Bruce Johnson will be preaching on Sundays and busy starting up small Bible study groups in his new role as interim pastor at La Grande's Sonrise Free Methodist Church.
But ask the 71-year-old Caldwell, Idaho, man if he'd like to join a pickup game of basketball, and he'll probably say yes.
Johnson enjoyed playing basketball over the noon hour with students when he was a professor for 19 years at Central Christian College, a Free Methodist-sponsored school in McPherson, Kan.
Johnson, who remains active, said he continued playing basketball until he retired five years ago at age 66.
He said he didn't mind competing with the younger students, running the full court with them.
The professor of religion, Bible and ministry courses wasn't a pushover.
"They had to guard me," he said with a chuckle.
After retiring, Johnson returned to Idaho to become assistant pastor of the Caldwell Free Methodist Church. He was very familiar with the church, having served as its pastor for 14 years before moving to Kansas.
Johnson is the third pastor at Sonrise, which got its start in 1993. The church meets on Sunday mornings at the Seventh-day Adventist Church facilities on Highway 30. Sunday school starts at 9 a.m.
Ray Bates retires
Ray Bates recently retired as pastor after serving the church for five years. Bates' successor was Sonrise's founder, Jim Meyers.
Bates and his wife, Donna, will remain active at Sonrise.
Johnson, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and Western Evangelical Seminary in Portland, said years of personal research on small-group Bible studies in churches is prompting him to train group leaders at Sonrise.
Small groups help churches grow, he said.
"Most all of the churches that had growth that lasted had small groups," Johnson said of his research.
The groups, which often meet in homes for Bible study, prayer and fellowship, provide an environment for growth and nurturing of the individual.
Johnson said the leaders often become the shepherds of their groups, caring for their needs.
"No pastor can take care of all the people," he said.
"I'll be meeting with the leaders and we will practice the group process so they can understand group dynamics."
Johnson has started a five-week sermon series during the 10 a.m. Sunday worship services on how Christians can share their faith.
The messages are based on the Evangelism Explosion approach to leading others to faith in Christ, he said.
"I'd like everybody to find a channel of personal evangelism," Johnson said of the 60 or so people who attend Sonrise.
"They can use their own personalities to share their faith whether it's inviting people to church, handing them some literature, or sharing Christ directly with them."
Unique among religions
Johnson said Christianity is unique among religions in that it is God-revealed and not man- developed.
"With the Christian religion, we have a revealed religion," he said. "It was a revelation of God to the authors (of the books of the Bible)."
Johnson, who was assigned to Sonrise by the Free Methodist Conference of Idaho, Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and Montana, said he likely will remain in La Grande until May. Sonrise might have its permanent pastor on board by then.
Johnson will be spending three days a week in La Grande either Friday through Sunday or Sunday through Tuesday.
He will be joined in La Grande once a month by his wife, Bonnie, a retired school teacher. The Johnsons have three grown children, all teachers.
The interim pastor said one of his goals will be to find a permanent office in La Grande for the Sonrise church.
"We will be trying to set up an address," he said. "All that we have now is what is rented."
He said the arrangement with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which conducts its services on Saturdays, has worked well, and Sonrise has no plans to relocate or build another facility.
"It's wise stewardship to follow this pattern as long as possible."
Johnson may not be running the basketball floor very often these days, but he said he has other ways of staying in shape.
"I lift weights two days a week and try to walk three days about two miles."