Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Philosophy


Steve Lowe


clergy, pastors, stress, coping, COVID, crisis, leadership, emotions, Transactional Theory of Stress and Coping


Leadership Studies | Religion


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the lived experience of stress and stress-coping of five Michigan pastors who led their Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) congregations through the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic. Stress is generally defined as the psychophysiological response to a perceived threat or stressor, and stress-coping is generally defined as intentional behaviors designed to manage stress. The theoretical background of this study is the transactional theory of stress and coping (TTSC) (Lazarus, 1966; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) as it relates to pastors’ lived experience of ministry-related stress and coping in crisis conditions. The rationales for the study were 1) a relative lack of qualitative research into clergy job related stress during the 2020-21 coronavirus outbreak, and 2) the relatively thin descriptions provided by quantitative methods, and 3) the value of thick, rich descriptions of pastors’ experiences provided by qualitative phenomenological analysis. The research was conducted through in-depth interviews that were coded, analyzed, and interpreted. The interview questions were designed to explore the participants’ lived experiences, especially the phenomenon of job-related stress and stress coping experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the research involved in-depth interviews, new information came to light about the sources and symptoms of stress in pastors’ lives, as well as their strategies for coping, during a pandemic. Four themes emerged from the analysis of the data along with one major concept.