When Faith Steps In
October 14, 2022
Contact: Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations
MOUNT OLIVE –Faith has always been a top priority in Nathaniel Shelton’s life. The, Gallatin, Tennessee native credits his parents, Todd and Nancy Shelton, for helping foster his relationship with Christ.
“Both of my parents were saved long before I was born,” Shelton said. “They therefore sought to make Christianity a foundational part of what it was to be in our family.”
Shelton’s father was involved in youth ministries and his mother was the church pianist. “Since our family was so strongly rooted in church life, and since our parents were so intentional about a life of faith, it was somewhat natural that each of us children had made professions of faith by the time we were six years old,” he said. “I still recall the days leading up to, and the night that I decided to become a Christian. I was five years old when I became aware of my own sin and my need for a savior, and that repentance and belief in Christ was the only way to be saved. This is the profession of faith that I still hold to, and as this relationship has grown, it has had a more and more profound effect on my life.”
During high school, Shelton joined a homeschool group called United Christian Academy (UCA). “It was there that I found a like-minded, well-grounded, Christian community of friends,” he said. Shelton became active in the UCA choir, where he began to develop the musical gifts that he inherited from his mother and his grandfather, Allen Shelton. In the 1950s and 60s, the older Shelton was a renowned banjo player at the Grand Ole Opry, where he gained a coveted spot in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Following in his grandfather’s steps, the younger Shelton has become quite the musician. He first learned to play the guitar at the age of seven. He later learned the bass, mandolin, viola, dobro, banjo, and the drums. He is currently teaching himself how to play the pedal steel. “My favorite instrument to play would have to be banjo,” he said. “It was probably the hardest to learn, but it has a bright, high-energy sound that can’t be matched.”
After graduating high school, Shelton enrolled in a local community college to pursue mechanical engineering. “I decided on this career path, because I had a strong proficiency for math. My dad was also an engineer, so I knew it was a secure financial career path,” He said. “However, it was not something that I prayed about nor sought God over.”
Not long into his educational pursuits, Shelton felt a tug on his heart that God had a different plan for his life. “As I was pursuing my associate’s degree in engineering, I began seeking God very closely in making him a more central part of my life,” he said. “I had always had an interest in the Bible, and I knew that study of it was essential for the life of a believer. However, through this newly deepened relationship with God, I started coming to the conviction that my study of the Bible wasn’t to be merely personal, but rather a vocational calling.”
Shelton transferred to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Then COVID struck. Students were sent home, and Shelton struggled with online learning. He decided to pause his education and he accepted a night-shift warehouse job. Unfulfilled, Shelton felt the pull of the Lord calling him back to school.
“God was pushing me to go back to school and continue Biblical education, but I didn’t know how to logistically make it work,” Shelton said. “Within weeks, I was presented with a full scholarship opportunity to sing with the University of Mount Olive’s a cappella group, Carolina Sound.
Within two weeks of touring the University and auditioning for Carolina Sound, Shelton had enrolled in classes. It was the spring of 2022. “My experience has been great thus far,” he said. “I have been challenged academically (writing 22 papers last semester), and spiritually. I have been pushed forward in my faith both in my religion classes, as well as through being part of Carolina Sound. In the group, we have regular devotionals, which serve as a spiritual check-up and a launching point for spiritual growth.”
A member of Carolina Sound, Shelton gets to share the Gospel in song throughout the southeastern United States, but his role as a bass singer with the group is somewhat different than one would expect. “I have the lowest voice in the group, which means that I, along with the vocal percussionist, form a foundation that the other vocalists build upon. Although bass is typically a sung part, in a cappella it is highly rhythmic. This means that I rarely sing actual words, but more frequently sing ‘dm’s, doo’s, and bum’s.’ This took some getting used to, but it has a great effect of filling out the sound of the group.”
Shelton feels blessed to be able to sing with the prestigious campus group. “I frequently find myself awestruck at the beauty surrounding me when listening to them sing,” he said. “Aside from their voices, these are some of the most inviting, friendly, fun-loving people that I have had ever had the privilege to meet. Each one has a remarkable capacity for spiritual depth that has helped to push me forward along my walk with God. They have all had a huge impact on my life and I am grateful for each one of them.”
Aside from being a part of Carolina Sound, Shelton is also heavily involved in campus ministry, where he is a member of the Chapel band. “I have really been impacted by campus ministry, and very much look forward to where it is going,” Shelton said.
In the short time that Shelton has been at UMO, he feels that his life has already been transformed. “The biggest transformation is in how I see God, and how I now walk by faith. Previously my entire understanding of how to interact with God was learning about him, and then taking what I learned and living well because of it. During my studies at UMO, I have come to realize that God is not someone to be known about, but rather a person to be known. Instead of thinking about values that I should incorporate into life, I now view God as one that I go through life with. This may sound like a minute distinction, but this has changed everything in my life. It has especially changed how I walk by faith. I am now bolder in my attempts to act out God’s heart in every situation. My prayer is that perhaps, through my living by faith, people that I encounter daily on the UMO campus may also view God in a similar way and be led into an encounter with the real Jesus. That’s something that can’t be overlooked.”
Shelton is on track to earn his degree in Christian Studies from UMO in December of 2023.
After graduating, he plans to continue his education, with a desire to become a Professor of Biblical Studies at an institution of higher learning.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.