Meeting in a special convention session at First Baptist Church in 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 nearly 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.
Chad Garrison, who became search team chairman when he was elected ASBC president last November, told the Convention Council at their February meeting that Johnson was one of three finalists for the position, but then 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 that candidate did not receive the constitutionally required two-thirds affirmative vote.
When Garrison, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in 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."
Johnson described his vision as that of a pastoral leader.
The vision of Arizona Baptists must begin with their mission, which is the Great Commission, and must address "how can we work together as Arizona Southern Baptists to accomplish that mission," Johnson told 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, adding that Arizona Southern Baptists 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," Johnson said, "unity needs to be built around a shared vision ... , 'This is what we're about, and this is what we're trying to accomplish, and this is what we're doing together."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.
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 Kingdom cause," 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.
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 praying 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 in Tucson at age 17.
Johnson holds a bachelor of arts with majors in religion and Greek from Baylor University in Waco, Texas; master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and a doctor of ministry degree from Golden Gate.
Johnson became Golden Gate's Arizona Campus director in 2003 after serving as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Phoenix for nine years. Prior to that, he was pastor of Twenty-Second Street Baptist Church in Tucson for four years.
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.
Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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