MASCOT — For 18 years Danny Neal was happy serving as youth minister at the church where he was reared — Marbledale Baptist Church in Knoxville.
For the last 10 years of his ministry at Marbledale, however, Neal sensed God was calling him to preach.
He gained experience preaching for churches without pastors on occasion.
Finally, late in 2010, while sitting on the front pew at Marbledale Baptist Church, Neal said God spoke to him, telling him it was time to step out in faith.
Neal said he began praying for a small church to call him as pastor and that he planned to find a bivocational job.
“For three weeks, God was silent,” Neal said.
Not knowing what to do, Neal kept listening for God to speak again.
Finally, he realized that by seeking a bivocational position he was placing his trust in something other than God.
So late in 2010 Neal resigned at Marbledale with nowhere to go or preach. On the first Sunday that followed that move his wife Jeanna asked where they were going to church.
“I prayed and felt God telling me to just preach,” he recalled, noting that he told his wife that he was just going to preach at their house. “We didn’t invite anyone but family, but 27 people showed up,” Neal said.
New Beginnings Baptist Church was formed.
Neal said the name came from God. “This is not about where you came from,” he noted. Every day we need a fresh start, a new beginning,” he noted.
They continued to meet at his home for about a month and then in a warehouse for three months before settling in at East Knox County Elementary School where the congregation still meets.
The church plant is part of Knox County Baptist Association and its sponsoring church is Belmont Heights Baptist in Knoxville. The church plant receives funding from the Tennessee Baptist Convention through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
New Beginnings also gives through the Cooperative Program and to Knox County Association as well as meeting needs in its own community.
“If we sit back and wait for people to come to us, they’re going to go hungry. Our goal is to be out in the community so we can see their needs,” he said.
With a vision of “Reaching Up, Reaching Out” the new congregation is trying to reach its area for Christ.
“We do old-fashioned knocking on doors,” the pastor said, noting that members visit every Monday. “Evangelism is our main focus,” Neal added.
It seems to have worked remarkably well. In slightly more than two years the church has seen nearly 140 people make professions of faith. They have baptized more than 100 while more than 30 people are awaiting baptism, including 20 teenagers who have accepted Christ during the past three months.
Neal is grateful to Belmont Heights and nearby First Baptist Church, Strawberry Plains, for allowing New Beginnings to use their baptistries.
Attendance at the church has grown to an average of about 200 people each week.
In addition to preaching Neal loves being the “shepherd” of his flock. “You may find a better preacher but you won’t find anyone who loves the congregation better than me,” he pledged.
“We have been receiving blessings from God,” Neal acknowledged, noting that God has brought “the leaders we need” to help do the ministry at New Beginnings.
The children’s ministry has grown to about 50 kids, Neal said. “People are stepping up to do the work. It excites me to see people willing to serve,” he added.
Neal acknowledged that he has struggled as a new pastor to involve others. “I’ve always done it myself. It’s been a challenge to let go and let other people do the ministry, but God has blessed me and allowed me to do that.”
As the church continues to grow, Neal knows that moving will be inevitable. The church is currently looking to purchase six acres about a half mile from the school.
“We are counting the costs. We are doing our part and trusting God to do His part,” the pastor said.
He admitted, however, that he is in no hurry to leave the elementary school site. “We have seen one teacher at the school saved along with her children. That tells me that it is more than just a building. It’s flesh and blood and souls.”
Neal noted that God is showing him that New Beginnings is where it is for a purpose. “There’s a world of lost people within five miles of where we are,” he observed.
Neal stressed that reaching those around them is not about growing the church. “It’s about growing the kingdom.”