Twin Cities District to welcome Rev. Dan Johnson as new superintendent

May 07, 2015

By: Christa Meland

After spending three years as Twin Cities District superintendent, Rev. Judy Zabel will return to the local church this summer—and Rev. Dan Johnson has been appointed to succeed her in that role.

Zabel will serve as lead pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, one of the largest and oldest United Methodist churches in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Johnson, who has been director of congregational development since 2011, will assume her role as of July 1.

Johnson: A ‘bold, visionary, and servant leader’

Johnson was ordained as an elder in 1986 and has served six churches in Minnesota: Clarissa UMC, Eagle Bend UMC, Clotho UMC, Brooklyn UMC in Brooklyn Center, and Good Samaritan UMC in Edina; he was also the founding pastor of Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove.

As director of congregational development, he is responsible for overseeing new church development and revitalization processes for existing churches.

When he began his role four years ago, one of his first tasks was establishing a process for the Healthy Church Initiative, a revitalization process for mid-sized churches. Since then, dozens of churches have gone through the program—the majority of which have achieved numeric growth afterward.

Johnson also established a church-planter recruitment and training process; led the conference’s experimentation with a variety of new church models; and set up coaching, accountability, and funding mechanisms for church starts.

For the past year, Johnson has been directing the conference’s Reach • Renew • Rejoice capital campaign, which aims to raise $3.7 million for church planting and revitalization across Minnesota. He will continue to provide some guidance with these efforts after he assumes his new role.

“I’ve really enjoyed being able to discern the potential of congregations and the capacity of leaders and bring a variety of different resources to bear so that they can most fully meet the calling that God has before them in their mission fields,” said Johnson, who recently moved to Brooklyn Park.

Through his current role, Johnson has come to know all of the churches in the Twin Cities District—and he looks forward to using his “congregational development toolbox” to assist churches that are looking to grow but might not be ready for a formal revitalization process.

Johnson said his current role has given him an opportunity to be involved in transformation at a systems level, and while he has enjoyed it, “my greatest joy in this role was always the rare times when I could be in a church at a table face-to-face with lay leadership of churches that believe passionately that God has work and witness for their communities and want to live into that more faithfully,” he said. “This new role will allow me to do that more fully.”

Bishop Ough called Johnson an excellent trainer and developer of leaders and said he is well suited for the role of district superintendent.

“I have come to know Dan as a highly effective and energetic leader with a unique blend of a heart for people and a head for systems and processes that maximize others’ gifts,” said Ough. “He is a bold, visionary, and servant leader.”

Ough said Johnson’s departure from the director of congregational development position provides an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at how to best staff for the future. He and other conference leaders plan to begin exploring options and update the position description.

Zabel will lead Hennepin Avenue into ‘bright future with hope’

Zabel was ordained as an elder in 1994 and served Woodbury UMC, Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis, and Advent UMC in Eagan before becoming a district superintendent in 2012.

When asked what she has enjoyed during the past three years, she said: “I love the people. I love encouraging pastors and congregations to think about their next steps to revitalize and grow or to decide to become a legacy congregation.”

Zabel has always had a passion for mentoring young people and helping them discern how God is calling them to use gifts, and she’s had opportunities to do that in her role as district superintendent. There are currently close to 50 candidates for ministry within her district, and over the past couple of years, she led a group that created the Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project, an internship program for college students exploring a call to ministry that kicks off later this month.

Zabel said leaving her current role is bittersweet, but she looks forward to working with Hennepin staff and lay leaders to move the church into the future with excitement and momentum. A dream of hers is to create a leadership institute at the church, where laity could become trained and equipped to use their passions for ministry out in the world.

“We want to be a beacon church where people will say, ‘Something’s happening over there and I want to be part of it,’” she said.

Zabel is Hennepin’s first lead pastor in more than 30 years who came from within the Minnesota Conference.

For the past year, Interim Pastor Kent Millard has led the church. Meanwhile, Bishop Ough and a team of Hennepin leaders conducted a thorough search process to find the next lead pastor. They identified 44 potential candidates from large United Methodist churches across the nation, conducted 10 phone interviews, and brought the top five pastors (including Zabel) in for an in-person interview.  

Bishop Ough called Zabel a visionary and said she has an evangelical heart.

“She has been a valuable strategic partner to me and many congregations in the Twin Cities District as they built their capacity to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said. “Rev. Zabel is uniquely gifted and ready to lead Hennepin Avenue into a bright future with hope. Strong, growing, missional congregations are my ultimate priority—one I believe we all share.”

Family: Wife, Deb; three children (two married, one to be married in October); four grandchildren
Favorite scripture: Romans 8:28
Gifts cited by colleagues: Strategic, effective, compassionate, dedicated, positive
Favorite book: Swiss Family Robinson (when he was young, his dad read a chapter to him every night)
Favorite movies: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Crocodile Dundee”
Hobbies: Spending time at family cabin; enjoying the lakes—fishing, swimming, canoeing, and fly-fishing
Favorite food: Porterhouse steak (grilled at home, shared with Deb on the deck)
Something interesting most people don’t know: He carried a slide-rule in a lanyard case attached to his belt…in seventh grade

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058