A Rabbi’s Little Secret

I have a little secret – I have a deep appreciation and passion for other rabbis and their families. The reason is because I know how hard it really is to be a rabbi. Every day I meet someone, or hear one of my congregants, make some kind of a comment about how great it must be to be a rabbi. It usually goes something like this: “It must be so great to be a rabbi … to study all day … play a little golf … spend all the time you want in prayer … and speak in front of lots of people. What do you do with so much free time?!?!” I even had someone recently with the chutzpah to come up to me after our service and ask me exactly what they pay me for, since I really only work once a week!

Let me share another little secret … what most people see rabbis (and most clergy) do … all the ‘sexy’ stuff  like teaching, preaching, performing life-cycle ceremonies, etc. – is actually only about 10% of our jobs. The reason why 50% of new clergy fail in their first five years is because they were not prepared for the 90% of what we really do … being accountants, executive directors of non-profits, fundraisers, conflict managers, volunteer coordinators, note-takers, data-entry personnel, counselors, plumbers, handi-men, housekeepers, IT technicians, etc. We are expected to fulfill multiple roles … and expected to do them all well.

That is why I so appreciated Philip Wagner’s recent article, “A Pastor’s Dirty Little Secret.” For although the article specifically speaks of Christian Clergy, it reflects the reality of clergy of all faiths. In fact, let me share with you some interesting facts Pastor Wagner includes in his article:

  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
    thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.

And these additional points are also really poignant:

  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
    they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 45.5 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.

Although this might not be the case for every leader, these statistics represent realities across the faith spectrum. Being a spiritual leader is not easy. In fact, Wagner relates that according to leadership guru, Peter Drucker, being a “pastor” is one of the top four most difficult jobs along with being President of the Unites States, a University President, and a CEO of a hospital. Additionally, it is a largely thankless and lonely job, accompanied by a tremendous amount of criticism. That is why 70% of pastors have a lower self-image than when they started. Everyone expects leaders to care for all their needs … but who cares for the leaders?

That is why I care so much for my fellow clergy members. Why I have a soft spot for rabbis’ kids and their spouses. I know how difficult it is. And I know that many families of clergy end up taking a back-seat to the needs of the congregation. That is why I try to be an advocate for clergy and their families. Why I care so much about the spiritual care of my colleagues and myself. For rabbis need rabbis too. I am extremely grateful that there are a few people I can go to, but many leaders have no one.

So the next time you have another complaint for your rabbi … consider also including a ‘thank you’ and some encouragement. It is not easy. It is actually quite difficult. Take some time to appreciate what your spiritual leader does for you and the congregation on a daily basis. And take the time to let them know that what they do, and the sacrifices they have made, are appreciated.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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6 Responses to A Rabbi’s Little Secret

  1. Alan Levy says:

    To survive a rabbinate, pastorate, imamship, etc., one has to have three things:
    1) the heart of a child
    2) the mind of a scholar
    3) the hide of a rhinoceros

    If any one of those three things are weak or missing, the tripod is likely to fall over….

  2. Shalom R. Joshua,

    Thanks so much for spreading light on this issue! I think that congregants are unaware of a lot of these issues and it’s great to be made aware. With that said, I appreciate the blog you’ve had for years now and your heart for congregants and leaders alike! You’re an inspiration!

    there, how’s that for chizuk :^)


  3. Matt Rosenberg says:

    You play golf? I don’t believe it!

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