Who would have thought that the son of a Christian camp director in south-central Ohio would end up teaching science and social studies at an intermediate school in East Tennessee? That is the path Justin Warner took to be an alumni On Mission in the area of arts and sciences.

Justin (’05) and his wife Shelly (Hess, ’06) are the parents of four children. “I met my wife at Johnson,“ Justin quips, “like all good students do.” After college, they decided to stay local because they loved the area so much. Consequently, Justin and Shelly are both employed as teachers in local school systems. Residents of Seymour, Justin teaches in the Maryville City School District at Coulter Grove Intermediate School just off Highway 411 on the Seymour side of Maryville while Shelly, who originally worked as the ESL teacher at Sevierville Primary School, carries out her teaching career as an ESL teacher with Seymour Primary and Intermediate Schools.

Justin’s original path was not as a part of the sciences but as a part of the arts since he came to Johnson to study Radio and Television production under the leadership of Mark (‘80) Young. Justin says, “I thought I was going to be the next big Christian music producer in Nashville.” Justin greatly appreciated his professors and holds fond memories of learning communications courses under Young and biblical instruction under Dr. David (’70) Reece. Justin gives a special shout out to Dr. Tommy (’78) Smith for teaching him how to study for tests through the grueling experience of taking Pentateuch under Dr. Smith. Justin laughs at the memory of seeing Dr. Smith a few years later and shares that he took that Pentateuch course the one year that Dr. Smith served as the instructor. Dr. Smith’s response was concise and to the point, “I’m sorry.”

Justin remembers that the academics at Johnson were much more rigorous than he was prepared to face. Although he completed his degree in under four years thanks to dual enrollment opportunities afforded him in high school, he struggled to find his stride on the college level. He was well-prepared for further biblical education thanks to his upbringing in a Christian home and attendance at Christian schools. However, he was not so prepared for the rigors of biblical higher education. “It was a big transition during my freshman year at Johnson. I had to learn some hard lessons, and I had to learn study skills.”

After completing his studies in Media Communications, Justin and Shelly spent a summer helping Justin’s dad, Keith (’86) Warner, at Butler Springs Christian Camp. That fall, Shelly returned to Johnson to continue her degree in Teacher Education and Justin started his work in radio by serving three Knoxville area Christian radio stations.

As with almost any new talent entering the radio market, he had to take the job nobody else wanted. He served as the Weekend Operator in charge of programing for all three stations. “It was a neat experience. The hours were terrible. The pay might have been even worse.” The experience just didn’t work out as Justin had hoped, and he quickly grew tired of missing church and being the guy in charge of holiday programming. During this time, he found various weekday employment gigs and one of his coworkers encouraged him to get into substitute teaching.

Based on his experience with kids during his time growing up at Butler Springs Christian Camp, Justin thought this might be a good way to supplement his income. He found abundant opportunities as a substitute teacher with Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Elementary School in East Knoxville. They grew to appreciate Justin’s work and invited him to be a daily substitute. He was subsequently encouraged to pursue a post-baccalaureate degree in teaching which he earned from Lincoln Memorial University in 2008. This propelled Justin’s journey from being the next great producer of Christian music to his current vocation as a teacher of science and social studies with Maryville City Schools.

“The best thing that came out of COVID…is that churches are now streaming their worship services.” Justin says that this has opened doors of conversation with his students as they find clips of Justin participating in the worship services at Seymour Heights Christian Church. This opens up opportunities for Justin to have organic conversations with his students about matters of faith. There aren’t any prohibitions against him having such conversations in his school. In fact, part of Justin’s social studies curriculum is to study ancient world history through the lens of the Apostle Paul.

Although he never would have planned his journey as it unfolded, Justin is using his Johnson University foundation of arts and sciences to extend the Lord’s kingdom in the world of education. He is a worship leader, schoolteacher, basketball coach, husband, and father. His greatest encouragement for others is to remember who they are and whose they are.