THIS QUESTION WAS POSED TO me by a friend who’s considering the path. Since I have some small experience with the subject, and some readers have some interest in it, I’m posting my reply here and will be absolutely unoffended if you skip it.
Wow. No one’s ever asked me that before, so I needed to take some serious time to think about it before replying. So first, thank you for an interesting think.
Before I reply, you need to know that I’m currently off the rabbi thing; partly because I made an unsuccessful bid earlier this year to serve my synagogue in this capacity, and since I now know I only wanted to “be a rabbi” for this community (and despite that everybody still treats me as a spiritual leader) it seems rather moot to continue my studies. But there are other reasons as well. That said, there were certainly aspects I “liked,” or more accurately, found rewarding.
The best thing to me about “being a spiritual leader” is making a difference for people in a direct, immediate way. People come to services for many reasons — duty, support, inspiration, help, grief, socializing and sometimes even to pray. To at least offer a moment of connection for those who need it is incredibly fulfilling; to have it accepted, even more so. (I always feel like I learned most about leading services by hawking for Greg; it’s important to be able to read the crowd and respond appropriately and immediately.)
But leading is not just services. Depending on the tradition you embrace, you may also be witness to (and help facilitate) some of the most powerful moments in someone’s life. What I like most about this, perhaps selfishly, is that there’s no room for yourself in these moments — you must be a pure conduit for those involved — and for a heavy egotist like me the experience is wonderfully freeing.
This next may be a specifically Jewish thing (on account of the heavy rabbinical teacher’s role), but there is also a particular joy in seeing people get excited about their really, really old heritage: that moment of “Ohhhh … THAT’S why we do this.” It’s fun to share the things which excite us. It’s also very scary to be the one passing along a tradition — you want to get it right, and you want to get it relevant — but I think a proper spiritual leader needs a certain amount of insecurity.
Seeing people smile when you enter a room is also a nice benefit. But be careful of being praised beyond your capacity to accept. Gracefully accepting gratitude is something I’m still trying to master; what I do comes naturally to me, partly perhaps because I /don’t/ see myself as being altogether worthy of doing it. I just allow it all to happen, that’s all. Like the old Grateful Dead lyric about the storyteller: “His job is to shed light, not to master.”
That’s all I can think of at the moment. I hope it helps you in some way.
Be well, good luck, and blessings.