The bleachers squeaked like crazy. It smelled like a locker room. It got hot and stuffy on Saturday nights in the summer. We were packed in like sardines as upbeat guitars and the 90s choruses of “Trading My Sorrows” and “Shout to the Lord” echoed throughout the Robbinsdale High School gymnasium.
As the last song ended, there was a momentary silence (filled with additional bleacher squeaks of late comers) as a man with a curly half-mullet hairdo mounted the stage and took his place behind a clear plexiglass podium. The first noise from the pulpit was always, always the same nose sniffle followed by “Let us pray as we go to the Word.”
Welcome to Church of the Open Door around the year 1997 and the anointed teaching ministry of David Johnson. This Sunday will mark David Johnson’s final sermon at Open Door as he wraps up 38 years (!) of faithful ministry at this church that has touched so many lives.
Words fail to capture the extent of this man’s influence and impact on me personally. My friend Peter started taking me to Open Door around my junior year of high school. Sitting on those squeaky bleachers I experienced the power of the Holy Scriptures for the first time. His messages were passionate and personally probing. Some kind of divine electricity flowed from that pulpit Sunday after Sunday as the word became “alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).
It was the days of getting cassette recordings of the messages that really rocked my world in order to share with others. We began to invite others to join us for our weekly pilgrimage to Robbinsdale to be pricked again by the Holy Spirit under Dave’s preaching. Then in college and beyond (about 1997-2007) Open Door became my regular place of worship. We filled cars every Sunday with Bethel kids to make the drive to Robbinsdale, then Crystal, then Brooklyn Center and finally their permanent home in Maple Grove.
Dave’s wisdom and Bible-based teaching brought me through my college years with all the normal struggles of early adulthood (seeking my calling, falling in love, breaking up, navigating sins and temptation, growing in faith). I have sweet, sweet memories of turning my car into a sanctuary on my lunch break at Foss Swim School where I’d enjoy a bowl of Easy Mac ‘n Cheese while listening to Dave’s “Growing in Grace” radio sermons on AM1570 radio each weekday. Heck, even my first date with Keri, my wife-to-be, began with worship at Open Door on a Saturday night!
Consider Dave Johnson’s likely impact on my life’s trajectory:
- Without Dave, I may never have become a born again Christian.
- Without Dave, I may not have went to Bethel College.
- Without Dave, I may not have pursued biblical studies in college.
- Without Dave, I may not be a pastor today at all.
- Without Dave, MainStreet Covenant Church would likely not exist.
- Without Dave, I would certainly not be the kind of pastor I am since his fingerprints are all over my ministry style and values.
- (Yes, without Dave, I would probably preach shorter sermons!)
- And I owe it to my buddy Peter for inviting me to Open Door in the first place, or there would be no Dave in my life.
As a megachurch pastor, many people have been touched by his teaching but never had the chance to know him personally. Many years back, when I was just starting to plant the church I just had to sit down with Dave to let him know personally how much he had impacted my life. We had never met! I sent him a letter on Father’s Day telling him what a spiritual father he had been to me all these years through his teachings. I asked to buy him lunch and thank him personally. I will always cherish that funny, awkward lunch conversation. Awkward, because I had to end it by asking if he and Open Door would like to contribute financially toward our new church plant! :)
On the other hand, I will always regret the time I didn’t take him up on his invitation to hang with his “Cigar Buddies” group that gathered occasionally to talk guy stuff, ministry and smoke cigars. I guess if one of my greatest regrets in ministry ends up being missing out on smoking a cigar, that’s ok. But dang, I’m bummed about that one!
Its been over 20 years since I sat in that stuffy gymnasium and had the scales come off my spiritual eyes. Through all my ministry ventures I have kept downloading and listening to Dave’s preaching. His shepherding voice was directing me as I struggled with lust and pornography in college. His voice brought comfort when I felt alone and scared as a 22 year old living in a San Diego attic in my first year of seminary. I turned to his teaching when learning how to be a faithful husband. He was in the car with me while driving through the night delivering newspapers when trying to make ends meet while starting the church. His example and influence have been ever present as I have tried to find my own voice as a preacher and pastor this past decade or so.
Yes, its all Dave’s fault that I bring such high expectations and supernatural anticipation into the pulpit each Sunday at MainStreet Covenant Church. If the Spirit of the living God could work so powerfully through that guy with the half-mullet behind clear plexiglass to ravish me with a vision of the Kingdom of God, igniting an unquenchable fire for God in my belly and setting my life on a wholly new trajectory, then I believe he can — indeed, desires to — have the same explosive effect through me on any given Sunday morning. Dave taught me to wear a seat belt in church and hold on tight!
There’s divine electricity inside that ancient book we crack open each Sunday, and David Johnson’s last 38 years of ministry have demonstrated what can happen when a preacher brings him- or herself underneath its authority and lets its life-transforming power loose in the world.
This Sunday may be Dave’s final sermon at Open Door, but his legacy lives on in the voices of countless people out in the world like me who are preaching and living the Kingdom life that he so passionately taught and introduced to so many in his teaching.
“We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Thanks to David Johnson’s ministry, “we have seen and heard” a lot more than we would have without him!
Thank you Dave for giving it your all! May retirement be a blessed and holy sabbath for you and Bonnie! And my thanks go out to all the other staff and lay people who have stood beside and behind Dave’s ministry all these years. You know who you are!