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Answering the call to serve

Reverend Frank Woods. Photo courtesy of Woods family

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

When God places a burden on one’s heart for people, it can begin a lifelong journey into service and seeking His will. Such has been life’s call for Reverend Frank Woods. His dedication to sharing God’s love with the people of Northeast Tennessee and beyond has shaped a life filled with purpose and lasting memories.

Originally hailing from North Carolina, Woods found a very special reason for crossing the mountain into Tennessee. “The reason for my move to this area to live came when I met the most beautiful, wonderful lady, Miss Shirley Ann Miller,” Woods shared. “We dated for about one year when we started talking about marriage. Shirley agreed only if I would move to Tennessee.”
Woods quickly became acclimated to living in Mountain City. “When I first came to the area,” he remembered, “it was so easy to get acquainted with the wonderful people in Johnson County. I really felt like they were family.”

Working in Mountain City, Woods learned about retail business and used this knowledge for several years in local businesses. “My first job in Mountain City was as an employee of the late Mr. Ed Burgess at Burgess Furniture on Main Street,” Woods explained. “I worked there for about seven years until I began employment with Mr. Joe Sherwood at American Hardware in the shopping center. In 1976, Garland Miller and I opened Miller and Woods Furniture Company located near Food Country. It was in operation for 19 years, until 1995.” His work in retail allowed Woods to gain a deeper connection with the people of the town. “Through the retail work, I had the opportunity of making many friends in Johnson County and surrounding areas,” said Woods.

Woods is perhaps best known for his work in the church community of Johnson County. His start in the ministry began across the mountain in North Carolina and then transitioned to Tennessee as he shared: “The first church was Sugar Grove Baptist Church located in Lansing, North Carolina. It was such a beautiful experience. I had the privilege of working alongside the late Rev. D. O. Miller for a number of years. Brother Miller was my wife Shirley’s great great grandfather. We saw the church grow from 27 our first Sunday, to over 90 in attendance in three years. I owe it all to God. How He blessed in that little country church. I came to pastor Locust Gap First Freewill Baptist Church in Johnson County from 1972 to 1974. We saw many come to know Christ in the years of ministering there. One year, we witnessed over 40 accept Christ and be baptized. I served one year in 1975 at Evergreen First Freewill Baptist Church in Roan Mountain, TN. I really enjoyed the folks there. In 1976, I was called to pastor First Freewill Baptist Church in Mountain City, TN until 2005.”

During his time at First Freewill Baptist Church, Woods saw many examples of God’s goodness and blessing as the church grew and became a major part of the community. “God blessed in so many ways, and I enjoyed my time there as pastor for 29 years,” he said. “In 1998, we were privileged as a congregation to build the largest auditorium in Johnson County with a seating capacity of 550. It was the first church built by inmate labor. Mr. Howard Carlton, Warden of Northeast Correctional Center, took the giant step in organizing this project. First Freewill Baptist Church became the largest congregation in Johnson County with an average congregation of nearly 300. On special occasions, we were blessed with over 500 in attendance.”

Woods and the church’s commitment to the county did not end after services on Sundays. “I remember after our new auditorium was complete, Heritage Hall was having a fundraising campaign to renovate the auditorium in the old high school building,” recounted Woods. “We assisted in allowing them to use our church in bringing in the cast of Barter Theater to perform the production of Keep on the Sunny Side, History of the Carter Family’s Story. We also had a broadcast time on WMCT for over 25 years. We participated in many, many fundraisers for families in need. The late Mrs. Fran Atkinson was so good to work with me in these efforts.”

While serving as pastor at First Freewill, Woods began working with Free Will Baptist Family Ministries. Over the years, Woods’ role in the ministry grew. “First Freewill supported Family Ministries for many years,” stated Woods. “In 1992, the Tennessee State Association elected me to serve as a board member to this ministry. I served for 12 years in this capacity, then five years as Chairman of the Board. In 2004, I was approached by Dr. James Kilgore, CEO, to come and work at Family Ministries as Vice President of Financial Development. It was a very difficult decision to make having been at the church for 29 years. After six months of much prayer and finding peace with God about leaving, I resigned from First Freewill to begin my new journey. I served in this role until 2012, when I was appointed as CEO of Family Ministries.”

The work done by Family Ministries serves as a loving, helping hand to families across the region. “The one thing I love about Family Ministries is that we help in every area of the family,” Woods expressed. “We operate two crisis pregnancy resource centers and have child care ministries in Tennessee and Arkansas. We serve an average of 130 children daily. We are thankful for what we have been able to do in serving children from across most of the state of Tennessee.”
Not only does the ministry support children, but the organization has also taken the initiative in helping another, often overlooked portion of the population. “Another thing I am very proud of is that in 2017 we began providing personal home care to those in Johnson County through our ‘Hands to Help’ program,” said Woods. “We are very grateful that we have the VA contract to serve our veteran population. They have given so much, and now we are blessed to assist them in being able to stay in their homes.”
Woods carries a heavy burden for the youth and elderly of the community. “From the Holy Bible, Jesus said, ‘As you have done to the least of these; you have done to me.’ Matthew 25:40,” he shared. “I really believe we have such a narrow window to make a positive impact on these particular populations. I just feel bad that time is running out and we are listening to the cry for help. I wish I could do more. I desire that there would be more opportunities for these two groups. There is such a need for a place that our seniors could live when they can no longer stay in their homes. I would love to see an assisted living and independent living home here in Johnson County, as well as places for involvement for our children and youth. The investments we make for these two groups will pay high dividends in the future.”
When asked what he would like to share with the community, Woods took the opportunity to share his concern for the hurting in our area. “To our churches and pastors,” he expressed. “I deeply love and appreciate you and what you do for our people of this county. The sky is the limit on what you and your congregation can do if we would become united in good causes to make a difference in the lives of so many. There are enough churches and Godly pastors in this county that there should be some outreach ministry going on one to two times a week. This is in addition to our regular services. I have found out that for those hurting, sometimes just someone to talk to makes such a difference. If we join our efforts, one day only Heaven will reveal the impact we
For decades, Woods has shared God’s Word and love to the community. No matter where life’s path has taken him, his love for our area is ever present. “I really don’t have words to describe the joy of being a part of such a great place to live for 48 years,” he shared. “Shirley and I do a lot of traveling with Family Ministries. We are in a number of different states, but we can truly say we still get excited when we see the city limit sign of Mountain City.”