When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
In a very thought-provoking piece on the future of church attendance, Pastor Cary Nieuwhof draws a critical distinction between model and mission. Models are, essentially, means, while missions are ends—which we confuse at our peril. For as Nieuwhof notes: “The difference [between congregations that will ultimately succeed and those that fail] will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model. Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years. See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts….moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video. . . Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak). We need to stay focused on the mission and be exceptionally innovative in our model.”
This is as true for us in the Jewish world as it is for churches and corporations—and it always has been. In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, Moses' prolonged time away atop Mt. Sinai throws the Israelites into a panic. They fear that in the absence of the man who has led them out of Egypt, God will abandon them. And so they commission Aaron to build them a golden calf. Without the customary model—a powerful, charismatic leader—they forget the mission: the service of the Holy One.
As we move our CABI community forward, let us be careful to heed this warning. Our mission is timeless: to empower our community to live richer Jewish lives grounded in Torah (life-long learning), Avodah (spiritual growth), and G’milut Hasadim (acts of lovingkindness). But the way we achieve that mission requires innovation and creativity, so that we can remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. In other words, we must be open to changing how we do things—in order to preserve the core of what we do.
This week, consider: How, in your personal and communal life, can you be more open to creativity in your model in order to better fulfill your mission?
Thank you to Rabbi Seth Goldstein for calling my attention to Pastor Nieuwhof's piece.