When I originally wrote this post, I was serving as a youth minister at Mayfair. Even though my ministry role has changed over the past couple of years, I still look to Johnny as one of my “mental models” of the kind of minister I want to be. He is my brother, my friend, and one of the people I most admire.
Johnny Markham, my youth minister
I think we often fail to see how God is working in our lives in the present. It’s usually only in hindsight that I’m able to discern His activity. Looking back, it’s easy to see how God has blessed my life with the presence of Johnny Markham.
In 1990, Johnny and his wife Vicki moved to the College Street Church of Christ in Lebanon, TN. Little did I know this would be one of the greatest blessings of my life. Johnny had instant credibility with me when I learned he was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fan. My affection for Johnny would only grow over the years. He fostered a warm, welcoming environment that made me feel comfortable, an environment I desperately try to mimic in my current ministry. He had a way of respecting others, whether I thought they deserved it or not. He was so patient with us, but his patience only served to highlight the few moments he chastised us. I clearly remember one Wednesday night class my freshman year. We’d all been laughing and talking, not paying attention while Johnny taught class. After a half hour of asking us to quiet down, Johnny lost it. Told us we were disappointing him. Said we needed to have more respect for God. I clearly remember thinking, “Wow, this God stuff really means something to him. Maybe it should mean something to me, too.”
Johnny took me on my first mission trip to Rochester, Minnesota. There were plenty of retreats, too. I remember playing football at one fall retreat in particular. None of us could keep up with him when Johnny lined up at WR (although a certain telephone pole went a long way toward leveling the playing field). My favorite memories are Monday Night Bible Studies at the Markham house. A dozen of us would pile into Johnny’s living room for two hours of laughs, prayers and time in the Word. Again, he gave us a safe environment to explore our faith. And somewhere along the way, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life as well.
I’m most thankful for Johnny’s presence in my life in the days immediately following the death of my mother. As I wrote in a previous post, I spent some of that time living with my stepfather before finally moving in with my sister. But amid those turbulent times, Johnny showed me incredible hospitality, offering to let me stay with his family for a while as I sorted things out. I never took him up on it, but I’ll also never forget the offer. His presence and influence are the primary reasons I’m a youth minister today. I wanted to reciprocate, to do for others what Johnny so graciously had done for me.
After my youth group days, I was privileged to serve as an intern for Johnny for two summers. I learned a lot those two summers: I learned about ministry, I learned about service, I learned how heavy a church pew is when you have to move it out of the auditorium, I learned to never underestimate the value of a good milk crate. But the greatest lesson Johnny ever taught me was one word: BALANCE. Balance is the key to ministry, the key to life. Know when to be funny, know when to be serious. Spend plenty of time at the office, but spend plenty of time at home with your family. As close as I’d felt to Johnny when I was in his youth group, our relationship blossomed in those years when I trained under his tutelage. And the stories…man, we’ve got some stories. Johnny gave me the worst intern assignment of all-time. I’ll spare you the details, but it has something to do with a broomstick and a pet bunny rabbit. Enough said.
My first year in ministry, Johnny was my mental model. I’d periodically find myself in a particular situation and I’d ask myself, “How would Johnny deal with this?” W.W.J.D. stood as much for “What would Johnny do?” as it stood for “What would Jesus do?” Cheesy, I know, but true. During that first year, before I’d developed my own voice, I would catch myself mimicking Johnny’s cadence and mannerisms. Such is the degree of his influence in my life.
Johnny has been a mentor to thousands of young people over the years. I’m part of a special fraternity of those who’ve interned under him. His influence upon me is difficult to assess, much less articulate. He’s the kind of youth minister I want to be. He’s the kind of father I want to be. The kind of husband I want to be. The kind of man I want to be. Johnny, you are my youth minister, and you have been so much more. You are my brother. You are my shepherd. And you are my friend. Thank you for your presence in my life. Because of you, I’ll never forget who I am and whose I am. I love you, man.