Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Congregations Gone Wild

Last week the NY Times featured an article about members of the clergy burning out at an alarming rate. This week the Times featured a follow-up op-ed piece suggesting that perhaps the burnout stems from the fact that congregations don't want pastors anymore. They want entertainers.

...pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

I feel their pain.
I don't want to leave an incorrect impression. I loved the rabbinate. I loved speaking and teaching, interacting with people, visiting them in the hospital. None of that bothered me in the least. And I never shied away from letting people know what I thought, which is probably why my shuls, while they certainly remained healthy, were never magnets attracting hordes of people. I'm not very good at showy, feel-good Judaism, and people looking for that sort of thing stayed away. (There were other places to go that would let you talk through davening uninterrupted. Just not my shul.)
Yet, as I looked at different rabbinic opportunities other than in Michigan, I noticed that the rabbinate seemed less about being a "rav", and more about being the "CEO" of the congregation. Rabbis are expected to manage numerous aspects of congregational life, from PR to scheduling to fund raising to office management - none of which can be called core responsibilities of the classic rabbinic role. In my shul in Israel (which has no rabbi), members fulfill all of those roles voluntarily. Yet, most rabbis in shuls in the U.S. do all of those things and more. (I know rabbis who set up the chairs and take care of the building.)
People ask me whether it's harder living in Israel now that I have to have three jobs (four really). I answer honestly: first of all, my last year in the United States I taught two hours in the morning, so I had two jobs. But when you add up the time that I spent in the shul, plus the nighttime shiurim, Shabbat, meetings, etc. - how many jobs did I have back then?
Perhaps clergy burnout happens not only because congregations expect to be entertained. The burnout might also be a result of a rabbi not only being the rabbi, but the CEO, executive director, scheduling head, chief fundraiser, youth director, etc.
That's too many jobs for anyone. Even a rabbi.