Austin native Ed Johnson III, pastor of Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church in DeSoto, finds ice storms such as the one in early February that shut down Dallas to be problematic in more ways than one. Not only does he shepherd a congregation of 75 adults, children, and youth, but he also serves as director of programs for a Dallas-based homeless ministry.
Johnson planted Harvest Fellowship while pursuing a doctor of ministry degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving 10 years as a Christian education pastor at a South Dallas church, he and his wife, Tiffany, were encouraged to start the DeSoto congregation.
“Providential circumstances and consultation with fellow believers in my D.Min cohort confirmed the decision to plant Harvest Fellowship,” Johnson said. After a pre-launch in 2016, in which Johnson approached the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for a church planter assessment, training, and assistance, Harvest launched on Easter 2017.
“We were very compassionate but intentional regarding how we responded to COVID as a church,” Johnson said. “We started gathering in person as soon as the mandates were lifted [in] July 2020.” Although the church posted sermons for those who could not attend, virtual church was not recommended as a substitute for in-person fellowship.
“Those [who were] able were encouraged to come. If you resumed your life, if you were at AT&T Stadium to watch the Cowboys, or if you were flying on airplanes, you could come to church,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, God honored that.” Attendance soon resembled what it had been pre-pandemic.
In August 2021, two months after completing his doctorate, Johnson came on staff with Our Calling, a Christian nonprofit where he works while pastoring Harvest. As program director, he supervises 20 staffers comprising five teams, including on-site men’s and women’s care ministers, search and rescue personnel who assist the homeless, placement experts focusing on exit strategies from homelessness, and staff members who work with the organization’s anti-trafficking initiative.
Johnson directs the “people-engagement” arm of the ministry. “We ask our homeless guests two questions: ‘Will you trust the Lord?’ and ‘Will you let us help you off the streets,’” he said.
The ministry also has a national mobile app designed by CEO Wayne Walker, a former software developer who co-founded Our Calling with his wife, Carolyn. The app directs users to homeless services in their area and receives upward of 100,000 hits per day. Our Calling is also constructing a 500-unit tiny home community for the homeless near Ferris, located about 20 miles southeast of Dallas.
Our Calling keeps Johnson busy, as does the church. Finding balance can be challenging.
Time is at a premium. “You don’t have as much time to visit church members at their homes or jobs or when they are in the hospital. You can’t go to lunch with them,” Johnson said of his bivocational status.
Sermon preparation and meetings take time too. Johnson said he plans sermon topics six months in advance to stay organized.
“You have to crunch a lot into a little bit of time,” he said. “You have to be faithful to the church and faithful to the job you have too. You don’t want to cheat your job. You want to give job and church your best energies.”
Juggling family life with job and church can also be challenging. Johnson said he formerly worked all day each Saturday preparing Sunday’s sermon. To make time for his two daughters, Desirae, 11, and Gabrielle, 4, and alleviate the strain on his wife, who also works outside the home, the pastor changed his schedule. He now studies through the week and writes his sermon manuscript starting at 9 p.m. Saturday, working late into the night or early into the next morning.
Making that adjustment was worth it. “I need to be a good husband and father before I can be a faithful pastor,” he said.
Besides encouraging structure and organization, having a bivocational pastor forces congregations to focus on what is most important, Johnson noted.
“We look at what is absolutely essential to making disciples and allowing the church to be on mission for Jesus,” he explained. Sometimes this focus means they “dial down and refine what ministries are essential for the church to function.”
For example, rather than hosting outreach events at the church, members volunteer at city-sponsored events. If the city of DeSoto is putting on a fall festival, Harvest Fellowship will have a booth with church information. Members, wearing their church T-shirts, assist by handing out candy, monitoring a bounce house, or doing whatever is needed.
“Whatever events our city is hosting, we try to jump on that opportunity and serve them and make their event successful,” the pastor said. “Doing so gives us the chance to rub shoulders with non-Christians.”
For Johnson and Harvest Fellowship, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational congregation, the strategy is working.
Bivocational pastors make up the majority of pastors across Texas and the demand on them and their families is difficult. The SBTC works to network with bivocational pastors across the state.