Online Learning ...
With E-Quip: Just On Time training for leaders.
Watching God at work through Arizona Southern Baptists.
Johnson named ASBC executive director
By Elizabeth Young
David Johnson, director of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary's Arizona Campus, has been named executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.
Meeting in a special convention session at First Baptist Church, Chandler, April 12, messengers voted 187-1 to approve the executive director/state missionary search team and Convention Council's unanimous recommendation of Johnson for the post. He will begin service June 1, following Golden Gate's commencement exercises in Scottsdale that day.
Johnson succeeds Steve Bass, who resigned almost two years ago to become the West regional vice president for the North American Mission Board. Byron Banta, a retired Arizona pastor, has served as interim since Bass' resignation.
Presenting the recommendation at the special session, search team and Convention Council member Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson, described Johnson as a mentor and statesman.
"He understands what it means to be a part of Southern Baptist life from the national convention to the state position and all the way down to the church," Burnett said. "He understands our denomination, and he represents our denomination very well."
Johnson is also a teacher and an Arizonan, Burnett said.
"He has a heart and a passion for Arizona Southern Baptists, but he also has a heart and a passion ... for those who are lost without Jesus Christ here in Arizona and ... around the world," he said.
Chad Garrison, who became search team chairman when he was elected ASBC president last November, told the Council at their February meeting that Johnson was one of three finalists for the position, but he withdrew.
Johnson said from the beginning of the search process he had prayed that God would give clarity and unity to the committee. When the committee didn't seem to have a strong feeling about a candidate, he withdrew from the process last summer, he said.
The search team presented a candidate to the Convention Council last September, but he failed to receive the constitutionally required two-thirds affirmative vote.
When Garrison, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Lake Havasu City, became search team chairman, he asked Johnson if he would be willing to re-engage in the process. Johnson said if the team was unanimous in wanting to talk to him, he would.
In his first meeting with the team, Garrison asked team members if they wanted to continue the process with anyone they had talked with previously. All seven said Johnson's name.
Johnson said God affirmed his sense of calling to the position in January when he met with the search team. About the same time, he said, "vision began to pour into my heart about what we need to be doing as Arizona Southern Baptists." Along with that came passion, commitment and determination around the vision, he said.
Describing himself as a leader, Johnson used the term "pastoral leader."
"As a pastoral leader, I am concerned for people," he said. "As a pastoral leader, I want to cast the vision and lead God's people forward. As a pastoral leader, I have a great desire to see us engage and accomplish the Great Commission. As a pastoral leader I'm concerned that we build relationships and care for people. It's the best way I know to describe who I am as a leader. I can't stop being a pastor."
Our vision must begin with our mission, which is the Great Commission, and must address "how can we work together as Arizona Southern Baptists to accomplish that mission," Johnson told the messengers.
Saying it was premature to articulate a fully developed vision, Johnson shared five values that should drive the vision.
First is relationship, he said.
"Some people have felt like the convention is really just this nebulous body and it doesn't have a face," he said. However, as Arizona Southern Baptists, we are God's people, and we are family.
"We're not an institution," he said. "My goal is to be ... out where you are, to ... create those strong bonds so that we don't feel like we're connected to a denomination but we're connected to each other."
Second is unity.
Unity must be built on something that's shared, he said. We have a common commitment to God's Word, and we share a confession of faith in the Baptist Faith and Message.
"But beyond that," he said, "unity needs to be built around a shared vision ... (that says), ‘This is what we're about, and this is what we're trying to accomplish, and this is what we're doing together. Unity. Nothing is more damaging to the convention and to a church than a lack of unity."
The third value is stewardship, which means "we are responsible for what God has entrusted to us," Johnson said. Besides finances, time, gifts, talents and abilities, "this sense of stewardship extends to the mission," he said.
"Sometimes I think we've lived on welfare too long," he said. We complain because others who previously supported us are no longer going to pay for what we should be doing, he said.
"It's time for Arizona Southern Baptists to step up and take responsibility for our mission field," he said. "We have to grow up. It's our mission field."
Fourth is cooperation.
"We can do far more together than we can do by ourselves," Johnson said. "That's the basis of the Cooperative Program."
However, he said, there is a growing spirit of wanting to do things ourselves and have our own name on things. But while "every church should consider what it is that God wants them to do and plug in to His purpose, His kingdom cause and His mission," he said, "it cannot be to the detriment of working together. ... Ultimately, we have to work together as Arizona Southern Baptists to accomplish this vision."
The final value is mission.
"I have a great heart to address areas that are not being addressed, reach areas that are not being reached," Johnson said, giving several examples.
Because of changes in North American Mission Board funding, Arizona no longer has a funded director of missions in Fourcorners Association, which includes the Navajo reservation, the largest Native American reservation in the country.
"What are we doing to reach that area?" he asked. "It's like a third world country. It's like an unreached people group. ... There's a sense of mission that should drive us to say we want to address that."
Another example is the Tohono O'odham reservation, the second largest in the country. Johnson said one of his students is a Mission Service Corps missionary there.
"He tells me that there are villages out there that have hardly ever heard of the name of Jesus, much less heard the gospel," he said. "What are we doing to reach them?"
Johnson said two weeks ago he was in Zambia, speaking to 100 International Mission Board missionaries who serve in four countries. He learned about Sub-Saharan Africa, with 880 million people and hundreds of unreached people groups. Because of budget cutbacks, only a few new missionaries would be sent, he said.
"We have requests from the field. We have people ready to be sent. We can't send them. There's no money," he said.
"We've got to do better than that Arizona Southern Baptists," he continued. "I'm asking churches to do better. ... I'm asking our convention to do better. ... We have a mission. Someday we're going to stand before God and give an account about what we've done with that mission."
Garrison asked Johnson to share about how God has worked in his life.
Johnson said he grew up going to church and made a profession of faith at age 15.
"It seemed like everything I had heard growing up in church suddenly came together for me," he said. "Everything suddenly had meaning and purpose, whereas I had none before."
As he grew rapidly in the faith, Johnson said he thought, "I can think of nothing better, nothing more I would want to do with my life than to spend the rest of my life serving God."
A school friend gave him a slip of paper with the reference Jeremiah 1:4-9 written on it. "My mother has been prying for you, and God gave her this Scripture for me to give to you," she said.
"It was like it was written for me," Johnson said, "and God called me to ministry."
Johnson moved to Tucson from North Carolina when he was a high school junior.
"I really felt like, because of the words in that passage of Scripture, it was almost like I was being sent as a missionary," he said. He was licensed to the ministry by Casas Church, Tucson, at age 17.
Johnson holds a bachelor of arts degree with majors in religion and Greek from Baylor University, Waco, Texas; master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; and a doctor of ministry degree from Golden Gate.
Johnson became Golden Gate's Arizona Campus director in late 2003 after serving as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Phoenix, for nine years. Prior to that, he was pastor of Twenty-Second Street Baptist Church, Tucson, for four years. He has also served as interim pastor of four Arizona churches during his time as Arizona Campus director and as pastor of two Texas churches prior to moving to Arizona.
He served as ASBC president from 1996 to 1998.
Johnson is married to Diana, an elementary school teacher. They have two married daughters and two grandchildren. Their son, Jeremiah, died in 2010 while serving as an IMB missionary in Mozambique.
The special session was closed in prayer, with messengers gathered around David and Diana Johnson and the ASBC facilitators.
"I for one am excited about following the leadership of David Johnson, but if he's going to lead us, then we need to be praying for him," said Chad Garrison, "and if our convention staff is going to serve effectively in this state leading us, then we need to be praying for them."
If you missed the meeting, you can watch a video of it.