The Emotional and Spiritual Dimensions of Being a Pastor: Authenticity and Identity



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Emotional labor and its influence on authenticity and identity amongst human service workers has been the focus of numerous studies. Often these studies viewed identity as a stable sense of self. This study set out to examine emotional labor amongst clergy and how it may differ from the emotional labor experienced in other occupations, with the premise that individuals have multiple identities that shift and change depending on the situational context. A thematic analysis of interviews conducted with twenty-seven clergy and a textual analysis of denominational/church texts was conducted to examine the following ideas: 1) how clergy negotiated tensions of authenticity and identity in their work; 2) how clergy described the spiritual and emotional dimensions of their work; 3) how denominational texts address issues of spiritual and emotional labor; and, 4) if clergy felt enabled and/or constrained by denominational standards and beliefs. The results of this study indicated that emotional and spiritual labor amongst clergy is unique for several reasons. One, the emotional labor clergy engaged in served a positive function because they see it as means of helping others. Second, clergy were aware that emotional labor was intrinsic to the job and they engaged in activities to preempt or manage the tension they felt when the job required them to mask their true feelings and display organizationally preferred feelings. Finally, clergy enjoyed the spiritual dimension of their jobs; thus they were engaged in spiritual work (authentic spirituality), not spiritual labor (inauthentic spirituality). Results also indicated that denominational texts did convey a preferred identity or ideal for how pastors should behave. Pastors indicated that the denominational expectations and guidelines for pastors both enabled and constrained them. The majority of the pastors felt the freedom to disagree civilly and the denomination/church provided venues in which pastors could communicate their dissenting views. However, in some cases, pastors felt the denominational guidelines for the "ideal pastor" were in conflict with how they saw their own role as pastor and they left the denomination. Results also revealed how pastors? identities shifted and changed as the context in which they were ministering changed.