Meet the Rev. Benton Heisler, newly named Director of Connectional Ministry for the Michigan Conference.
On December 15, 2017 Bishop David Bard announced the names of persons who will serve as the core leadership team for the new Michigan Conference. While many are familiar faces, each will be serving in the context of a new Director Model that takes people out of silos and into a team effort.
Bishop Bard noted, “We are working to organize our life together so that, centered in Jesus Christ, we are engaged in mission and ministry to our communities and the world, we are led by and are nurturing and encouraging bold and effective leaders, and we are supporting and fostering vibrant congregations.”
MICONNECT will introduce these persons and the positions in a new series called, “Profiles in leadership.” We begin with the Rev. Benton Heisler, who starts service as Director of Connectional Ministry on February 1, 2018.
Benton’s previous appointments include: St. Joseph: First (Associate) 1986; Charlevoix and Charlevoix: Greensky Hill 1988; Lansing: Asbury 1992; Mt. Pleasant: First 1997; Lansing District Superintendent 2002. He has spent the last nine years as the West Michigan Conference Director of Connectional Ministries.
Benton is passionately committed to Christ, his wife, Linda, and their family. The Heislers will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year. Benton and Linda met as camp counselors serving at Wesley Woods. He has two married daughters, a two and one-half year old grandson and two rescued golden retrievers.
At the present time Benton has an office at First Place in downtown Grand Rapids, next to First United Methodist Church. He will frequently commute to Lansing and Flint and travel around the state. As of July 1, his office will be in the Area Ministry Center in Lansing.
In his own words, here’s a profile of Michigan’s new Director of Connectional Ministry …
Please share a little personal background that influenced your faith formation.
My family roots are based in farming and public education. My grandfather, with whom I was close into my young adult years before his death, worked the centennial farm of his wife’s four sisters, milked cows by hand and raised in his garden or on that farm nearly all we had to eat at his table. My father was a teacher, principal and school superintendent. My mom was a kindergarten teacher and musician. Values of hard work, character, stewardship of the environment, appreciation of history and music, deep faith life and active involvement in the church and community were constant growing up. My parents’ Church of the Brethren faith roots guided our family with a strong sense of social justice and peace. My father was a conscientious objector in WWII; no small act of courage in that moment in time. My inspirational mentors, in addition to my parents, have been Marguerite Bradley, who taught me how to read the Bible; Chuck Grauer who taught how to tell a story and live by grace; Paul Ahlstrom, my high school coach and home building employer who taught me by modeling “never ask somebody to do something hard, you wouldn’t do yourself” as we competed in carrying shingles to the top of a tall gable roof. Paul also took me to his Gideon’s meetings on the first Saturday of the month and modeled for me the boldness of proclaiming and living the Gospel.
In addition to paper boy, my first jobs were in a lawn business and residential construction/handyman work. While in college, I served as park ranger for a summer and then spent a year in Cornwall, England as a Volunteer Youth and Community Worker in a Methodist church. I taught math/science and reading in the Gladwin Middle School after college, which included work as a basketball coach and outdoor education instructor. Ordained ministry has allowed me the opportunity to serve in a 16-church cooperative parish; as an associate and lead pastor in large congregations; in a Native American cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment; in small towns and large cities; as a district superintendent and on Jurisdictional committees. All of these experiences led to these key lessons: Never do ministry alone. Work as a team; it’s more fun and productive. Do whatever it takes. It is not about you, it is about the mission. Folks are folks…love them unconditionally, encourage them constantly and speak to them with honesty and with authenticity…they too want to succeed and be part of something that is making a difference.
What is it that nurtures, sustains and guides you in your work and relationships?
My passion is to serve Christ in all I do. I have a deep faith and sense of call. I love people and working together to accomplish incredible things for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Because of my love of the out of doors, I am regularly “wowed” by God through nature. I serve out of a moderate, orthodox, evangelical theological worldview which values the healthy creative balance of Wesleyan personal and social Holiness. I desire to build, repair, and restore people and places of community, for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the transformation of the world. I believe those who do not share my same view have learned that I still trust and respect them and they, in turn, have extended the same relationship to me.
How would you describe the role of the Director of Connectional Ministry?
The Discipline is clear about this. The role is to be the keeper of the vision, constantly press toward the alignment of resources, accountability, collaboration and continual reassessment. The keys are in the title, connecting people and process and programs so that ministry moves forward in fruitful and meaningful ways, making disciples transforming the world.
What is your vision for the Michigan Conference, especially with regard to the spiritual formation and ministry development for which you are responsible?
I have the lay and clergy leadership of nearly 800 congregations who share this responsibility with me! My task is to help connect and equip them in ways that multiply their talents. I work in tandem with the Bishop, Conference and District Lay Leaders, District Superintendents, Directors and other Conference Staff so that resources are shared, communication is widespread, new ideas are generated, gifts are identified and deployed. The new Conference Leadership Council is the connecting point of all these many resources and opportunities so that ministry moves forward in between the sessions of the Annual Conference.
As the Michigan Conference takes shape, what goals do you have for yourself and those whom you direct?
I have a “First 100 Day Plan” that I had outlined, expecting it to be initiated July 1, 2018. However, I am starting immediately because my colleague, Jerry DeVine, is transitioning to Superintendent of the Lansing District. That has altered the reality of implementing some of those ideas given the urgency of completing work on the 2019 Budget, preparation for 2018 Annual conference and staffing work ahead. Yet the goals are still the same: be collaborative, be relational, be available, be flexible, be myself. Implementation of these goals will begin as the Bishop initially brings all the directors together after which we spread out our influence into the circles we each coordinate. I believe part of my role is help each circle see its interrelatedness. I will watch for anyone or anything that seems to set up as a silo and then help take whatever steps are necessary to reconnect and realign.
What will it take to shift to a Director style of leadership?
In addition to what I already stated as goals, I am an action-driven and vision-focused leader who is highly collaborative and clearly decisive in my style. I strive to be relational, available, flexible, and authentic along with being non-anxious, optimistic, and bold. I remain balanced through lighthearted humor.
What excites you the most about the future of The Michigan Conference? And what are the challenges you see ahead?
I am excited by the synergy as we unite our gifts toward a common purpose. We have an opportunity to no longer be divided in structure, finance or vision, but instead have a common vision, guided by our episcopal leader, connected through a common structure, utilizing a vast variety of diverse gifts and resources across the state. On the challenge side, I see a fear of risk, a clinging to the familiar, a defending of what was instead of embracing what could be. We will need to constantly remind ourselves to not say, “Well, we did it this way,” and constantly reframe our future with, “What and how do we feel God is calling us to do this now?” We will need to engage in rigorous, prayerful and transparent discernment in order to address unhealthiness and ineffectiveness in the interest of adaptive change.
In summary, what do you believe God desires for The United Methodist Church in Michigan and beyond?
To be faithful and fruitful. To be adaptive to the changes that are rapidly happening in the culture today. To be persistent in prayer, to be extravagant in our generosity, radical in our hospitality, passionate in our worship, risk-taking in our mission and service and intentional in our faith development. These aren’t new ideas, but they truly are the basics. “This is a Day of New Beginnings” is a hymn that I think captures the spirit of this moment in The Michigan Conference.