Growing up on a Kibbutz in Israel, it seemed completely natural to me to seamlessly wear different hats at the same time: I was a Kibbutz member, a parent, a boss, an employee and a volunteer/lay leader. Our wearing different hats strengthened the kibbutz. But is it possible to balance being a professional in a synagogue community, along with developing close, meaningful and authentic relationships with staff and congregation members at the same time? Can the same kibbutz model work in a synagogue or a church?
The executive director’s role in a synagogue setting is complicated. In Thriving in the Second Chair, Mike Bonem discusses the role of the executive pastor and his relationship with the senior pastor. Second chair leaders play a critical role in churches across the country; they carry heavy responsibilities, lead teams of staff and volunteers, and oversee a variety of programs. They are “the boss” to many, yet they are not ultimately in charge. The same relationship often exists between the executive director and the senior rabbi in a synagogue.
The executive director’s role is to be the "navigator" or the “glue” that keeps it all together. Although s/he is involved in every aspect of the synagogue, it is more of a behind-the-scenes role which is directly responsible for the smooth operation of the entire organization. When a crisis occurs, it is the executive director who is expected to keep the place running despite the chaos. Since the executive director is at the center of communication with clergy, staff, committee chairs and board of trustees it becomes crucial for this person to maintain a neutral position. The executive director needs to walk a narrow line of offering expertise but not taking sides and not stepping on anyone’s toes.
Relationships play a key role in order to have the clergy, executive director, and lay leaders work in a partnership and share responsibility during a crisis. Trust and integrity become essential. This trust and responsibility leads us to make important decisions, oftentimes with ethical and religious ramifications. The need for a framework of an ethical code was recognized by NATA (the National Association of Temple Administration; our national synagogue organization for synagogue executive directors) who recently undertook a long process to create a code of ethics. The Code of Ethics is intended to be a support mechanism to articulate the expectations and standards for ethical behavior for NATA members and staff. The Code provides a framework for behavior that helps us set appropriate boundaries and encourages us to be more aware and effective professionals.
Yes, it is possible to work and thrive in an environment where we wear many different hats, especially in a crisis situation, when the ED has sometimes to “fill more cracks” and expand his/her functions as needed. If we are able to establish trust with our partners, remain neutral and ethical, we can play a key role in a healing process.
* Learn more about how to expand care and build resilient ministries on the ICTG training page.