As you read this, Jews for Jesus is in transition. In May, David Brickner was elected the new Executive Director of Jews for Jesus!
David decided to remain in New York until after the Summer Witnessing Campaign since he was slated to lead the Campaign before he was named Executive Director—a good executive decision! He will arrive at our San Francisco headquarters in August.
I will do all I can to serve under David and uphold the policies of Jews for Jesus. I’m not retiring! I think that I have some good years remaining to witness to unbelievers and encourage Jewish believers in their faith.
I’d like to pass on some of my thoughts about what it has meant to lead this ministry over the past 23 years. I’ll begin by telling you some of the good principles on which Jews for Jesus was founded. They might appear random, but they are a collection of measuring rods that have formed a basis for our policies and procedures. As you read, maybe you will pray for us to have God’s grace, that we might continue to do all we can to measure up” as a ministry.
The most important issue for each blood-bought child of God is that of obedience. I became an evangelist-missionary because God called me into His service. That call greatly surprised me. I would have volunteered if I thought that I qualified, but I knew I wasn’t godly enough. I felt like I was drafted into God’s army, and I wasn’t going to be a draft-dodger. Answering His call and presenting myself in obedience to the divine decree led me into a career filled with joy and satisfaction. Obedience to God is the best attitude we can cultivate.
As the leader of Jews for Jesus, it was my duty to expect staff to comply with my directives. But I never wanted us to do things a certain way because “Moishe wants it that way.” I wanted our staff members to do what they could recognize as right—not because I wanted it, but because God wanted it. I did my best to base directives on principles, to foster obedience to God rather than myself.
We can only obey God when we know what God has said. He calls us to travel a certain way, and His way is illuminated by His Word—so we look for principles that are based in Scripture.
God calls us to bear a cross. There is no way to obey God and avoid the cross. Nor is there an easy way to be crucified with Christ. Crosses and crucifixion, by nature, are difficult to endure. We Jews have a cultural aversion to crosses, but God didn’t ask what I like.
God wants us to be in the world but not of the world. Because we are citizens of heaven, the world will not love us like it loves its own. God wants us to please Him rather than the world. God’s standard is very different from the world’s. His standard of success is for us to be servants now and rulers in the life to come. I believe that as much as we humble ourselves to serve, that is the extent to which we will be exalted when we graduate the school of life.
We believe, practice and teach others that people should support their own congregations before they support any other ministry, including ours. The church is not a spiritual service station where we get our vehicles fueled. (By church I mean the local body of the Messiah, whether it is a Messianic Congregation or another gathering of believers in Jesus.) The church is the vehicle, and it is fueled by the Holy Spirit.
Another principle has to do with numbers. God’s paradigm in Scripture is to use a few to do much. That was his lesson to Gideon, and that is His lesson to Jews for Jesus. Many ministries today want large crowds to take part. But God is always pleased to do more with less, that His victory might be apparent and His glory displayed. He also wants us to care for individuals. We can’t let ourselves fail to see trees because we are looking at forests, which are merely crowds of trees. The individual must be more important to us.
I’ve always felt that God did not want Jews for Jesus to engage in some of the common methods of fund raising to meet our needs. The challenge is not to collect more money to carry on the ministry. The challenge is to gather people and inspire them to love Yeshua more. They will exercise that love by providing themselves and their substance to serve Him.
The God of truth has only one way of salvation and that is in Christ. Any religion that fails to recognize that is inadequate, and any philosophy that teaches against the fact that salvation is uniquely taught in Christ is false. I know it is politically incorrect to refer to anything as being absolutely true or false, but our calling was not to political correctness.
There are many other principles upon which we’ve tried to operate Jews for Jesus. Each one deserves to be a whole article—maybe even a booklet—but after all, I have to leave something for the next Executive Director to write!
I feel I should share some of the struggles of leading this mission so that you’ll know how to pray for our new Executive Director, David Brickner. I hesitate to call it the down side because we learn and grow through the struggles.
Leading an organization like Jews for Jesus means constantly making decisions. The hard part is knowing that each decision affects people’s lives. For example, David was Chief of Station in our New York branch when he was elected Executive Director. A huge decision for him was, “Who should take my place in New York?” The challenges of living and serving in New York are unique, and besides, whoever moves there will leave another post that must be filled by someone else, which will leave a post that needs to be filled by someone else.…These are weighty decisions.
With such continual decisions to make, no matter how much you pray and seek the Lord, no matter how much you look to trusted advisors, you will still make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Part of being in charge is that more people have to live with our mistakes. A good leader cannot be paralyzed by fear of mistakes. God knows leaders are imperfect when He chooses them. He can use mistakes to His glory when all parties involved look to Him. A good leader is aware of his or her shortcomings and seeks ways to compensate for them.
Leaders are also continually scrutinized. Sometimes they are unfairly judged because many people derive a sense of their own importance by criticizing leaders. Usually it is a waste of energy to try to justify oneself.
When I was a boy, my father punished me for something I did not do. My brother did it, denied it and I suffered the consequences in his place. Of course, I had done the same to him on occasion. We frequently blamed each other when one of us got caught in a wrong. He would tell our parents that I told him to do it, though after a while my parents realized that he rarely did anything that I told him to do. Well, you know how it is. Boys will be boys. But as my father punished me, I wailed loudly, “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. He did it!” My dad turned to me and said, “Stop. I don’t know if you did it or he did it, but if you didn’t do it, this is for all of the things that you did do that you didn’t get caught at.” I had to admit that I’d done plenty of things for which I had escaped punishment. I try to remind myself of that when people say things about me that might not be quite fair.
Recently a coworker relayed a comment made by the head of another mission that implied I was less than sincere about a public statement I made. That caused me some pain. I found a bit of comfort in knowing that it was untrue, but the fact that he seemed to think it was true stung. I had to remind myself: had that person been able to examine my life with more discernment, he would have found out that he was wrong…but he also would have found other ungodly things about me that are sometimes true.
It is a struggle to keep from defending oneself. I have learned that unless an accusation or remark is hurting something other than my feelings, there are better things to do with my time and energy than to try to vindicate myself. That extends to our ministry as well.
Jews for Jesus has faced what is known in Australia as the tall poppy syndrome. That is, in a field of poppies, if one grows a little higher than the rest, someone will cut it down. Why? It doesn’t look right—it takes away from the uniformity of the field. In some ways, Jews for Jesus has been a tall poppy. That is not a boast because we did not make ourselves grow, but we’ve tried to be faithful to our particular calling, and we are what we are. Sometimes I’ve felt that some of my colleagues wanted us to be less.
Others expect us to be more than we are. A friend of our ministry asked a question that implied we are the leaders of Jewish believers in Jesus the world over. Jews for Jesus is not the leader of the movement of Jews who believe in Yeshua. We never offered ourselves as such, and we wouldn’t want the responsibility or the accountability. What you must see is that no person or organization is leading the Jewish believers. We don’t have a Vatican, and we don’t have a pope. We do have Yeshua, and He brings us together.
In the past, when I did newspaper or radio interviews, one question that was certain to irritate me was: “How many followers do you have?” I explained time and time again that I do not have followers. I never wanted followers. Nor have I offered myself as a model of how or where people should go because I realize that some of my attitudes, habits and behaviors are hardly exemplary. I don’t want people to look to me to lead them. I want them to look to the Perfect One, Yeshua.
Nevertheless, it is all too human to look for stars and champions. Worldliness has crept into the body of Christ. If we were to select a king of Jewish believers, we would probably make the mistake that ancient Israel made and desire one who was head and shoulders above the crowd, whose countenance was pleasant and who was most agreeable to us. We would then do what Israel did with Saul—corrupt that leader by giving him more power and more authority than God intended for any person to have. No, Yeshua must be the leader.
While I’m on the topic of leadership, I’ve got some general concerns to express. One of the plagues that has hindered the messianic movement, the Jewish Christian movement, the Jewish believers’ movement or whatever you prefer to call us—is a presumption of what we are. There is no actual, monolithic movement led by one person or group. We all have two things in common: Jewishness and a confidence that Yeshua is the Messiah.
Movement implies direction, and you could say we have that since we are headed toward heaven and we all agree that Yeshua is the way. But we’re not exactly moving together. Some are standing about wondering where they can get a bicycle, motorcycle, jet plane or some other means of transportation, not realizing that pilgrims should use their feet, not their seat. Others are doing the three-step dance, that is, two steps forward and one step back. It’s a slow way to go, but some enjoy the rhythm. Others make sweeping statements about the success of the movement, but there’s no hard evidence that I know of. For example, did you know that there were more Jewish believers in the 1920s and 1930s than there are now? 1
I thank God that there has been a steady flow of fellow Jews coming to faith. I thank God that we are not called upon to renounce our Jewishness but are allowed and encouraged by the church to be who we are and to testify that Yeshua affirms, confirms and gives meaning to our Jewishness. Maybe that is the difference we are noticing. The improvement of worldwide communications has made us more aware of brothers and sisters we never knew we had. I don’t believe we are yet experiencing a worldwide revival, but we are far more aware of our mishpochah all over the world through modern air travel, long distance telephone and e-mail. All of this is wonderful and encouraging, but I’m concerned that some leaders of the movement stir up excessive enthusiasm over exaggerated victories.
The blessed hope never was and never will be the growth of our movement. The blessed hope is the return of Yeshua. In fact, ours seems to be a continually dividing movement. Some cite ideology as the cause of division. I disagree. I believe divisions usually come down to personalities and “supply and demand.” When more than enough people want to be shepherds and there is a shortage of sheep, rustling is a strong temptation.
None of us likes to think we would do such a thing, but what else is it when we tell people how the grass is greener on our side of the fence and ours is the “happening” flock? Worse yet, some gain a following by advertising other shepherds’ failures.
Do we need leaders? Well, the fact of the matter is we need servants. Yeshua had disciples, not a committee. He went among people, not to conferences. He made Himself vulnerable, not invincible. If Yeshua is the leader, some of us better learn how to do the foot washing, the dish washing and the floor washing. We need to learn to wait on others, to wait on the Lord, to wait for people to grow. We need to find those who recognize that teaching children is important and that older people are worth our time—people who understand that sweeping the sidewalk in front of the meeting place is worthwhile.
I didn’t join the church at which I am a member because it was the best church in town. It was a church that needed what I wanted to give. Yeshua didn’t look for the best and the richest people to recruit as his disciples. In fact, He was more demanding of the wealthy. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and follow Him. He didn’t tell that to Peter, who only owned a house and a couple of fishing boats. And yet leaders like Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus followed Him.
Another misconception about leadership that disturbs me is what I call the “rabbi syndrome.” A Christian leader once told me that if only we could win the rabbis to Christ, then we could get all the other Jews to follow. Well, Benedict Arnold’s army didn’t swear allegiance to King George III. When a Jew, whether he is an ordinary Jew or a rabbi, gives himself to Yeshua, so far as the other rabbis are concerned, he is a Benedict Arnold. I don’t consider myself a traitor, but I know I am regarded in that way. I am an outcast, but it is worth it to have gained the pearl of great price—to have gained Yeshua. It would be the same for rabbis as it is for the rest of us. If they came to faith in Yeshua, they would be discredited and “de labeled.” To speak openly of Him would prove their unworthiness to the rest of the Jewish community.
You see, no leader can get people to go where they don’t want to go. Sheep aren’t big enough to stampede. In an attempt to stampede God’s flock to this leader or that leader, sheep get scattered and lost.
To those of us who are or would be leaders, Scripture warns us, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things” (James 3:1-2). The pitfalls of leadership are very real.
Contemporary writer Eugene Peterson warns:
American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. 2
The great pitfall is that pastors can abandon their posts with no one the wiser, including those pastors. This is also a danger in the messianic movement, and it’s a danger in Jews for Jesus. Some have learned the art of maintaining a spiritual image, garnering the approval of all who look on. Frankly, it’s easy for leaders to be all form and no substance. After all, whether a leader spends time alone in prayer and Bible reading is a private matter. Few people know how much or how little we exert ourselves spiritually. But God knows, and He promises us a stricter judgment.
Paul told Timothy to “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16). If we pay attention to ourselves as leaders, to our spirituality and our integrity, we’ll be able to keep the community attentive to God. To do otherwise is to abandon our posts. We all have moments, even days when we are not where we should be. The danger is that those days can actually slip into weeks, months and years. The personal battle to remain spiritually alert and prepared demands our constant attention.
Well, despite the struggles and concerns, it has been a joy to lead the ministry of Jews for Jesus. For the most part, I’ve received far better from people than I’ve deserved, and what can I say about God’s grace? I marvel at all of the friends that I’ve found and I rejoice to have so many affirming and helpful colleagues in other Jewish ministries.
My favorite part of being the leader of Jews for Jesus was the opportunities. I loved being able to dream great things to proclaim the gospel and have the means of seeing those things come to pass—as with our gospel ads in the secular media. I enjoyed the ability to recognize other people’s talents and help them dream and become more than they expected to be for the Lord.
The position enabled me to meet many wonderful people and see many interesting places. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said that the comforts and perquisites afforded a leader meant nothing to me. I’ve enjoyed those too. But I never liked the responsibility of being in authority. On the one hand, I’ve always enjoyed being able to influence people’s lives, and on the other, I’ve always abhorred the responsibility of placing requirements upon others.
I’ll need your prayers to adjust to my new status. I’ll miss the people that I work with every day. But I’m sure that I’ll see them from time to time. I know I will have to fight the temptation to say, “If I was still in charge I would.…” That’s just human nature. If you pray for me, pray that I will be able to set an example in upholding the principles of Jews for Jesus and affirming David Brickner in his leadership.
But I want you to pray for David too. If you read our May newsletter, or if you know much about Jews for Jesus, you know that I did not choose my successor. However, I am heartily pleased with the outcome, and I believe that the choice is of God. It is my pleasure to commend David to you, and if you read our July newsletter, you can see how very highly I think of him.
I always told our leaders that they should want my position. Scripture says, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). Then I carefully pointed out, “It’s a position that I had to earn and that you must earn.” David Brickner would be the first to tell you that he has much to learn about the position of Executive Director, as any successor would. However, I think that most, if not all of the Jews for Jesus staff realize that my stepping down does not leave us with a successor but with many successors. Many people on our staff were qualified to lead Jews for Jesus. Even as they were being considered for the position, each one declared readiness to serve under the one who would be chosen. David has some of the top people in the field of Jewish missions to support him, just as I have had.
I am looking forward to seeing what God will do in this next phase of Jews for Jesus. I want to continue serving in ways that David thinks are best and to follow his leadership, knowing that his true Shepherd and mine is Yeshua.
- In the nineteenth century, the figures on Jews coming to faith in Jesus were based on recorded baptisms. Records show that 72,000 Jews were baptized in Protestant churches and 132,000 Jews were baptized in Catholic or Orthodox churches.
- Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1987), p. 1.