A Man of Distinction

by Christopher Martin ’98

When Ray Johnston '75 moved from Chicago to Northern California in 1992, he planned on making a career change. After eight years as a pastor and four years as a college professor, Johnston anticipated working full time as a leadership development consultant — a role that placed him in high demand as a conference and seminar speaker throughout the country. He knew this change would let him focus on the aspects of ministry that he enjoys most.

"I wanted to travel, speak, write, and train people to do ministry," Johnston said. In other words, not preach. Ironically, preaching occupies most of his time now. In his seventh year as the senior pastor of Bayside Covenant Church in Granite Bay, California, Johnston has helped the church grow from a single meeting on Easter Sunday 1995 to a congregation of more than 5,000, complete with men's, women's, and youth ministries, radio programming, and more than 200 small-group ministries. This passion for affecting lives in the name of Christ dates back to his early years in ministry. After graduating from the then Azusa Pacific College (APC), Johnston received a master's degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, and began his professional ministry as a senior pastor in the neighboring community of Duarte. The Duarte situation challenged Johnston's approach to ministry, as he began placing an emphasis not on entertaining students, but rather on training disciples of Christ. "If our goal is to entertain students, we will reap apathetic spectators," Johnston said. "But if we train and equip students, we will develop servants." Two years later, Johnston accepted a youth pastor position in Marin County. "At that time, Marin County was among the most unchurched counties in the country," Johnston said. "People used to say that you could find more Christians in Moscow than in Marin County." "Ray is all about seeing people come to Christ,” said Rick Givens ’83, associate director of the Office of Alumni Relations. “He is enthusiastic, gracious, and wholehearted. Most importantly, he has a real love for people.” That love has been the driving force behind his varied pursuits and continues to inform his current responsibilities. The author of three books, Developing Student Leaders, Developing Spiritual Growth in Junior Highers, and Help, I'm a Sunday School Teacher: 50 Ways to Make Sunday School Come Alive*, he was also a professor at North Park College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. While in Chicago, Johnston coordinated the youth ministries program of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This role brought an increasing demand for his services as a speaker at national youth events, leading to Johnston's return to California for full-time focus on his consulting ministry. With such broad pastoral experience, founding a church seemed a fitting next step. Although Johnston turned down an offer to plant a church in the Bay Area once, when he was asked again it was a different story. “After praying about it and discussing it with my wife, I decided to accept the challenge.” And the experience has been a challenge — but one accompanied by new approaches and exciting results. According to Lauren Anderson, who attends Bayside with her husband, Jason, the church offers something many other churches its size do not. “Even though it is large, Bayside has a warm feel where we have been able to connect and feel at home. It is an atmosphere where we would never hesitate to invite someone to attend, regardless of their church background or even if they have never attended church.” The desire to create such an atmosphere was rooted in extensive research that Johnston conducted before launching Bayside. “We surveyed hundreds of people and asked them the simple question of ‘Hey, why don’t you go to church?’,” said Johnston. “We found that people had no problem with God, but they considered the church to be an outdated, irrelevant, and boring place where the pastor preached down to them. If that’s the impression people have, it’s no wonder they don’t want to attend.” Johnston sought to erase this perception at Bayside. “We offer services that are attractive and compelling in a contemporary style without compromising the message,” Johnston said. “We seek to offer a ministry similar to what Jesus did.” It is working. The evidence is not only in the church’s growth, but also in the lives Johnston has seen changed for Christ. Reflecting on his time at Bayside, Johnston admits this is the aspect he finds most rewarding. “We have many unchurched people in the area hearing the Gospel for the first time,” Johnston said. “It is amazing, but I think we have had someone raise their hand to indicate they’ve accepted Christ every Sunday for six straight years.” “Ray represents, in many ways, the ideal alum,” said Craig Wallace ’81, director of alumni relations. “His accomplishments in ministry across the nation and in the growth of his church are inspiring because they point to his desire to really partner with God and His purposes.” Johnston’s dynamic approach to servant leadership has earned him praise among other pastors as well as Azusa Pacific University’s 2002 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award.

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Christopher Martin '98 lives in Washinton, DC. christophermartin@clearchannel.com