“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:7, NIV
This testimony from the Apostle Paul also describes the life and legacy of Dr. David Johnson, a cornerstone leader in the fellowship and eventually in the founding of the SBC of Virginia.
Born as an identical twin in Hartlepool, England, on August 11, 1940, David Johnson grew up in the hardship of the Battle of Britain during World War II. Hartlepool is a shipbuilding town situated on a peninsula on the northeast coast of England and was, therefore, one of the key targets of the German bombardment. Tragically, the Johnsons lost 11 family members amidst the conflict.
David Johnson loved the game of soccer. God used a coach and an opposing team goalie to persistently invite him to hear the Gospel. At the age of 19, Johnson attended a Gospel rally, where George Flemming (who would become a life-long friend) led him to Jesus. Johnson would go on to become a pastor who loved the souls of men and was used of the Lord to lead many like young Porky Jones to faith in Christ.
I first met Dave Johnson as a kid at youth camp. From him, I heard the Gospel and learned what it meant to know and walk with Jesus. When I thought about going into the ministry, I talked to Dave and found an encouraging voice. Dave counseled my wife and me before our marriage, officiated the ceremony, and [was] a sought-after voice of wisdom to us through the years. He spoke at my ordination service when I became a pastor, invited me to preach alongside him at the youth camp he founded and directed; and [was] a dear friend to me through the years. Few men have had greater influence in my life and fewer still have had as significant a voice in my decisions as Dave.
– Rev. Porky Jones, Shannondale Springs Chapel, Harpers Ferry, WV
As he pursued a call to full-time ministry, Johnson attended Independent Congregational Church and worked with Hartlepool Evangelistic Fellowship, ministering to young people. God used his spiritual father, George Flemming, and other mentors (like Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London) to lead Johnson to pursue an education at Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (WEC) Missionary Training College in Glasgow, Scotland.
He initially thought God was leading him to pursue missionary work, but after graduation from WEC Missionary Training College, Johnson married Jean Moore and pastored for 14 years in village and seaport towns in England. Many lives were transformed in those years (1964–1978).
Tim Johnson, David and Jean’s youngest of three sons, testified at his father’s celebration of life service, “Dad had his priorities in correct order. He put his personal relationship with Jesus above everything else, then our family, then the church—in that order. His personal relationship with Jesus drove everything that he did, and I think each of you here are a testimony to that relationship.”
In November of 1978, God led David to the US to pastor a rural, 50-member congregation—Rileyville Baptist Church in Rileyville, VA. Both David and Jean were led to this decision through their time in the Word and in prayer.
The Johnsons’ middle son, Paul, recalls, “Dad never made a life decision without a word from God: by Scripture, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and/or godly counsel. I’ve watched both of my parents live an authentic Christian life, often making decisions that didn’t seem to make much sense, but knowing where their guidance was coming from.”
Shortly after the Johnsons arrived in Virginia, Pastor David quickly discovered that the local Baptist association was, “liberal as liberal could be.” He was astounded when, in an association meeting, pastors of churches would openly deny the virgin birth of Jesus. David became a part of the “phone booth” group of Bible-believing men who arranged the first budget to begin a state fellowship of conservative churches—the SBC of Virginia—which would later become a new state convention.
The Lord used Pastor David to disciple many young men:
…He was a godly man who exuded the love and heart of Christ. In my life, he took some random kid from camp and saw the best in him. [He] encouraged me, challenged me, invested in me and, to be sure, on occasion, corrected me. …He used every opportunity as a teachable moment to point to Christ and our service to and for Him. No time was too busy for a call, no issue too small to pray over or discuss. Pastor Dave was one of the truest examples of being a follower of Christ, and I am a better teacher, pastor, and man for having had his influence in my life!
– Rev. Robert McTurnal, Youth Minister, First Baptist Church, Fairfield Glade, TN
Johnson pastored Rileyville Baptist Church for 27 years. It seemed that every few years, the church was outgrowing its facilities and needing to build. At the time of his retirement, membership had blossomed to 400. After retiring, Pastor David continued preaching the Gospel at area churches and assisting them right up until he went to be with the Lord on November 25, 2016.
Dr. David Johnson left behind a legacy of faith through his family, whom he loved, and in men he personally discipled and pastored. He loved to preach the Word of God, loved the souls of men, was authentic in his faith, and stood for truth with courage and conviction.