A calling and a home: The Rev. David Paul Johnson talks about his calling to be pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church

Sunday, April 4, 2010
The Rev. David Johnson is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

The Rev. David Paul Johnson, senior administrative pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, says he was called to become the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Johnson was born and raised in Omaha, Neb. Throughout his life he has served as pastor in three congregations -- one in Michigan, Nebraska and now in Jackson. He said he remembers coming home late one night from a church meeting in his congregation in Nebraska and his wife, Valerie, greeted him at the door with the words, "Guess what, honey. You have received a call from a congregation in Southeast Missouri." He said he believed God had prepared him with his experiences in Nebraska to come and be the pastor of a large congregation in Jackson. After receiving and accepting the call to become pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in July 1994, he and his wife have raised their children here and now consider it home. He said he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.

How long have you been involved with a church? I was raised in a Christian home by parents who modeled the Christian faith for me and encouraged me to be involved in the church. I grew up going to church and Sunday school and was involved with youth ministry as a counselor in my home congregation in Omaha, Neb. God in his grace has kept me faithful to his word, although there was a time in my teenage and young adult years when I did not take it very seriously.

How long have you been a member of the Lutheran faith? I have been a Lutheran Christian all my life, but in different Lutheran Church denominations. I was raised in the American Lutheran Church for the first 13 years of my life. I have been a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod since I was confirmed at age 14.

What drew you to serve the church in a leadership role? I am a pastor today because I believe God answered the prayers of my mother. She prayed to God to grant her a son and someday to lead him to be a pastor. She reminded me of that prayer from time to time throughout my life, but I never gave it much thought. I had other plans. But by golly, here I am a pastor today. I can only credit the Lord for giving me the desire to be a pastor.

What did you do to become a pastor? My undergraduate degree is in geography/geology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I thoroughly enjoyed getting that degree, and I still love geography and learning about the beautiful world that God has made. Following college, I worked as a mapmaker for an urban regional planning agency in Omaha. Then I felt led to go to Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Ill., and later in Fort Wayne, Ind., for four years of seminary training. I served a year of internship in Denver.

How many years have you served as a pastor? 31 years.

Were you involved with St. Paul Lutheran Church before becoming the pastor? No, I had never heard of St. Paul Lutheran Church until I received the call to come here. The church sent me articles from the newspaper about Jackson, that it was a wonderful community, a real slice of Americana. They were right. It's a great place to raise a family.

What do you think makes this church special? I believe St. Paul Lutheran Church is special because it is a congregation of people committed to Christian education. Our day school has an excellent reputation in our community, and I have seen it grow over the years to almost 380 children. Because of our school, we have many families and children and it adds a lot of life and vitality to the church. We are also blessed with excellent music ministry that really enriches our worship experience in both traditional and contemporary styles. We have a wonderful ministry with youth that involves our young people in service, spiritual growth and mission trips.

What's your favorite verse and why? I have many favorites, but one of the best is Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." I love that verse because it so clearly teaches us that to have a relationship with God is not a matter of doing something, but receiving something. Salvation from sin and death is a free gift and even the faith to receive it is God's gift. I want people to know that more than anything, because most people think you have to do something to become right with God. No, Jesus Christ did everything for you.

What program have you done with St. Paul Lutheran Church that you are proud of and why? I think that over the years I have been at St. Paul, we have grown in being more mission-minded and outreach focused. We have sent people on mission trips to Haiti and Guatemala in recent years. We send teams to New Orleans to help with the recovery of that city following Hurricane Katrina. I think our members are becoming more excited about doing mission and reaching out. I am proud of them and the way they are responding to the Lord's Great Commission to go and make disciples.

What events or occasions does your church have coming up? We have a special choir concert coming on April 24. Our youth and young adults are planning mission trips to New Orleans and Chicago in May and June. We have a very special barbecue kickoff event for men called "Letters from Dad" on May 3, which will help men write special letters of faith, hope and love to their children and wives which will be treasured greatly. This summer we are planning a special sermon series on tough questions people ask about God. We continue to develop small group ministry to get people involved in Bible study and to develop close friendships. Our new Pastor of Outreach, the Rev. Ted Torreson is working with our members to plan a new mission start somewhere in our area.

What's your favorite day of the week and why? My favorite day is Sunday, because it is the culmination of a week of planning and preparation for God's people to gather in his house to worship and hear his word and receive Holy Communion. It's a time to connect with one another, pray for and support one another. And afterward to spend the afternoon with family, take a nap or watch a ballgame.

What's your favorite part of being a pastor? My favorite thing is to preach and teach God's Word to people, especially teaching new people to the Christian faith.

What hobbies do you have? I enjoy doing yardwork, trout fishing, woodworking and carving and scrapbooking with my wife Val, and watching Cardinal baseball and Nebraska Cornhusker football.

What else do you do besides serve as pastor? I serve on the board of the Haiti Lutheran Mission Society in Lincoln, Neb.

Do you have a prayer, psalm or verse you would like to give our readers for the day? Since you are reading this on Easter Sunday, I would like to give you this verse, the message of the angel to the women on that first Easter, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said." Jesus said he would be put to death and then rise again bodily from the grave. His word came true. Therefore his word is true and we can trust it. We can trust that our sins have been paid for. We can trust that God is who he claimed to be, the Son of God. We can trust that we too shall rise again from the dead when Christ comes again. The Risen Christ was seen by many, even as many as 500 at one time. Our faith rests on that fact. May the Joy of the Risen Savior bring you hope and peace in your life.

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