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Cherry Hill Church pastor Johnson named Samford’s minister of yearcomment (0)

December 24, 2009

By Brittany N. Howerton

It wasn’t because he’s young and hip, and it wasn’t because he’s served the church for a few decades.

It was because of Pastor James D. “Jim” Johnson’s passion for ministry and dependability in sharing the gospel that his congregation at Cherry Hill Baptist Church, Russellville, found him worthy of being named Samford University’s 2009 Alabama Baptist Minister of the Year.

“I was like a shellshocked soldier; I couldn’t believe it,” said Johnson, 85, who is in his 52nd year of ministry. “And I still haven’t recovered. I didn’t feel like I was worthy. There are so many far better than I that should have received the honor. I’m just a little person down here that goes where the Lord leads me and does what He wants me to do.”

But it was just that attitude that motivated his Franklin Baptist Association church and Director of Missions Larry Dover to nominate him.

“[Church members] constantly express to him and to me their love for Brother Jim and their appreciation for his ministry,” Dover said. “They especially appreciate his Bible knowledge and its application to their lives. Cherry Hill has developed into a sweet, loving, giving church under his leadership.”

Saved at age 11, Johnson said he knew immediately God was calling him into ministry. But it was not until his return from military service more than 10 years later that he grasped the full understanding of that call.

After experiencing what doctors said was a close encounter with death in 1946, Johnson realized there was something he had promised God that he wasn’t following through with.

“I had promised God in combat in ’45 that if He got me home safe, I’d do whatever He wanted,” Johnson said.

And in 1957, he followed through with that promise. Johnson walked the aisle, asked for forgiveness and surrendered to preach.

“From that time on, I’ve been preaching somewhere, wherever He sends me,” Johnson said.

A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and International Seminary in Plymouth, Fla., Johnson served as pastor of Tharptown Baptist Church, Russellville, in Franklin Association; Bethany Baptist Church, Huntsville, in Madison Baptist Association; and Sunny Home Baptist Church, Haleyville, in Winston Baptist Association.

He also served churches in Kentucky, Mississippi, Michigan and Texas and as moderator for Franklin Association.

After his retirement in 1989, Johnson began serving as an interim pastor and eventually landed at Cherry Hill in 2000. He has served as pastor there ever since.

Johnson is married to Gladys and has four children and one deceased daughter by his late wife, Mary.

Nominators for Johnson’s minister of the year award cited his work in rejuvenating the Cherry Hill congregation, but he said it is the congregation that has rejuvenated him.

“[Cherry Hill members] have been jewels in His crown,” Johnson said. “I never had a finer church group anywhere, and they have been mighty good to me.”

Samford employees Randy Pittman, vice president for university relations, and Michael Wilson, director of the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, presented Johnson with the award during the church’s morning worship service Dec. 13.

“I know my time is limited,” Johnson said. “I like what (Tom) Corts (the late retired president of Samford) said when he quoted [author Robert Browning], ‘The best is yet to be.’ And that’s what I tell them. The best is yet to be.”

Longtime, dedicated church worker Melvin G. Cooper, of Prattville, was named Samford’s 2009 Alabama Baptist Layperson of the Year. He will receive his award during a special presentation at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, in January.

(Samford contributed)

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