John Henry Barnes (1927-1989), better known as “Johnnie,” is remembered as the giant of a man who developed the boys ministry program of the Assemblies of God, “Royal Rangers.” When asked by Assistant Superintendent Howard. S. Bush in 1961 to take on the task of developing this aspect of the Men’s Fellowship, Barnes prayed, “Lord, I’m available, if this is what you want me to do, with the Spirit’s help, I will do it.”
Born the sixth of seven children on a Texas ranch, Barnes experienced numerous outdoor adventures while growing up. Through his involvement in Boy Scouts of America, he earned the Eagle Scout award and planned to become a park ranger after graduating from high school. But in 1946 he surrendered his life to Christ in a Methodist revival service. Turning down a football scholarship to a Texas university he enrolled at Texas Wesleyan College to pursue ministry training.
Barnes was licensed in the Methodist church during his freshman year of college and was given a circuit of two small churches in Marionville and Sybill Bend to pastor while attending school. In January 1950 he accepted the pastorate of an Evangelical Methodist church in Lubbock, Texas. It was while pastoring in Lubbock that Barnes connected with a friend who had a Pentecostal experience. This friend encouraged the young Methodist pastor to seek God for the truth of a deeper experience with God in the Spirit.
During this time, Barnes received a letter from his girlfriend, Juanita, stating that she had received the baptism in the Holy Ghost and encouraged him to consider it. Hungering for more of the Lord, Barnes attended a revival meeting at a nearby Assemblies of God church in February 1950. He tells of this experience in a 1963 article, “How A Methodist Minister Received the Pentecostal Baptism,” published in the Pentecostal Evangel:
“The first night I went to the altar I was very conscious of my position as a Methodist minister. Kneeling very carefully on one knee I prayed something like this, ‘Here I am, Lord. If you want me to have this experience, give it to me.’ But I did not receive the Baptism that way. I soon realized I must forget about my position and simply desire the infilling of the Holy Spirit with all my heart. It took a few days of fasting and several hours of prayer to humble my stubborn proud spirit … then one wonderful night I went to the altar wanting more than anything else for God to fill me with the Holy Spirit. I fell on my knees, raised my hands toward heaven, and began to tell Jesus of my love for Him. Soon I was lost in the presence of Christ … when I came to myself I was speaking in a language I had never heard before. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that this was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. God revolutionized my life that night so that I have not been the same person since.”
The following Sunday, Barnes preached a sermon to his Methodist church, “Why I Believe in the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.” The response was mixed but the consensus was that “Bro. Barnes is a different person from the one we used to know.”
Barnes resigned his church and began traveling as a Pentecostal evangelist. In August 1950, he married Juanita and in June 1951 was ordained with the Texas district of the Assemblies of God. He went on to pastor the Assembly of God church in Electra, Texas, and served as the district youth director of the North Texas district.
When Barnes began to develop the Royal Rangers program in 1962, he intentionally included teaching on the baptism in the Holy Spirit in each of its age-level programs. His own experience of the need for the power of the Spirit to equip him for the task ahead of him, along with the teaching of Scripture, convinced him that this must be a key component of ministry to men and boys. When Barnes passed away in 1989, there were 5,290 Royal Rangers groups in the United States with more than 128,000 young men being taught of their need for the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Barnes later expanded and republished his 1963 Evangel article in pamphlet form, including a poem he wrote about his first experience in that 1950 Pentecostal service, entitled “First Nighter by Johnnie Barnes”:
I sat in the car till time to begin
Before I had nerve to get out and go in.
My heart began to jump, to bounce and to leap,
But I’d made a promise that I had to keep.
I slipped in the door and took a look around,
Then in the seat fartherest back I finally sat down.
I hoped no one would see me for I felt kinda low,
For I was a Methodist and rather dignified, you know.
Chills went up my spine and flutters through my heart,
Before the preacher said it was time to start.
“Let us pray,” said the preacher as he bowed his head,
But there were too many praying to hear what he said.
They started to sing and my goodness, my lands,
They were so irreverent they started clapping their hands!
They sang too fast and didn’t stop at the end;
But kept right on singing till they ran out of wind.
Someone called my name and that made me jump;
For that Pentecostal preacher had me up a stump.
“Will our Methodist brother testify?” the preacher said,
I stammered out the first thing that came into my head.
I sat back down kinda glad it was over;
But that preacher looked satisfied as a cow eating clover.
They started testifying and how the words did roll,
They said something about how good they felt in their souls.
The shouted, they danced, they stomped on the floor,
And that silly preacher hollered for more.
I was embarrassed and had all kinds of blues,
I felt like sinking way down in my shoes.
The preacher got up and took a text on Grace,
I’m telling you that man preached all over the place.
That man would walk, he would holler and leap,
He would wave his arms, then he would weep.
He told of the Holy Ghost and the unknown tongue.
And when he had finished I was glad he was done.
Then he called for the needy to come to the altar,
But I stood as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar.
When it was over they all shook my hand,
The men hugged my neck and said I was grand.
I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable sitting on a tack,
And when I left I swore I’d never come back.
But I did and finally I didn’t even mind
For everytime I went it got gooder each time.
As time went by and God led me on,
I realized God withheld nothing good from his own.
Then one day I paid the price God asked me to pay;
And my pride and ambition all vanished away.
Then God brought me from sagebrush to green pastures so fine;
For the promise of the Father at last was mine.
Read Johnnie Barnes’ article, “How A Methodist Minister Received the Pentecostal Baptism,” on page 10 of the Sept. 22, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Army of the Lord” by Richard E. Orchard
• “Riding On the Wind” by Zelma Argue
• “Trial By Fire” by Evelyn Bolton
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.