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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

27 Things Rabbis, Priests, and Ministers Won’t Tell You

Religious leaders share embarrassing moments, secret frustrations, and what they've learned from years in the cloth.

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Friends making a toast at the kitchen table before dinnerMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

I am just a regular person

I get angry when someone cuts me off in traffic. I have kids who disobey me. And yes, I argue with my spouse. Learn some surprising things you never knew about the Pope, too.

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When I was a new minister…

…a seasoned minister came into my office. She said, “How’s your day going?” I said, “I am so frustrated. I have the newsletter to work on, my sermon to write, and all these other things to do—but people keep calling with all these interruptions.” She said, “The interruptions are your ministry. The rest is just paperwork.” Regardless of religion, people are the first priority.

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Diana Grytsku/Shutterstock

A lot of us have trouble saying no to other people’s needs

As a result, we work too hard, rarely take vacations or any time off, and can burn out really fast. Several health studies have found that we suffer from higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and arthritis than the average population does. Learn what the other most stressful jobs in America are.

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Priest religion man sick and coughing, suffering asthma or bronchitis, medicine concept isolated over blue backgroundAaron Amat/Shutterstock

My most embarrassing moment?

I was ill with a high fever during a wedding, got confused, and started to give a funeral homily. Thankfully, they were very forgiving! For some more holy hilarity, check out these real photos of funny church signs.

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Hands of the old man and a young woman. close up. toningperfectlab/Shutterstock

When I was in seminary, I thought I would have all these profound things to say…

…to someone whose spouse had left him or her or whose child had died. But I’ve learned that what people really want is for you to say, “Oh, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry.” And then sit there and listen.

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The interior of a simple church with a vaulted wooden ceiling and beamsLipsett Photography Group/Shutterstock

I used to preach for the kids during a children’s sermon and save the heavier stuff for the parents

But then I realized that if a seven-year-old does not understand my sermon, neither does his dad. I don’t know if that’s bad news for the dad or good news for the seven-year-old.

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The Bible with the Cross in the Hands of the PriestsLAMP SOUL STUDIO/Shutterstock

Am I always 100 percent sure that God exists? No.

Every minister I know has a faith life that ebbs and flows. Sometimes we feel really close to God, and sometimes we don’t. But even when God feels distant and abstract, we’re still leading worship.

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people, leisure, friendship and entertainment concept - friends drinking beer and watching sport game or football match at bar or pubSyda Productions/Shutterstock

I’m not always on the clock

If you come to my house for a Super Bowl party, I don’t want to tell your kids Torah stories at halftime. Here are some facts about Passover and why we celebrate it.

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medicine, support, family health care and people concept - happy senior man and young woman visiting and cheering her grandmother lying in bed at hospital wardSyda Productions/Shutterstock

If I’m in a smaller congregation, I may wear 15 different hats

On any given day, I may order toilet paper, visit someone in the hospital, and plan for the Sunday service. Last week, I dressed up as Moses for Bible school. I thought to myself, This is a random job. We bet you never knew that these common phrases came from the Bible.

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Praying priestambrozinio/Shutterstock

The sexual-abuse scandals have caused such a mistrust of the priesthood

In response, some priests don’t touch anyone at all. I’ve taken the opposite approach. I am always touching people—a light pat on the shoulder, a squeeze of the hand—so if anyone ever accuses me, I’ll have hundreds of people who can say that’s how I am with everyone.

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A lot of us find weddings stressful

Everyone wants to be in charge—the bride, the groom—and we’re the ones in the middle of it all. Funerals, on the other hand, are easy because the guest of honor doesn’t ask for much. These are the secrets wedding planners won’t tell you.

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casketRobert Hoetink/Shutterstock

Since I’ve become a rabbi…

…I’ve realized that the moment of truth for many people is after they have passed away and I’m interviewing survivors about their life. It reminds me of how important it is to live your life thinking about what people will say about you after you pass away. Check out these incredibly meaningful life lessons from people who’ve spent time with the dying.

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Here’s a pet peeve: People who tell me not to be preachy

Isn’t that why you hired me? We’ll always be respectful, but we may say things that make you uncomfortable.

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You may think of the church as a place of deep spirituality, but it’s also a business

Every week, we’re counting the number of butts in the pews and counting the money in the plate and trying to figure out how to get more butts in the pews or money in the plate—or deciding what we can cut from the budget to make it balance.

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20 Reasons Unexpected Weight Loss Could Be a Serious Problempixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock

In seminary, you worry about how well you understand religious history

Then you get out, and people have cancer and they’re in the hospital and they’re dying, and you realize it doesn’t really matter what you believe about salvation, heaven, or hell, because these people need you. These are the secrets hospitals won’t tell you.

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Geriatric doctor consulting and diagnostic examining elderly senior adult patient on aging, Parkinson's disease, Arthritis hand and knee pain and mental health care in medical exam clinic or hospitalChinnapong/Shutterstock

I got an internship as a hospital chaplain while I was in seminary

I was worried because I have no medical training whatsoever. My supervisor said, “All you have to do is sit with them. Your job is to represent God being with them in the room.” I had to sit back for a minute and absorb that. It was very humbling and amazing. Learn some amazing true stories about times prayers for healing really worked.

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African man wearing hipster black hat and glasses and pretty girl with ginger hair talking to their common female friend in red checkered shirt, having nice time together during breakfast at cafeWAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

What I’d love to get across to my congregation would be this:

Every time you focus on what you don’t like about the church service or about me, that’s time you’re not thinking about how to serve others, God, and your neighbor. It’s amazing how self-absorbed people can be.

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Group of interlocked fingers praying

I have found people who convert to be incredible sources of inspiration

Often, they become “model citizens” of the congregation. These are some inspiring quotes about hope to read when you need a lift.

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It’s funny the things a minister has to know

I’ve learned how to care for things made of brass. I’ve learned how to fix roofs and plumbing. I’ve learned about child development, marriage counseling and family dysfunction, along with banking and fund-raising and the legal requirements of being an employer.

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business, overwork, stress, deadline and people concept - close up of tired businessman in eyeglasses suffering from headache at officeSyda Productions/Shutterstock

This may surprise a lot of folks…

…but most pastors I know think about quitting all the time. That’s part of what enables you to stay.

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I once wore a pink shirt on the pulpit

The next week, I had a congregant bring in a brand new boxed white shirt for me. Don’t do that. As long as I look respectable, you are not entitled to be my fashion critic.

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Young african man sitting at his desk talking on his mobile phone in office. African executive using cell phone while at work.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

In every congregation, there are always some people…

…who are hard to love, and those people can take up so much of your time. I have to confess I don’t always have the energy and patience for them. There are days when they call and I see who it is and I think, This is the fourth time this month I’ve had to talk to you about what you’re going through. I just can’t do this right now.

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white coffee cup on backgroundDima Sobko/Shutterstock

Sometimes I wish…

… I could stay home on a Sunday morning and have coffee and watch the morning news.

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Rows of church benches. Sunlight filtered through the stained glass window. Selective focus. Black and white.Elena Dijour/Shutterstock

The church can be a lonely place if you’re a minister

You’ve got everyone’s burdens, and there are thousands of things you can’t tell anyone about. Get a look at some eerily beautiful photos of abandoned churches around the world.

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Most of us take longer than you think preparing for our sermons

I typically spend an hour preparing for every 15 minutes that I speak.

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When I’m meeting people for the first time, they always act a little weird when I tell them what I do for a living

Some get awkward and shifty and don’t know what to say; others dump their religious baggage onto me. It makes it hard to have a conversation about anything ordinary.

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group of multiethnic senior friends spending time together and laughingLightField Studios/Shutterstock

If you’re in my congregation, we can be friends, but we’ll probably never be best friends

I need to be able to complain about work occasionally to my best friends, but if you’re one of the people I serve, I can’t do that. Plus, here’s something you probably don’t think about: One day, I may have to do your funeral. The closer we are, the harder it will be. Next, learn some more secrets funeral directors won’t tell you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest