Divine Struggles Among Those Doing God’s Work: A Longitudinal Assessment Predicting Depression and Burnout and the Role of Social Support in United Methodist Clergy


In this study, we examine the role of spiritual struggles among clergy, in the form of “divine struggle” or feelings of alienation from God and their associations with well-being (depressive symptoms and burnout) among clergy. Drawing from a life-stress perspective, we also test whether received and anticipated congregational support moderates these associations. Using two waves of data (2016–2019) of the Clergy Panel Health Survey of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (n = 1,261), results suggest that it was clergy who increased in divine struggles over time who had the highest depressive symptom and burnout scores. However, clergy who received significant emotional support from members of their congregation were protected from elevated depressive symptoms and greater burnout. Anticipated congregational support only buffered the relationship between increasing divine struggles and one component of burnout (positive achievement). We offer some broader implications for supporting clergy well-being in the face of divine struggles.