing that our church has been welcoming to people. Not just people who look like us — people from any socio background, people with special needs — we have bent over backwards helping everybody. That’s who we are. ... But that’s what our focus is, helping the community.”
The church has a food pantry as part of its ministry to the community, and twice annually, the congregation holds a food giveaway.
When the church was meeting at Music Row, Lane asked the members to write something to put in a time capsule to be opened in 2015 on the church’s fifth anniversary, a message to the congregation in 2015 to give them encouragement.
“One lady, who was a very, very important part of who we are, and still is, wrote in the time capsule that she really wanted to see a food pantry in our church,” Lane said. “I had no idea what she had written all those years ago. We did not even start talking about a food pantry until two or three years after that, so that was a huge blessing for me — confirmation on what God is doing in our church. ... I’ve had people question what I’m doing, I’ve had people doubt what I’m doing, and in those days where you’re being doubted and you’re being questioned and you don’t have a lot of people in your congregation, it gets very lonely sometimes. It has been very discouraging. But when you see the church is growing, and you see that there’s a message like that, that someone wrote three or four years ago, a prayer for our church, and you see that come to fruition — and then you see how we ended up in this building — it lets you know God is working and he’s going to do great things in this community.”
The church welcomes anyone who wishes to attend to come to services Sundays at 9:30 a..m for Bible fellowship and 10:45 a.m. for worship. Dinners are held the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 6:30 p.m. along with Bible study. For more information, contact Lane at 865-307-7890 or visit the Facebook page, Shelter Church of Maryville.