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] -

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