One word changed his life

An executive turned minister encourages his congregants to use their God-given talents, as he felt called to do.

Published July 29, 2006

DUNEDIN - John Fullerton Jr. had the material world all lined up and waiting for him.

Just a few years after graduating from the University of Florida in 1985, he was being groomed to take over a multimillion-dollar Atlanta equipment innovator company. He had a wife and three young daughters.

Then one day he was sitting at his kitchen table contemplating his successful life when he heard one word.


He knew right away what it meant, but it took him a month to gather the courage to ask his wife, Cile.

Should he become a minister?

She said she could see that.

So he took her to Ohio, Tennessee and Honduras, and then, two years ago, brought her to Dunedin.

Here, Fullerton bought a fixer-upper and took a job as senior pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which needed a bit of fixing up itself.

The 500-member church was foundering after five staff members - including its pastor - left for various reasons around 2003.

So Fullerton used what he learned in marketing and business to launch a bunch of new ministries aimed at helping each church member make the most of his or her God-given gifts.

It turned out to be a good fit for St. Andrews, which was founded in March 1958.

After its former pastor left, elders Al and Jean MacKenzie and most of the remaining congregants gathered their strength and started to think about hiring a replacement.

"He should be tall, young, old and no facial hair," said Jean MacKenzie, laughing. "So we got an old guy who looks young."

With carefully groomed stubble.

And only seven years of experience, not eight, which the church required.

But he was perfect for the job.

Fullerton was born in 1961 in Fort Worth, Texas. His father was in the Air Force and moved his family around the country, eventually landing in Palatka.

Fullerton enrolled at the University of Florida and earned a bachelor of science degree in advertising in 1985. He was nominated the department's "most promising professional."

He got married and spent nine years in the corporate world. Then came that key question to his wife.

He packed up his family and moved to New Jersey to attend Princeton Theological Seminary. He graduated with a master's of divinity in 1997. He served at churches in Ohio and Tennessee before coming to Dunedin two years ago.

"I have five loves in life," Fullerton said with a laugh. "Jesus, my wife and family, the church, my '66 Ford Mustang and the Gators."

Cile Fullerton homeschools their three daughters, 17-year-old twins and an 11-year-old, while he takes care of the church.

At St. Andrews, Fullerton has reorganized the leadership structure, re-established the long-range planning commission, started a 40 Days of Purpose campaign, changed one service to a contemporary format, and launched a program called Celebrate Recovery, for addiction.

"Outreach is our weakest area," the pastor said.

That is why he is helping deacons and elders to discover their God-given strengths so they can serve more effectively.

"When a person is a believer, they become a part of the body of Christ," Fullerton said. "He gives each of us a gift."

He hopes they use those talents close to home or globally, as he and his wife did in the mountains of Honduras for a couple of weeks.

"It was both painful and beautiful at the same time," he said. "We had one dentist, one doctor and one nurse. I got to be the dental assistant. A beautiful 15-year-old boy came in. I held the light while the dentist looked in his mouth. His two front teeth were rotted. The dentist took one look and looked at the mom and shook his head and said they had to be extracted. We were so overwhelmed by it all, we went back that night and cried."

However sad, it was that kind of active engagement with people in need that Fullerton wants to see Christians seek out.

"We can do more than write a check," he said.


Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.