The Jewish People, Inc. Part 1

STAR’s Rabbi Hayim Herring recent blog entry, The Jewish People Inc: A Study On How Synagogues Develop is clever… and brings up an interesting question. Herring likens the development of the Jewish people, to the development of a company or corporation.

We began as a family owned business (Abraham through Jacob). Jacob moves the company because of economic developments. It prospers and spins off into 12 different divisions. We experience a hostile takeover, Egyptian enslavement, which takes us off mission. A few dissenters, Moses and Aaron, try to steer the company back towards its founding mission and a return to the corporate headquarters.

Because of years with lack of corporate focus, Moses ‘hires’ an outside organizational consultant – Jethro. Herring continues the story with great expertise, but I want to stop here. I recently worked with a large synagogue on long term strategic planning and organizational development. I recommended they use a non-Jewish consultant, one who is well-known in the church world but who had never worked with a synagogue. Knowing this consultant and his work well, I knew he would be a perfect match for the synagogue. Fortunately, I was right and the consultation was (and is) working very well. This congregation, which some deemed dysfunctional beyond repair, is well on its way back to health, vitality, and mission focus.

In some respects I was lucky. But I had an ulterior motive in recommending this consultant. I have nothing against synagogue consultants. Many are excellent change facilitators. But the change they facilitate is sometimes shrouded in a ‘business as usual’ paradigm. Many times, synagogue consultants are focused on getting the congregation back to stasis, a state of no change, what Larry Hoffman calls the ‘default’ mode. I think this is, in part, because rabbis and synagogue leaders don’t know what they don’t know. This synagogue was willing to venture outside their comfort zone, the default Jewish world, to see what they didn’t know that might be possible. The consultant recently commented to me, “I had no presuppositions about how synagogues work. I think if I’d been an insider my presuppositions would have clouded the work.”

Might the synagogue world take a lesson from this congregation’s experience? Moses went to his most trusted advisor, his father-in-law, for leadership advice. He didn’t care that Jethro was not part of the tribe. He was the best resource to address the issue. Synagogues might consider this model.

Stay tuned for part 2 – what the consultant discovered about synagogues!