Ernie Lingerfelt served a seven-month sentence for burglary in 1985. After being released, he fell back into some of the same behavior that landed him in prison, even after he felt God calling him to preach.
"If I didn't get saved, I would be back in jail or dead. I have no doubt about it," says Ernie, whom everyone calls Deacon. He finally accepted God into his life and was ordained as a pastor in 2007.
Two years later, Deacon became the head pastor at Warehouse of Worship, a non-denominational church, and Soldiers of Truth in God's Army, a motorcycle ministry. Both congregations include drug addicts, alcoholics and other people who are down on their luck. Deacon said he has never turned away anyone.
"I'm against religion," he says. "Religion says you have to look like us and talk like us. I preach relationships."
Deacon takes a non-traditional approach to being a pastor. He wears a T-shirt and jeans, and he rarely stands behind the pulpit while preaching.
"I never wanted to be put on a pedestal," he says. "I want to be with the people."
Deacon delivers donated food, coats and toys to people in need. Before each service, he serves a meal to anyone who shows up at the Warehouse of Worship. Often, it is the best meal any of them, including the children, will get.
"If someone calls me in the middle of the night and needs to pray with me, I'll be there," he says.
Deacon's congregation seems to appreciate that he has experienced many of the problems they struggle with. The prison tattoos on his arms are a constant reminder of the past he hasn't abandoned but has overcome.
"Their sins are like mine," says Samantha Turner of Bluff City, who has been attending the Warehouse of Worship for four months. "All have been through life."