So I posted this to Facebook already and it's been around pretty quickly, but this week Newsweek/Daily Beast posted their Top 50 Rabbis for 2012. Aside from Final Four bracket jokes and being "number 51 again" etc., it's interesting that it comes out at this time of year, when we as a people are so focused on numbers: counting plagues, times to say 'dayeinu', the various number games of the Haggadah, and of course the counting of the Omer, beginning Saturday night and running until Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the Barley Harvest and the giving of the Torah.
I first noticed the list a couple of years ago. At first, it was a nice way to celebrate some colleagues' achievements. And it seemed like a good bit of American fun (we have so many top 10 lists, thank you Casey Kasem and David Letterman). Now I worry about it. Not too much, but enough to raise an eyebrow. Is it an ego thing now? Is it meaningful? I suspect most of the people on the list don't have time to process that they're on the list, they're just knuckling down and doing the work that many of us do in our own congregations (just not quite at that scale). And I suspect it's not worth wringing our hands too much, except that it does help us ask the question: what does it mean to be a 'good' or 'successful' rabbi? I know many colleagues that struggle to figure out what the right 'metrics' are for evaluation: is it about bringing in new members (or retaining members)? Raising money? Running successful programs? Preaching meaningful sermons? Taking risks? Bringing kavod to the congregation? All of the above?
Which leads me to this article posted by my friend Ilan (who's blog is on my blogroll...somewhere. Dude, update man!). The article from the United Methodist Portal, is on how to better evaluate church performance, and the parallels are there for us. While we focus easily on numerical growth (and drive a lot of what we do in our congregations toward that, for obvious reasons) he asks a simple but incisive question: what would happen if we evaluated our congregations (and rabbis) based on how we provided opportunities for spiritual growth, for opportunities to connect with the sacred? In other words: did we offer enough Torah? Enough music? Enough davening? Classes to help people develop their spiritual practice--meditation, kabbalah, worship, dance? Did we organize around compassion and justice?
Looking back at the list, it seems to me that many of these individuals were focused on exactly that. Not gimmicks, not 'better marketing', not programs for their own sake, or to bring people together for 'mere' socialization, but with sacred purpose. After all is said and done, is the secret 'sauce' ma really just be authentic encounters with God and each other. In which case, we in congregational life should find more opportunities to be communities of intention, rather than 'merely' count heads.