The powers that be in professional sports know that it's easier to fire embattled coaches than to push powerful athletes out the door.
Pastors know that the same pattern usually holds true when push comes to shove in religious sanctuaries. The sad result is often a vicious cycle of fear, stress, doubt, despair, workaholism, frustration and fatalism.
In his book "Counseling Christian Workers," the late Dr. Louis McBurney -- a Mayo Clinic-trained psychiatrist known for helping clergy in times of crisis -- summed it up with one sad, exhausted quotation from an anonymous minister hurt by powerful people in his pews.
"There's nothing wrong with my church," said this pastor, "that wouldn't be solved by a few well-placed funerals."
The Rev. Gary Brinn has heard clergy offer variations on that line, with the most common being that, on occasion, "pastors get to bury their problems." It's the kind of blunt talk pastors share when privately talking shop. It's not the kind of thing they would say to their flocks, not even to the angry goats in the pews.
"You would think the one place people would practice some manners and show some understanding would be in church, but too often that just isn't the case," said Brinn, who leads the Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ, on the South Shore of Long Island. "Sometimes you just want to say, 'Have a little kindness, folks.'"
Recently, Brinn went toe to toe with one "bushy-bearded rogue" after this year's late-night Christmas Eve service. In this case, the once-a-year churchgoer wanted the pastor to know that the service -- which blended Christmas hope with the sobering realities of Hurricane Sandy and the massacre in Newtown, Conn. -- was one of the worst services he had ever attended in his life.
The pastor turned the other cheek. Later he turned to his computer, pounding out a Patch.com commentary entitled "Secrets Your Pastor Can't Share in a Sermon" that went viral. While many readers posted outraged comments online, Brinn said in a telephone interview that his email in-basket was soon full of sympathetic letters from clergy.
Among his dark secrets, Brinn noted that clergy -- usually experienced, seminary-educated professionals -- wish their parishioners would remember the following:
-- Offerings are not tips exchanged for entertaining sermons, "nor are you paying for services rendered. Your stewardship, bringing your tithes and offerings to the community in which you worship, is a spiritual practice that comes right out of scripture. ... Failure to give appropriately is a spiritual problem."