Raymond Johnson’s first church was not what he expected. There was financial impropriety, doctrinal infidelity, moral failure — nothing he had expected to face during the early years of pastoral ministry.

“The sorrows of being a pastor cannot be overstated,” he says now, reflecting on the beginning of his ministry. “Spiritual warfare is real, and the path of faithfulness comes through suffering. I wasn’t fully prepared for the grind of pastoral ministry.”

With numerous challenges piling up day after day, Johnson needed something upon which to stand. Something solid, tested, trustworthy. Reading and rereading the Bible — particularly the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, with their emphasis upon young men in ministry — grounded his daily life and encouraged him to “preach the Word, in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).

As Johnson states, John Calvin wrote in the Institutes of the Christian Religion that the church was built up solely by the Word of God. And Johnson has found that to be true in his own ministry.

“It was a steadfast commitment to preaching that truth that began to lay a foundation for years to come.”

That commitment emerged from his formative years of study at Southern Seminary, which Johnson says “forced” him to read, study, and trust the Word of God in life and ministry. More than anything, Southern is a seminary of the church, and graduates leave better prepared to withstand the rigors of ministry because of their grounding in the truth.

“Southern’s emphasis on preaching as the path toward church health has been the foundation of my ministry,” he said. “Preaching excellent sermons is the most important work I do in serving the people of God.”