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Transitional ministry provides bridge for congregations

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Rev. John Madvig seres as the transitional pastor at Spearfish UMC. File photo.

John Madvig has been an interim pastor since his first call to serve a church. He served as an interim youth pastor for a church that was moving its youth pastor into the senior pastor role. "I filled in. It was an opportunity. I was going to be getting married, and I needed a job," he said.

He found that the job was easy and inviting. It made him realize that this was something that he was gifted at and that God was calling him to be a pastor.

Madvig served as a youth pastor for four years. After a while, he realized that youth ministry could be difficult as your family grows and you get older. "Some things about youth ministry can be difficult, like staying up all night," he said. "But I felt like God was calling me into ministry. It was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My call was lived into more than discovered."

Pastor John Madvig began pastoral ministry by serving two congregations in the Evangelical Covenant denomination. He served each of the churches for nine years. Then, while serving at the second congregation, he felt a nudge to do something else.

"In January 2019, I sensed an urge to step away from what I was doing and figure out what would be next," said Madvig. "I resigned without a call. Instead, I did some searching around and discovered transitional ministry."

Madvig headed to training at Princeton University, where he received a certificate for transitional ministry. After receiving the certificate, Pastor John has served at three churches in a transitional ministry role.  

Transitional Ministry

Transitional ministry creates a bridge between leadership in the congregation. The goal of a transitional minister is to create a healthy place for a new pastor to lead.

"I wear two hats as a transitional pastor," said Pastor John. "One is the hat of a pastor. The other is the hat of a consultant."

In the consultant role, the transitional pastor explores five different areas with the congregation's people.

The first is heritage. What has been the church's story?

Next is the mission. Why does the church exist? Does the current mission describe what the church is trying to do? If not, does the church need to change its mission or practice?

The third is community. It is not just the community around the church but also the greater denominational community. What does it mean to be a United Methodist Church at this place, at this time?

The fourth area is leadership. The congregation looks at what leadership structures are in place. The transitional minister seeks to help leaders lead well and discern God's call.

The final area is about the future. What kind of future do we want to move into as a church? How does the congregation help the district superintendent and bishop find a pastor who can lead us into that preferred future?

Pastor John is a transitional pastor for the Dakotas Conference at the United Methodist Church in Spearfish, South Dakota. Previously he served as the interim pastor at the United Methodist Church in Madison, South Dakota.  

"Madison had difficult times. One of the challenges was the pandemic, which the whole world has experienced," said Madvig. "Before the pandemic, a flood had gone through the town and caused quite a bit of destruction. The pastor left and never really got to bond with the congregation. The congregation wondered how we would bring a new pastor into this situation. I filled in the gap between when the pastor left and a new one arrived."

Leadership was one area that seemed to evolve at Madison UMC when Pastor John was there. He encouraged church members to step up in leadership and not lean too heavily on the pastor to provide leadership in every situation.

At Spearfish UMC, Madvig follows Rev. Scott McKirdy, a beloved pastor and great leader.

"Scott is a pastor's pastor. He is very gifted and very strong in what he does. For a new pastor to enter the situation might be a struggle because they are just not Scott," said Madvig. "That is a reality: no one will step in and fill Scott's shoes. I can come in and be the bridge. I can say that I am just not Scott. I can help the congregation recognize that they can go on without Scott as their pastor."

The congregation at Spearfish is seeking to invite young families to worship. Therefore, Pastor John is shifting the 8:15 a.m. service to 9 a.m. The 9 a.m. service is contemporary, targeting young families. The hope is the later timeframe will be more inviting to families with children.


Pastor John delivers the message at Spearfish UMC.

Encouraging lay people to step into leadership at Spearfish UMC will be inviting to a new pastor. "This is a strong congregation. They have a history of good pastors here," said Pastor John. "Helping them recognize how they can lead and support the pastor will be helpful."

Transitional ministry allows Madvig to be a truth teller without worrying about losing capital. "Pastors are given capital when they come into the church. As the leader, you build on that capital and bank on the capital. You use capital when there are difficult times or decisions," he said. "As a transitional pastor, I use the capital to prepare for the next pastor."

Transitional pastors are there for a shorter period and can serve as advisors or consultants. "I feel comfortable helping congregations figure things out and serving as a mentor," said Pastor John.

For twenty-five years, Madvig has been a volunteer coach for football, primarily high school football. At Spearfish, he volunteers with the Black Hills State University football team, focusing on character development. In the past, he has worked with defense.

"Moving from high school to college football, I am sticking with leadership and character development as I volunteer with the football team," said Pastor John. "These guys are way further ahead in the playbook than I am. I am learning more from them about football than they are learning from me. Hopefully, I have some wisdom, as far as life goes, to pass on to them."

People are positively responding to a transitional pastor, according to Madvig. Educating the congregation about why there is a transitional pastor helps. For example, at Spearfish UMC, Pastor John is conducting home gatherings.

"At each home gathering, I introduce the concepts about what I do as a transitional pastor. So they have a pretty good idea what it is all about," he said.

In transitional ministry, success is not measured in numbers and looks different for each church.

"Every church is at a different stage in the five areas of transitional ministry. The first church I served needed to recognize that it had to change or die. That was a win for that congregation. For Madison, success came when they realized they could bring in a new pastor and move forward into the future," said Pastor John. "At Spearfish, we will work to celebrate when a new pastor comes in, and it is not Pastor Scott."


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