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Governance Structures

The ultimate governing authority in every congregation is the membership. The synagogue board and committees, comprised of individuals from the membership who, after being democratically selected, serve as representatives in visioning, executing and preserving the stated goals and values of the community. The board and committees are responsible for actualizing the goals of the community along with the staff, including its education, worship, religious, social and cultural activities. They are also responsible for managing staff and volunteers and for making sure that all the "work" of the community gets done. This includes busy work, paper work, lawn work, spiritual work, educational work…in short, sustaining the life and vitality of the synagogue rests in the hands of the board and committees, not only the paid professional staff. This is not a matter of striving for power or protecting authority, rather it is as an organic, living system-authority is delegated to fulfill communally necessary functions.

In this section, we will explore the various types of board and committee structures that exist within the Reconstructionist movement. Boards and congregational committees vary from congregation to congregation. They vary in size, in tradition, practice, technique, and in the ways that the rabbi and other professionals interrelate with them. They also vary in the degree to which they delegate authority. No one model will apply for all congregations. By looking at a variety of Reconstructionist models, we can learn about the range of board sizes, practices and policies that exist and determine which models may be more conducive to the particular demographics of a given congregation.

In this section, we will also study how Reconstructionist communities are incorporating Jewish values into their systems of governance through board and committee work.

The Governing Board:

It is the work of the board to keep aloft the vision of making the congregation a sacred community. Certainly, board members are responsible for policy, planning, financial resources and supervision of senior staff and programming based on the congregation's mission. However, serving on the board is also an important opportunity to receive; board members should be spiritually nurtured and encouraged to grow in leadership ability. It is not the work of the board to generate policies. Policies should come from committees to the board. It is not the work of the board to micro-manage committees. Committees are accountable to the board in fulfilling their mandates and informing the board as to their work. Decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. This means that the real work of the board, as stated before, is to ensure that the mission/vision of the congregation is fulfilled. The board must always keep looking forward.

As you study these documents you might ask the following questions:
 

  • How do these documents reflect effective models for governing boards according to the size and demographics of a given community?
     
  • How are the basic requirements of board members articulated in these documents?
     
  • How are the values of the congregation and Jewish models of leadership demonstrated in these documents?
     
  • What are some the basic elements of board member job descriptions as demonstrated by these sample documents?
     
  • How are term limits defined?
     
  • How is the pool of skilled and talented people brought forth?
     
  • How do you involve and promote collective responsibility?
     
  • How do boards function effectively without undermining the committee process?
     
  • How do boards reach out to those that they represent (the congregants) and ensure that they are including the voices of all constituencies in the congregation into the decision-making process?
     

The Executive Committee:

The Executive Committee of a congregation is usually comprised of the President, Vice President(s), Treasurer, Secretary and either the Executive Director or the Rabbi or both. The Executive Committee is not a "small group" of people that runs things from behind the scenes. It is a leadership group that assists the board in prioritizing and sorting through issues. It helps the board function more effectively.

As you study documents and discuss issues relating to the Executive Committee, you might ask the following questions:
 

  • What is the function of the Executive Committee?
     
  • What are some models for who serves on the Executive Committee?
     
  • What are the roles of the Executive Committee in relation to other synagogue committees?
     
  • What are some models for the Executive Committee aiding the board in implementing the process of values based decision-making and values clarification?
     

Committees:

Committees, not the board, are the location of most congregational decision-making. At the direction of the board, or in response to pressing issues, committees form policy suggestions so that the board can vote on them. They plan and help execute programming as mandated by the board and the mission/vision of the congregation, or involve and collaborate with the rabbi and staff where appropriate and applicable. Committees in Congregational life are like staff persons in other non-profits. Once they have their mandates, they do not by definition need to go back to the board in their decision-making process unless they are asking for money, making in-term reports, recommendations or seeking additional information. A committee has relative autonomy as long as it is following congregational policy and is acting within its mandate.

Consider the following questions when studying the texts in this section:
 

  • What is the function of committees within the governance system in these documents?
     
  • Who serves on committees?
     
  • Who chairs committees?
     
  • What types of committees can congregations have as part of their governance system?
     
  • What committees might a congregation add to the standard committee list to actualize the mission of the community?
     
  • What are some of the tasks that are listed in our sample job descriptions for committees?
     
  • How can boards empower committees to do the "work" of the congregation?
     
  • How can committees increase meeting attendance?
     

Meetings:

Congregational leaders know that the work of the congregation relies heavily on the effectiveness of meetings. Often meetings are viewed as a necessary evil. Unlike prayer services or adult education classes, meetings take on the air of the mundane and secular, if not the painful or boring. This is something that a congregation lets happen. Meetings need not be the one area of congregational life where fun, joy, excitement and the sacred are absent.

While studying these documents consider the following questions:
 

  • How can meetings run more smoothly and effectively?
     
  • How are congregations incorporating Jewish values, rituals, and teachings into their board, committee and congregational meetings?
     
  • What are some principles of effective meeting facilitation? How do leaders deal with difficult members?
     
  • To what extent can the Internet replace the need for meetings? How frequent should the community meet?
     

When thinking about how to stimulate meeting attendance, consider the following points:
 

  • Have we chosen the best meeting time?
     
  • Have we made the best choice of meeting place?
     
  • Did the meeting notice include all the relevant details and was it sent out well in advance?
     
  • Did we send out a meeting agenda?
     
  • Is there some kind of systematic follow-up when members are absent?
     
  • Is a record of attendance kept?
     
  • How do we make our members feel needed and important?

 

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