In 1977, Steve Johnson, fresh out of college, became the new youth minister at Osage Hills Christian Church.
It was his first job, having graduated from the then-newly-formed youth ministry program at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo. And it has been his only job.
Nathan Woodmansee, Osage Hills' children's minister, said Johnson was part of “the first generation of youth pastors that looked at youth ministry as a profession rather than as a gateway job into a preaching role.”
To celebrate his tenure at Osage Hills Christian, the church is planning a two-day event, Saturday, April 9, and Sunday, April 10, to mark the anniversary.
The event is billed as a Youth Group Reunion and former church youth group members are invited.
“Steve cultivated a youth ministry that was focused on building a personal relationship with each young person that came to Osage Hills,” Woodmansee, said. “He took his calling so seriously that he did something that is unheard of among ministry circles today—he stayed. His 33 years of youth ministry is extremely rare.”
Johnson's 33 years of service is “extremely rare,” Woodmansee said, citing statistics that the average tenure for a youth minister is less than two years.
“I didn’t have a plan to stay long or go early,” Johnson said. “I just planned to stay put as long as God allowed.”
Some of Johnson's former youth group members are in their 50s and are even grandparents and are spread across the United States from Seattle to New York. Some are police officers, teachers, and engineers; others are pastors in churches of their own.
One is even a missionary in Guatemala, Woodmansee said.
Today, Johnson ministers to a second-generation of students, developing relationships with the sons and daughters of his former members, while a third generation (grandchildren) is on its way, Woodmansee said.
“I couldn't have done it (33 years of service) without the help of my wife, Cathy,” Johnson said. “She is a very important part of the team.”
The Saturday evening reunion event is a Dutch treat mixer for adults and couples only (no children) at Zio's Italian restaurant in Tulsa at 81st Street and Lewis Avenue. Those attending should pre-register for the event by calling (918) 557-8414.
On Sunday, Johnson will preach in the 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services. There will be family activities, memories recalled, photographs shared, and a reunion banquet after the services at noon. Except for the Saturday night mixer, all of the youth group reunion activities are free to former youth group members and their families.
Just east of Sand Springs, the church is located at 4500 W. Edison, near 49th West Avenue and the Sand Springs Expressway.
For more information, visit www.osagehlls.com/reunion. The church's telephone number is 918-583-9482.