A new frontier

March 04, 2011

Since news came out about my new appointment, I’ve received responses ranging from “How far did they have to twist your arm to take that job?” to “Just as the whole nation cast Tina Fey as Sarah Palin for Saturday Night Live in 2008, so the entire Minnesota Annual Conference was pulling for you to be in this role in 2011!”

While the energy for church growth probably falls somewhere between these two extremes, I recognize that I assume the role of director of congregational development at a challenging juncture in our annual conference’s history. On their road trip last fall, Bishop Sally Dyck and Rev. Cindy Gregorson heard a consistently recurring message—after a couple of generations of gradual membership and participation decline, many clergy and laypeople have resigned themselves to the perception that the United Methodist Church is destined to be stagnant and impotent.

Over the course of thirty years in pastoral ministry, I have served in rural, urban, and suburban ministry settings. I’ve been appointed to solo, associate, and lead pastor roles. I’ve officiated at centennial celebrations, fiftieth anniversaries, and the chartering of a new church. In every community context, in every leadership position, and in every age and stage of congregational life, I’ve been inspired by church leaders and participants who seek not stagnation and impotence but direction and power from their spiritual lives. This inherent yearning of the soul is the fertile soil from which healthy churches grow.

I offer high praise and sincere appreciation to the conference Human Resources Team and my predecessors, Loren Nelson and Cindy Gregorson, for the foresight and commitment to establish and pioneer a staff position focusing on five vital responsibilities for cultivating growth: start new faith communities; revitalize existing congregations; resource churches for effective ministry; cultivate financial support for congregational development; and lead a high functioning, responsive congregational development office. I am privileged to devote my full attention and skills to the work God is already doing in our midst.

Ad nauseam, we’ve heard our contemporary culture described as post-colonial, post-Christendom, post-industrial, post-modern . . . All these “posts” build fences that obscure our vision of the future.

What if we positioned ourselves to discern what is in front of us rather than just behind us—to become pre-people? To launch that movement requires commitment to being present, prepared and pregnant with energy and faith for the preponderate calling before us. I truly believe that our work and witness for Christ has not become an irrelevant vestige of an old world, but is the motivating vehicle for entering a new frontier!

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

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