“Our aim is to enlighten the thousands of perplexed and bewildered souls who are earnestly seeking, amid the maze of men’s traditions, to find the true doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our commitment is to continue to reach out to our city with the soul saving, life changing message of Acts 2:38” — Marty Johnson.
Bro. Johnson, his wife, Dellona, and two sons, Kevin and Kyle, came to Camden, Tennessee in 1985. For the past 30 years, under the leadership of Pastor Johnson, the church has experienced continual growth. The future only looks bright for the First United Pentecostal Church of Camden!
Principles of Growth and Revival
The most important keys to having a growing church, in Pastor Johnson’s opinion, are prayer, fasting, outreach, personal evangelism, follow up and good teamwork. “I personally place evangelism as a top priority,” he said. “God never intended the Church to just maintain what we have, but I feel that God wants us to grow spiritually and numerically. We should consistently be doing our best to reach as many people as we possibly can. Reaching the lost and looking for an opportunity to be the witness God wants us to be should be our top priority each and every day.”
Pastors and churches have various methods for increasing attendance. “For our particular area, I have found that the most effective tools have been one-on-one personal evangelism, knocking doors and Bible Studies. Following up on visitors is a must,” he said.
Some evangelism methods the Camden church currently uses are Bus and Jail Ministries, Saturday visitation and door knocking, Children’s Ministry, youth and college/career activities, Christian school, and a weekly radio program. The church also has annual evangelism events and activities that have brought good results. “Our Fall Festival has created a lot of interest,” said Pastor Johnson. “We involve ourselves in community projects such as Relay for Life – a cancer research drive where our choir sings, our youth do sign songs, and our church sells food. We also host a Day in the Park (singing, children’s activities, prizes and a free cookout) almost every year.”
Organization and Management
The departments and ministries of the church include Sunday School, Power Hour, Impact Youth, College/Career, Keenagers, Silver Eagles, Jail Ministry, Saturday outreach teams, Bryon’s Path, and Camden United Christian Academy. “I probably don’t meet with our department and ministry leaders often enough, but we try to have quarterly meetings and meet whenever a new idea or project needs to be discussed,” he said. “We are fortunate to have been blessed with some great people who get along, work well together and are dedicated to doing what they have been asked. I don’t ask for monthly reports and most job descriptions are verbally discussed. In November or early December, we meet with our team leaders to plan the calendar for the coming year.”
Training and Involvement
According to Pastor Johnson, 35 percent of the members of the First United Pentecostal Church of Camden are involved in some form of ministry. About 20 percent are involved in evangelism. “I try to encourage involvement through preaching and teaching and by keeping in front of them the examples of the successes and the blessings that we as a church and individuals are enjoying because of involvement,” he said. “We want people to know that we want them to be involved and that there is a job for everyone, such as greeting and following up on visitors, knocking doors, driving or helping with the bus ministry, decorating, setting up for church functions, or helping to clean up, etc. It may not be a pulpit ministry, but it is ministry and it’s important. We have a Sunday School staff training annually and try to send our leaders to all district and national training sessions.”
Philosophy of Ministry
Most pastors have deep guiding principles that give direction and purpose to their ministry. Bro. Johnson shared his: “I have found too many people who are result-driven or blessing-driven instead of ministry-driven, which I feel is one of the main reasons why people become discouraged, disgruntled and burned out. My personal philosophy and what I preach and promote to our church is that we don’t involve ourselves in ministry just to see results or even to be blessed by God, but we involve ourselves in the work of God because it’s the right thing to do; it’s our driving force. If we will just do the right thing, we will see results and we will be blessed by God. And instead of being discouraged, disgruntled, frustrated and burned out when we don’t see or get what we were expecting, we can be encouraged in knowing that we are doing what’s right and what God wants us to do. That’s all He requires of us, and He will bless us for it if we will not become weary in well doing.”
God’s desire and power to save and change us and to meet our needs are Bro. Johnson’s favorite subjects to preach on. “Our target groups, and what I consider the focus of my ministry are the lost and those who are hurting, but I also want to be sensitive to whatever needs might be in any particular service—from reaching a new soul to opening the door for a backslider to come back home,” he said.
The number of conversions last year in Camden was 25, this year thus far it is 10. The average attendance for several years has ranged from 206 to 209. Thus far this year the church is averaging 214.
“We presently have a nice gym and fellowship hall, but we have plans drawn up for a new auditorium and we are also looking into the possibility of purchasing a nice building (a former home health clinic) along with an acre of ground which connects to our property. The plans would be to have an evangelist quarters, remodel the main floor for children’s activities, and the downstairs for our youth. I’m believing — if it’s God’s will — that this will be finalized by the time this article is printed,” he said.
Along with pastoring, Bro. Johnson has held many positions through the years including Sectional Youth Leader, TN District Youth Secretary, TN District Youth Director, TN District Home Missions Secretary, National Jr. Bible Quiz Director, UPCI Executive Board member, and presently serving as TN District Presbyter/Board member. In leisure time, the Johnsons love cruises. Their two sons have married and have blessed them with four grandchildren. “My wife and I enjoy spending time with our grandchildren,” he said. “We strive to do what we can to instill in them a love for God, His Word and church.”
Bro. Johnson was raised in church in Chicago, Illinois with Pastor Derold Doughty. He received the Holy Ghost in 1967 at the age of 15. He felt a call into the ministry in 1968 at 16. In 1973, he married and moved to Finley, Tennessee, where the church was pastored by Bill Worrell. Bro. Johnson recalled the unique aspects that influenced his ministry. “My parents’ love and faithfulness to God, to the ministry and to the church were a big factor. Also, the time that my pastor and his wife invested in me personally, mentoring me and involving me in various areas of ministry, developed a love and a desire to be used of God,” he said.
Bro. Johnson recalled the milestones of his ministry and listed the men that influenced him the most: Bro. Doughty, Bro. Worrell, Bro. Harry Snider and Bro. Wayne Chester. “I preached my first sermon away from home in 1970 for Bro. Billy Coltharp in Sandwich, Illinois,” he said. “I began by doing devotions in our local youth services. From there I preached when asked in my home church in Villa Park, Illinois. In 1970, I moved to Tennessee to help Bro. Snider in his church and to go to school for engineering. During that time, I preached, help lead services and assisted the pastor in any way he needed me.
“In 1973, I moved to Finley and assisted Bro. Worrell, by leading services, working with the youth, teaching Sunday school, coaching a Bible quiz team, and preaching on numerous occasions. Bro. Worrell was also my presbyter, so when churches were in between pastors, he would ask me to go fill in. That’s what I was doing in 1977 for the Quincy UPC, outside of Alamo, Tennessee, when they asked me if I would be their pastor. With my pastor’s blessings and permission, I was voted in as pastor on June 1, 1977.
“We pastored there from 1977 until January 1, 1985. We were blessed to see the church grow from the low 30s to a consistent average of around 80. A fellowship hall was also built and paid for while we were there. On November 1984, we were voted in as pastor of the Camden First UPC and moved there on January 1, 1985. And we are still here today. We just celebrated our 30th anniversary.
“The circumstances that led to our taking this church were that our District Secretary, who was a previous pastor in Camden, was filling in as interim and he asked me if I would come preach for him one weekend. My wife and I had no intentions of leaving where we were. I had a great job that allowed me to be off whenever I wanted. Our church was growing. We owned a home with some land out in the country (a perfect place to raise our two young boys). We expressed our desire to stay where we were to Bro. Chester and to my District Superintendent (Bro. L.H. Benson) but God quickly changed my mind by performing several miracles that clearly let us know that it was His will for us to go to Camden.”
The present church in Camden was started in 1941 by Bro. C.M. Goff, and it was located on Natchez Trace Drive, which at that time was one of the busiest areas of Camden. Former pastors have included: Bro. Goff, Bro. W.F. Hyatt, Bro. D.L. Jones, Sis. Berthal Crossno, Bro. J.E. Ross, Bro. E.J. Douglas, Bro. J.A. Jones, Bro. Teddy Ross, Bro. Bruce Grisham, Bro. James Brock, Bro. George White (former missionary to Indonesia), Bro. C.M. Austin, Bro. J.D. Stallard, Bro. Paul Sanders, and Bro. Wayne Chester.
“In 1970, under the leadership of Pastor Chester, the church purchased some prime property in the heart of Camden and built a beautiful new sanctuary and parsonage,” explained Bro. Johnson. “The church is still at the same location today. However, several additions and changes have been made since our arrival in 1985. Some of these additions and changes include a new fellowship hall and gymnasium, which was built in 1989.
“In 1993, this fellowship hall was remodeled and enlarged, and the gym was completely renovated to meet state codes, so that we could start a Christian school. It has been a tremendous success and has now been in existence for more than 20 years. In 1997, a new gym was built on land bordering our church property that was given to us by a local doctor. In all, this doctor has deeded and given to our church more than two acres of land. Plus, the city deeded and gave us an acre of land in the mid ‘90s, that we presently use for parking.
“In 2000, the auditorium was remodeled and an entire new front, that included a large vestibule and large bathrooms, was added to the church. Over the years, several of our Sunday school classes have had to be enlarged to help accommodate the growth and provide a place for Power Hour for our children (we presently have 50+ kids under the age of 12 on Sundays and Wednesdays). We also have a growing youth group (we presently have 25-30 between the ages of 13-18). When we started, we ran in the mid-70s; today we average 214. Our church is completely debt-free and we give God all the glory.”
In describing that first service, Bro. Johnson recalled, “God moved in a marvelous way and at the close of my sermon, a backslider, who ‘just happened’ to come that day, received the Holy Ghost while still in his pew, and several others were blessed and refilled.” The outreach methods used in those early years were door-to-door visitation and personal outreach.
Transcribed by Charlotte L. Pound