Meet Rev. Jaye Johnson, South Central's Field Outreach Minister

September 20, 2013

Rev. Dr. Jaye Johnson is the new Field Outreach Minister for the South Central District of the Iowa Annual Conference.

One of three new Field Outreach Ministers appointed by Bishop Julius Trimble in March of this year, Rev. Johnson was previously the pastor for United Faith Church and Community Center in Sidney, Iowa, and the Thurman-Riverton Church in the Southwest District.

“I was down in that neck of the woods for six years,” Rev. Johnson said. “And stepped into this position after leading a vital merger of two congregations, and dealing with a tornado and some flood recovery, so it was a busy several years while we were there.”

Rev. Johnson also previously served the Fellowship United Methodist Church in Muscatine and St. Paul & Wesley United Methodist Church in Calamus and Grand Mound. He has held a number of leadership roles for the Iowa Conference, as well, including Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) Pastoral Leadership Development Facilitator, HCI Coach and the District Revitalization Taskforce.

Part of his background also consists of time in newspaper publishing.

“Before I went to seminary we published newspapers and edited newspapers in northwest Iowa, in Sac County mostly,” Rev. Johnson said.

A stop off in the world of print news may not immediately seem part of a normal ministry career path.

“I’ve always met a lot of pastors who used to be teachers and a lot who used to be social workers,” said Rev. Johnson. “I haven’t that many who used to be newspaper folks.”

“God called me into this like he did all of us,” Rev. Johnson continued.

Early on he had gotten into lay speaking and otherwise leading in the local church setting in a variety ways, he said, as did his wife Amy, also a Methodist pastor.

It was Rev. Johnson’s wife who experienced a call to ministry before he did.

“She said, “Let’s go to seminary,” said Rev. Johnson.

At the time they he owned part of a business in addition to a house, and it just didn’t wasn’t going to work, he said.

“I said, “We can’t do that,” Rev. Johnson recalled.

They explored ways for his wife to go by herself at the time, but it didn’t seem right, and so Rev. Johnson continued with his lay speaking for the time being, putting the idea of seminary aside.

At charge conferences in October 2000 they heard a sermon from their district superintendent. She had no idea about the contemplations the Johnsons had been making, and yet a single sentence from the sermon spoke directly to them.

“You know, you can always find an excuse not to do what God calls you to do,” said Rev. Johnson. “But when you take the first step, all the questions have a way of disappearing.”

The Johnsons felt certain the message was meant for them.

“And so we looked at each other and said, “Ohhhh, nuts!” Rev. Johnson laughed.

That lead them very quickly into seminary, he said, which was not all that God had in store for them.

“As soon as we made the decision to go to seminary we found out our first child was coming along,” said Rev. Johnson. “We had both of our kids while we were in seminary, and so that was an exciting time.”

Fast-forward to the present, with Rev. Johnson serving on the ministry team for the South Central District since earlier this past summer.

“We have a great team down there,” Rev. Johnson said. “We enjoy working together. We have a great diversity of churches within our district.”

The Southwest District extends from just south of Des Moines to the Missouri border. It includes a mix of churches in rural areas, small towns and county seat communities.

“It’s a diversity that is rich and rewarding. People who work hard and love their families and their churches and their communities,” said Rev. Johnson. “So that’s a great atmosphere to come into.”

By his estimate the demographic in the South Central District is 30-percent or more comprised of churches that have 20 or less people in worship. So he finds himself working with a lot of very small churches, something he embraces.

“Helping those churches to understand that they’re valuable, that God is working in them, that God is doing things in and through them, is important,” Rev. Johnson said. “Just like God does in the medium-sized churches and the large-sized churches.”

“And so part of what I do as a Field Outreach Minister,” he continued. “Is help people understand, “You know what? You’re doing good things. Let’s figure out what we can do more of to engage that process.”

The role of a Field Outreach Minister, he said, is to help pastors and churches do what God’s plan is for them to do.

“I think if you imagine ministry as a river or a stream,” said Rev. Johnson. “It’s the field Outreach Minister’s job, in my perspective, to help discover where that current is, and then to help us float into that current to move with what God’s trying to do.”

The river analogy came alive for him once when he went white water river rafting. It’s something that he said has really stuck with him in ministry.

“The guy who taught us said, “Look, you’re going to fall in the water. That’s part of this. When you fall in the water, not “if”, WHEN you fall in to water, lift up your feet, so you don’t get caught, and go with the flow,” Rev. Johnson said. “Go with the river; go with where God’s leading.”

Following the parallel further, Rev. Johnson equates not following God’s will with resulting difficulties in life.

“But if you don’t lift your feet up,” he said. “Then this is where you get into troubles, because you hit snags.”

“And so part of what I think my job is,” Rev. Johnson continued. “Is to help churches and pastors and everybody I can lift their feet up, find that current to see where God is leading us, and then learn to swim with that current rather than fighting against it.”

Rev. Johnson has spent a lot of time in his first few months sitting down with churches and pastors, hearing their stories.

“Which is great as a former newspaper reporter, you know, that’s what I did,” he said. “So this time, though, I can engage on a personal level and not necessarily be worried about taking notes and writing a story down.”

“But just hearing the work that God has been doing in their midst and through their midst,” said Rev. Johnson. “And, you know, also hearing some of their concerns and struggles, but reminding them that God is still God, and God is working through these churches and these communities to do amazing things.” 

Rev. Johnson said he was honored and blessed by hearing the stories of the people to whom he ministers in the South Central District.

Charge conferences and professional interviews will mean a very busy time in the coming months for Field Outreach Ministers, and then it will actually be a slower time for them than for most in church ministry once the Christmas season arrives. Rev. Johnson looks forward to both and all his new role entails.

Camaraderie has developed between the eight Field Outreach Ministers in the Iowa Conference, and it is helpful in terms of both fostering a team spirit and getting the job done.

“They are a wonderfully diverse, supporting, talented group of people,” said Rev. Johnson. “And so every time I sit down with them I look around the room and say, “You know, I’m really humbled to be counted among this group.”

None of the Field Outreach Ministers performs the job the same, Rev. Johnson said. Each comes with a different perspective, a different angle, and a different way of engaging churches and congregations, as well as a different approach to working as part of their respective teams 

“That’s actually celebrated, that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.”

Rev. Johnson said it’s liberating for him to know that his peers are there for help and support.

“It’s freeing for me to be told, “Look we’ll help you, we’ll support you, but this is YOU,” he said. “So you figure out how you’re going to do this job, and let us know what you need to be supported.”

It’s a great thing to know that there are those resources and that support around the table, said Rev. Johnson. Every one of the other seven Field Outreach Ministers has a different gift, he said, but they are all equally gifted in the level of those gifts they bring to that team.

“That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing,” Rev. Johnson said.