Johnny Foster and his wife, Judy, pose to promote Vacation Bible School.
MARIETTA – Johnny Foster, pastor of East Cobb Baptist Church, was called to be the shepherd of God’s flock on Shallowford Road in Marietta when it was classified as a bi-vocational ministry. East Cobb is now a thriving fellowship operating under the banner of love. The church’s website declares: “Love built it, Love sustains it, and Love will grow it.”
In addition to being a compassionate pastor, he is the primary preacher and also uses his ability as a music arranger, composer and musician by leading the choir in worship each Sunday.
Several years ago, Ministers Life and Casualty Union picked 8 ministers representing various sized congregations, sent them a diary and asked them to record ministry related activity round the clock for one month. The results indicated that most ministers worked 7 days a week most weeks. They averaged 9 hours per day, based on a seven-day week or 63 hours a week.
When Thomas Hammond and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board formulated their guiding principles and indicated that “Pastors are our heroes” I was thrilled at that emphasis. Johnny Foster probably puts in as many hours a week caring for his congregation as any pastor and is an exemplary servant of God and a genuine “hero” of our faith.
Foster got off to a good start at an early age. He recently explained, “My grandfather, Ralph Foster, was a pastor. We had a close relationship and when I was about 5 years old, I told him, ‘When I grow up, I’m want be a preacher just like you.’ Throughout my childhood, people in our church would say, ‘You’re going to make a preacher like your granddad.’
“As a teenager, the Lord actually began dealing with me about the call to preach, but I wanted to be sure that I was not just responding to the love and respect I had for my granddad or the encouraging words of my church family. One Wednesday night, I went to my pastor, Jimmy Day, and told him of my struggle. He called the church to the altar to pray for me. In praying, I found peace and assurance through an Isaiah-like call (Isaiah 6). As a 16-year-old junior at Wheeler High School in Marietta I said ‘yes’ to God’s call.”
God soon began to open doors of opportunity for Foster to preach. His first opportunity to serve on a church staff was at Marietta’s Cloverdale Heights Baptist Church (which later became Holt Road Baptist Church) where he became the youth minister. He stated, “The pastor, Alton Miller, taught me how to help people love Jesus. I interpreted that to mean that they needed to know Him, learn of Him, and find Him present with them in every blessing and in every trial.
“Through the years,” Foster stated, “I have learned that the preacher stands in the pulpit and shares truths to a congregation. A shepherd demonstrates those truths by living among the congregation and community. He visits in their homes, learns of their needs, prays with them, weeps with them in trying times, and rejoices with them in times of blessing.”
Johnny Foster and his wife, Judy, make for a formidable and devoted ministry team. They intersect with their church members in a variety of ways. Earlier this year they made a drive-by visit to every family in the church to demonstrate their love and invite them to April’s revival emphasis.
It has been said that the pastor who is invisible all during the week will likely be incomprehensible when he gets in the pulpit on Sunday.
Foster has won his way into the hearts of the children and youth at East Cobb by being engaged with them on many levels. He commented, “As a pastor, I never want to forget how important it is for me to be approachable to our kids and students. I also want to show support for our volunteers who work so hard to make ministry events successful. I have found, when I turn my inner kid loose, it really tickles our children.”
At a recent miniature Grand Prix race car event the kids excitedly lined up to individually challenge the pastor’s “Hot Dog Mobile”. Foster admitted, “At Vacation Bible School each year the first-year VBS workers get a pie thrown in their face. The first year I was pastor I became the recipient of a pie in my face.
“Now, every year the VBS Director, Charlece Golden and I have pies thrown in our faces. Over the years I have been pelted with water balloons, covered in green slime, and sprayed with Silly String. One of our young boys and I have an ongoing arm-wrestling challenge each Sunday after church. (This will probably come to an end soon because he’s getting close to beating me!)
“When our students go to amusement parks on their summer retreats, Judy and I go with them and I accompany them on every ride, slide, show and attraction. My participation with them breaks down barriers and the intimidating aura that a pastor can have and opens the door to a friendship with them and provides opportunities for witnessing and ministry.”
East Cobb is known as a biblically literate church. Foster pointed to his predecessors and explained, “I stand on the shoulders of the church’s two previous pastors: Albert Cox and David York. Both are strong, Biblical expositors. I am an expository preacher. My personal opinions, preferences, trends of the times, social media influencers all are filled with fallible ideas and information. When I open God’s Word, I find an inerrant, God-breathed message to mankind. Why would we settle for anything less in our pulpits or in our personal devotions?”
The music at East Cobb is heartwarming and offered to God with excellence. Foster stated, “God’s people have always been a singing people! They recognize the glory of God and want to sing His praise. The story of salvation and God’s love is wonderfully shared and taught in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The hope of heaven and the joy of the Christian life find wonderful expression in our musical praise to God.
“I have observed that when Christian music is done in the Spirit, it engages all generations. At East Cobb, we have a choir and congregation who love traditional music and they worship through it. It’s what we do best, and our best is what we want to offer unto God!”
Foster has identified seven qualities that has contributed to the health and growth of the church. They are:
- Life changing mission trips
- Wonderful staff members
- Innovative ideas from those staff members
- A church family who ministers to each other
- Members who invite/bring friends and family to church
- A congregation of people who give generously of their time, their gifts, their resources
- Members and visitors alike who anticipate something good when they come to God’s House!
When asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Foster admitted that initially the church programming was reduced to the livestreaming of the Sunday morning service. When the shutdown continued longer than expected the pastor initiated drive-by visits to every home. He explained, “The upside of the lockdown was that, for the first time ever, we found one hundred percent of our people at home. We repeated the visits a couple more times.
“Our staff also utilized the drive-by visits; and we all made phone calls, sent text messages and emails, and created social media groups. Our deacons and others in the church made themselves available to any family who needed a grocery store run or other errands. I believe these things helped keep warm a desire in our people to return to God’s house as soon as possible.”
Foster concluded, “Giving not only stayed ahead of our budgeting needs, but amazingly kept growing. We had record Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong mission offerings. Since we returned to morning worship in May 2020, our attendance is nearly back to our pre shutdown averages. Our choir has grown in number and in quality. Our Wednesday night activities are flourishing. There also is a strong clamor for the return of Sunday School and Sunday night services.
“East Cobb is a picture of what God can do as His people love Him and give Him the glory for every good thing, even in the midst of unprecedented challenges.”