on Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Mark Johnson, NOBTS Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Pastoral Ministry, goes to the busy, franchised grocery store next door to the seminary every day. On purpose.

“Anybody need toothpaste?” Johnson asks his wife and four children. “Somebody’s got a headache? Okay. I’m going.”

Johnson has been making the daily trip for three years, almost from the day he joined the NOBTS and Leavell College faculty in 2019. His daily ventures in “shopping evangelism,” as he calls it, have paid off. The store managers and employees call him “Pastor” as he ministers and shares the gospel.  

“I’m broke, but …” Johnson quips. “I know everybody there. I know the store.”

The six-foot-five former international pro basketball player knows the store layout so well that one day when an employee couldn’t locate an item for a shopper, Johnson chimed in. “Aisle Five,” he offered.

Each trip begins with prayer that God will use him in whatever way He wants, knowing some days no opportunity may come. “He may call you just to go get bananas,” Johnson explained. “It’s that simple.”  

One day, Johnson decided his trip to the store was simply to buy a new pair of socks for his son. God had other plans.

“It turned into a 15 to 20 minute conversation with someone who was contemplating suicide,” Johnson explained. “If I hadn’t gone to get socks that day, it could have been a different outcome.”


At first, Johnson went alone on his “shopping evangelism” trips next door, drawing from a previous ministry he had led when he served as senior pastor at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio. There, a rapid transit line outside the church door went directly to the mall and church members’ “shopping evangelism” sprees were easy and saw fruit.

In New Orleans, students frequently join Johnson to pray, minister and share the gospel.

Johnson feels free to pray inside the store with individuals, but when students join him, they defer to the store’s wishes and pray outside. As the team prayer walks the “four corners” of the parking lot, they stop at each corner and pray for one of four groups: neighborhood children, mothers, fathers, and store employees.

Often, as Johnsons’ teams walk from one corner to the next, they find opportunities to listen, comfort, and share the gospel with others. During Covid, as many experienced isolation and anxiety, the prayer walkers continued to share.

“We found ourselves hugging, holding, and saying, ‘It’s going to be all right,’” Johnson said.

Relationship is key to the open doors Johnson has found.

On Johnson’s birthday, his wife Heather was shopping at the store when an employee recognized her. Knowing it was Johnson’s birthday, the employee took her to the card aisle, picked out a card and insisted Heather buy it.

The next day, Johnson found the employee. “You couldn’t even buy a card for me? You made my wife buy it?” Johnson teased. “That’s the kind of relationship we have.”

While some employees have a church home, many do not. Tragedy struck two years ago when a targeted shooting left one person dead inside the store. Johnson arrived to find the store cordoned off.

“He’s Pastor,” the employees said, and Johnson was welcomed in. As Johnson ministered to hurting family members and employees processing grief, God opened many doors for Johnson to share the gospel.


“Shopping evangelism” is easy, Johnson said.

“The biggest change for students is their fear of evangelism is dropping,” Johnson said. “When they do this, they say, ‘Oh, that was easy. We prayed and waited on God.’”

While spiritual warfare is real and the people he meets have pressing needs, Johnson sees that God is at work despite the challenges around them.  

Johnson stressed that God will open doors as believers allow Him to work. 

“God has given us an easy mission field that doesn’t take a plane ticket. You don’t have to catch a bus to get there,” Johnson said. With the engaging smile he is known for, he added, “He’s not asking you to do anything but shop. Just go get socks. Be a willing vessel for Him.”