First Baptist Church in Van Buren has a new senior pastor.

Chris Johnson took over the senior pastor position at First Baptist Sunday, Aug. 25. Johnson replaced Scott Maze, who left the church June 2012 for a position at North Richland Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

Johnson was contacted by a committee of members from First Baptist in Van Buren as a possible candidate to replace Maze, an experience he called "surprising."

Johnson was senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Ozona, Texas for about four years and had no plans to leave, he said.

"I really enjoyed west Texas; they have a different kind of culture," Johnson said.

But after speaking to the Van Buren group and discussing the opportunity with his family, Johnson said they felt that this was the direction God wanted him to take his life.

"In a lot of ways, it just felt like I was coming back home," Johnson said.

Born in Minnesota, Johnson moved to Northwest Arkansas after his father got a job working at the Walmart home office in Bentonville.

After graduating from Bentonville High School, Johnson followed what he called his "heart-felt call" to the ministry and attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He majored in religion and graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

After moving to Texas, Johnson’s parents later relocated to the area for their own reasons, but moved back to Rogers while Johnson and his wife were considering the relocation to Van Buren, he said.

Johnson will be able to remain close to his family, and he called the entire experience "more than just a coincidence."

"We’re excited to be here in the county," Johnson said. "I really love Arkansas people and I guess I just feel at home."

Johnson also studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, where he acquired a Master of Divinity degree in 2007. He expects to attain a Doctor of Philosophy degree with a Major in Preaching from the school in December.

In preparation for the ministry, Johnson served as a summer mission intern at First Baptist in Springdale in 2002, then worked as an intern and assistant to the pastor there during the summers of 2003 and 2004. He was an assistant and research assistant to the school president while attending Southwestern Seminary.

Johnson is married to Lauren Hays Johnson, who he met at Southwestern Seminary where she obtained a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Women’s Studies. Their children are Elijah, 6, Gabriel, 5, and Abigail, 2.