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Profile in leadership

Meet the Michigan Conference Director of Benefits and Human Resources, the Rev. Don Emmert.
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 ministry silos and into a collaborative team effort.

After 12 years of service as the Benefits Officer of The Detroit Conference, the Rev. Don Emmert (r) will now share his skills and gifts as Director of Benefits and Human Resources for The Michigan Conference. ~mic photo

MIconnect is introducing these persons and the positions in a series called, “Profiles in leadership.” This week we meet the Rev. Don Emmert.

Don started ministry for The United Methodist Church in Michigan in 1984 as pastor of Ontonagon, Greenland and Rockland UMCs on the Marquette District. Other pastoral appointments include Pinconning, New Baltimore: Grace, and North Central Macomb Regional Ministry: Mt. Vernon.

He arrived in the Detroit Conference Treasurer’s Office in 2001 and has served there in various capacities since. Don comes to his new position after 12 years of service as Benefits Officer for the Detroit Conference.

His office is in Clark Corners, known as Conference Center North. Don’s wife, Becky, also works in the Michigan Conference Treasury as Finance and Benefits Operations Manager. 

Meet Don Emmert, in his own words …

Please share a little personal background.

In 1918, my grandfather migrated to Flint, Michigan to work in the auto industry only until he could save enough money to buy a farm in Indiana. The full expression of that dream never materialized, and thus, I was assembled in Flint where the non-farming members of my family still remain 100 years later. Growing up I was influenced by a curious mixture of religious heritage; including Amish, Mennonite, EUB, Methodist, and Texan. From each tradition, I am grateful for being taught the importance in everyday living of embracing our Christian faith as well as offering oneself for service.

What about your professional background leadership lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Prior to and early after moving to conference staff in 2000, I pastored for 18 years in the local church setting. Of course, those years provided valuable experience for my understanding of ministry within the faith community. But as I reflect, I would go back even further to lessons learned from my mathematics and music days. The reason we refer to math adventures as “problems” is because they require solutions. Simple math problems may be straightforward and rote. But as equations become more complex, they require increased analysis, logic, and systematic strategies to find correct solutions. Especially as variables increase and functions become more abstract.

Then there’s music. While playing a solo does not require dependence on anyone else, the richest harmonies are only achieved through ensemble; for example, a well-rehearsed orchestra or mass choir. On the other hand, there are few sounds worse than a group of individuals trying to play different songs in different keys at the same time.

I have found both the music and math illustrations analogous to life in the faith community. A few things may be achieved solo or by rote, but the most meaningful ministries generally require a dedicated direction and devotion from all. By the way, I truly believe that music is the preferred language of the angels (with the possible exception of the accordion).

Please describe the role of the Director of Conference Benefits as you understand it.

I understand this position as a hybrid of administration and relationship. Appropriate, sustainable benefits for clergy and conference staff are an expression of good stewardship and a high level of administrative services are required to maintain them. Availability to local churches and individuals as a resource is an important administrative element as well. An increased level of Human Resources responsibility has recently been applied to this position which I believe will prove helpful for all conference entities moving forward. The relational side of the Director position involves ministering to our clergy and families in times of need, specifically regarding disability or death. In these moments, this position allows an additional opportunity to affirm that, as a conference, we care.

What’s your vision for the Michigan Conference, especially with regard to the health and welfare of the clergy who in the state.

The Center for Health identifies five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, spiritual, social and financial. My vision is to promote the best opportunities for wholeness amongst our clergy so they may most effectively minister to others. I am especially pleased that a specific element of the Michigan Conference health care plan will include an increased emphasis on health, not merely health insurance. This is not a new thought, but the responsibility of participants to embrace healthy lifestyles will have a renewed prominence as an integral part of total care.

The Conference is shifting to a “Director Model.” What advantages do you see in that way of working together?

So much conversation has centered around leadership working in silos. I am hopeful the director model will address some of those concerns in a positive manner, and will rebuke any tendency to become its own director silo. As long as the table communicates with an outward focus, I expect it will bring understanding and value to the common ministry we together share.

What is it that nurtures, sustains and guides you in your work?

As do most people, I find it rewarding when a plan comes together. Or, when I am able to bring assistance or comfort or care, especially to those who are hurting. But at the end of the day every day, I promised long ago to give God the best that I have to offer. This same commitment is what I give to the ministry entrusted to me.

What excites you the most about the future of The Michigan Conference?

On a selfish note, the most exciting thing for me these days is actually getting there. The sheer volume of work involved the past couple of years in managing two separate benefits programs while negotiating the new has been exhausting. Having said that, I state again and again that I am aware of no other conferences who will enter the year 2019 with the financial strength, philosophy or ability to provide the level of care through our benefits packages than the Michigan Conference. And unlike some of my counterparts, I am proud we are able to continue honoring this covenant as God continues to honor our faithfulness to each other.

What are the challenges as we move forward as a new Conference?

Just as we do currently, the new conference will face much the same challenges of effective ministry amongst an aging/decreasing population with diminishing financial resources. One danger from which I pray we will refrain is a quickness to blame each other for realities in the new conference with which we do not agree. Many of our challenges are and will be a result of elements largely beyond our control, not because we created a new conference. Thus, we will do well to combine our efforts on honing those advanced math skills in working toward solutions together.

Where do you see God at work in Michigan and the worldwide connection right now?

I have witnessed how hard so many people have worked over the past few years to bring the new conference together. I wonder if God has not given us a temporary gift of how to concentrate on unity in the midst of so much speculation regarding separation throughout the denomination. I offer no statement to suggest what I think the future of our denomination should be, but I suspect God is pleased with at least much of the work of our Michigan hands. Back to the music metaphor. We must strive to produce the most pleasing harmony before God for others to hear. Whatever shape our connection takes in the future, of this I am certain. Few people will spend the time or energy to attend a concert of discord, much less be inclined to accept an invitation to join a fragmented ensemble.

Is there a hymn you believe captures the spirit of this moment in The Michigan Conference.

That ancient chorus from 1972 has been in my head recently… Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.

If our ministry were only so simple that through our acts of giving, others would know that Jesus lives. Nevertheless, is this not a direct variation of the Easter theme about making disciples and transforming the world we so often quote around here? The full equation is obviously more complex, but I suggest this might be a good place for the Michigan Conference to start.