Canadians who watch 100 Huntley Street regularly have seen him a fair bit the past few weeks. I doubt viewers who watch 100 Huntley Street religiously know about Johnston’s background, and I suspect that Crossroads Christian Communications Inc. would prefer that their viewers do not go online and look up his rocky history.
People in Kansas City Kansas know Johnston as the high living founding pastor of one of the city’s former mega-churches. They know him as the guy who lost First Family Church and who promptly opened another.
Johnston’s First Family Church, once described as among the fasting-growing megachurches in the country, had a rocky history.
In 2007, The Kansas City Star reported that hundreds of members had left over concerns about financial accountability. The newspaper also found that the church was structured in a way that provided little financial oversight.
The Kansas attorney general launched an investigation into the finances of Johnston and his church after receiving complaints about church money. The investigation was later closed because it did not find any activity that violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act, an attorney general spokesman said.
Complaints also were filed with the Internal Revenue Service. In 2008, the IRS attached tax liens to the church property, citing more than $107,000 in unpaid payroll taxes from 2007. The church quickly settled, and the lien was released.
In January 2011, Regions Bank filed a foreclosure petition against First Family in Johnson County District Court, alleging the church owed more than $14 million in mortgage payments and other costs.
A judge ordered the foreclosure, and the church held its final service in September 2011. Johnston then launched New Day Church Kansas City a week later at Olathe East High.
Johnston’s year old New Day Church Kansas City shut down just about a month ago, shortly after Don Simmonds, CEO of Crossroads Christian Communications Inc. announced on 100 Huntley Street that Jerry Johnston was the Executive Director of Crossroads USA. Crossroads didn’t respond to a query by The Kansas City Star about Johnston’s appointment.
What don’t 100 Huntley Street viewers know about this hard-core Southern Baptist preacher who loves the camera?
New Day Church Kansas City, which opened in September 2011 in an Olathe school, held its last service Sept. 30.
An Olathe School District official confirmed this week that the church had canceled its contract to lease the building on Sundays. The church originally met at Olathe East High School, then moved to Pioneer Trail Middle School.
Johnston could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He and his wife, Cristie, sold their southern Johnson County home and belongings in an estate sale last year and had been commuting from out of town.
The New Day Church website is still online, but the links have been disabled. Johnston’s sermons, which had been available as podcasts on iTunes, have been inactivated as well.
But Johnston apparently isn’t leaving the ministry.
An evangelist before founding First Family Church in 1996, he now appears to be returning to his roots. In recent months, Johnston has been a guest on “100 Huntley Street,” a religious television program in Canada that is described as the country’s longest-running daily talk show.
Johnston’s rise and fall in Kansas has been well documented in an investigative series by The Kansas City Star.
Here is the timeline of the fall of First Family Church.
The Kansas City Star:
Some would like to see Johnston face consequences for what they say are years of misleading his flock. And they worry that a new church means more controversy.
“My concern is that he will take advantage of a whole new group of people,” said Anne Balmer, who with her husband taught a Sunday School class at First Family but left in 2006 after they were pressured to give money to a new children’s building.
“My question was, is he trying to build God’s Kingdom or the Johnston Family Kingdom?”
The Johnston family kingdom is no more, the family has gone their separate ways.
Even his harshest critics agree Johnston is a gifted, driven entrepreneur and salesman.
At the height of First Family Church, Jerry Johnston Publications was doing a booming business. A year later, it too shut down. A US religious radio network dropped his program after one of newspaper articles in the series noted that Johnston’s First Family Church was not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Dr. Jerry now has a legitimate, earned education. The title was an affectation, a vain honorary piece of puff bestowed by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University for services rendered. The tax bills are paid, contractors paid, the investigation dropped, the mansion sold. First Family Church website went offline the first of the year, and the New Day Church web page won’t be far behind. Does past behavior and choices matter? Has this former preacher boy learned enough to earn or re-earn trust? Isn’t God a God of second chances? Or third chances? If Johnston wants to appeal to his new Canadian viewers he’ll have to simmer down, while Crossroads is working into the US market, the southern airways are saturated with fear and guilt tinged religious programming. The sell right now is to the home audience. The CRTC has rules for religious broadcasters – this polished performer will have to watch his p’s and q’s – Johnston isn’t in Kansas any more.
I don’t know why Crossroads picked Johnston up, viewer/donors will have to make their own decisions, hopefully informed prayful decisions about where their limited charity/ministry dollars need to go.
I’ll end with this sobering post from a fellow Kansas City pastor from 2007.
I guess I was most shocked to read how young Jerry is–only 47 years old. That would mean that I heard him speak when he was in his mid-twenties. He was just a young pup, but even then he was special. He certainly left my middle school self quaking in my high-top sneakers and running down the aisle lest a meteorite hit me before I could “really and truly” be saved.
He seemed older and wiser–like he knew everything.
Do I sound like I’m taking this personally? Like I’ve been betrayed?
I guess I do feel that way. I gave up listening to people like Jerry Johnston a long time ago. Certainly on my trips back to Missouri I felt it was pretty evident what a poseur this guy really is. Yet, I can’t help but think about the 13 year-old me. I believed what he said. I trusted him. I agonized over what he preached. I was tender-hearted, vulnerable and doing my best to be a good Christian. I was manipulated. I only lost a bit of innocence. I never recall giving any money to Jerry Johnston, like so many others. Yet, he betrayed me and he betrayed the Gospel by teaching me about a vengeful God and offering nothing of God’s grace. Jerry’s gospel was about Jerry.