(This week The Columbian-Progress spotlights Woodlawn Church youth pastor Justin Johns.)
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born in St. Louis, Mo., April 7, 1988.
Q: Where did you attend school?
A: I was raised in Atlanta after moving there when I was 7. My dad, Darrell, was a pastor there. I went to a private school at our church called Atlanta West Christian Academy. I went to a bible college in Florissant, Mo. At that time it was called Gateway College of Evangelism. There was a seminary school of theology called Urshan College, and just recently it all switched over to Urshan College in St. Louis. I went there for a degree in Christian science with an emphasis in pastoral studies.
Q: Where do you work? Tell us about your job/company.
A: I am the youth pastor at Woodlawn Church, and I’m over students from sixth grade through 12th grade. Day to day with the church you do all kinds of things, but my job is to engage with the students and train up and create student leaders. Our mission is the same mission as the church: We exist to restore community by being Christ-centered students. That is really my goal day to day, keeping up with the students, following up, being involved, going to the school, checking in on them, preparing for Wednesdays, preparing for Sundays, planning community events and managing staff members on Wednesday nights. I’ve been here for almost three years, and my goal has been to invest in the youth group and build them up to a spiritual place where they’re ready to go out and be Christian leaders. We’re seeing amazing things every day in our youth group.
Q: What led you to your profession?
A: This year will be 25 years that my dad has been pastoring in Atlanta so I was raised in church, and since I was born he’s been involved in ministry. He was actually a youth pastor in Jackson for a long time. My teenage years I didn’t really want to do ministry with seeing how busy it was and the weight of that for my dad so I wanted to do my own thing. I went to a youth camp my senior year when I graduated high school, and one of the night services there God just pulled on my heart and the spirit was moving in a powerful way. I just felt this feeling in my gut and in my spirit that I needed to go to bible college. As much as I was resistant to that, I was like, “You know what? I’m going to do it.” I love it. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t do anything else.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: The thing I enjoy most is being with students. Being around teenagers and seeing the transformation that can take place from them going from not having a purpose or having a purpose and not finding direction to seeing students find their purpose and their role and have God use them in their school, seeing that growth is amazing. Especially seeing them be student leaders is pretty awesome.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
A: The culture within the students is constantly changing so not being in the times can be difficult. As a youth pastor you try to be cool and relevant, but that’s not really our role. It’s more to be that mentor or guide in their life.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
A: The most important lesson I’ve learned is you have to have your life in order as far as your spiritual life. You can’t expect to lead a group of students if you’re not where you need to be. You can’t just show up and rely on your own. There was a time when I tried to rely on my own self, and I tried to teach this lesson without really studying or praying and it was like the worst train wreck ever. So fully relying on God and being spirit led is the most important thing I’ve learned. I can’t do it on my own. I need God in every part of my life.
Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I was kind of into orthopedics because I had broken a lot of bones. We did a lot of skateboarding as teenagers growing up in Atlanta and riding dirt bikes so I had been to a lot of orthopedics before. It was something I was interested in, but I was like a typical high school kid and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was just going to go to college and figure it out. God called me to do something else, though.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was at Discount Tire in Douglasville, Ga. I took off tires, put on tires, rotated wheels and all of that.
Q: Who is the person who has been most influential in your life?
A: My dad absolutely. He’s a friend, father, mentor; he’s just everything to me. He’s my hero.
Q: What is your spouse’s name?
A: Theresa Johns. She stays at home with our kids right now, but she also works with Young Living essential oils and does photography and different things on the side.
Q: Do you have children?
A: We have two sons. Rhett is 4, and Warren is 7 months old.
Q: If you could have anything for your last meal on earth, what would it be?
A: I love Asian food. Hibachi is my thing like Osaka. It’s my favorite place in Columbia. Any kind of Asian food is what I’m after. Throw some seafood in there like shrimp, absolutely.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
A: I would love to hit up the national parks in the U.S. I follow them all on Instagram, and I would love to go camp at all of them.
Q: What hobbies do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I love coffee; it’s a big deal to me. I roast my own coffee beans and have all of the coffee paraphernalia in my home. I love to bow hunt. I was big into mountain biking when I lived in Arkansas. Anything outdoors that’s active I love to do.
Q: What do you enjoy about Columbia and Marion County?
A: It’s family oriented and it’s small. It’s personable. I grew up in Atlanta with a million people, and you would never see the same person twice. Here it’s cool to be able to go into Walmart or wherever and run into people. I love that it’s people oriented the most, and it’s been great for my family not being caught up in the rat race.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone from your life or history, who would it be and why?
A: Jesus Christ would be pretty awesome. There’s so many questions. I would probably just sit there and look at him. I’m not trying to say it to be spiritual, but it would be amazing to just pick his brain and see what it was like to be persecuted and betrayed.
Q: What moment in your life has had the biggest impact on who you are today?
A: I was in college going into my senior year and didn’t really feel like I was going to do anything great with my life. We were on a vacation with my family and were on a cruise. I was out there at night in the middle of the ocean laying on the deck, and I was questioning if I could do it. I asked God that if I really had a purpose in my life and that I was really meant to do this to let me know and give me a sign. I had tears going down my face, and I needed to know. I asked him to send a shooting star across the sky because it was so bright with the stars, and two seconds later a shooting star goes across the sky and just disappeared. For God and the universe to see me on this boat in the middle of this giant ocean — you could say it was just coincidence — but in that moment it was so real to me and that He cares for me when I’m just one out of billions on this earth. It really solidified that He’s real, knows my name and that He wanted me to do this.
Q: What is one thing you want to do that you’ve never tried?
A: I would love to go parasailing where you jump off a cliff with a glider.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: I’d like to be remembered as someone who was helping other people. I tell my students all the time that in my role if I could push you and help you do great things, that’s what my life is all about. Someone who is humble and helps people. It’s not about me. It’s all about making sure that others can be pushed and promoted into what God wants them to do.
— Joshua Campbell