If our members are the heroes, what are we?

We are the guide and we’re here to help.

In the structure of many stories, our focus is on the hero.

The hero has a significant need and encounters challenges and barriers on their journey to meet the need. At a certain point, the hero struggles with a big enough problem they cannot solve alone.

They need help. They need, what I call: the guide.

For our people, we are that help.

Here’s the problem: we have positioned ourselves, as organizations and congregations, as the hero in the stories we tell. This creates a conflict where both you and your member see yourselves as the hero.

We are not the hero of the story.

We are the guide.

When we tell stories as if we are the hero:

  • We communicate to our members that they aren’t as important as we are.
  • We confuse our members who see themselves as the hero.
  • We focus on ourselves instead of who we serve.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can tell our stories differently and it will matter.

Here’s how we make the mental shift:

We are in service to them.

In our role as the guide, we recognize that our job is to serve them. What does service mean?

Being in service to our audience or members means we seek to solve their problems before we try to solve our own. Our job is to help them succeed via programs, services, mentorship, and activities rather than their job to ensure we still exist.

Yes, this is simpler to write than it is to do, especially for those who run tight budgets. I get it, you are just trying to make it though.

When we create new activities for our congregations and organizations, we should be asking: “what do our people need and how do we accomplish that?” rather than “we need to do this, how do we get our people on board?

These are very different orientations. Our role is to provide them with value and benefits.

We have to change our communications.

Even though changing our programming to focus on the heroes is essential, starting with communications is a solid path.

In many cases, I’ve seen institutions frame their communications like this (in a generic sense):

  • WE need you, the members, to do this thing for us.
  • WE need you, the members, to support our existence.

“WE need you, the members” is the wrong framework.

It places us as the story’s hero rather than the role of guide.

In a recent analysis of congregational mission statements, I noticed this kind of language popping up:

“…whose members are invested and engaged in creating a welcoming, participatory synagogue…”
“…Come get to know us.”
“…strengthen our community.”

In these quotes, who is the hero of the story? The congregation is. Not the people.

The orientation of these examples is about how the member can help the institution. I don’t know anyone joining a congregation to make it more participatory. They might enjoy it more if it was participatory, of course, but that’s not their motivation to join.

There are many examples in our communications when we look for volunteers, promote events, and highlight services.

We ask them to help “us” instead of framing it as a way to support each other, the heroes of our story.

Here are some examples to draw from that might inspire a different approach:

  • “Morning minyan is a way to support one another” instead of “we need more people to come to minyan.”
  • “If you’ve ever considered being a Torah reader, our new class starts next week!” instead of “we need more Torah readers for Shabbat mornings.”
  • “We believe your children deserve a good Jewish education” instead of “we need you to sign up your children for religious school.”

The better we serve them, the happier they will be.

As I wrote here, the more we can serve them and solve their problems, the happier they will be.

Focusing on being the guide allows us to serve our purpose rather than compete with our people regarding who the hero is.

Happy, satisfied members are the best way to grow an organization. They will have an infinite number of challenges and barriers to overcome which provides us endless opportunities to be there, step by step, to support them.

It means we must shift our language, planning, and systems to remain in service.

Here are the steps you can take:

Be clear regarding who you serve and their needs. Not just generally, but for every program and communication.

Reframe your language to be hero-focused. It isn’t about us. It is about them.

Shift your internal conversations and planning meetings to match a service orientation. We have to model this behavior within our teams.

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About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.

He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.