Engaging Emotion: Using Critical Realism to Understand the Affective Well-being of New Zealand Baptist Pastors and to Design an Affective Well-being Course
Melville, Glenn Phillip
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It is widely researched and affirmed that church pastoral ministry can impact detrimentally on a pastor’s well-being. In response, this research utilises a critical realist methodology to identify the causes and conditions that produce New Zealand Baptist pastors’ affective well-being, defined as the experience of high levels of positive affect, and low levels of negative affect, evident in emotions and moods. It also discusses how this understanding could be utilised in the development of a course to enhance pastors’ affective well-being (AWB). As a work of Practical Theology, this research reflects theologically on the lived experiences of New Zealand Baptist pastors’ AWB. It also integrates perspectives from psychology and utilises extensive (quantitative) and intensive (qualitative) research involving New Zealand Baptist pastors. The extensive research consists of a national survey which identifies the state of New Zealand Baptist pastors’ AWB. A key finding from the survey is that while many pastors experience high levels of positive affect (feelings of enthusiasm and comfort), in relation to their pastoral roles, there are some who frequently experience negative affect (feelings of anxiety and depression). Two key statistically significant influences on these results are pastors’ satisfaction in ministry and trait emotional intelligence. The intensive research consists of 17 interviews with Baptist pastors relating to their experiences of AWB and its impact on their personal and professional lives. Positive impacts include having energy for ministry, confidence to lead others, and a sense of joy and hope. Detrimental impacts include wanting to resign, feeling detached from God, difficulty sleeping, excessively ruminating, and experiencing hospitalisation, isolation, and emotional exhaustion. Analysis of the interviews identified nine key themes influencing pastors’ AWB: relationship with God, social relationships, criticism/conflict/bullying, formal external support and professional development, pastoral care demands, vocation—the pastoral call, identity and the pastoral role, family of origin, and self-care. To explain how the extensive and intensive findings influence a pastors’ AWB, I interpret pastors’ experiences through the conceptual framework of emotion generation and emotional regulation theory. I then demonstrate how these theories provide a plausible explanation for pastors’ AWB experiences. Based on this analysis, a model of pastors’ AWB is proposed that demonstrates how critical realism’s understanding of reality brings new insights into the nature of pastors’ AWB. The model consists of seven objects including institutional norms, cultural practices, ideological and theological beliefs, that form the social structure of pastors’ AWB. The specific objects are belief in and experience of God, social relationships, formal external support and professional development, pastoral care demands, the pastoral role as a calling, stakeholder expectations, and trait emotional intelligence. Each of these objects are described in relation to how they generate emotions and influence the utilisation of either adaptive or maladaptive emotional regulation strategies. The conditions which enable and/or constrain these causal mechanisms are also described. The research concludes by discussing how the AWB model could be utilised in the design of a course to enhance pastors’ AWB. Considering the impact of AWB on pastors’ personal and professional lives, a specific intervention to improve pastors’ AWB is recommended. In light of the context of pastoral ministry that contributes to the well-being of a local congregation and the wider community, such an intervention has the potential to impact many lives.