All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Jeffrey M Clair

Advisory Committee Members

Joseph D Wolfe

Magdalena Szaflarski

Jason Wasserman

Michael Flannery

William Cockerham

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2015

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

This study examines the social processes and structures that shape the social psychological health of United Methodist pastors. These individuals play a central role in a religious institution that is in a state of decline in the 21st century United States. In addition, burnout, a state of compromised social psychological health related to work involving relationships, is a salient issue among clergy. Using a qualitative approach based in grounded theory methodology, 31 semi-structured interviews were conducted with current and former United Methodist pastors, including those in a supervisory role within the Church hierarchy. Using grounded theory coding practices, data from these interview were analyzed through a process of constant comparison. Three themes relevant to pastors' social psychological health emerged from the analysis; interpretation of the appointment process, pastor archetypes, and relational dynamics. Interpretation of the appointment process, by which pastors are assigned to service in local churches, was central to how pastors experience stress. Pastor archetypes emerged as patterned constructions of identity and role performance that pastors develop in response to others' expectations and their own personal ambitions, which are accompanied by specific challenges to maintaining social psychological health. Relational dynamics emerged as the means by which systemic issues are transformed into individual problems through the structure of relationships in which pastors are embedded. Taken together, these themes contributed to the development of a relational model of social psychological health. Within this model, the interests of the Church hierarchy, local churches, and pastors themselves, as well as the relationships between each of these entities, contribute to pastors' experience of social psychological health. The appointment process itself plays a central role in this relational model, as each entity negotiates for their own interests, with pastors bearing the greatest individual consequences. Study findings ultimately demonstrate that pastors' social psychological health cannot be separated from the relational structure of the Church. Burnout reflects the individual burden pastors bear for larger systemic issues, suggesting that greater attention to relationships between Church entities is a necessary step to improving their social psychological health.

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