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

No comments:

Post a Comment