By Carl Stagner
“This is rural America, where one rite of passage is hunting. Here, you don’t miss opening day of deer, turkey, or duck season!” Pastor Johnny Walters tells it like it is when it comes to doing ministry down in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas. Once part of a family music show in tourist-hot-spot Branson, Missouri, Pastor Johnny’s primary focus is now providing a safe place for broken people to find refuge and restoration in Jesus’ name. Though comprised of just seven members when Johnny began caring for the CrossRoads Community Church of God flock, about one thousand now call the thriving Harrison, Arkansas, church their home.
Considering the culture surrounding CrossRoads Church, it only makes sense that the church would have a hunting ministry. “It’s our sportsman’s club, and we have a spring event and a fall event,” Johnny explains. “We’ve actually had some major names in the hunting industry come and be a part of what we’re doing. We’ve had shooting competitions during the off-season, and we’ve hosted meals that include a bizarre variety of game, and some two hundred men attend. We’ll even give away guns as door prizes to encourage attendance.”
The church’s quest for cultural relevance is not a capitulation to the ways of the culture; rather, it is a strategy to connect the culture to the cross. “We’ve had beautiful stories of men coming to the Lord, men who’d never before set foot in our church,” Johnny explains. And that’s what it’s all about.
Jesus is the subject, after all, and Johnny can’t thank Church of God Ministries general director Jim Lyon enough for bringing such a simple, yet profound, truth to light. “After visiting with him recently, and hearing his heart, I’ve never been so proud of my affiliation with the Church of God. Of course, Jesus is the subject! But in the church today, he really hasn’t always been. As we’ve defended denominational lines, doctrines, and other matters, I’ve wondered, ‘God, how do you feel about all of this?’ When Jesus is the subject, the focus is on him, and the priority becomes the life change that is going to take place from the inside out.” When Jesus is the subject, Johnny recognizes the power of such unity to reclaim that which hell has stolen. Hearts are won to Christ, and the kingdom of God expands.
Until Jim Lyon visited with Johnny and the CrossRoads congregation, Johnny had no real connection to the general offices of the movement in Anderson. But he’s always valued his identity and heritage. “My ties to the Anderson fellowship were strengthened by the sense of community emphasized in our teaching. If you’re a believer, we’re all on the same team. If you’re a believer, you become part of the church.” In this unity, it’s vital for Johnny Walters to promote the church as a place where anyone can come and find hope. Too often he’s witnessed the damage done when church leadership intentionally, or unintentionally, perpetuates a message of exclusion until people get their lives together. “CrossRoads had to become a safe place where anyone could come in on any day, and say, This is the junk we’re dealing with. So we used an image of a face that had been broken, but had also been glued back together. It became a symbol that we displayed behind the texts for worship songs and messages in worship. Each of us is that face that is glued back together, and only because of the grace of Jesus Christ.”
Johnny is a graduate of Gulf Coast Bible College. After graduation, he plunged head-first into the challenging, yet invigorating waters of ministry. After serving two congregations in Missouri, his ministry colleague, Paul Braschler, helped him start a family-friendly music show in Branson. During this time, he started providing free preaching services for the seven-person Church of God in Harrison. Twenty-nine years later, he celebrates all that God has done to establish CrossRoads as a refuge for the lost—a safe place for the broken.
“Christians are always drawn to the latest formula for church growth,” Johnny Walters explains, recalling the decades of ups and downs before CrossRoads became the one-thousand-person kingdom force that it is today. Besides recruiting quality staff—if necessary, crossing denominational lines—Johnny explains that “in terms of ministry approaches, there really is tremendous importance in oneness. And we must never be a church that gets so hung up on numbers that we forget that every number has a face! We must love our people.”
On Easter Sunday 2015, the church lovingly welcomed 1,600 people through their doors. Relevant, yet biblically-sound teaching built a bridge between the culture and the cross. Fourteen lost souls walked to the other side.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.