Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The following was submitted to a Pentecostal Church with whom I've been consulting:

Dear friends

I've been asked to provide a report for the Board. I'd suggest looking at some or all of the following:

100 Marks of a Healthy Church - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8825.htm
Case-Study of a healthy N.T. church (Antioch) - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8232.htm
Also: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8567.htm and


2-1 JUSTICE/LOVE: These are Jesus' two key 'kingdom values' (Luke 11:42). Love is associated with a deep God-given respect for every individual; justice is the right use of power. A loving congregation will give and receive costly communications of words and deeds; a just church will ensure that the weak are strengthened and cared for. Seehttp://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/579.htm

2-2 TRAINING TO RECOGNIZE AND DEAL WITH SPIRITUAL ABUSE: See the articles on our website: use the search facility. 

2-3 AFFIRMATION OF DIVERSITY: Healthy churches embrace diversity in 'non core' Christian theology and worship, while teaching and practising unity in the faith-community. See http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2975.htm

2-4 TOLERANCE OF AMBIGUITY: Mature Christians don't need everything 'nailed down': they actually welcome new ideas. See http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9018.htm andhttp://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9664.htm


3-1. EMPOWERING LEADERS don't really care who-does-what so long as God is honoured and people are given training and opportunities to use their spiritual gifts. Seehttp://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8109.htm . An important area of training involves 'How to help others' - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8541.htm

3-2. LEADERSHIP STYLES may vary: there's consensus, tribal, eldership, bureaucratic, autocratic, paternalistic, episcopal - or a combination of these. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the 'tribal chief' embodies the consensus of people who trust him (example: the role of James in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15). Autocrats believe they know best: which produces problems of trust with followers. Seehttp://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8845.htm

3-3 SECURE LEADERS welcome 360-degree feedback. They want to know others' opinions and values and have multiple regular systems for complaints/suggestions from everyone. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/360-degree_feedback


3-5 ACCOUNTABILITY: In a healthy church leaders are accountable to
A Mentor - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8283.htm
Spiritual Director - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4825.htm
Supervisor - See the relevant section in http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8877.htm


* A key principle is that governance principles and practice should maximize the potential of the church for recognizing leaders' gifts, for tight accountability, and for empowerment of the church for ministry.

* Ministry Descriptions for Staff: these include clear definitions of ministries/roles, accountability, who reports to whom, non-abusive appraisals of progress, dismissal etc.

* Authority needs to be matched with responsibility. If you are responsible for something, you are given creativity and freedom to lead within that area (with appropriate boundaries of course).

* Baptist Churches of NZ have adopted what they call "A Principle-based leadership Model" which is similar to John Kaiser's "Winning on Purpose - Accountable Leadership Model". Check out the Baptist NZ website http://www.baptist.org.nz/default.asp?id=91

* There's a healthy move away from some marketplace models - especially the assumption of 'Pastor as CEO'. The Church is organic! See Viola's Reimagining Church especially the section about leadership and governance, and Eugene Peterson's The Unnecessary Pastor.

Jesus emphasized the care of the weak, children, the marginalized etc. These policy guidelines help us in practical ways to do this. Many Christian groups/denominations have done the work for us to be able to audit our performance in these areas of responsibility to each other:
4-1 Duty of Care: is the Church a Safe Place?
4-2 Working with children
4-3 Privacy Policy
4-4 Creche Guidelines
or http://tinyurl.com/5hxad8 for examples.

You're all in my prayers!


Shalom/Salaam/Pax! Rowland Croucher
October 2008 (Updated August 2011)

Monday, August 29, 2011


My journey as a Christian, lover/husband, father, and pastor/teacher/ evangelist has covered different terrains during threescore and ten-plus years. Here's a rough chronological journey listing books that influenced me at the time. Remember, I'm not back there, stuck where-I-was. I was brought up in a 'gentle fundamentalist' church (Open or Plymouth Brethren) and I'm still 'evangelical' but now also somewhat 'progressive' and 'catholic'; conservative about a few things but also radical; encouraging individual initiative but also committed to social justice, compassion and community. As Richard Rohr says in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality we must incorporate – not reject – Torah/tradition, Prophetic/dissenting perspectives and Wisdom/mysticism - all of these – into a full and complete life of faith, hope and love…

Another caveat: My calling is to minister mainly to practising pastors and to ex-pastors, so this list is slanted towards pastoral theology, rather than, say, academic theology, or missiology etc. Other gaps in this list include social issues like homosexuality, corporate worship, counselling, pastoral leadership/management, general literature (novels, poetry) – important areas but which would require many more words/titles. I've also majored on recommending authors who were pastors for a substantial period of their lives as well as being well-read scholars (Sangster, Claypool, Peterson, Rohr, McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor etc.). A longer list compiled half a decade ago can be found here: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8073.htm .

1. THE BIBLE. As a youngster I was captivated by the wonderful stories of God's grace in the Bible (KJV), and also its magnificent poetry (eg. Isaiah 40, which as a teenager I learned off by heart). I knew more about 'dispensational prophecy' than the apostles did, and read the Bible through several times. (The most readable recent translation: Eugene Peterson's The Message. The best for study and corporate worship: the NRSV.)

2. ADVENTURE STORIES - especially R M Ballantyne's; and the William, Biggles and Deerfoot books – gave me as a child a love of reading for pleasure.

3. THE KNEELING CHRISTIAN (by 'An Unknown Christian') instilled in me the conviction that genuine Christian commitment is nothing if not fervent. BIOGRAPHIES - of people like George Muller, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, C H Spurgeon and the Ecuador Martyrs - inspired me in my formative years to 'be the best I can be' for God and others.

4. C S LEWIS (especially Mere Christianity) and JOHN STOTT (Basic Christianity) were helpful in my accepting orthodox Christian tenets as 'believable'.

5. MILLAR'S SCM COMMENTARY ON LUKE and (later) WALTER BRUEGGEMANN'S ON THE PSALMS (among others, eg, Abraham Joshua Heschel) encouraged me to believe that expounding the Scriptures can be instructive, interesting and challenging.

6. W E SANGSTER'S sermons, books on homiletics, and magnum opus The Pure in Heart (on spirituality) were wonderful integrative elements in my formation as a young pastor. Two decades later Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and later again his Streams of Living Water helped in the quest for an overview of historical/ecumenical spirituality.

7. I got JOHN CLAYPOOL'S sermons once a month by mail for many years, and stopped everything to read them: he's still the best 'writing preacher' in the English language, I reckon. His Tracks of a Fellow Struggler - sermons on Job while his 9 year old daughter Laura Lue was dying of leukemia - have comforted many in their grief. Following Claypool, I think Barbara Brown Taylor's sermons delight me the most.

8. Three Catholic authors who have enriched/inspired: THOMAS MERTON (his best – New Seeds of Contemplation), DOM HELDER CAMARA (especially A Thousand Reasons for Living), and HENRI NOUWEN (start with either The Wounded Healer or Creative Ministry).

9. My favourite contemporary author is RICHARD ROHR. Start (slowly) with Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, then Everything Belongs: the Gift of Contemplative Prayer. And, for a brilliant analysis of the 'two halves of life' Falling Upward. Use my website's search facility for reviews of these and other titles. 

10. For young/new Christians no one beats BRIAN McLAREN. His best, I think, is A Generous Orthodoxy. For those enquiring about Christianity give them Finding Faith: A Search for What is Real.

11. Interfaith? Remember the dictum ascribed to Zwi Werblowsky: 'There are some things about a given religion which can only be understood from inside and some things about the same religion which can only be understood from outside.' Now here's a surprise choice perhaps: begin with KHALED HOSSEINI'S The Kite Runner. It gives us brilliant insights into the lives of Muslim families in Afghanistan (and should help soften some of our bigotry about Islam).

12. The number one issue in western theology is the current Jesus Quest. Conservatives will like CRAIG EVANS' Fabricating Jesus (2007) or BEN WITHERINGTON'S What Have they done With Jesus? (2006), but I would suggest that a wider stance should be explored - most easily with the dialogues TOM WRIGHT had with MARCUS BORG on The Meaning of Jesus(2000) and with JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN on The Resurrection of Jesus (2006).

13. Christianity and Social Justice? Start with JIM WALLIS'S Seven Ways to Change the World(2008).

14. Finally, anything by EUGENE PETERSON is excellent (though there's quite a bit of repetition in his various writings). His Take and Read: Spiritual Reading, an Annotated Listis a good guide, and his books on Spiritual Theology - Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places(2005) and The Jesus Way (2007) - are an excellent summary/miscellany of his ideas.

Ponder: 'Beware of the man of one book' (Thomas Aquinas). 'The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency – the belief that the here and now is all there is.' (Allan Bloom ).

Rowland Croucher
April 2008 (Updated August 2011)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



People like our friend Joe, whose story began this paper, are disadvantaged here. He's had to make it on his own. And he's wary of authority-figures who push him around. Since the 1960s institutions have had a bad press. Sociologist Robert Merton says they generally inhibit creativity, and are inherently degenerative. But our task is not to weep or laugh (or rage) but understand institutions - which, in essence, are what happens when humans get together to do anything. Religious institutions exist to facilitate the ministry of those accountable to them, but they also must regulate, control, and protect the institution's legal/spiritual/financial standing. Those who have a vested interest in protecting the institution's reputation may tend to 'cover up' anomalies or threats. (The chairman of a church board said to a parent complaining of the sexual abuse of their child by one of the church 's staff: 'You'd better be careful what you say here, or you might be liable for slander'). The institution's accreditation role is, essentially, to prevent mavericks 'acting without a licence'. But the down-side of all this is encompassed in an important sociological principle: the 'routinisation of charisma'. Prophets and innovators have a grand vision and establish something, but then the organisers throttle the life out of it, and act as 'permission-withholders' if too many new ideas are suggested.

So religious institutions tend over time to domesticate (Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1972) and routinise faith-traditions. They rely on dogmas and bylaws to keep their constituents in line. Prophets are sent by God to stir us out of our complacency; their words are a mix of judgment and hope; they are 'seers', helping us see beyond our constricting horizons to God's greater vision for us.

Moral power means being free of the world's institutional titles, adulations, rewards or punishments. Pilate said to Jesus 'I have power'. Jesus responded, in effect: 'No you don't; you are trapped in an illusion and haven't a clue what real power is!'

For many pastors, relating to the church-as-institution is difficult. All of us have met the 'petty bureaucrat', the uncreative character who follows rules and loves making decisions for others, being the 'powerful parent to your powerless child'. Some of these people act like commissars - handing down edicts ('someone's got to take charge') rather than being collegial or consultative. One pastor said: 'I enjoy preaching more than anything else in ministry: in this role I'm not ruled by petty bureaucrats!'

Religious bureaucrats tend to define the church primarily in terms of its structures and dogmas. Avery Dulles ('The Church as Institution', Models of the Church, Doubleday, 1987) writes: 'The Church of Christ could not perform its mission without some stable organisational features... [but]
institutionalism is a deformation of the true nature of the Church... The primary notions of the church [are] mystery, sacrament, Body of Christ and People of God... A characteristic of the institutional model of the Church... is the hierarchical conception of authority... It is clericalist, for it views the clergy... as the source of all power and initiative... '

So the Church is sometimes stuck with yesterday's way of doing things. 'It worked then, so it should work now' is a dangerous fallacy. Indeed, churches which are doing it like their grandparents did are dying, all over the world. Today's minds must never be set. For many, a cold in the head causes less suffering than a new idea! But beware of confusing creativity with novelty: trying the new for newness' sake. Our basic gospel beliefs do not alter, but certainly the way we 'package' them must.


We humans have creative ability because we are made in the image of our creator. Creativity is working with, rather than against, the Creator. 

Alexander Fleming said, 'I have been accused of inventing penicillin, but that's impossible. A mould has been making it for thousands of years. All I did was to bring it to your notice!'

Creative thinking and lateral thinking are not the same. Some creative thinkers can be very rigid in some areas. A lateral thinker is always looking for changes and exceptions, doing things differently. Lateral thinking is based directly on understanding how the brain acts as a self-organising information system.

Can creativity can be learned? Yes. The experts suggest:

* Develop a childlike sense of wonder.

Creative genius is recognising uniqueness in the unimpressive. It is looking at a homely caterpillar, an ordinary egg and a selfish infant, and seeing a butterfly, an eagle and a saint. Paul Macready, a 64-year old American, developed the first machine that could fly propelled by human effort for more than 2 kilometres. Why was he so creative? Nobel laureate physicist Murray Gell-Mann, a Pasadena neighbour and close friend said: 'He approaches nature and daily life with an innocent sense of wonder. He approaches problems and learning about new things in the same way, without strongly held, preconceived notions. When he sees something in daily life, when he sees something in nature, he takes a fresh view of it.'

'There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics,' said J. Robert Oppenheimer, 'because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.' Truly creative people can get in touch with the 'pre-civilised' self, the world of the child. Most of what we really need to know about how to live we learned in kindergarten...

* Curiosity and imagination.

For Plato, curiosity was the mother of knowledge. Humans who express their creativity in a Christian context - Rembrandt, Bunyan, Augustine, Michelangelo - are not hemmed in by themselves. Our opportunities are only limited by our imagination. But we don't use it enough (which is why, as Charles Kettering said, there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer). A middle-management friend pretends he's the CEO of his company, and imagines what he would change first.

* Be a risk-taker.

'I believe in getting into hot water', wrote G.K.Chesterton, 'I think it keeps you clean.' Like mocking birds, conformists are always echoing someone else's song, fearful of going out on a limb with a tune of their own. At W L Gore and Associates (the teflon inventors) they say 'If you're not making mistakes you're doing something wrong!' Improvisation corrected by feedback was Franklin Roosevelt's way. 'The country needs bold, persistent experimentation,' he declared. 'Take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it and try another. But above all try something.'

* Understand the creative process.

'Genius,' de Bono says, 'lies in solving everyday problems - and everyone can get better at it.' First, there's preparation, a concerted effort to solve the problem, trying all combinations, ending in frustration. (It was Edison who said that 'genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration). Next, incubation: the problem is left alone. Many abandon a good idea when they get hung up on a 'missing link' they can't resolve. Leave it blank while you attend to something else. Your subconscious mind will work on it while you're eating, sleeping, organising. Don't give up: your hunches may be your future! For two years, residents of Vulcan, West Virginia complained to bureaucrats about replacing their bridge which had collapsed from old age. Then someone suggested asking the Russians to help. The Soviet government actually sent someone to investigate, and shamed state and federal officials into swift action (Time, January 2, 1978). Then you may experience illumination or insight: an 'aha!' experience from an association or 'out of the blue' (being 'struck by enlightening!'). (Here are some of de Bono's: Make companies that spew waste into water systems discharge their waste higher upstream than their water-intake spot! Diminish street crime by giving street gangs grants which increase as crime diminishes! If a crawling baby gets mixed up with mother's knitting, put the knitter in the playpen! Why do management and unions have to fight? De Bono suggests getting them together to draw up a list of changes. Savings made would go to the unions in the first two years. You are then motivating them instead of telling them not to do such-and-such). Finally, there's verification: the new idea is tested.

* Know your own mind.

You are a multi-dimensional person. De Bono says we can think better if we tap into all the resources within us, by learning to wear six thinking hats: a white one for information, red for feeling, black for judgment, yellow for positive thinking, green for creativity and the blue hat for control.

There's also a relationship between artistic creativity and dreaming. While in a drugged sleep Samuel Taylor Coleridge experienced what he later called 'A Vision in a Dream' or 'Kubla Khan' - and composed, in a few moments of sleep, this exciting and mysterious work.

The left and right sides of the brain are specialised in different types of mental function. The left appears to be good at logical, rational thinking, numerics, analysing language etc. The right side of the brain is better at synthesising ideas and visual-spatial tasks. Both sides are important in the creative process: the left-brain for data-gathering and analysis, and right-brain for insight. (Meditation - particularly discursive meditation - may be left brain thinking, contemplation right brain or intuitive thinking). Half-wits only use half their brain!

* Study human psychology.

Why did Saddam Hussein act the way he did? Why is a fundamentalist threatened by ambiguity? Why are aboriginal people - all over the world - given to despair? Or, in your community: what group, when invited to your church to a carefully arranged instruction group will see 90% attend? (Mothers with their first babies). What group will see fewer than 10%? (Fathers, to a seminar on fathering!).

* Make sure your institution encourages mavericks.

Make any line of work into an adventure. For years, Capt. Grace Hopper (in 1983 she was the US Navy's oldest officer - at 76 - on active duty) had a clock in her office that ran counterclockwise. It was there, she says, to remind people that things don't always have to be done the conventional way. (Her special expertise? Computer programming!).

A librarian had the job of moving 60 tons of books. The board budgeted to pay a removalist. The librarian wanted that money for more books, so she published a story in the local paper urging readers to draw out all their winter reading at once, and return the books in early spring - to the new library. The costs were drastically reduced.

* Internalize 'hope'.

There are at least six possible solutions to most sticky situations. The challenge: finding the best one! Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right! Aim somewhere. Set life goals, but enjoy serendipitous experiences on the way. Have fun - enjoy your life (you'll never get out of it alive!). As George Bernard Shaw (then Robert Kennedy) put it, 'Some see things as they are and ask "Why?" I see things that never were are ask "Why not?"'

Mature leaders affect their environment rather than reflecting it. They are not chameleons, adapting to the choices and confusions of others. As E. Stanley Jones put it, if we concentrate on what others think, we are not a voice but an echo. We must learn to say 'no' to some worthy causes, without guilt, just as we will not be indiscriminate with our 'yeses'. We do not help others, or ourselves, or God's work, by being involved in too many half-tasks. It is better to do fewer things, but do them fully and well: perhaps we mostly say 'yes' out of fear of the implications of saying 'no', and 'no' out of fear of the implications of saying 'yes'. Further, many of society's rewards to 'yes-people' are designed to neutralise their creativity. To strive to be acceptable to too many is to become static and institutionalised. We tend to compromise too often, and attempt to live up to the institution's images, rumours and myths. As we noted before, the most honest - and therefore the most disturbing - people are the prophets, and so there tends to be something prophetic in every 'whole' person.


A theological student emailed me with some questions about burned-out pastors. For the response see

An experienced pastor responded:


Dear Rowland: I'm writing to commend you for your response to the theology student on Pastoral burn-out. This student has a leg up on his peers if he learns from your perspectives.

There is a mismatch between expectations and reality. A Pastor learns to 'roll' with these disappointments, as Paul certainly had to do many times.
The 'family of origin' tie-in is right on, especially the part about the lack of unconditional love. The 'kicker' here is that so many of us clergy come from Alcoholic/Dysfunctional homes (some authorities think the figure may be as high as 25-50%). That's true because the roles that one must adopt to survive in a dysfunctional family 'fit' so well in ministry. For example, I was the 'family hero'- the last chance my family had for a Pastor since two cousins were killed as theology students in a traffic accident. Thus, the 'push' was put upon me.

Another role is the 'Peacemaker'. Since there is much acrimony in a home with a chemically dependent parent, someone has to play the role of peacemaker. When the alcoholic's parents live with the family, as mine did, warfare is daily fare.

Role reversal routinely takes place in an alcoholic home. I became my father's 'counsellor' when I was 10 years old or so and our 'therapy' sessions continued until his death when I was 17. I was an experienced 'counsellor' by the time I had reached high school graduation. Small wonder that this function was familiar when I started parish ministry. There are other roles, but these were the ones I played.

I'm taking a medical leave right now to do precisely what you told the theological student a burn-out victim must do - a lot of talking. Your 'whole of life' workshop would be welcomed by me if we didn't live in different hemispheres! Any idea where I can find this in the USA?

You're right also about the lack of time off - it's very hard for us to de-role - we're thinking about some issue of ministry even while 'relaxing'. I'm beginning to wonder if I will ever escape this except by quitting entirely. Hence, your distinction between ministry and pastoral ministry is most welcome. We have some 'experts' in our denomination who refuse to see any form of ministry other than pastoral ministry. That reminds me of the category our Seminary Dean warned about - the 'hardening of the categories'.
Oh, yes, we are very sensitive to criticism, even if we cover it up so very well under that well-practised poker face. I've had sleep problems for years that have had to be medicated.

You're quite right about the intangibility of ministry. Four significant and welcome changes were accomplished in four years, and still I feel unfulfilled because I cannot be 'all things to all people' and because I can never be perfect. I told them a few weeks ago that I don't think I have the mental/ emotional energy to write the next chapters of this parish's ministry.

You're correct also about 'changing the tapes' and that it's 'never too late to have a happy childhood.' My present counsellor is a former priest, perfect for me in that he understands ministry issues. He suggests that I find a second career as a therapist; perhaps I will with a focus on children of alcoholics. But in the meantime, I have little energy even to think about this, much less start all over again in the academic arena. I'm only 51, but I feel older.

Don't stop writing about the need for a small sharing group. We clergy try so hard to hide our own emotional needs all the while attempting to bail out a dozen sinking boats alongside of our own leaky craft. My problem right now is that I left behind just about everything you prescribe when I changed churches more than four years ago. Where does a pastor turn when there is no group of 'wounded healers' to which he can turn?

With regard to welfare/chaplaincy work without the church institution getting in the way, there are 'industrial chaplains' in factories in this country. Perhaps there is a potential article for you to investigate.

The mentor is so very important. I have a friend who is about 20 years older than I. Though he may not fit the exact definition of a mentor, the needed sharing/talking takes place when we are together. Every pastor needs this.
Still working for Jesus while on hiatus [Name withheld].

I want to end with some quotes from an old book, recommended by a Presbyterian minister now in his 80s and still going strong. This book was the 'foundation stone' of his preaching ministry. Swiss theologian Alexander Vinet's Pastoral Theology: The theory of a gospel ministry (T & T Clark, 1855) is about pastoral ministry/ pastoral theology. We focus on communication skills; he focussed on Christian character and the resources of the Spirit. Here's a few quotes for you from his On The Signs of True Vocation:

'The general principle involved in the idea of vocation is to decide upon following the career for which the individual feels himself best adapted and in which he thinks he can be most useful. . . But when a moral action is concerned [as in the ordained ministry], when the soul is the instrument to be employed, then regard must be had to the state of the soul. . . There must be conformity of the soul to the object of the ministry; this conformity is composed of three elements: faith, taste (or desire) and fear' (p. 71).

Vinet goes on to elucidate each of these. 'The institution of the ministry rests on the very supposition that every one is not called to the work. . . What we like in the ministry may be an honourable and respected position -- or a sphere and opportunity for the exercise of talents with which we may think ourselves endowed -- or the sway of the preacher over his hearers; or we may be motivated by views that are moral without being religious, or by a vague sentiment of religion, or by an unreflective enthusiasm' (p 72).

On how to renew a sense of vocation: 'Now the first means of renewing our vocation as pastors is to renew our vocation as Christians; it is not to forget the Christian in order to dream only of the pastor -- the one cannot alone and of itself transact all the duties that belong to the other. It is important for us, even as pastors, to recognise the fact that our own soul is the first of those which are entrusted to us, the first for which we have to exercise our ministry, and that our first business is to be our own pastor' (p.101).

On what's missing in preaching: After going through the rudiments of good preaching (study, structuring your sermon properly, knowing your audience etc.) Vinet talks about the missing ingredient in preaching, 'the grace and efficacy which are added to it by the Spirit of God -- a kind of seal and sanction which is proved less by external signs than by the impression which is made upon the hearer.'

He calls this missing ingredient unction, which he defines as: 'the general savour of Christianity; it is a gravity accompanied with tenderness, a severity tempered with mildness, a majesty united to intimacy. . . Unction exists when the heart and the powers of the [human] spirit have been nourished and inflamed by the gentle influences of divine grace. It is a mild, delicate, living, heartfelt, profound sentiment. Unction, then, is this rich, gentle, nourishing. . . luminous warmth, which enlightens the spirit, penetrates, interests and ravishes the heart, and which is communicated by him who has received it [the preacher] to the hearts and souls which are fitted to receive it' (pp. 197 and 199).

Finally: Be encouraged! As Winston Churchill said in his second-most-famous speech: 'Boys, never, ever, ever give up!'

And some wisdom from Baron von Hugel: 'Live all you can - as complete and full a life as you can find - do as much as you can for others. Read, work, enjoy - love and help many souls - do all this. Yes, but remember: be alone, be remote, be away from the world; be desolate. Then you will be near God!'

Matthew Arnold described the pastor's task memorably in Rugby Chapel:

Therefore to thee it was given
Many to save with thyself;
And, at the end of thy day,
O faithful shepherd! to come,
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.



Note: No-one will agree with everything in the following articles. They are recommended for study/thought/discussion!
Tip: make the John Mark Ministries site your Home Page (Tools, Internet Options, Home Page address - type http://jmm.aaa.net.au ) then install a Google Bar at the top of your browser. It gives you the option of searching the JMM site - or the whole World Wide Web).

100 Marks of a Healthy Church http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8103.htm
Accepting Diversity http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2975.htm
Burned-out Pastors: some Questions http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8275.htm
Church Growth and Pastoral Stress http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8219.htm
Health Stress Test http://www.carleton.ca/~fsirois/HP_stress_selftest.html#A1b
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4138.htm
Living with Ambiguity http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9018.htm
Ministry as Empowerment http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/11536.htm
Ministry Description http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8118.htm
Ministry Health http://ministryhealth.net/
Open Membership in Australian Baptist Churches http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9024.htm
Pastoral Stress http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8291.htm
Preaching Evaluation http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8120.htm
Recommended Reading for Pastors: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8073.htm
Retreats with John Mark Ministries http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8053.htm
Spirituality for Ministry http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8201.htm
Stress and Burnout in Ministry http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8200.htm
TV or not TV: that's an important question http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4861.htm
Understanding Postmodernism: 'Everything Postmodern' http://www.public.asu.edu/~broquard/
George Will's Commencement Address critiquing Pomo:
Postmodernism in Daily Life http://www.crossrds.org/subjct.htm
Was Jesus a Christian? http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2902.htm
Women in Ministry http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8195.htm


Leith Anderson, Dying for Change: The New Realities Confronting Churches, Bethany, 1990.
George Barna, Leaders on Leadership, Regal, 1997.
George Barna, The Power of Vision, Regal, 1992.
Paul Beasley-Murray, A Call to Excellence: An Essential Guide to Christian Leadership, H & S, 1995.
Steve Biddulph, Manhood: An Action Plan for Changing Men's Lives, Finch, 1995.
Ed. Bratcher, Robert Kemper and Douglas Scott, Mastering Transitions, Multnomah, 1991
Tony Campolo, Can Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback?, Judson, 1995.
Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals, John Mark Ministries, Melbourne, 1986/1995.
Rowland Croucher, Your Church Can Come Alive, John Mark Ministries, Melbourne, 1996.
Rowland Croucher with Grace Thomlinson, The Best of Grid: Leadership, Ministry and Mission in a Changing World, Melbourne: World Vision of Australia, 1993.
Eddie Gibbs, Church Next ­ Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, IVP, 2001.
Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future, Revell, 1991/1996.
Stanley J Grenz, Renewing the Centre: Evangelical Theology in a Post Theological Era, BridgePoint Books, 2000.
Philip J. Hughes, The Baptists in Australia, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1996.
Philip J. Hughes, The Australian Clergy, Christian Research Association, 1990 (This book makes the important point that most clergy do not see themselves primarily as educators, but most lay people do. And the counselling role is no longer as clear as psychologists and others take on more of those roles).
Peter Kaldor & Rod Bullpitt, Burnout in Church Leaders, OpenBook Publishers, 2001.
Peter Kaldor et al, Winds of change: The Experience of Church in a Changing Australia, Lancer, NSW, 1994
Peter Kaldor & R. Powell, Views from the Pews: Australian Church Attenders Speak Out, Open Book, Adelaide, 1995.
Michael Moynagh, Changing World Changing Church, Monarch, 2001.
Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, John Knox Press, 1980.
Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, Word, 1989.
Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends, Zondervan, 1998.
Cliff Powell, Graham Barker, & Ian Harvey, Marriage That Works: Building a Loving Relationship, Sydney: Albatross (England: Lion Publishing), 1996.
Cliff Powell and Graham Barker, Unloading the Overload: Stress Management for Christians, Sydney: Strand Publishing, 1998. (For a review, visit http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8271.htm )
G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers, Logos 1997.
Richard Rohr, Quest for the Grail, Crossroad, 1994.
Christian A. Schwarz & Christoph Schalk, Natural Church Development, ChurchSmart, 1998.
Howard Snyder, EarthCurrents: The Struggle for the World's Soul, Abingdon 1995.
Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church, Zondervan, 1995.
Robert Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, Word, 1985
Donald T. Williams et al, Apologetic Responses To Post-Modernism: A Symposium, Evangelical Theological Society in Philadelphia, Volume III Number 4/ April 29, 1996.
Paul and Libby Whetham, Hard to be Holy: Unravelling the Roles and Relationships of Church Leaders, OpenBook Publishers, 2000.
Robert Wuthnow, Christianity in the 21st Century: Reflections on the Challenges Ahead, OUP, 1994.
Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage, Zondervan, 1998.

Note: I'll be updating this list soon. August 2011

Rowland Croucher
July 2002

First in this series - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8658.htm

Wednesday, August 17, 2011



Most mainline Christian denominations now insist that their pastors undergo continuing education, or submit 'Personal Development Programs.' This is good: all the professions where people interact with other human beings are expected to sustain a high quality of professional competence. These are reviewed every five years, usually. And, human nature being what it is, we need inducements (usually a re-accreditation of some sort) to follow the path of pursuing excellence.


Fred, a Pentecostal pastor who had 'successfully' planted half a dozen churches (successful, in that they all survived for at least another ten years!) was sent to me for counselling by his superintendent. Fred was unfit physically - he'd rarely watched his diet or got enough sleep. He'd sometimes 'pray' with people for half the night, in a ministry of 'deliverance/healing'. His worth, he told me, was geared to his 'success' as a church planter. Whereas some of his colleagues could boast about numbers in one congregation, he felt good about the total combined attendances in all the churches he'd planted. But he was now burned out.

I ran my 'burnout check-list' by him, including these questions:

* How rigorous is your weekly sabbath? (Almost never)

* How often have you had four weeks' holiday in a calendar-year? (Ditto)

* Who's your mentor / spiritual director? (Didn't have one, though he talked about problems when they 'got too much' with a senior colleague)

* Do you have an outside hobby/interest? (No)

* Do you have a habit of reading stimulating books? (No, 'I only need the Bible!')

* Were either of your parents addicted to anything? (Yes, 'my father to ministry, and his father to alcohol')

* What were the issues between you and your father? (There were plenty. His father was too busy ministering to others to attend to his family. He was brought up by his mother and elder sister)

* What gives you a buzz? (Fifty people asking for prayer at the front of the meeting)

* What do you believe about healing? ('God would heal everything, instantly, if only I had
enough faith.' He had no knowledge that the Bible he read every day also had a theology of redemptive suffering in it)

* What is your definition of 'right doctrine'? (A very narrow 'end-time' fundamentalism which did not cope with any 'errors' by his people)

* Have you ever changed your mind about anything? (Once. He'd accepted the 'Toronto Blessing' theology and practice, but later rejected it)

* How does the devil get to you? (Internet porn in the small hours when his wife was asleep).

* And so on.

Fred was a 'classic'. I want to pick up on the theological issues at this point.

One of Charles de Gaulle's most famous questions was his comment on French politics in 1962: 'How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?'

Well, how do we lead/teach a church with varieties of theological beliefs and religious experiences? First, let us affirm both that individuals may be guided differently in their quest to understand and relate to a mysterious God; and that 'God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Holy Word.' So we respect the varying faith-journeys of our people. We do not have to be insecure/sectarian, nailing down everything. Orthodox Christianity affirms ambiguity and mystery; the sectarian groups can't cope with ambiguity - or diversity. That said, if a church is not, at its core, 'evangelical', history teaches us it will die! The mainline churches around the world that have lost touch with their evangelical roots are all declining. People want to know that there are biblical answers to the issues of their lives!

Life is also to be accepted as paradox, which is simply to acknowledge the depth and complexity of reality. The risk-taker expects life to be this way, and responds not in despair (we can know nothing) nor in arrogance (what we don't know isn't important), but in enquiring humility (we know something, but there is yet more and more to know). The challenge for the fundamentalist is to move beyond 'simplicity this side of complexity'. For the liberal it's to move to 'simplicity the other side of complexity'. To be absolutely conservative is to deny the possibility of growth, and reality's being a moving, flowing process. But conversely, to ignore tradition and history altogether is just as immature. We are to be 'polytemporal' - not living only in the past (with the nostalgics) or the future (with the idealists), nor even (with the hippies) only in the present. 'We must not wander in times not our own' as Helmut Thielicke warns, but learn from them and act with courage and insight.

The last thing the church and our nation needs at this time are simple-minded conformists or estranged antagonists. Both conformity and alienation are somewhat childish/immature. Rather we are called to accept mystery, to live with paradox, to take risks, to opt for redemption, to be faithful to him who commissions us to go into the world and make disciples.

As the world gets more pluralistic/secularistic and complicated, fundamentalisms of all kinds will continue to proliferate. More and more people, in all religions (and indeed in all ideologies) will find refuge in 'simplicity this side of complexity'. So we must encourage people to read, learn, grow, think. Does your church have a well-stocked bookstall, with regular book reviews from the pastors/leaders? Who was the church leader who said, when asked whether he was conservative or liberal: 'On matters I've thought about, I'm liberal; on other matters I'm conservative'. Fundamentalists may think too little, liberals too much! Both may lose the plot, in different ways. But to be fair to both, they are answering different questions. Fundamentalists want to know what, put in basic language, is to be our authority for faith and practice, assuming our God has revealed some absolutes for us? Liberals are asking: how can God's truth be applied in shifting cultural circumstances, consonant with Jesus' ethic of love? So how can we provide forums for conservatives and moderates/liberals to talk/pray together?

This also touches on the issue of 'double-binds' in the practice (as well as the theology) of ministry. 'Double binds' consist of two or more contradictory expectations placed on a person. All these expectations cannot be met; it's impossible. When faced with a double bind, no matter what you do, you are inevitably wrong. 'When you're wrong, you're wrong, and when you're right, you're wrong.'

Most ministry double-binds can be hard to detect, because some of the contradictory expectations are unspoken. You discover you were in an impossible situation when you fail.

Here's one list of Double Binds for Pastors (from the viewpoint of churchgoers):

* We want you to guide us and help us grow, but don't change anything substantial in the church because we like it the way it is.

* You should have a model family, but we also want you to pick up when we call and be present at evening meetings.

* Be intimate, caring, compassionate. Hold a hand, put an arm around a shoulder, meet with people alone to hear their deepest concerns. But don't put yourself in a compromising situation, and you can't have sexual desires or drives.

* We can get angry with you, but you can't get angry with us. The farthest you can go is to be 'concerned.'

* I can move away to take a better job, but if you do, Pastor, you have to couch it as God's leading you - against your will. (These last two are 'double standards').

You can list more. Ambiguity is not only theological, it's very practical - or impractical!


Effective pastors like thinking! They love new ideas and hang around people who challenge them! They follow their curiosity; they ask questions; they keep files of useful material and ideas, and tend to study for advanced degrees. They read editorial/ background articles in newspapers and on the Internet; subscribe to a scholarly journal that is 'outside' their field; they're interested in management and leadership trends. They listen to books on tape (many video stores now rent audio books) - both professional and literary. When we stop growing intellectually, we die!

So we will affirm change (and wonder why we ever sang so piously 'Change and decay in all around I see'!!). George Bernard Shaw used to talk about those who were 'dead at thirty and buried at sixty'. Surely this tragic approach to change, when the young stop seeing visions and the old stop dreaming dreams, is nothing short of a 'living death'. People have always had a horror of being buried alive, but what of the tragedy of dying long before you are buried? The only constant thing is change, so the only authentic lesson in life is 'learning never to stop learning'. For the disciple of Christ all of life must be seen as a process of growth. We remain students forever.

There ought to be bookstalls, audio- book- and video-libraries, printed sermon outlines, study-guides, etc., to supplement the spoken word. And you can pick a preacher who isn't doing careful study and reflection in the first three minutes. Our people deserve better. An hour in the study for each minute in the pulpit was Fosdick's suggestion!

9-3 PREACHING. Did you hear the story about the pastor who when he shook hands with the congregation leaving the church, a little boy looked up with a closed fist said, 'Here, I have something for you.' The pastor opened his hand and the little boy dropped a small coin into it. Not wanting to hurt the boy's feeling he simply smiled and said, 'Thank you.' Well, it did not end -- the next Sunday and the next -- the same thing. Finally, the pastor couldn't take it any more; he had to know what was up. He called the boy aside and talked with him, 'I really appreciate the gifts but why are you doing it?' 'Well,' said the boy, 'I just wanted to help you --- my dad says you are the poorest preacher we have ever had.'

Christianity is 'the religion of the Word'. When we speak, we disclose ourselves: so does God. God has spoken in various ways - nature, history, conscience, prophets and ultimately in his Son (Hebrews 1:1,2).

'Going to worship', of course, is more than 'going to preaching'. The question we Protestants hear from someone who missed church was, 'What did the preacher say?'

Preaching is not done well in many churches. Homilies in many 'liturgical' churches are polite sermonic essays which won't offend - or change - anybody. Well-educated preachers in some mainline churches fill their sermons with theological abstractions. Pentecostal preaching is sometimes a loud reiteration of exhortations lacking theological substance. And other churches which may have better preaching often don't know how to be 'lost in wonder, love and praise' in their worship.

Good preaching on its own will not fill churches any more, but bad preaching will still empty them. The preacher stands between heaven and earth, speaking for God to us, and strengthening our faith, hope and love. Good preaching is inspired and inspiring, bringing the Bible to life, and life to the Bible: it is rooted in the biblical text but relevant to our needs. It is interesting, warm, humble (the preacher is a sinner needing grace too), dialogical and interactive. Preaching, according to Phillips Brooks' famous dictum is 'communicating truth through personality'. The best preachers are 'bilingual', understanding the terminology of theology, but also communicating plainly in the language of the people.

The era of preaching is by no means over - I believe it never will be. In a better-educated church a declamatory style ought to give way to what John Claypool (The Preaching Event) calls 'confessional' preaching. Again, good preaching is evangelical (people won't follow an uncertain sound) and the best method, I believe, is expository (though it's a great challenge to make expository preaching interesting and life-related).

May I suggest four essential characteristics of authentic preaching:


As we said before, Baby Boomers and GenX'ers are the first adults in history to be raised on the mass media. Television, radio, rock music and computers have shaped the way they view reality. But they don't feel at home in the traditional church; it's boring, quite frankly.

So preaching to Baby Boomers and young people will have to be relevant and interesting - and dramatic. Study Tony Campolo's 'sermons' for an example of superb communication to these groups.

One way to reach these generations is through stories. Parables, stories, are good preaching in any culture and to any age-group. They appeal to the imagination. More than half of the Bible - both Old and New Testaments - is narrative.

Try something different sometimes. How about a sermon preached from behind the congregation, or from the middle of a row, or with a child in your arms? If preaching about the prodigal son, maybe interview the various people in the prodigal's family (including a neighbour and the family's pastor!). I heard of one re-enactment of this story which ended with the elder brother hitting his father: quite unforgettable! But don't be 'gimmicky' for its own sake: always explain the reason for changes. Does the sermon always have to come 'after half-time'? Can it be broken up sometimes, and interspersed with other worship-activities to reinforce the main points made?


That is, it must have a teaching component. But good preaching is not simply imparting information. It aims at 'transformation'.

How do we mature in our faith and life? How do we develop a sensitive Christian conscience, a strong desire to live obediently to the word of God, a love for Bible study and prayer, a dedicated commitment to ministries of evangelism, mercy and justice? A discussion of teaching must work backwards from these questions.

When asked 'What or who were the formative influences in your life?' most people name a parent or teacher. 'I teach' says US professor of the year 1983, Peter Beidler, 'because I see people grow and change in front of my eyes. Being a teacher is being present at the creation, when the clay begins to breathe. Nothing is more exciting than being nearby when the breathing begins... I teach because, being around people who are beginning to breathe, I occasionally find myself catching my breath with them.'

In the church at Antioch Paul and Barnabas majored on teaching (Acts 11:26). This church had a list of their teachers (Acts 13:1: does yours?). The religion of Israel was a teaching religion (see eg. Exodus 18:20, Deuteronomy 6:1): the law of Moses was first a lesson, then a command. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher (eg Mark 1:38), and commanded his followers to go into the world and teach all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The early Christian churches took seriously the function of teaching (Acts 13:1, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 1:11). The purpose of Timothy's teaching, Paul says, was to 'arouse the love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith' (1 Timothy 1:5). Christian leaders should be able, or apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). 'Bible teaching' is therefore much more than a 'jug to mug' approach: it's meant to produce better-behaved rather than merely better-informed Christians.

Preaching without teaching can be propaganda: by-passing people's minds to get them to make a commitment they don't fully understand. And teaching without persuasion can be dry, sterile dogma.

Use drama, dance, mime, and audio-visuals to assist in 'sitting where the readers first sat'. God wants his word understood; the Scriptures were written in the common languages of their day, so use a translation closest to the language we speak (eg. the New Revised Standard Version). After Scripture is read, let us be silent to listen with the heart.


This is hardest for pastors. I recently re-read Reinhold Niebuhr's Leaves from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic. If ever there was a twentieth century prophet par excellence it was Niebuhr. About prophets he writes that they're likely to be itinerants ('we preachers are afraid to tell the truth because we are economically dependent upon the people of the church' p.74). And 'the church does not seem to realise how unethical a conventionally respectable life may be' (p.118). So it's easier for pastors to preach about charity than justice. It's also difficult for a pastor to be prophetic without being cynical ('I don't want anyone to be more cynical than I am' p.158). If you have to choose between bitterness and blandness, choose the former; but 'speaking the truth in love' is always our aim...

Prophets are always radical. There's the rub. Remember Woody Allen's movie about Leonard Zelig? Filmed in documentary style, Zelig purportedly recounts the life and times of a 'chameleon man' who was so completely compliant than his physical appearance changed to accommodate his companions. Talking to some Orthodox rabbis, he sprouts a beard and side curls. In a Chinese laundry his features become Asian. To psychiatrists he utters a lot of psychobabble...

Good preaching contains both heat and light: heat without light leaves us scorched and brittle; light may help us 'see' (and as Horace Bushnell once said, there can be no preaching worth the name if there is no thinking), but knowledge without faith won't save anybody. W B Yeats in his poem 'The Second Coming' says 'the best lack all conviction' while 'the worst are full of passionate intensity.' We must search for the dividing line between enthusiasm and fanaticism...


Good preaching touches mind and heart and will: we learn, we love, and we change. It goes without saying that good preaching is not constantly negative, opposing anything and everything. We shepherds sometimes spend too much time mending fences rather than feeding sheep. A truly 'prophetic' dimension to our preaching calls us to repentance, to 'own our stuff', to grow, to be 'converted'.

Alfred North Whitehead perceptively stated, 'Religions commit suicide when they find their inspiration in their dogmas'. Christianity is essentially relational, so preaching must 'relate' too. Some clergy seem to believe they 'supply religion' to people in their homilies. A once-a-week sermon is a very thin diet for a growing Christian: many people 'attend Church' regularly but can't say what God is doing in their lives.

Evangelist Michael Green asks clergy: 'When was the last time you told your congregation what Jesus means to you?' The question haunted one pastor. So he told his people, on the last day of his ministry with them. 'At the conclusion of that sermon I stood at the door and shook hands with the congregation. One woman, a beloved saint of the church, came to the head of the line but was so overcome with emotion that she could not speak and went to the back of the line. I assumed that she simply did not know how to say goodbye. But when she finally reached me again, her voice cracked slightly as she asked, "Why didn't you tell us this before?"'

And let us never forget the purpose of our preaching: to glorify God and edify people, not to extol ourselves. Descending from the pulpit one day, the great Scottish preacher Dr. Thomas Guthrie heard two ladies say to each other, 'What a charming discourse and what a delightful preacher!' As Guthrie turned away sadly, one of his elders overheard him say, 'Oh, my Saviour! My preaching is a failure if I can only charm but not change!'


First, a note about plagiarism. From a recent news item: 'The rector of a prominent Detroit-area church returned to the pulpit and apologised to his congregation yesterday after being on forced leave on allegations of plagiarism. "Let me, as your rector, start this period of reconciliation and say I'm sorry," he told parishioners at Christ Church Cranbrook Episcopal Church in Bloomfield Hills, The Detroit Free Press reported.

'The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan prohibited Mullins from serving or attending the church for 90 days, while they investigated complaints from eight parishioners, including allegations that Mullins used others' sermons and articles written by others on the Internet.

'But members gave Mullins two standing ovations yesterday, some extending their hands or giving him the thumbs-up as he strolled down the aisle. He also drew laughs with his promise to use "three primary sources and God knows how many secondary sources."'

And a few notes about pastoral COUNSELLING ETHICS:

* No one - not even the pastor's spouse should have access to confidential matters raised in counselling sessions, without the permission of the counsellee.

* Integrity: as a counsellor I should regularly debrief with a supervisor - at least once a month for an hour. This is becoming a legal requirement in some Western countries. Peer consultancy and support and professional courses help to 'hone' therapeutic, diagnostic, communication, record-keeping and referral skills. The role of 'touch' is touchy: the wisest counsel is 'don't' (unless in situations like holding someone's hand for prayer in a hospital-visit). Yes, some people are 'huggers' - but others aren't! It is also important that pastoral counsellors know the boundaries of their competency, and have good referral networks.

* Never counsel anyone in a context of absolute privacy - particularly members of the opposite sex.

9-5 MINISTRY DESCRIPTIONS. I believe pastors, (and perhaps all leaders), ought to be invited to write their own 'ministry description' within the broad guidelines of their invited calling.

This document (one-page, ideally) would
then be submitted to the call committee, and to the church for their approval. Let's not be too legalistic - either as pastors, or as churches: hopefully pastors grow in their experience and may be redirected to a new field of ministry after a time. Such ministry descriptions ought to include a statement about ministry at home (my own view is that no pastor needs to be out of his or her home more than 3-4 evenings per week); and also time for study and preparation, as well as, say, two-weeks' study leave each year in addition to four weeks' leave. Job/ Ministry Descriptions will also contain mutual expectations relating to legal considerations, ethics (e.g. code of ethics, confidentiality and professional boundaries: unfortunately some clergy feel threatened by a perceived loss of authority or access to parishioners' 'secrets'), and financial considerations (eg, salary, fringe benefits, house allowance etc.)

9-6 TRANSITIONS. The little book Mastering Transitions (Multnomah) is brilliant. It begins with the assumption that pastoral moves are 'difficult, even scary' for pastors, their families, and for churches. Transitions aren't easy. There are chapters on topics like The Forced Termination (there's a burgeoning literature on this painful subject), Harnessing Your Church's History, and The Shadow of Your Predecessor etc. The questions a prospective pastor may ask the search committee is the best list I've seen.

Some samples from its store of practical wisdom:

# Don't leave just because a larger church is interested in you. Most pastors are not going to end up in a large church.

# Have an hour's questions to ask the search committee

# One way to determine the pastor's salary: find the mean or median salary in the congregation (this may assume a situation in which the denomination doesn't offer recommended salary guidelines)

# Have a performance review with the leaders annually, asking (1) what had been most meaningful to them in the church in the past year, and (2) what they would like to see happen in the church.

# Don't let the search committee dissolve until you've been in the church a year. 'These people were my first and most significant contacts with the church. I've known pastors who felt abandoned in the new church after the search committee disbanded.'

# When called to leave a church, offer multiple reasons: members will understand at least one of the reasons and so better accept the decision to move.

# Recognise the needs of the pastor's family to engage in the experience of closure.

# Before moving, ask members of the future church to jot down how they felt when they first arrived in the church and district, and share favourite places or pieces of information.

# Draw up a Ministry Description or covenant/contract so that no one will be able to say later 'But we never agreed to that!'

# 'In each parish I have served I have planted a tree as a sign of our beginning.' [In the planting ceremony I say] '... My prayer is that this tree will bloom for many years, and that even after I'm gone, you will think of this time, as I will, with grateful hearts.'

# 'Before I ever preach I try to worship first in the pews of the sanctuary... As I sit, I notice how the service sounds from the pew...'

# Invite parishioners over to your home in groups of four or five couples (but include only one disgruntled couple each occasion!).

# After you announce your resignation, work like a healthy duck, not a lame one!


Discipline ought to be the sine qua non of discipleship. The soldier, the farmer, the athlete, Paul says, work hard to fulfil their callings. Timothy ought to 'watch himself', devote himself to spiritual exercises, and thus save both himself and those to whom he ministers (I Timothy 4). A religion that sits lightly to discipline is worse than useless: it is blasphemous. Discipline is the prelude to spiritual and behavioural victory. (Two helpful books, one in each respective area - are Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and David Watson and Roland Tharp's Self-Directed Behaviour: Self Modification for Personal Adjustment.) A mature leader will set an example to others by taking pains, working hard, renouncing addictions. But Jesus did not glorify either asceticism or workaholism. We are not here talking about mere ceaseless activity. Sometimes getting on a treadmill can be a substitute for a balanced discipline! As Eugene Peterson says in many of his books: some pastors are busy because they're lazy!


Rowland Croucher

July 2002
A Pastoral Survival Guide [10] - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8667.htm

Tuesday, August 16, 2011



In 1897, an envoy from Western Australia was addressing the Victorian Baptist Union Assembly. He painted a graphic picture of a land with long distances, meagre rainfall, a scarcity of water, and a dearth of evangelical preachers. A young theological student, William Kennedy, felt that God was calling him to face the rigours of pastoral and evangelistic work in that distant State. A small Baptist fellowship in Katanning, 200 miles south of Perth, a frontier town with just thirty buildings, called the young farmer-student to be their pastor. There was no other church for 100 miles.

His salary: eighty pounds a year, and after paying the rent (forty pounds a year) he and his young wife often experienced a bare cupboard. The Baptist Union of Western Australia's sole property was an old bicycle, 'fit for the scrap-heap'. But he travelled hundreds of miles on bicycles, preaching and planting churches throughout the 'Great Southern'. And, with the help of people he enthused, and his own bare hands, built church-buildings that were meant to last. (When critics complained that he was building too elaborately, he would fire back: 'I'm building for the future!'). During his first ten years Kennedy built four beautiful churches, several manses, conducted missions in tents and caravans in widely scattered places, won great numbers to Christ, and injected enthusiasm everywhere he went. Eloquent with his pen, he wrote hundreds of letters. The driving force behind his pioneering energy: 'There remains very much land yet to be possessed. Go in and claim it for Christ!'

The biography of this great man, written by Leslie Gomm in a Clifford Press booklet (1959) is an inspiring story.

How do people of energy and vision get to be like that?

The pastors who have relished their work over the long haul have a passion, a life-goal. They're not afraid to take calculated risks to achieve their God-given vision. They 'envision' a certain shape for their church. I heard an effective leader tell a pastors' conference: 'Figure out what the big idea is and give your life to it!' Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God (Carey). These pastors are dreaming dreams about all sorts of outreach ministries.

Researcher George Barna wrote a couple of books trying to answer the most common vision-questions. In User Friendly Churches he notes that in evaluating churches that are healthy, compared to those that are stagnant or in decline, one of the key distinctions is the existence of 'true vision for ministry'.

In his later book The Power of Vision he offers some basic principles and advice:

* 'Vision for ministry is a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through you to build his kingdom' (p. 29)

* 'Visionary pastors often reach out to other pastors by working with them individually or through church-related conferences. Be sensitive enough to learn new ideas for communicating a vision from those who have travelled the path'. 'Interact with successful leaders to understand the content and description of [their] vision, how they arrived at it, how it has redesigned their activities and relationships, how they spread the ownership of the vision, and the ways they champion the acceptance and practice of the vision ' (pp. 31,34, 167)

* 'Vision is not the result of consensus; it should result in consensus' (p. 45)

* 'By definition, all leaders are visionaries' (p. 47)

* 'The purpose of vision is to create the future. Vision has no force, power or impact unless it spreads from the visionary to the visionless' (pp.. 48, 52)

* 'Risk is a natural and unavoidable outgrowth of vision' (p. 50)

* 'Too much emphasis upon a slogan can be detrimental' (p. 59)

* 'You cannot be a true leader unless you are capable of charting a desired destination for your followers' (p. 108)

* 'The absolute goal of vision for ministry is to glorify God'

More specifically, what will the 'next church' be like? While new ways of being church have sprung up in recent years, they have their strengths and limitations. Eddie Gibbs, in his book Church Next, analyses some church models and suggests nine 'major storm centres' churches have to navigate to be transformed.

They are:

1.. From living in the past to engaging with the present. We need to train our people to be missionaries again. Western Society will not be brought back to Christian values by preaching and persuasion alone.

2.. From market-driven to mission-oriented. In a desire to reach out to a local population churches can be tempted to resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights. In a market-driven mission strategy the bottom line is numbers: where the gospel message becomes a means for personal fulfillment: where the entire evangelistic enterprise is shaped by those needs the consumer desire to have satisfied.

3.. From bureaucratic hierarchies to apostolic networks. This chapter challenges the role of the traditional denomination. A denomination is destined to failure where the structures are in place primarily as instruments of control, and leaders operating within a hierarchical structure see their role as one of delegating and giving permission. There needs to be a transition:

* from bureaucratic authority to personal authority
* from formal structure to relational structure
* from control to co-ordination.

4.. From schooling professionals to mentoring leaders. In this section Gibbs offers practical suggestions for re-engineering theological education and leadership training, citing Richard John Neuhaus: 'What is needed is not the training of religious technicians but the formation of spiritual leaders.' He suggests that every theological student training for the ministry should stop to ponder the questions:

* Do I regard my education as providing prestige and security in the future?

* Or do I consider it as essential preparation for high-risk mission?

5.. From following celebrities to encountering saints. A W Tozer commented that it was increasingly difficult to get Christians to meetings where God was the chief attraction. We live in a church culture which often undermines authentic spirituality by emphasising publicity hype and celebrity focus. Gibbs suggests that the answers to pastoral effectiveness depend not on one's ability to develop charisma and communication skills, but on one's authenticity as a follower of Christ. He explores the benefits of Catholic, Celtic and Orthodox spirituality, and reminds us of the deep wells of spiritual wisdom in the Protestant, Puritan and Holiness traditions from which we need to draw afresh.

6.. From dead orthodoxy to living faith. If the basic question in the previous chapter was, 'Is there evidence of the presence of God in the life of this individual?', this section poses the question 'Is there an authentic divine encounter as the people of God gather to worship?' 'It is difficult to witness convincingly about a God we do not know and love in our inmost being.'

7.. From attracting a crowd to seeking the lost. Eddie Gibbs critiques the Willow Creek seeker-sensitive model of evangelism which has been so popular in recent years. He suggests that more and more seekers may be looking not in the direction of the Christian churches that regard themselves as seeker-sensitive, but for alternative forms of religious experience. 'Good news sharing is not a declaration from people who have all the answers and have appropriated all that the gospel conveys. Rather we share as much about God as we have come to understand, and we invite others to join us in our pilgrimage through life'.

8.. From believing to belonging. Gypsy Smith used to speak of the five Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and yourself. The fifth gospel reminds us that we can exert no more influence for the Saviour than the quality of our life allows. Those who do not yet know Christ need to discover people like themselves working out the implication of the Christian faith in every area of life, people whose lifestyles and occupations closely correspond to their own.

9.. From generic congregations to incarnational communities. Gibbs discourages churches from basking in the success of highly publicised mega-churches only to discover that they represent models that are not readily transferable. He suggests that churches move from a strategy of invitation to one of infiltration, to being the subversive and transforming

* missionary train their members

* develop as a counter-cultural movement

* disciple through authentic community life

* live adventurously with diversity and paradox

So, back to vision. Bill Hybels writes, somewhere: 'How can I lead people into the future if my picture of the future is fuzzy? Every year we have a Vision Night at Willow Creek. You know who started Vision Night? I did. Guess who I mainly do it for? Me. Every year when Vision Night rolls around on the calendar it means that I have to have my vision clear.

'Every leader needs a Vision Night on the calendar. On that night you say, "Here's the picture; this is what we're doing; here's why we're doing it; if things go right, here's what the picture will look like a year from now."

'We prepare very diligently for Vision Night at Willow Creek.'

The future (in human terms) is shaped more by the visionary gifts of leaders than by any other single factor. Visionary leaders know God, know who they are (again, they've dealt with their childhood stuff, for example) and know where they are going - and they have some idea how they're going to get there.

According to Kaldor and Bullpitt's study of Burnout in Australian Church Leaders, 'Vision Killers' in churches include

* Tradition ('We've never done it that way!')

* Fear ('We've failed before and don't want to fail again')

* Stereotypes ('They are always like that')

* Complacency ('We're doing OK')

* Fatigue ('We're too tired to do that')

*  Short-term thinking ('Let's fix this first')

I believe, that, more specifically:

# Christians should still expect Jesus to return in their lifetime

# We should still have goals/visions of reaching our generation for Christ

# Knowing that '80% is full', visionary leaders are always weighing options: shall we extend (both buildings and parking), relocate, multiply Sunday services, plant a daughter-church? (They have an option to buy all the properties surrounding the church's). They're constantly inventing theoretical structures for their church's government: how can we operate with more people-ownership of our goals, but with fewer people-hours in administration?

# There will always be people difficult for us to love (yes, we're saying it again!): in previous times the categories were racial, sexual, gender, chronological, economic; now three special groups are homosexuals, paedophiles, and Muslims. But to each/all we will say, on behalf of Jesus who loved marginalised people (the 'least, the lost, and the last'): 'God does not share out love to all creatures: God gives all of his love to each of his creatures' (Hugh of St Victor).


Rowland Croucher

July 2002
A Pastoral Survival Guide [9] - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8666.htm

Monday, August 15, 2011



Norman Vincent Peale used to pray, 'Lord, give me ten man-sized problems today please!' Smart leaders have the mind-set that no problem is so large that it can't be solved. They are solution focused. (However, let's be compassionate at this point, too: some people have enough problems already, and they aren't inclined to pray Peale's way).


First an important psychological truism: because church leaders are in positions of authority, some people will project onto us negative feelings from experiences with authority figures in their past. One of my friends calls it 'being presented with another person's bill.' So skill in helping parishioners get in touch with their past is important.

Daniel Goleman (author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, and inventor of the notion of one's EQ - Emotional Quotient) spends his time analysing why some leaders develop to their fullest potential and why most hit a plateau far from their full potential. His conclusion? The difference is (you guessed it) self-leadership. He calls it 'emotional self-control.' What characterises maximised leadership potential, according to Goleman? Tenaciously staying in leadership despite overwhelming opposition or discouragement. Staying in the leadership game and maintaining sober-mindedness during times of crisis. Keeping ego at bay. Staying focused on the mission instead of being distracted by someone else's agenda. All these indicate high levels of emotional self-control. Goleman says, 'Exceptional leaders distinguish themselves because of superior self-leadership.'

Now, a word of caution. If a pastor has exceptional leadership skills he or she can choose to ride out parish-storms. Most of us are not in this category. We need the wisdom (gained mostly from wise-others) to know when not to fight, and make a graceful exit from untenable church situations! A special problem for pastors is a 'forced termination' from a pastorate. Well might we preach 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matthew 5:4) but in that situation we don't feel blessed! See the relevant articles on Forced Terminations on the John Mark Ministries website.

Back to EQ. Depression, says Goleman, is often a gap between who you are (your ego) and who you think you should be (your ego ideal). (Who we think we should be is largely determined by parents). When you think you are a few 'shoulds' short, and, therefore, do not measure up, you get depressed.

As depression is anger turned inwards, many of its symptoms essentially punish you for being 'a bad boy/girl'. Most common are difficulty sleeping, where you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. Or, where you do not feel like eating. Others are difficulty concentrating, as you are dwelling on your failures, sometimes accompanied by crying and a pessimistic attitude. You may also withdraw from friends and fun, nothing seems to pick up your spirits. The ultimate, and most upsetting, sign of anger at self is suicidal thinking.

Overcoming most depression is a matter of accepting yourself, of looking for validation from within. This doesn't mean abandoning your goals, but rather striving for them because you 'want to', not because you 'have to'. If depressed, letting go of guilt, forgiving yourself for past failures, and having a more optimistic view of life enables you to 'snap out of it'. Let us develop our hearts as well as our minds. People skills like empathy and self-awareness can help us better love ourselves and others. Validation also comes from therapy/ counselling, where an objective-other helps us do some reality-checking.

A word about negative thinking. Although the roots of depression may sometimes be complex, it is generally possible to 'change the scripts' in our minds. People who are depressed often suffer from a 'domino effect': ideas effect feelings, which in turn effect behaviour. To help such a depressed person, we need to turn bad ideas good.

Negative thinking may be associated with -

* magnifying our mistakes: we blow things out of proportion. Remedy: that a mistake today can be corrected tomorrow. Life is often more grey than black and white.

* dwelling on our failures: here we focus on our weaknesses and errors. Remedy: regain perspective by taking the blinkers off, and not discounting your positive qualities and accomplishments. This is not an internal 'snow job', but rather seeing that the glass is really a lot more than half-full.

* assuming we will not be liked: predicting that people will not like you condemns you to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you project your own self-doubt onto others. Remedy: try to give people, and yourself, a chance. Believe in yourself. Practise scenarios before you meet them. Assume that if God sees worth in you, others will!

* blaming others for your stuff: here your anger can point inwards to see yourself as a 'loser' or outwards to see others as 'cruel'. Remedy: pray for grace to 'repent' (taking responsibility, which is the opposite of blaming).

Finally: rekindle faith. God cares and can help. 'The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.' 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.' (Psalm 9:9, 34:18). Hang onto God. Talk to him about how you feel, even if you're angry at him about what happened. Ask for his help in your recovery and use the aids he's provided in the Bible and in the Church.


Our world is like a shop after young people on Halloween night got in and changed all the price-tags around. The price and value of winning or losing don't necessarily relate. Winning isn't everything; we also need the faith to face failure. 'When I am weak, then I am strong', Paul wrote. 'I can do all things (even fail!) through Christ who strengthens me.'

The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) prompts a bundle of questions. Among them: does it teach success as a correlate of faithfulness? One preacher asks: 'Why were the two servants who put their talents to work faithful, and the one who did not unfaithful? Very simply, because they were successful'. Another disagrees: 'The point of the parable is not the money they made, but the fact that they did not hide it away. They were faithful not because they were successful (made money), but because they faithfully put to work the resources the Master entrusted to them'.

'We must make sure', says W A Visser't Hooft somewhere, 'that we do not decide that we shall succeed. If we decide to succeed then we may succeed without succeeding in God's way. But if we go on from day to day seeking to do his will then we shall be prepared to receive success from him if he wills it; and if he does not, then humbly to say: it is God's decision that David shall not build the temple, but he will raise up Solomon'. So aim to be faithful: if God grants success, OK. If he doesn't, OK.

In their analysis of the American ethos Robert Bellah and his colleagues wrote, 'The American dream is often a very private dream of being the star, the uniquely successful and admirable one, the one who stands out from the crowd of ordinary folks.' Jesus didn't buy into such a dubious notion, and doesn't invite us to either.

You see, success and/or failure may produce spiritual health - or they may not. As Kipling said, they're both imposters. Indeed, in reality what is perceived as failure is often success, and vice-versa. It is difficult for most people to survive either success or failure. We (Western) humans have an inordinate need to demonstrate our worth by performance. We strive to be luminaries, rather than letting our light shine. We are what we do and achieve. And we have an insatiable appetite for approval: much of the way we behave is a veiled means of soliciting compliments. Many spend all their waking hours willing themselves to succeed or fearing failure. (Our dreams continue these themes).

Sometimes we give the impression we've 'got it all together'; or 'victorious Christian life' preachers leave us struggling in confusion and despair. The old hymn which says 'Standing on the promises I cannot fail' is dubious theology at best.

Abraham Lincoln experienced failure after failure - for twenty- eight years! In 1833 his business failed. In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown. He failed to be elected as speaker in 1838. He lost re-nomination to Congress in 1848, and was rejected for Land Officer in 1849. But he 'hung in there'. In 1854 he was defeated for the Senate. Two years later he lost the nomination for Vice-President, and was again defeated in the Senate elections of 1858. But he was elected President in 1860, and went on to become America's best-known leader ever.

Somewhere I found this paragraph: 'After the miracles in Galilee there comes the solitude of the cross. After the proof of God by success, there comes the proof of God in failure; a paradoxical proof, but how much greater, in fact, and more absolute, despite its apparently relative character.'


I was talking to a missionary yesterday. He listed some of the errors well-meaning 'visiting missioners' make when they communicate Western ideas in a traditional cultural setting. 'The translator sometimes has to be clever enough to preach his own sermon while the visitor raves on about ideas which have no relevance to those people!'

Back to Builders / Boomers / GenX . Here's a rough breakdown of their differences (adapted from Gary McIntosh, Make Room for the Boom. or Bust: Six Models for Reaching Three Generations, Fleming H Revell 1997):


57+ years (in 2002)

Commitment to Christ = Commitment to Church


Money to missions

In-depth Bible Study and prayer

Loyalty to denomination

Minister out of duty

Support missions


38 - 56 (in 2002)

Commitment to Christ = Commitment to Relationships


Money to people

Practical Bible Study prayer/share

Loyalty to people

Minister for personal satisfaction

Support big causes


19 - 37 (in 2002)

Commitment to Christ = Commitment to family


Money to causes

Issue-oriented Bible Study, prayer/share

Loyalty to family

Minister to meet needs

Support local causes

Within our culture, if we want to make Christianity contemporary, we'll first have to look at our language. When do your neighbours say anything like 'We praise your glorious name', 'Lift (Jesus) higher'? Our hymns and songs (and often our preaching) are filled with odd or meaningless cliches!

Sexist language is another challenge: let us work hard to use non-discriminatory language - not because we are addicted to political correctness, but as a matter of courtesy and justice to women. And because in all educational and media institutions, gender-free language is now the norm: we will alienate thoughtful people if we aren't sensitive at this point. (However, I believe we can still allow God to be 'Father'!)

And we must look again at our methodologies: what kinds of meetings/classes do people attend in our society without being able to ask questions of the speaker or teacher? Church services may be the last group-activities where questions aren't allowed!

And let us be aware of other habits we have in church which may be off-putting to visitors. A chaplain-friend wrote: 'Having visited many churches of various denominations over several years on deputation work I learned very early not to sit unaccompanied in the front seat, as the aerobic nature of worship in different churches can vary considerably, and I didn't have eyes in the back of my head.'

As I write, today's paper (Melbourne's Herald-Sun, 22 May, 2002) has a headline: 'Church Bores Young'. The message: 'Teenagers were most likely to bored in church, said the [NCLS] survey of 435,000 worshippers from 19 Christian denominations. It found a generational gulf between older people, who wanted traditional services, and younger parishioners, who preferred more modern services and contemporary music.'

And, another input, from a member of a Western Australian Uniting Church (anonymous, but quoted here with his permission): 'A couple of years ago at my local church, some of the pre and post twenty-somethings spoke at a congregational meeting. They were asking if some more contemporary music could be used during the family service. At the end of their presentation, one of the matriarchs of the congregation rose, smiled and said that of course younger people were more than welcome at "our church" but that they "must respect our ways". That was the end of that discussion. After the meeting was over, I wandered out with some of the twenty-somethings who had given the presentation, and one exclaimed "Why are they so selfish? Why do they have to keep it all for themselves?"

Some months later, at another congregational meeting, the question of music came up again. This time one of the elderly members of the congregation rose and said that if the younger people in the congregation wanted more modern music and worship styles, then why didn't they go to the local Church of Christ or Baptist Church, which she understood used modern music in their worship.

A year or so after that, I overheard another discussion. A couple of the elderly members of the congregation were wondering what the Elders were going to do about the young people in the congregation who no longer attended. One of the elderly members had heard that some of them were going to the local Church of Christ and a couple had even joined in worship with the happy clappies who meet in the local high school. Another elderly member said that the Elders needed to talk to those former younger members about their "disloyalty to their church".

As of now, the congregation has maybe 3 or 4 pre-twenty and twenty- somethings left. Some of the 18-30 group who were there 2 or 3 years ago have moved to other UCA congregations (which have a more contemporary style), some have moved to the local Church of Christ or Baptist Church and a couple are on the fringes of the local AOG.

Meanwhile, the local UCA congregation continues to get smaller, to get older and to experience increasing financial stress.

7-4 FINANCIAL PLANNING. I occasionally talk to (mostly older) pastors and ex-pastors who are broke - and sometimes without a home-asset. I believe it is important to prepare for our financial future, and the possibility that if something happens health-wise to us our spouse and family will be cared for. Suggestions: get into a superannuation fund early (compulsory in Australia anyway for all employees); and I would also suggest getting into the property market - even if it's a small flat or holiday cottage, which can be let to cover some of the mortgage costs. God's not making much more land (!), so it is a finite resource, with more people demanding a piece of it in the future. It is important to get wise financial advice: sometimes a bank manager in the congregation will help gratis. Bank managers, please note, are generally conservative: and we want them that way! Thirty years ago whilst a student-pastor on a very low income we 'bought' three houses, with virtually no up-front capital: one with a first home-buyers' loan which paid the deposit; the second a house which was to have been demolished to make way for a factory: we moved it onto another property with the help of a bank loan; a third with the help of vendor's finance. All these were let and the rent helped pay off the loans. Later we sold the houses - in Sydney - before the property-market started booming. Oh well... You might think of other creative ways to do it! This section's called 'Problem-solving' eh?


Rowland Croucher

July 2002
A Pastoral Survival Guide [8] - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8665.htm