Passing the Baton

Messianic Judaism currently finds itself in a continuity dilemma (see my previous post from 2010, “Is Messianic Judaism in Crisis?”).   Although part of me is optimistic about the future of our movement, especially with the current work of MJTIMJRC, and the UMJC; there is also another part of me that is deeply concerned. With statistics and numbers currently being what they are, there is a very real chance that without HaShem’s direct intervention, any sort of “movement” with large numbers and influence may not exist in 100 years.

Let me explain …

The Dilemma of Numbers

There are approximately over 500 Messianic congregations (or more) around the world. 99% of those are led by people in their 50’s and 60’s who may seek to retire in the next 5 – 10 years. And even right this moment, there are congregations already struggling to find a leader without enough viable candidates. And to my knowledge, I can count on two hands the number of young leaders currently equipped and gifted, or who are currently in the pipeline studying and being mentored in preparation, for congregational leadership.

There just currently are not enough young leaders to replace those seeking to retire.

Pioneers vs. Builders

This leads to a second very real reality. Although we appreciate all of those who have gone before us and have made incredible sacrifices, the current generation is not the generation of pioneers who founded the modern Messianic movement. Many of the early leaders had a clear calling and vision but were not necessarily equipped for the work they found themselves doing. As the movement has matured, it now expects much more out of its up and coming young leaders.  But, these young leaders are not the pioneers. We have different skills, gifts, and understandings of what the rabbinate entails.

This reality of pioneers verses builders is true in every society, and we also see examples of this within the Scriptures. The generation that left Egypt was not the same generation that entered into the Promised Land. The work and the expectations were different. Pioneers are the initial individuals who sacrifice it all to embark into uncharted territory to plant new works and build new homes. They take incredible risks with often minimal results.

What follows are the builders. Builders cannot do what they do without the initial sacrifice and work of the pioneers, but the skills and expectations of the builders are very different. It takes different skills to take the efforts of what the pioneers planted and turn it into a city, a factory, a country, or a truly world-wide Movement.

The rabbinate clearly requires sacrifice. With that said, however, younger leaders of today are not the pioneers of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. While still willing to make sacrifices, we are often  not willing to make the same kind of family or financial sacrifices.  Therefore, in order to attract younger leaders who have the education and skills required, we have to make it worth their investment of time, education, and expertise.

The Cost/Benefit Dilemma

If the Messianic Jewish movement is going to mature with the times, we have to rethink how we perceive our clergy. Messianic Jewish rabbis are (or should be) professionals.  We are rabbis within the Jewish community.

From a halachic perspective, we do not pay a rabbi for what they do as a rabbi. Rather, we compensate them for what they could be doing if they were not a rabbi. Meaning, if we expect the same caliber of Messianic Rabbis that we do from other professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. – we have to make the Messianic Jewish rabbinate attractive enough to young people with clear skills and talents who would otherwise go into other professions. Granted, this is easier said than done – particularly financially.

But, if Messianic Judaism cannot raise-up the numbers of young leaders it currently needs to replace itself, it is going to witness many congregations fizzle out (in my humble opinion, this can actually be a good thing – but that’s another post).

Messianic Judaism currently faces a dilemma of continuity. If Mashiach should tarry – we have to ask ourselves – will there be a sizable Messianic Judaism in the future? To change this reality will require work.  But it will also require a greater number of young people willing to choose Messianic leadership as a calling and vocation. Additionally, this is not just a question of leadership numbers, but the overall vision of what Messianic Judaism should even be. I hope we find the investment worth making and are able to find others to pass the baton to.

What do you think???

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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15 Responses to Passing the Baton

  1. James says:

    I can’t speak to this with the overarching scope the topic deserves, but I wonder if this might not be a mixed blessing separating the wheat from the chafe, so to speak. There are a lot of congregations that call themselves “Messianic Judaism” but don’t particularly fit what I suspect is your model for MJ congregations (Jewish leadership w/a Rabbi of comparable education/background to Rabbis in the other Judaisms). What you might get in the next generation is a lot fewer MJ synagogues that fit this mold (I don’t think there are a lot of them out there right now) but with a more solid foundation and history than what we have out there now.

    Of course, that’s sheer speculation on my part and naturally, I can be totally wrong. Messianic Judaism as you describe may all but disappear in ten to fifteen years leaving only the generally Gentile, loosely organized, and not particularly professional groups that are out there right now. There will always be disaffected Christians looking for greener theological pastures and one possible but undesirable outcome, is that they may make up the majority of groups who call themselves “Messianic Judaism” as the 21st century progresses.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Hi James,

      I actually think it might be (and am hoping it will be) the opposite of the scenario in your second paragraph above. I think that because the pressures of assimilation and continuity are already so great for those who are Jewish – the Gentile wing of Messianic Judaism will be the one to fizzle out faster (possibly).

      Additionally, and this is already happening, resources meant to keep these congregations afloat from national organizations will prioritize their resources to save congregations in heavily Jewish population centers, rather than in small rural areas. Additionally, leaders (who are Jewish) will be assisted in plugging into specific congregations more strategically. This is now actually part of a new plan of action of the UMJC’s K20 program.

  2. Adam F says:

    The question I have is how can the church at large support true messianic Judaism, instead of an us & them mentality, so that it stays strong for the next generation?

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Adam,

      I think there is actually great potential for a relationship between the Church and Messianic Judaism that can be mutually beneficial and respectful of each community’s unique calling and identity.

  3. James says:

    Actually, that was the point of a lot of the presentations at the FFOZ Shavuot Conference I attended a few weeks ago. Part of the solution is for “Messianic Gentiles” (for lack of a better term) who are currently in or planning to return to a church setting, to foster support for Messianic Judaism (and Judaism in general) within larger Christianity. This is probably a multigenerational project, but I met two Christian Pastors at the conference who were already implementing this in their churches.

    • Rivka says:

      I thing, taht is an excellent question! and I totally agree with you, Joushua, but the answer is throught the work of all the serious representants and organizations in MJ movement, work to create fundations in differents countries to help, support and scholarships to finance studies among ours youngs leaders.
      The other work, is to built strong comunities, not only sinagogues. Jewish Messianic comunities are very importants and in my opinion are the key of the future. Around the comunities we have, the life cycle of jewish life, of Torah ! if we don’t work to built this comunities, our movement could not change, deeply… We will continue to see messianic churchs instead of messianic sinagogues ! times are changing very fast ! we have a lot of work!

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      James,

      That is very interesting. That would actually (G-d willing!) create even greater support within the Church towards Messianic Judaism.

  4. Laura says:

    This is such a tricky (yet true) conversation. I think the earlier generations of pioneers had an easier time allowing people without intense training to still pursue a calling to serve in the MJ community. They just had to be willing to get their hands dirty. In our current place I love that our new leaders are so well trained, but what of those who know they may never be a great theological scholar who still want to get their hands dirty? I wish our congregations were large enough to need a support staff and put all of those people to work, doing the necessary labor to create well rounded programing for our kids and communities, but we often don’t have the resources to make that happen. We’re struggling enough just to find young rabbis and help them make a living. And then those rabbis have to be event planners and program directors on top of being teacher and spiritual leaders. There aren’t many who are capable of all that! It’s going to take a cooperative effort from many personality types and talents to rise up and keep us strong in the next generation.

  5. Jeff says:

    One thing I have discussed with a friend of mine ,who is an anglican priest, is the establishment of a Jewish branch of the anglican church that is separate yet equal while being under the authority of the archbishop of the anglican see. This would ensure monetary support as well as being able to help Jews in the high church settings reconnect with their jewish heritage. Granted this would not happen overnight and would require MJ to agree with the 39 articles of faith of the anglican church. Paul Levertoff, I believe, was trying to establish that and I believe that the “baton” he started may have been passed on to us. By establishing a messianic jewish branch in the anglican church we could see widespread growth, and our rabbis could have valid s’micha that goes back to the disciples and the Master himself. I know that what I speak is not popular and probably not well recieved by most in the MJ movement at large, but we need the support of our christian brothers and sisters. I did a passover seder last year at one of the anglican churches in my town and had a majority of the congregation come up afterward to tell me how they hadn’t had a seder since the were a child. Half this church it turns out was jewish! The church where my friend is a priest also has a large jewish population in it, and on the small occasion that I go there, I usually see someone from my synagogue ( I attend a reform/conservative synagogue).
    Overall, I think that this could be a viable option for the MJ movement but it will take a lot of work.

    • Jeff says:

      I wanted to clarify on something I said regarding s’micha. I am not in any way saying that messianic jewish rabbis today don’t have a valid s’micha from a valid bet din (ourrabbis.org for example). I just mean that it would say alot as disciples of Yeshua to be able to say that our rabbis in MJ have s’micha going back to the Master himself. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t offend. I would love to see a vibrant messianic jewish community thriving in the next 10-20 years without the aid of the church yet being in one accord with it. G-d willing it will happen! Shabbat shalom Rabbi Joshua.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Jeff,

      That could be a viable option for some Jews within the Church, and as you already mentioned, there are large numbers.

      However, at the same time, we desperately need, and I am an advocate for, a movement within Judaism of Jewish followers of Yeshua.

      • Jeff says:

        I agree with you there, a viable home and movement within judaism would be ideal. It is possible within the non orthodox judaisms right now, for example, the jewish federation in my state has as the president a jewish woman who is a jewish believer. The synagogue I attend has several believing jews who sit on the board. I recognize that this is probably not possible in every state, but as the liberal branches of judaism become more accepting of jews of various backgrounds, it does open a door for believing jews to have a home with mainstream judaism.

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