Former Tennessee pastor sees AAEO at work as church planter in Nebraska
By David Dawson
OMAHA, Neb. — Ryan Johnston’s take on the importance of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is clear, concise and powerful.
“Every dollar goes toward changing lives,” he said.
Johnston is a good authority to speak on the topic. He has seen the Anne Armstrong Easter Offering from both sides of the offering plate, so to speak.
Johnston is a former Tennessee minister, having served as associate pastor, among other roles, at Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett. He is now in ministry with the North American Mission Board as a church planting catalyst in Omaha, Neb.
Johnston’s feelings toward the AAEO have been shaped by years of seeing the offering at work — both in his own life and the lives of others — and he strongly encourages Baptists nationwide to continue to make it a high priority.
“As you give to the AAEO, your money will go to help plant churches in big cities and small towns all across North America,” Johnston said. “This money will provide help and hope in times of crises. This money will help rescue victims of human trafficking. This money will help serve refugees.”
The national goal for this year’s AAEO is $70 million. The money is used to train, resource and deploy thousands of missionaries who serve as church planters or in compassion ministries.
Johnston said he has continually felt the impact of the AAEO during his time in Omaha. He feels it every day, in fact.
“The generosity of Southern Baptists through the AAEO makes it possible for us to do what we are doing in Nebraska,” he said. “There is a move of God happening in our state. Men and women have been praying for laborers for years, and we are seeing God answer those prayers. We see laborers rising up daily by God calling men to plant churches.”
Johnston said he is extremely thankful for those who give to the AAEO, and said that the offering enables him — and others in the ministry — to “pour gas on the fire of the movement of God throughout North America.”
The first offering for North American missions was taken in 1895 by Woman’s Missionary Union, and the name of the annual offering was changed in 1934 to honor legendary Southern Baptist missionary Annie Armstrong.
The Week of Prayer for North American Missions is March 1-8, and the theme for this year’s week of prayer is “It’s All About the Gospel” — based on I Corinthians 15:3-4.
Currently, missionaries and church planters are facing an uphill battle. According to NAMB, roughly three-fourths of the approximately 363 million people in North America do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Johnston believes those troubling trends can be reversed through planning, planting and prayer.
“Our main goal in church planting is gospel saturation,” he said. “We desire to see every person have access to the good news of the gospel through local churches being planted in every rural town, suburban area and every urban context. We are doing this through developing church planting pipelines, equipping church planting apprentices and providing appropriate planter care and coaching as planters launch movements of disciple-making, on mission, evangelistic churches.”
Johnston lived in Tennessee from 2003-2012, while serving on staff at Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett. Those years shaped his ministry, he said. “While I was there, I was mentored by (pastor) Danny Sinquefield,” he said, “and we had the opportunity to partner with the Mid-South (Baptist Association) and Tennessee Baptists as we did missionary work throughout the midsouth, the state of Tennessee, North America and the world.”
After graduating and earning his master of divinity degree at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Johnston attended Union University, Jackson, where he received his doctorate.
Now living in Nebraska, where he and his wife Debby and their five children are doing ministry, he has returned to his roots, in a sense. Johnston grew up in eastern Iowa and western Nebraska, and he gave his life to Christ as a student at Wayne State College in North Eastern Nebraska.
“While I was there, myself and other students began to pursue every student on our campus (with hopes of giving them) access to the gospel,” he said. “We saw our ministry grow from six people to over 250 in two years. In that season, I received a call into vocational ministry.”
Roughly two years ago, Johnston began to hear God calling him back to Nebraska. He said the Lord gave him “a burden for every man woman and child to have access to the gospel.”
“My wife and I prayed and God opened the door 10 months ago to come back and begin working as a church planting catalyst with the Send Network,“ he said. “Right now we have nine new planters beginning new works and many of our churches are beginning to implement new planter pipelines as they catch a vision to plant new churches throughout Nebraska.” B&R