Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Flourishing in Ministry: Wellbeing at Work in Helping Professions

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Flourishing in Ministry: Wellbeing at Work in Helping Professions

Article excerpt

"Life is hard, and ministry is always harder." These were the words shared by an experienced pastor, mentoring a group of young pastors just out of seminary. And yet despite the inherent difficulties of a pastoral role, this pastor, as most pastors, has been faithful to a sense of call to shepherd God's people for many years, serving with joy and passion. So how do pastors and other caring professionals engage with their calling and sustain joy, health, and wellbeing over a career? How might insights from the emerging field of positive psychology be applied to those who are immersed in the suffering of others as helping professionals?

The Wellbeing at Work projects at the University of Notre Dame range from studying the wellbeing of rural health care providers, clergy, and their families, to teachers, and humanitarian workers. We are trying to understand the wellbeing of these real and amazing people. We believe that when work is good that it will produce real goodness of many kinds, including high levels of wellbeing among those who perform the work. Focused on the wellbeing of clergy and their families, the Flourishing in Ministry project examines what motivates pastors and priests to be engaged in ministry-and what disrupts them from experiencing wellbeing in their work. In our research, we attempt to explore how clergy-often working with lean resources-can give so much to others, and experience a sense of fulfillment and growth in their daily work lives. The Flourishing in Ministry project explores three key questions: 1) What are the signature characteristics of wellbeing for clergy?; 2) What factors and conditions foster high levels of wellbeing, or impede/diminish it?; and 3) How does the wellbeing of clergy and their families change over a life span?. We invite you to consider the implications of the work of these two projects for the clergy and other Christian helping professionals whom you know and lovingly serve, as well as for your own journey as a caring professional.

Defining Wellbeing

Over the past 30 years there have been hundreds of studies of wellbeing conducted around the world. This accumulation of knowledge has led to a number of important insights, chief among them being greater clarity around the concept of wellbeing. Most scientists would agree there are at least two important dimensions of wellbeing: happiness, the quality of our daily lives, and flourishing, the meaning and purpose we experience in our lives. To put it simply, we can think of happiness as capturing whether we are having a good day, and flourishing as capturing whether we are having a meaningful life. We are among the very few researchers who study both dimensions of wellbeing within the context of work. We find that both dimensions of wellbeing matter greatly for people's work experiences. We also find that flourishing is particularly important for people who experience their work as a calling.

Happiness

A large and growing body of research provides strong evidence that happiness-our everyday feelings and life evaluations-is one important dimension of wellbeing. When we have happier days, weeks and months, we tend to make better decisions, have increased creativity, and perform at our best. We are also healthier, more resilient in the face of adversity and are more capable of building and maintaining positive relationships with others. We use the term "everyday happiness" to capture the important point that it is the pattern of our feelings and life evaluations over time that captures this dimension of wellbeing.

Our research suggests that pastoral work is uniquely complex, as pastors find themselves serving as "expert-generalists." Role complexity and role ambiguity may erode the happiness of clergy, which is also true of other helping professions to some extent. For example, in a recent email exchange, a pastor of a large church in a suburban area described the unique challenges of a pastoral leadership role:

"I was looking forward to a relatively relaxed week. …

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