Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Maintaining Personal Resiliency: Lessons Learned from Evangelical Protestant Clergy

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Maintaining Personal Resiliency: Lessons Learned from Evangelical Protestant Clergy

Article excerpt

Despite the prominence of clergy in providing human services, and the work-related stressors they experience, clergy health and coping responses have rarely been the focus of psychological research. We report two studies. In the first, we evaluated responses of 398 senior pastors to three open-ended questions regarding personal coping, structural support for their work, and remediation efforts in times of distress. In the second study, Christian mental health professionals and Christian education professionals identified Protestant Christian clergy who exemplify emotional and spiritual health. Twenty-six participated in individual 30-minute interviews. Respondents emphasized the importance of being intentional in maintaining balance in life and developing healthy relationships. They also value a vital spiritual life, emphasizing both their sense of calling into ministry the importance of spiritual disciplines, and an ongoing awareness of God's grace. We suggest ways that Christian mental health professionals can support pastors in preventive and remedial roles.

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Historically, clergy were the professionals sought to help guide communities through the travails of life, with people seeking not only spiritual guidance, but invariably guidance with emotional and family issues as well. Clergy were the equivalent of our modern day therapists, albeit without the title and the specialized training we have today. While there will always be a place for trained mental health professionals in the healing process, for many, religious leaders remain the primary resource for people when they find themselves confronting either spiritual or mental health issues (Privette, Quackenbos, & Bundrick, 1994; Quackenbos, Privette, & Klentz, 1985). For these people, the clergy person is, and always will be, the therapist on call. Undoubtedly this means that clergy are in a very demanding helping profession (Dilley, 1995; Hall, 1997; Henry, Chrtok, Keys, & Jegerski, 1991), perhaps even more demanding than psychologists given the multifaceted nature of their roles in people's lives (i.e., counseling parishioners, early morning and late evening meetings, being called home from vacations to perform funerals).

Additionally, many contemporary clergy experience family stress and function under unrealistic expectations of occupational and personal perfection-both from parishioners and self-imposed (Ellison & Mattila, 1983)--while also often lacking an adequate extra-familial support system. Family stressors often include financial strain, lack of family privacy, frequent moves, clergyperson on call, clergyperson busy serving others, and lack of ministry to clergy families, leading to a diminished quality of life for both the clergyperson and his of her family (Hall, 1997; see also Warner & Carter, 1984). A survey administered through the Fuller Institute of Church Growth reported striking statistics among pastor respondents: 80% indicated that ministry had affected their families negatively, 50% dropped out of full time ministry within five years, 70% reported not having a close friend, 37% acknowledged having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church, and 12% confessed to having engaged in sexual intercourse with a church member (as cited in Headington, 1997).

A great deal has been reported about ways that psychologists cope with stress and maintain well-functioning (e.g., Coster & Schwebel, 1997; Schwebel & Coster, 1998), but very little research attention has been given to how clergy are able to maintain resiliency and personal ethics in the midst of such demanding work. Sadly, most of the psychology literature on clergy life has been focused on impairment (Meloy, 1986; Von Stroh, Mines, & Anderson, 1995), burnout (Grosch & Olsen, 2000), and misconduct (Berman, 1997; Brewster, 1996; Davies, 1998; Ruzicka, 1997). This literature has been helpful in identifying challenges facing clergy, but has largely ignored the more positive aspects of clergy life and functioning. …

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