Sarah J. Johnson always has been a go-getter. She and her husband, B. J., had been involved previously in Assemblies of God church planting and ministry in California. In 2014, when the opportunity came to launch a congregation through the AG’s Church Multiplication Network in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida — although pregnant and the mother of twin 4-year-old daughters, Kennedi and Brooklyn — Johnson climbed aboard for the adventure.
But the stress of the experience proved more than she anticipated, especially when she gave birth to the couple’s son, Jett, and then — eight days later — launched the church with her husband. As a mom of three and a church planter in a new city, she determined to take it in stride and make everything work. Johnson doubled down on her commitment to faith and family.
By 2016, though, Johnson found herself struggling through a dark time. She and her husband encountered one trial after another: losing church adherents because of death and relocation; competing with megachurches that had planted campuses in the area; and discovering a couple they had mentored announce their impending divorce.
Meeting in a temporary location with setting up and tearing down every week, ministry leaders all carried black bags with necessary items for the areas to function. But many of the lay volunteers grew discouraged.
“It seemed like every day another couple was coming to our apartment to drop off their bag,” says Johnson. “And the bags were piling up. I kept wondering, What is happening?”
The weight of the burdens became too much to bear. She knew something had to change. Though Johnson and her husband had no control over church circumstances, she realized she could do something within her control. Though she’d always been athletic, she’d never dropped 70 pounds of pregnancy weight, and that had affected her energy levels and outlook.
She decided to take back her health.
“We can’t run the race God has called us to run when we aren’t healthy in mind, body, and spirit,” she says. “I take seriously the Scripture that says we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So taking back my health meant I had to be intentional about my body.”
She opted to start with small steps, by eating healthy and exercising moderately. As she began to lose the pounds, she realized that the fitness motivation and momentum from weight loss had broader benefits for her personal and spiritual life.
“Our physical health is parallel to our spiritual health, so when I began disciplining myself physically, discipline in other areas began to take shape as well,” she says.
With renewed energy, she better kept up with her children and the demands of church planting. She even began to consider expanded ministry opportunities.
“I became passionate about the ways health and fitness could actually minister and connect to other women.”
The following year, the congregation merged with another church plant, and Johnson and her husband moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, to help start an AG church revitalization effort at Kings Church, alongside the pastors, B. J.’s parents, Bruce and Beth Johnson. B.J. and Sarah stepped into lead pastor roles in 2019, when Bruce and Beth retired.
It took Johnson three years to lose her excess weight, and now she feels more energized than ever. In addition to her roles as wife, co-pastor, and mom of three children, today, at age 37, she also works as a fitness coach; speaks at conferences; hosts the podcast, Influence Her, in which she focuses on faith, fitness, and family; writes a blog; and keeps up her website. She and her husband also are newly licensed foster parents. Most recently she added published author to her resume with her book Now Waiting: Hope for Today When All You Want Is Tomorrow.
She recognizes that’s a lot on her plate, and says she couldn’t do it without a supportive husband.
“But I also don’t take on anything just because I feel I have to,” Johnson says. She guards her personal and family time and initiates regular self and family check-ins to make sure nothing becomes too overwhelming.
Yet she doesn’t want to miss any missional opportunities God brings her way.
“At her core, Sarah is an encourager,” says Alyssa Garcia, a friend of nearly 20 years. “She loves people fiercely and wants to see them healthy — both physically and spiritually. And her story encourages people.”