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Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Man Who Gave Me His Synagogue: Leadership

Me & Paul Stein - Passover 2011 at Beit Messiah
The best people in life are those who not only say they believe in you but give you an opportunity to become what you are called to be and then support you with everything they have.  Truth be told there are not a lot of people in the world like that.  For me, other than my parents, that person is Paul Stein.  Paul has become a spiritual father for me.  He heard me speak in 2006 at Messiah Conference (International Conference of the MJAA) and came and spoke with me following my, first ever, adult class.  I had been in youth ministry for a few years and my dad gave me opportunities to preach but this was the first time I spoke with original material to a group of adults on a national level.

Following the class, Paul asked me if I would come to Seattle and speak to his congregation.  He offered to pay for the flight, hotel and food while I was in town and I felt like a big shot!  In 2007, I came to Seattle and spoke at Beit Messiah (now Restoration).  The Stein family wined and dined me and even took me to a Seattle Mariners game on Sunday.  It was a great trip.  I went home to New York and back to working with my parents.  By 2008, Laura and I knew that it was time to move on from working with my parents and begin to experiment and try some of my ideas for reaching my generation with the Gospel of Yeshua.

In 2009, we ended up in Maryland to lead a congregation.  It was quite a difficult year for me professionally.  I was a rookie rabbi with a new group of people in a new place.  We made some great friends in Maryland but it was also the most challenging experience in leading a congregation with such divergent views among the leadership, particularly in supporting a young new rabbi. There were so many things I could have done better there and decisions, in hindsight, I should not have made. As hard times often go though, it was great for our marriage because it forced us to lean more on each other and seek the Lord together.

At the end of ten months the congregation in Maryland did not want to move forward with me as their Rabbi and gave us three months severance.  I let a group of rabbi’s know that I was looking for another congregation and within twenty four hours I received a call from Paul Stein in Seattle. 

Paul didn't want to know much about what went wrong in Maryland and asked if we would fly to Seattle to candidate to lead Beit Messiah in Seattle.  I’m a New Yorker.  I was raised to never leave New York.  Some estimate there are still two million Jewish people in New York most of which need to hear the message of Yeshua. Maryland, between Baltimore and Washington D.C. is about three hundred thousand Jewish people.  Seattle has forty thousand.  My question for God was “why would you take me out of such large markets of need for the Gospel and send me to such a small market?”  God’s answer was something to the effect of “it’s none of your business!”

Looking back on these events now I am astonished that Paul trusted and supported me to lead a community he had been faithfully serving (and really kept together) for seven years. By April of 2010, (the exact end of my severance) Paul essentially gave me his congregation (He would say “The Lord’s congregation”).  He stepped down as leader and after six months he had the entire Board of Beit Messiah resign so that I could establish my own Board and move forward with a team that was my own.  Paul stayed on the Board of the congregation for two and a half years and was my biggest supporter and champion.  He relentlessly encouraged me and pushed me to be myself and try some of the things I had been dreaming of.  He not only gave me a salary but gave me his platform.  He leveraged his influence in our small congregation so that I could begin a process of becoming what God had called me to be.  He had no regard for his own reputation and totally trusted this then 31 year old to run with a vision and direction for our congregation in Seattle. I have come to love the city of Seattle with all my heart. I love living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  I have wanted to be  a Messianic rabbi my whole life and never would have imagined living in this part of the country.  But, almost four years into living here I could not imagine it any other way.  

Paul has been through some really crazy things in the last few years including loosing his sister, his mom, having a stroke and also welcoming his first grandchild into the world.  I pray for Paul, Miria, his kids and his family everyday. I don’t say that as a polite thing to say. I pray for Paul everyday and we get together for lunch as often as we can. For me Paul Stein will always be the guy who gave me a shot.  He has become a spiritual father for me because he went all in for me.  He put everything he had on the line for me.  He believed in me for what he believed God would use me to do not because I had a track record.  He is like Paul, writer of most of the New Testament, and I am Timothy who Paul called his “son in the faith.”

In 2012 and 2013, God has opened incredible doors and opportunities for me to MC and speak and MC at many important Messianic Jewish events.  I MC’d the Asheville Music Festival. I was a speaker and panelist at the last two MLR’s with Jewish Voice Ministries in Phoenix.  I spoke at Messiah 2013 on YMJA night. I MC’d a service at the national conference of the UMJC and was the keynote speaker at Jews For Jesus Ingathering East 2013.  Here’s the point.  I have a resume now and it will only continue to grow (God willing).  But, everything I have done so far and everything I will do comes from that crazy moment in 2006 when Paul Stein heard me speak and began praying, even then, that I would come to Seattle.  Everything that is happening for me professionally goes back to the moment when Paul Stein chose to believe in what he saw in me and then put everything he had on this young unproven leader.  

Messianic Judaism needs more Paul Steins -- more old guys that believe in more young guys. Proven leaders who choose to believe that God has good plans for young leaders.  and then…giving them opportunity and support to become what they are called to be.  Anything that I ever do, all opportunities that God gives me from this point on, will be because Paul gave me his congregation, passed the baton, and continues to encourage me…his last email to me this week said, “You are doing a great job. Continue on the path that God has placed before you.  You are strong in the Lord and He will continue to bless the work of your hands.”

Thank you, Paul.  Thank you for believing in me and taking a chance on me.  Thank you for seeing me for what I can be and giving me so many opportunities to succeed.  I thank God everyday for you and pray that so many of my friends will find their own Pauls.  I want my whole life to be about making Yeshua famous among my people, Israel, and every nation under heaven. I thank God for putting you in my life to encourage me and push me to be everything God wants me to be!  

Our relationship is the definition of what our people call L’dor v’dor (from Generation to Generation). Paul, I owe you another lunch this month. I love you man!


Update: Dec. 31st 2014 (Paul's Birthday)
2014 has been one of the best years of my life in ministry. So many amazing things God continues to do. 2014 was also the best year ever for Restoration (formerly Beit Messiah). We are believing that 2015 will be even better and all that is happening goes back to the moment when Paul Stein believed in me and empowered me to lead a small community in Seattle which is on the verge of realizing its potential!


  1. Paul has a gift for lifting up others; I, too have benefitted from his unselfish support. He is a great dad, an example of a humble servant with unwavering principles. Love U, Paul!!!
    Auntie Jan

  2. Both you and Paul are awesome role models, as are your families. Adonai has truly blessed me that I've been privileged to know you both. And thanks, Rav Matt, for this tribute to Paul, which is, in its way, a tribute to you, too. I love you, my favorite rabbi. Elisheva

  3. Many of us have been blessed by Paul's humility, wisdom, and generous spirit. This is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man -- well done, Matt.

  4. So heart warming and grateful. Both of you have been great sources of my spiritual guidance and I pray God's blessing upon both you and your families.
    From your favorite harmonica player (hopefully).

  5. I really appreciate your blogs (even when I don't entirely agree) this one in particular is powerful, with one exception. I have heard you and others say comments about our movement needing older guys to give younger guys a shot. Well I can tell you i know of a number of us older guys that have begged younger guys to come and join us in working in ministry. I for one contacted a number of young men personally and emailed both the major organizations asking for names and contact for any young person willing to come and take a full time paid ministry position, but my email box remained empty. I am responding in message instead of on your blog because I do think the rest of the blog is awesome and I don't want to detract from that. My point is that it is just a frustrating from the old guys side as from you young guys side.

    1. I hear what your saying and don't disagree with you entirley. I see how that can be frustrating. I can't really speak to why your inbox is empty from an offer like that. So many of us, outside of being old or young, feel compelled to lead our own congregation and be the senior leader of that community. That is the kind of opportunity I am speaking to. Working for/under another leaders is not the same thing.

    2. I can understand a young persons desire to be in senior leadership. For the record the position I was seeking to fill was a senior position not a work with or work for. However, what is so unreasonable for a young person to be expected to work in a assistant or associate position. In the rest of the world the vast majority of young people do not graduate from college and assume a senior position in a business or firm. They do not immediately become CEO/CFO/COO as their first position hence the category entry level. I know the desire to hold the top job. It's the same desire that wants the big new house, expensive, new car, top of the line everything. Without having to work, save, plan and do without in order to get it. This mindset of entitlement may be part of the reason some older leaders are hesitant to release the congregations they have been entrusted with to younger leaders.

    3. We are not disagreeing. I am not saying it unreasonable for young leaders to start under more seasoned leaders. I worked as an assistant Rabbi for five year. I think young leaders should work for some else first. At the same time, there are few opportunities in our movement that are full time with real salaries as either assitsant or senor leaders.

    4. So I guess the question remains how do we connect the young people with position of leadership. As I said I know of no less then four congregation who were looking for leadership and desiring a young leader who were unable to find willing applicants. I personally ask the UMJC and YMJA as well as posted the need at Messiah Conference and asked youth leaders at Messiah conference to let it be known and not one young person applied

    5. Matt, I have known only a few Rabbi's that have turned their congregations over to a young person other then a son in our movement. I know that the Greenberg's turn New Beth Israel in Syracuse, Ira Brawer is turning Etz Chayim over in Boca Raton and your congregation. I was wondering as a young leader more connected to young leaders do you know of any others?

  6. Powerful stuff Matt. Well done.

  7. Rabbi Matt,
    Many thanks for such an inspiring blog. I find myself filled with joy for you, Laura, and the family. Not only is your story inspiring, but you also introduced all of us to Paul Stein; a man who like so many within the movement serves so faithfully behind the scenes. You're a very precious brother and colleague.
    Frank Lowinger

    1. Thank you so much Rabbi Frank! You are one of the most encouraging Rabbi's our movement has!

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