1898 - 1954
|Out of a life-time and intimate connection with the Johnston family and at the request of the District Superintendent of Baton Rouge District and Mrs. Johnston, the writer has prepared this memoir as a member of one of the four annual conferences with which Dr. Johnston was connected in the 32 years of his ministry.
Born at Conway, Arkansas, in 1898, he spent the early years of his life in parsonages and attended the public schools where his father was pastor. In 1915 he entered Hendrix College as a freshman, having had four years in Hendrix Academy, and in 1919 graduated from this institution with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Following his graduation he spent three years in business and was married in 1922 to Blanche Boone Davidson, graduate of Arkansas State Teachers College, she was for thirty-two years his faithful wife and efficient helper in the work of the ministry. After a year of teaching and coaching in the high school at Charleston, Arkansas, during which time Mrs. Johnston also taught in the fourth grade, he turned to the ministry, joining the North Arkansas Annual Conference in 1923. At Earle and at Holly Grove he had short pastorates before entering Southern Methodist University in 1925, to be graduated three years later with B.D. and M.A. degrees.
Back in Arkansas after his seminary training, he served Wilson, Searcy, and Fayetteville before being appointed district superintendent of Fort Smith District, where he served three years. In 1939 he was transferred to Little Rock Annual Conference, and stationed at First Church, Little Rock. Three years later he was transferred to Central Texas Annual Conference to be pastor of First Church in Fort Worth, where he served for ten years, being transferred in 1952 to the Louisiana Annual Conference to serve First Church in Baton Rouge.
His ministry, as we poor mortals see things, was all too short, but it was far from futile and fruitless. He lived so well while he lived that his fifty and six years were packed with achievements that would give fullness to a life of three score years and ten, and he lived in a spirit that made his short years eternally effective. And it was so because he loved life and lived with a sense of mission.
The son of a minister, Dr. F. S. H. Johnston, who had a long and fruitful ministry in Arkansas, the grandson of a minister, the great-grandson of a minister, educated in a Methodist College, religious from his childhood, and always active in the work of the church, he was all but predestined to be a preacher, and yet the ministry was of his own deliberate choosing. With his gifts and graces he might have achieved large success In any line of work, but his clear cut and definite call to preach became the determining factor in his life, and like Isaiah he said, once and for all, “Here am I; send me.”
He possessed unusual executive and administrative ability, which he put into his church work. Had he turned to business he would have made his mark In the world of trade, but his organizing genius and his ability were not cast aside, not used sparingly in his labors. He brought to his chosen work every talent he had, and his business acumen showed to good advantage in every pastorate that he served. Whatever may have been the condition of the finances of a church to which he was assigned, it invariably turned out that he left the charge with a business-like financial system and with a record of achievements in finances long to be remembered. it was not that he was a wizard In raising money but that he was able to get business-like methods Into the giving of his people and Into the handling of the church’s finances.
He was a good shepherd of the sheep. He loved people; he had a tender compassionate heart. While he thought of pastoral work as an essential part of the preacher’s task, he did his pastoral work out of love for folks and as the easy and natural expression of his interest in human beings. Ills pastoral ministry was in the spirit of Him of whom John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and of whom Mark said, “He went about doing good.”
He preached effectively the gospel of Christ. In fact, he did in his way what Paul did in his—he preached “Christ and Him crucified.” The phrase, as it appears in the New Testament, is profoundly significant, and it is applied here in sincere appreciation of the pulpit ministry of an outstanding leader of our generation.
His preaching was simple, clear, practical, and constructive. It was warm and human; it was pleasing and persuasive. As you listened to him you never felt that he was playing a record or acting .a part. Instead, you felt that he was talking to you — and for God. He preached to people and seemed to sense the needs of those who came to hear him preach. His sermons had little in them that was not applicable to the lives of his hearers. And he spoke the language of the people to whom he preached, so that the truth, which ho proclaimed was so embodied that it entered in even “at lowly doors.”
However, it was to the practical problems of people that he devoted the bulk of his preaching. He preached about the things men must be and ‘must do, and he made his hearers went to be and do what they could be and ought to do. His preaching had about it something of that winsomeness which Mark hints at when he says, “The common people heard him gladly.” That one congregation listened to him for ten years and did not grow tired of hearing him is indicative of the character of his pulpit ministry.
Nor was all of his preaching done in the pulpit. The fact Is, some of his best preaching was not from the pulpit at all. A preacher’s ministry always has a plus or a minus going along with it, and that plus or minus is the man himself, his character, his personality. In the case of Warren Johnston this was a large and impressive plus. His smiles were sermons, and his daily acts of kindness and love preached the gospel of Christ. Both what he said and what he did was his preaching.
His funeral service on December 26, which was conducted in his church at Baton Rouge by Bishop Paul E. Martin assisted by Rev. Edward W. Harris, District Superintendent of Baton Rouge District, and Rev. James Edward Christie, assistant pastor of First Church in Baton Rouge, was concluded with the rendition by his great choir of the Hallelujah Chorus. It was a fitting climax for a service in memory of a much beloved and highly gifted man whose life h-ad been wholly devoted to hastening the day when “He shall reign forever and ever.” In the cemetery at Conway, in the family plot where sleep the bodies of his father and mother, a sister and two brothers, and his two children Who died in infancy, he was lovingly laid to rest. It is easy to think of him as one in purpose and one in spirit with Him whose cross is His glory.
|Source: Journal of the Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Church, Pages 163-165, 1954.|