Sunday, May 11, 2014


Posted: 03 Nov 2013 09:01 PM PST
613EHnHjnfL._SL1076_As a part of my studies toward ordination, I have been reading Gordon W. Lathrop’s fine meditation on the ministerial life: The Pastor: A Spirituality. Lathrop states that he hopes his book will provide “a moment of deliberate delight in the central matters of Christian ministry.” Indeed, I have found it to be so.
For the next couple of weeks, I will offer a few posts reflecting on The Pastor so that we might discuss the fundamentals of this vocation and my concerns that we have abandoned basic and sound perspectives about pastoral ministry from Scripture and tradition, replacing them with inadequate, culture-bound substitutes.
In the introduction to The Pastor, Gordon Lathrop discusses the pastor’s tasks, the pastor’s titles, and the texts that form his or her spirituality among the congregation.
The Pastor’s Tasks
And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
- Justin Martyr, First Apology 67
The traditional tasks of a pastor in a congregation are given in this passage from Justin Martyr. Summarizing Justin’s description of what the “presider” (“president” in the above translation) does when the congregation gathers each Sunday for worship, Gordon Lathrop says, “the ‘presider’ preaches a biblical sermon, gives thanks at the table as well as possible, and sees to it that there is a collection for the poor.”
Lathrop also notes that, outside the gathering, these same central symbols serve to order pastors’ lives “between Sundays.” As representatives of the assembly, they carry the words and promises of the Bible to the people of the community through instruction, counseling, and prayer. They administer the sacraments through giving communion to those who cannot attend the assembly and by pronouncing words of baptismal absolution to those who confess their sins. They also bring gifts of money, food, or necessities from the church to those who lack them.
Therefore, whether with the church gathered or as a representative of the church scattered, the pastor’s ministry involves these three tasks:
  1. Speaking God’s Word
  2. Administering God’s Sacraments
  3. Distributing God’s Gifts
Particularly striking to me is the emphasis on collecting gifts for the poor and the pastor’s role in distributing those gifts. Justin Martyr describes a congregation who understands that those with means are responsible to take care of the poor. On Sundays, its members who are able and willing to give contribute to a collection specifically for that purpose. This is not compulsory or forced, but “they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit.” The pastor is designated to oversee this collection, making sure it is gathered and then given to any in need.
I’m sad to confess how foreign this sounds to me, even after decades of ministry. Rarely have I heard congregational worship, bringing our offerings, caring for the poor, Christian love for one another, and the pastor’s daily work brought together like this and commended as a habitual pattern. Justin Martyr’s description and Lathrop’s appeal to it reflect a church experience that I have rarely witnessed in our culture, especially in the evangelical and Protestant churches of which I’ve been a part.
I have seen it in other places where folks who have few worldly possessions gather for worship. For example, at a small mission church in a ramshackle village in northeast Brazil, I observed a large basket on the altar, where each Sunday congregants brought food, clothes, and other items for “the poor” (!) each week. At the same church, a bulletin board displayed pictures of a half dozen missionaries the congregation sacrificed to support through regular financial gifts. These people who had next to nothing grasped the generosity that flows from hearts set free by grace.
At least in what I’ve seen, this is much rarer in our more affluent setting, though, of course, ours is not the first culture in which the Church has enriched itself at the expense of its mission to embody Good News for the poor. Nevertheless, Justin Martyr’s description of the pastor’s duty — along with that of the entire congregation — needs to be reemphasized more than ever in our day.
Saint_Justin_Martyr_by_Theophanes_the_CretanThe Pastor’s Titles
With rich insight, Gordon Lathrop deconstructs the various titles by which Christian pastors are called. He suggests that they are all good names, but that they also are never fully accurate. These are “broken” titles which we must use with care.
Priest. Christian leaders offer no sacrifices, nor are they priests alone, set apart from the priesthood of all believers. But the title, appropriately used, points to the pastor’s job of proclaiming Christ’s sacrifice and presiding as the assembly offers sacrifices of praise.
Presbyter (elder). The Greek word describes a person of age and, presumably, wisdom. The title, however, may refer to a younger person called and ordained to serve the congregation, reminding us that one’s wisdom is not to be found solely in one’s experience but in the One who has been made unto us “wisdom from God” (1Cor. 1:30).
He likewise deconstructs Reverend (even Jesus said, “Why do you call me good?”), Father (Jesus warned us, “Call no one father…”), Rector — which means “ruler” (“…it shall not be so among you”).
In our day, when Minister can represent a high government official and when “serving” others can often create unhealthy dependencies, we must be careful to clarify this designation.
Preacher, originally meant to describe one who announces Good News, has come to often designate one who scolds with a loud voice and pounding fists.
Justin Martyr used the word “Presider,” but today we say “President,” and immediately we are back in the realm of political power that may suggest authoritarian control.
What about “Pastor”? It is certainly a good word to describe the care and oversight a Christian leader must exercise. But what does it say about the church? Are congregation members then dumb animals who cannot think or act for themselves, who dumbly follow and wait to be fed? Furthermore, in the Bible “shepherd” was a metaphor for kingship, which more often than not led to the fleecing of the flock.
Lathrop even addresses our contemporary tendency to add one’s first name to the title: like, Pastor Mike. The common use of this form of address speaks to our culture’s casualness and desire for intimacy. But he is cautious about recommending this, reminding us of Bonhoeffer’s important reminder from Life Together that all relationships in the Christian community are not immediate but mediated through Christ. Lathrop warns us, “…this title, too, is symbolic, full of longing for a thing that cannot be delivered by [the pastor] alone…”.
Competent pastors and mature congregants will recognize that all these titles are “broken,” metaphorical, and insufficient to communicate the true nature of the vocation. We hold them lightly even as we seek to live up to the truths they tell us.
The Pastor’s Texts
One of Gordon Lathrop’s goals in The Pastor is to set forth a way of spirituality for the pastor. To be sure, the Christian minister does not pursue a spirituality that is separate from that of any other believer. Together, we are all the baptized. However, each of us experiences the spiritual life in a way that is congruent with his or her vocation. And so with the pastor. The catechetical texts of our Christian traditions are the materials by which all Christ-followers are formed, but the pastor learns them in in the context of ordination and the diaconal life. As Lathrop says,
One old idea of the Christian life, then, involved the proposal that all Christians might continually relearn these texts, continually receive again their gifts, surprises, and questions, and that this might happen in the midst of the actual circumstances of people in their vocations.
In the Lutheran and Reformed tradition, the three main texts for forming the spiritual life are the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The Decalogue teaches us God’s Law. The Creed tells the story of the Gospel. The Lord’s Prayer enables us to pray with the Church that God’s agenda may be fulfilled in our lives and throughout the world.
The pastor goes ever deeper into such texts and calls the church family to join him in exploring and living them daily.
* * *
The pastor’s tasks are characterized by generosity. With open hands he or she gives Jesus to people through the Gospel — in Word, in Sacrament, in material goods.
The pastor’s titles are not to be taken too seriously. One with all the baptized, he or she is called out of and through the community of faith to preside and to represent the congregation.
The pastor’s texts are formative, designed to make the minister into a person who can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1Cor. 11:1).





Monday | Apr 21 2014
St. Paul's Cathedral (Anglican) in London                           Photo Credit: Avella2011 / depositphotos
Do you know what “wonga” is? I didn’t, but my research assistant, Dr. Google, helped me learn. An Australian English word of aboriginal origin, “wonga” is slang for money in certain parts of Britain. Why care? Because the staid Economist (April 19, 2014) pictured cassock-clad conga-dancing seminarians and the writers needed something cute to rhyme with “conga.”

The associated article did not deal with a cute subject. The caption was “Revving Up: More Young Britons Are Joining the Priesthood.” We read of no surge in seminary enrollments, but, still, “In 2013 the Church of England started training 113 20-somethings—the most for two decades (although still too few to replace retirees).” Meanwhile, “the number of new trainees for the Roman Catholic priesthood in England and Wales has almost doubled since 2003. . . and their average age has fallen,” a factor that church leaders regard as good news.

Such statistics would not impress assertive Southern Baptist and many independent evangelical seminary leaders in the United States, but, not relaxing, they also pay attention to trends in the number and quality of seminarians and clergy everywhere. The reason the trend among Britons is so closely watched is because the United Kingdom, along with nations in Western Europe, has seen the most drastic decline in clergy numbers. Any sign of life in such places is, let’s call it, yes, a sign of life.

Today is “Easter Monday,” a day after the Festival of the Resurrection, when Christians celebrate and seek signs of life in their worlds. Leaders among them may read theEconomist story and others like it to find evidences and clues of “resurrection” in the ordinary elements of life. The magazine’s writers report honestly on the plummeting number of Catholic priests, and Anglicans (and all the rest) join them in acknowledging that new thinking and new action are needed.

The journalist ponders problems: pastoral and priestly work is long and hard, the pay is low, yet, in selective cases there are attractions. Many young recruits across the North Atlantic and in North America are “the idealistic young,” some of whom look for projects among the homeless and desperate. Others see the ministry as a “‘distinctive alternative’ for people disillusioned with how much of modern Britain is run.”

The Economist finds that many trainee priests will end up in country parishes (and, in North America, suburbs), where “pushy parishioners and local vagrants,” people on the move, often misuse them. Many complain about their “seniors’ foot-dragging on gay rights.” The magazine account does not end on an un-Easterly downer.

The end of the story? “A government survey published in March found clergy happier than members of any other profession. Money can’t buy that.” Such surveyed ministerial men and women get to preach and teach and realize some realities, which signal to them those “signs of new life.”

The Association of Theological Schools (see reference below) tracks trends in North America, where the “downs” are not as low as they are across the Atlantic. But these trackers and theological school leaders here are also recognizing that old patterns and reliances, e.g. on strong denominational support, are less reliable now. They can contend against many forbidding cultural trends, but they can’t win all the battles.

Still, as the survey in Great Britain found, many of them are “happier” trying to serve in ministries than are their contemporaries in other professions. That’s a strong sign of life.


The Economist. “Revving up: More young Britons are joining the priesthood.” April 19, 2014.

The Association of Theological Schools.

Crosby, Robert. "The Changing Seminary Landscape: An Interview with Daniel Aleshire." Patheos, October 17, 2011, Evangelical Channel.

Ashford, Bruce. "Briefly Noted: Daniel Aleshire on the Future of Theological Education." Between the Times, March 14, 2012.

By Rowland Croucher
Preface: ‘Reverend Joe’
Introduction: Pastoral Challenges Today
1. Relationship with God
2. Family-of-Origin
3. Mentors and Networks
4. Leadership and Interpersonal Skills
5. Home and Marriage
6. Stress Management
7. Problem-Solving
8. The ‘Vision Thing’
9. Professional Growth
10. Institutions and Creativity
Reverend Joe (his story is an amalgam of half-a-dozen from my files and my recent memory) was a boilermaker in a factory, but he had a gift with words. One of his elders said he should be a preacher, so he went to Bible College, and served a term as a cross-cultural missionary with an interdenominational organisation. His ministry in Papua New Guinea was ‘ordinary’ according to the mission-people, and his wife developed some health problems. The doctors suggested that a tropical climate would not be good for her, so the Mission Society asked him to do some ‘deputation’ – which he did very well. He had only three talks to offer, but that’s all he needed as he journeyed around Australia, preaching in evangelical churches every Sunday. The General Superintendent of one of the Baptist Unions heard him speak, and was impressed.
When Joe intimated that he was thinking about entering pastoral ministry, the G.S. said ‘I think we can find a place for you’ and Joe began the process of theological training with a view to ordination. He struggled to pass his exams, but eventually made it. He then served two rural churches, but both pastorates ended badly. In the first, he ‘fronted’ a couple of the powerful people, and they virtually drove him out. A second pastorate finished abruptly after a couple of years when he had a breakdown. There was no farewell from either church. When he felt a little better, he asked to be put on the Baptist Union ‘list’ for another pastorate. The meetings of the ‘settlement committee’ came and went and Joe’s name would come up each time. But there wasn’t a ‘suitable’ church. (One of the members of that committee said to me, ‘We have to be efficient, because there’s always a lot of business each month. But these names. they’re people! This is their vocation, their livelihood, we’re talking about. We don’t pray for them, or even meet some of them. They’re mostly just names. I feel very uneasy about the whole process.’)
I met Joe when I preached at the Baptist church he attended. We made a time to talk – at the local McDonald’s. He got there early and was waiting for me, with a cup of coffee. (I learned later he found a used styrofoam cup, and asked for a ‘refill’, as he couldn’t admit to me that he was penniless). His wife was supporting them both with some ‘agency nursing’, but her health was still not good, and she could only do about two shifts a week. After mortgage payments, and other bills, they had about $50 a week for food. He couldn’t find a job – and his old trade wasn’t a possibility any more.
He told me, in an hour-and-a-half, the ‘headlines’ of his story. He had a brutal, alcoholic father, and a mother who suffered ‘nervous breakdowns’ regularly. His childhood was unhappy, and he was a lonely kid. School was always a bad experience, and he left at 15 to work in a factory. A Christian work-mate befriended him, took him to an evangelistic meeting, ‘and I was gloriously saved’. His life from then on was focussed on serving God and winning others to Christ.
After a while, I asked him to give me a rough assessment of his missionary and ministry careers. He did some things well, he said, but he couldn’t cope with people who ‘crossed’ him – either by making comments about his beliefs/ preaching, or by challenging his leadership. ‘I got into trouble regularly because I would stand up to people. That’s the only way I survived as a kid. They’re not going to squash me. But I think I made a lot of enemies each place I served.’
We then talked about ‘where to from here’. I summarised John Mark Ministries ‘ research into ex-pastors like him – and me. There are about 41 responses to the question ‘Why did you leave parish/ pastoral ministry?’ Most leave in a context of conflict – with the powerful people in the church or denomination. But underneath all this there’s always a story of ‘unfinished family-of-origin’ business. His story was not unusual – indeed he’s a classic!
He told me he felt ‘the Union’ had washed its hands of him. He was in the ‘dead wood’ category that institutional people talk about. ‘The G.S. who encouraged me to enter ministry has gone, and no one there now knows me.’ The Baptist Union had recently developed a system to encourage the personal and professional growth of its pastors, who now are required to renew their accreditation regularly. Joe felt threatened by all this. ‘I’m not a reader, ‘ he said. ‘But I still think I could be useful somewhere in the church.’
Now, what should happen to Joe if he’s to realise his potential and make it back into pastoral ministry again? Is he a hopeless case? I personally don’t think so, but it will certainly be uphill. Non-tertiary-educated/ Bible college trained ex-missionaries have generally had problems adjusting again. The society they left has moved dramatically in their absence. They often lack the vocational skills to compete on their return and the sending mission societies have often failed to provide for their retraining and economic wellbeing after ‘years of sacrificial service’. Even pastors that never went overseas, but were trained in the 1950s/ 1960s, are often similarly disadvantaged.
I meet quite a few pastors still leading churches because they can’t think of any alternatives. They’re burned out, struggling on, and their churches are suffering.
Then, too, there’s another category: pastors who feel they’re ‘mediocre’ in terms of effective leadership, but who do a faithful job. until some powerful people in the church insist on their ‘getting their act together better’. Then there’s trouble.
Another group is committed to ‘church growth’, but their people often feel they’re pawns in a triumphalistic chess-game. ‘Our pastor doesn’t listen: he suffers from an edifice complex. We’re OK if we bring friends to church, but not if we struggle.’
Some older pastors feel they’ve passed their ‘use by’ date. One told me: ‘I don’t understand all this post-modern stuff. I seem to be preaching about things the educated young people aren’t interested in. A university student said to me: “You preach at us. Our teachers encourage us to come to our own conclusions.”‘
Today it’s both easier and harder to be a pastor. Easier, because we have more resources to help us – like the World Wide Web for sermon-material (ever used the search-engine Google as a concordance?), more support-groups to encourage and pray for us, better access to the world’s practical theology experts, and a higher standard of living, on average, than pastors have ever enjoyed.
But it’s also harder. Many of us can identify with the apostle Paul who said, ‘Who is equal to such a task?’, about his own call to pastoral ministry. These days the expectations of our people are higher – and more likely to be expressed vigorously. Up-front leaders and speakers compete with dynamic personalities on television. There are more ‘religious’ people not attending churches (in the West) than ever before in history. Our people are likely to be better-educated – and differently-educated than we are. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work any more: people are more mobile, and brand-loyalty doesn’t work for Generation X’ers (those born since 1965) – or even Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).
The role of the clergy is by not as clear as it was. Nor is there clear public affirmation of their role in many instances. Most people see no need for religious professionals. And there’s a lack of confidence in institutions. Why waste precious time propping up ineffective institutions? Indeed, the very way in which people are approaching spirituality is that community involvement may be helpful at some points in time, but is certainly secondary to the individual spiritual journey.
In the past 40 years I’ve preached in about 700 churches in Australia, and they’re becoming more varied each decade. The single most common question in our ‘Marks of a Healthy Church’ seminars: how can we cater for old and young with their different tastes in one worship service, particularly in smaller churches? This centres particularly on the issue of modern vs. older music. But then, we’ve argued about music before: some churches in 17th century England and Scotland forbade all singing, others said we should only sing Psalms. When new hymn-books are produced, there are mixed reactions. (In 1691 when the first Baptist hymn book appeared, many Baptists refused to use it!).
Back to TV: most church-attenders have watched almost 20 hours of television the previous week. Not only is the medium the message, but if communication in church isn’t dynamic/interesting (and cognisant of an assumed 45-second attention span), the music excellent, and the themes life-related, people will go elsewhere – even back to the TV. (See Tony Campolo, 1995, chapter 4 ‘The Television Challenge’ for one of the few writers-about-churches to underline the significance of television for churches).
Baby Boomers and GenX’ers have grown up with television – that’s why they’re less-than-committed to a particular church/denomination. They’re part of a consumer culture in which choices/freedoms dominate their lifestyle. They want ‘value for money/time’ and won’t hang around a church that’s boring, irrelevant to their questions, or stuck where it was. (Tradition is a good servant, but a very bad master).
Baby Boomers still have a disproportionate influence over our entire society, consuming (in the U.S.) 51% of all the goods and services and comprising 81% of journalists. Again, they don’t share at all the ‘brand loyalty’ of their parents: indeed they scoff at it – hence the decline of denominations that have ‘expected loyalty but neglected needs’. Baby Boomers and GenX’ers see the church they’re in as a ‘way-station’ for their ongoing spiritual journey rather than the final destination. (This is partly because they’re open to upward job mobility, which may require changing location). They’re more likely to be loyal to a pastor than to a church or denomination. They’re also more tolerant of change, and more comfortable with diversity and ambiguity.
GenX’ers got the best of everything: they’ve never had to wait for the good things of life, so don’t understand ‘deferred gratification’. They listen to music privately, and grew up in the first generation that devalued children as having less social and economic value. They finish their education later, marry later, have kids later and enter the job market later (hence the term ‘the postponed generation’). They’ve been even more influenced by television than have the Baby Boomers: but their concern for global issues often tends to be unfocussed, even shallow. They face an almost overwhelming array of options, and tend to be indecisive. Said one: ‘We search for a goal, and once it’s attained, we realise it has moved farther away’.
So an important question at this point is: should we surrender to the ‘I/me/myself’ selfishness of the consumer culture? Two excellent books on this are Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? and Eugene Peterson’s The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends. The point these two books make: ‘church is essentially in rebellion against selfishness and is committed to diversity’.
Another contemporary issue: most Christians believe that a society which loses its commitment to certain core moral values, where most ‘do what is right in their own eyes’ is ‘on the skids’. Post-modernism rejects absolute ways of speaking of truth. Post-modernism, as the clich puts it, is essentially a rejection of ‘meta-narratives’. So religion is pushed out of the public arena into the private domain and such relativism can have disastrous consequences. Christians believe that to claim a morality which is purely self-referential is to claim a freedom which ends up as being no freedom at all. If there is no point of reference beyond ourselves, then reason, justice and law become exploitable by the powerful and the influential, and the weak have nothing left to appeal to. If we have no word for sin we shall soon find we have no words left to describe responsibility. As the ancient Roman adage puts it: ‘What are laws without morals?’
An Indian pastor was excited he was about his up-coming marriage. A Western missionary asked a few questions about the bride-to-be and it soon became evident that the young fellow had not yet even met the woman to whom he was betrothed. It was an arranged marriage. With as much cultural sensitivity as possible, the missionary asked how did they know if they loved each other? The Indian pastor’s response: ‘We will learn to love each other.’
The Church, whether we like it or not, is like an arranged marriage! We don’t determine who is or is not part of the Church, God does. We won’t get on with everyone. In one sense, when we give our lives to Jesus, we actually don’t have any choice in the matter, for we are called to learn to love even those we don’t get on with.
Back to pastors: please note that we are not here judging the effectiveness of a pastor’s work simply in terms of cleverness or measurable success. I know some faithful ‘Jeremiahs’ whose congregations have dwindled; there were often factors at work beyond their control. Generally, however, well-led and healthy churches grow, spiritually and numerically. There’s a climate of love and expectancy and competence and relevance in them which encourages people to come back again!
So here we will use words like ‘effective’ and ‘faithful’ rather than ‘successful’.
After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe the following are the ten characteristics (in my preferred order of importance/significance) of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.
Christian ministry – of any kind – is simply doing in our world what Jesus did in his. Jesus is our pattern for ministry – to God and for the world. Close communion with the Father was at the heart of all he was and did. As his disciples saw this reality they wanted to be part of it (why don’t more people ask us to teach them to pray?). His prayer-life was disciplined and ordered, although he too, was busy. It began with a contemplation of God – ‘Our Father’ – before moving to human need. He prayed hard before important decisions, like choosing the twelve. His meditation on Scripture gave strength in times of testing, particularly when the devil wanted him to do ministry another way. Time was found for prayer – 40 days, a whole night, very early in the morning. Hurry is the death of prayer. (When did you last take a retreat?) Nowhere did Jesus pray ‘to feel good’: for him, and for us, the key imperative is obedience.
1-2 SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process whereby the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God so that she or he becomes more and more like the Son of God. It’s ‘growing firm in power with regard to your inner self’ (Ephesians 3:16). It’s the maturing of the Christian towards union with Christ.
Assumptions of spirituality include
* God is doing something before I know it
* Love and prayer are gifts
* The aim of spiritual formation is not happiness, but love, joy, peace – and courage and hope
* Prayer is friendship with God, a response to his love
* Prayer is subversive: it’s an act of defiance against the ultimacy of anything other than God
* We are always beginners in the life of prayer: pray as you can, not as you can’t (‘to seek to pray is to pray’)
The minister – whether pastor or other – serves by introducing persons to Jesus, our only antidote for alienation. Alienation (sin) is the severing of self from self, self from others, self from God; and all these are connected (if I’m alienated from self I won’t be OK with others). The opposite of alienation is belonging: the process is called metanoia (‘turning’ from blaming to owning one’s alienation and being ‘converted’). Truly ‘converted’ people are eucharistic, thankful, grateful.
# Wounded Healer: The minister of Christ expects trouble (as Jesus promised) in a world tempting us with clean sorrow and clean joy. The Lord is closer when we are vulnerable, when we stop pretending to be powerful, and admit how wounded we are. Personal spiritual renewal comes only through brokenness, dying (Psalm 51:10-12,17, John 12:20-28). The Christian life begins and continues as a via crucis. We recognise Judas and Peter in ourselves – we’re both wicked and weak. And yet, in our despair, when resurrection seems unlikely we hear him in the garden or on the sea-shore, alive, calling us by name. Because we are identified with a dying/risen Christ, our ministry is a ‘living reminder’ of this oneness. So we will avoid crucifixion-only spiritual masochism or resurrection-only triumphalism. And our pastoral task is to prevent others suffering for the wrong reasons.
# Servant Leader: Ministry is the translation of the Good News into human relationships. It’s having authority to empower others to live in the Kingdom. ‘Authority’ = a firm basis for knowing and acting; ‘authorities’ maintain their position after knowing/acting have finished, and ‘lord’ it over others (which is why people who climb institutions often have difficulty maintaining a spiritual life). Jesus, in contrast to the authorities, was a servant, identifying with us in our ordinariness (the Suffering Servant wasn’t good-looking, Isaiah 52:13). So ministry has to do with ‘the quiet homely joys of humdrum days’ (Sangster), the sheer Mondayness of things. Such servanthood is indiscriminate (if I cannot embrace someone, it is because he or she reminds me of some fear in myself). But let us remember: if we live to please people, we become slaves of those people. Instead of one master (Jesus, whose yoke is easy), we end up with numerous Pharaohs who are never satisfied with our performance no matter how much we do. Our servant role is well expressed in Colossians 1:24-29 and Acts 20:28 (‘Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.’). As we are called to be servants of the church, we also affirm that the church is not our master – Christ is.
During the installation of a pastor, the congregation is asked two questions phrased something like this: ‘And you, people of God, will you receive this messenger of Jesus Christ, sent by God to serve God’s people with the Gospel of hope and salvation? Will you regard him/her as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God?’
# The Scholar Teacher (Latin schola = free time): Henri Nouwen (Creative Ministry) contrasts violent and redemptive teaching models. ‘Violent’ teaching is competitive (knowledge is property to be defended rather than a gift to be shared), unilateral (the teacher is strong/competent, the pupil weak/ ignorant), and alienating (students and teachers belong to different worlds). ‘Redemptive’ teaching is evocative (drawing out potentials), bilateral (teachers are free to learn from students), actualising (offering alternative life-styles in a violent world).
# Coach/Empowerer. The Protestant Reformation put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people, and just about everybody agrees we now need a new Reformation to put ministry into the hands of the laos – but many/most clergy will resist it. (Why do we persist in using the word ‘minister’ in the singular?) The clergy are part of the laity, equipping us all towards spiritual growth and maturity (Colossians 1, Ephesians 4). Pastors are the churches’ resident spiritual directors (see Eugene Peterson’s excellent writings on that subject), theologians (see Elton Trueblood), and prophets (Walter Brueggemann).
In general there are two religious mind-sets – those of the ‘saint’ and the Pharisee. We all have something of each in us, and the potential to be either. Both may be ‘orthodox’ theologically, even ‘evangelical’. Both pursue ‘goodness’ but by different means, for different ends. (Pharisees were ‘good’ people in the worst sense of the word!). Saints (like Jesus) emphasise love and grace, Pharisees law and (their interpretation of) ‘truth’. Saints are comfortable with ‘doctrine’, but for the Pharisee doctrine becomes dogma, law becomes legalism, ritual (the celebration of belonging) becomes ritualism. The saint lives easily with questions, paradox, antinomy, mystery; Pharisees try to be ‘wiser than God’ and resolve all mysteries into neat formulas: they want answers, now. The saint listens, in solitude and silence; the Pharisee fills the void with sound.
With Jesus, acceptance preceded repentance, with the Pharisees it was the other way around. The saint, like Jesus, says first ‘I do not condemn you’. Pharisees find that difficult: they’d prefer ‘go and sin no more’. Jesus welcomes sinners; sinners get the impression they’re not loved by Pharisees. For the Pharisee, sins of the flesh and ‘heresy’ are worst, and they are experts on the sins of others. For the saint, sins of the spirit – one’s own spirit – are worst. Saints are ‘Creation-centred’; Pharisees ‘Fall-centred’. The saint’s good news begins with ‘You are loved’; the Pharisees begin with ‘You are a sinner’.
For the Pharisee ‘my people’ = ‘people like me’; for the saint ‘my people’ = all God’s people. Pharisees are insecure (needing ‘God-plus’ other things); the saints are secure (needing ‘God only’). The Pharisees’ audience is other people: their kudos provides a measure of security (psychologists call it ‘impression management’; Jesus calls it hypocrisy). The saints’ only audience is God: their inner and outer persons are congruent.
Pharisees hate prophets (‘noisy saints’) and their call to social justice; saints love justice. (Saints aren’t into writing creeds very much, which is why the two things most important for Jesus – love and justice – don’t appear in them).
So saints remind you of Jesus; the Pharisees of the devil (demons are ‘orthodox’). Saints see Jesus in every person: they haven’t any problem believing we’re all made in the image of God (= Jesus) although they’re realistic about that image being marred by sin. Saints are spread through all the churches: the closer they are to Jesus, the more accepting they are of others. ‘Ambition’ for them means ‘union with Christ’: they call nothing else ‘success’. In their prayer they mostly ‘listen’, ‘wait on the Lord’; the Pharisee needs words, words, words. Pharisees have a tendency to complain about many things; for the saints life is ‘serendipitous’: they have a well-developed theology of gratitude. Pharisees are static, unteachable, believing they have monopoly on the truth; saints are committed to growing. (Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum; the Spirit abhors fullness – particularly of oneself). Jesus was full of grace and truth; Peter says grow in grace and knowledge: Pharisees aren’t strong on grace, but for saints ‘grace is everywhere’.
The religion of the saints is salugenic, growth-and health-producing; that of the Pharisee is pathogenic. Only one thing is important: to be a saint.
Pastors who have not been cured of their Pharisaism will not last the distance.
Saints appreciate these sentiments (in Rory Noland’s song):
Holy Spirit, take control.
Take my body, mind, and soul.
Put a finger on anything
that doesn’t please you,
Anything that grieves you.
Holy Spirit, take control.
The spiritual life cannot be nurtured without discipline. So make a chapel or oratory somewhere, perhaps a corner of your bedroom, away from interruptions (put the telephone answering machine on), where you do your prayer and Bible/spiritual reading (not ‘Bible study’ or sermon preparation: that should be done in another place at other times). Daily solitude is not a luxury; it is a necessity for spiritual survival. If we do not have that within us, from beyond us, we yield too much to that around us.
Spiritual wisdom suggests we begin our ‘quiet time’ with a Bible word, phrase or prayer (‘Be still…’, ‘Maranatha’, ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner’). ‘Occupy yourself in it without going further. Do like the bees, who never quit a flower so long as they can extract any honey from it’ (Francis de Sales). ‘Lectio divina’ is the slow, reflective reading of the Bible. Scripture is God’s personal word to me – for my ‘formation’ not just information. I read it reverently, ready to be ‘converted’ again and again (conversion begins but never ends), willing to be led where I may be reluctant to go, believing that God has yet more light and truth to reveal to me, and to the church. I try to learn to ‘meditate on the Word day and night’ (Psalm 1:2).
The Daily Office is an excellent structure for daily devotions. Try the Australian Anglican Prayer Book or the Daily Devotions section in the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book. The Daily Office, says (Baptist) Stephen Winward is absolutely scriptural, God-centred, depends on an ordered use of Scripture (including difficult and challenging passages), is corporate, educative (we’re in touch with prayer traditions centuries old) and ‘obligatory’ (even though the discipline is sometimes hard). Of course, as the Protestant Reformers emphasised, it can be mechanical and formal, but it doesn’t have to be. ‘Few things are needful, or only one’ says Jesus to Martha (Luke 10:42 RSV mg.). Be still, and know that he is God. Contemplation is the awareness of who (and where) God is. The intellect and lips are still, and one is open to beauty, goodness, wisdom, gentleness and love – in short, to transcendence. It’s the descent of the ‘Word’ from mind to heart. The most important element in the contemplative life is not knowledge, but love. This is a hard discipline for ‘heady’ and busy people.
Christian spirituality issues from, and creates Christian community. We have suffered from too much privatised religion (‘receiving Jesus as your personal Saviour’ is not an expression we got from the Bible). Pastors, too, need to be accountable spiritually to someone. ‘Self-made Christianity’ is a contradiction. And remember, pastoral ministry is not automatically self- (or spirit-) nurturing. Because you handle holy things doesn’t ensure you’re a holy person. So we will find a spiritual director, a ‘soul friend’, someone who helps one respond to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, listening together to the Lord. The key question in direction is not ‘Who am I?’ (that’s counselling) but ‘What happens when I pray?’ Spiritual direction is all about following Jesus who taught his disciples to pray. So did the apostles: read the magnificent prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 and Colossians 1, where Paul spells out how he prays for his friends – obviously modelling a way to pray he would like them to emulate. However, Spiritual Direction is not, in essence, directive (it’s the Spirit who directs). We come to God, said Augustine, not by navigation, but by love.
The sacraments are the Lord’s specific gifts to his people: the corporate acts par excellence of his church.
Fasting is a good regular or occasional discipline. Fast from food, words, TV, spending money, the telephone, sex, watching sport – whatever will help get ends and means in perspective for a while.
Silence is ‘the royal road to spiritual formation’ (Nouwen). It is not just the absence of noise, but an opportunity to listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. ‘Meditation’ is a way for Scripture to be internalised not merely (as in Transcendental Meditation) a technique to ‘calm down’.
Journaling is a useful means of recording the promptings of the Spirit in our lives. A spiritual journal is a written response to reality: a record of one’s inner and outer life (including dreams), a way to inner growth, reflection and healing.
Prayer cannot be divorced from daily living. Baron Friedrich von Hugel’s first suggestion to Evelyn Underhill when he was invited to be her spiritual director: visit the poor in inner-city London two days a week. After all, the Spirit, says an ancient Latin hymn, is pater pauperum, ‘father of the poor’.
A final word from Bonhoeffer: ‘It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he or she is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world’ (Prisoner for God, SCM, 1953, 166).
Here is some classical Christian wisdom on the subject of vocation:
# ‘Your motives are mixed. So are mine, for I shall not know this side of death why I became a preacher; and I have no right to assume that all that moved me in the choice was of angel brightness. Sometimes we see how incredibly ravelled are even our best desires.’ (George Buttrick, Sermons Preached in a University Church, Abingdon, 1959, p. 109).
# Traditionally, an ‘inner’ call was dominant when one entered monastic life; but the call to the presbyterate/pastorate needed an ‘inner’ call confirmed by the church. God always calls people to leadership in the community of Jesus Christ through the community. Calvin taught that there is a ‘two-fold’ call to pastoral ministry: God calls, but the church must also call. Wesley distinguished between an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ call.
# The call to ‘ministry’ is a subset of the call to be a child of the living God. The New Testament talks about the ‘high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14); it is a ‘holy calling’ (2 Timothy 1:9); and a ‘heavenly calling’ (Hebrews 3:1).
# Sometimes people wear rose-coloured spectacles when considering a call to pastoral ministry / full-time evangelism / cross-cultural missionary work. Those people are considered fortunate, because they have lots of time to sit around and meditate, without being bothered by the hassles of ordinary living. A mother-of-nine told the evangelist Gypsy Smith that she believed God was calling her to be an evangelist like him. ‘Isn’t that wonderful!’ he responded. ‘God has not only called you; he’s already provided you with a congregation!’ Jesus said to Peter: ‘Follow me (leave your home)’. To the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39): ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’
# An old church paradigm suggests six ‘vocation indicators’ – Faith (words and actions that indicate a deep-down commitment to Christ and his Church); Idealism (often expressed through initiatives which promote peace, justice, and strive for a better world); A Search for Greater Meaning (eg. an authentic questioning of current lifestyle); A ‘People Person’ (either extroverted, or a quieter ‘one-to-one’ personality); Leadership (ability to draw others to oneself, make decisions and take initiatives); Strength of Character (integrity and a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions).
# God may have to call you more than once before he gets your attention. God had to call Samuel three times before he got the message.
# Sometimes a ‘call’ will come when we are really discouraged in our work; sometimes when we are successful. Christian wisdom says that usually a ‘restlessness’ will precede a call to another ministry, but escaping, running away from a tough job to enter pastoral ministry does not augur well for a ministry-future. (Have you heard of the black cotton-picker in the American South who was very tired one scorching day. He looked up to the heavens and said ‘O Lord, de sun am so hot, de work am so hard, de cotton am so grassy dat I believe you callin’ me to be a preacher!’).
Rowland Croucher
July 2002
Note: For A Pastoral Survival Guide [2] visit
To find more articles in this series, put the words (in double quotes) “A Pastoral Survival Guide” into the website’s search facility.
Or increase the numbers in the URLs until you get to the 10th in this series –
Rowland Croucher
October 2010


What has church growth thinking and practice got to do with the clergy’s ‘not being a happy lot’? I believe there are at least four ‘presenting problems’:
I have yet to meet the healthy pastor who is not gratified by an increase in his or her congregation, nor disappointed by its decrease. (10) McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth is a passionate defence of the idea that numerical growth is the only really valid criterion of church growth. (11) He makes the a priori claim that all other areas of church life – evangelism, ministry, cultural adaptation, stewardship, etc. – are tied in an absolute way to the one overriding factor of numerical increase. The essence of church growth thinking is to research the factors which help or inhibit such increase. So whether we like it or not, ‘church growth’ connotes numbers, quantity. Is this idea biblical? Church growth protagonists affirm that the Bible is ‘full of numbers. It’s full of counts. Twelve apostles, 70 disciples, 5000 fed, 500 meeting after the resurrection, and so on’. David Pawson goes on to say: ‘The Book of Acts is particularly striking here. Somebody on the day of Pentecost was so full of the Spirit that they counted heads. And do you notice the progression in the Book of Acts? At the beginning they count individuals. At the end they’re counting in churches. At the beginning they’re counting men, women and everybody. But pretty soon they found that counting the men only was the quickest way. There is an intense interest in growth.’ (12) Similarly, Orlando Costas notes that throughout the New Testament there are numerous references to growth. (13) ‘The idea of growth is therefore basic to the experience and missional expectancy of the first Christians and to the biblical theology of mission.’ (14) David Pawson says every major denomination in his country (Britain) has been reporting a decline for sixty years… and we have not only accepted the decline, but we have begun to justify it, psychologically, theol- ogically, ecclesiologically. We have developed the kind of remnant theology which can even lead to a certain satisfaction, psychologically, in being a despised minority. (15) Certainly, numerical growth may not mean that the church is really growing: it may, in the words of Juan Carlos Ortiz, be simply getting fat. Orlando Costas has given us, in my view, a devastating illustration of this in his analysis of the growth of Chilean Pentecostalism, 1910-1975. (16) An accretion of individuals into the ‘church’, as history has witnessed in some of its mass movements, may indeed be ‘Christendom in the making, and not Christianity breaking through’. (17) Are quantity and quality antithetical? Is ‘getting the numbers’ always to be thought to militate against ‘better relationships?’ Certainly, some evangelists, in their zeal for ‘numbers’, have neglected qualitative follow-through with those who have made ‘decisions for Christ’. I believe we need three cautions here. The first has been expressed by Erich Fromm: Our age has found a substitute for God – the impersonal calculation. This new god has turned into an idol to whom all may be sacrificed. A new concept of the sacred and unquestionable is arising: that of calculability, probability, factuality. (18) The second must be an affirmation that numerical growth is not everything; it is not the only way to measure vit- ality, although it may be one way. Numerical increase ord- inarily and ideally, ought to be an index of quality. Cert- ainly, in the Acts of the Apostles, numerical increase was an occasion for celebration rather than (as unfortunately exists in some Christian circles today), an occasion for cynicism. (19) Thirdly, and, I believe we must understand the psychology of either an obsession with, or depreciation of, ‘numbers’. Such attitudes either cater to our egos, or, conversely, we lose sight of the fact that ‘numbers are real persons, for each of whom Christ died’. The danger of the first attitude is that of ‘triumphalism’, of the second, that expressed in the unbiblical dictum, ‘Proselytizing is a non-Christian activity’. (20) Further, as I try to point out elsewhere in this book, any notion which produces ‘winners and losers’ has to be examined very carefully indeed. Perhaps ‘numerical growth’ is like the motor car: it’s alright in principle, but in the wrong hands…!
Here we are linking two related church growth princ- iples, one a corollary of the other. The principle of selectivity simply says the church should concentrate on the responsive elements without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers. (21) A homogeneous unit is simply a group of people who consider each other to be ‘our kind of people.’ (22) Win Arn summarizes the research: ‘Churches grow, and grow best, in their own homogeneous unit… [and, in addition] people want their pastor to be ‘like’ them. Not too far above or below, not too far ahead or behind.’ (23) The practical outworking of these principles has very important theological, ethical, and strategic implications for pastors and missionaries. Jurgen Moltmann has written: The church of the crucified Christ cannot consist of an assembly of like persons who mutually affirm each other, but must be constituted of unlike persons… For the crucified Christ, the principle of fellowship is fellowship with those who are different, and solidarity with those who have become alien and have been made different. Its power is not friendship, the love for what is similar and beautiful (‘philia’), but creative love for what is different, alien and ugly (‘agape’). (24)
So the homogeneous unit principle is a form of ecclesiastical apartheid. Usually church growth practitioners have rationalized their adherence to this principle by saying that a monocultural approach is necessary in evangelism, whereas more mature believers can be encouraged in their koinonia to widen the circle. But this ignores two important issues. The first, and most basic, is that minority groups in all societies may offer, from their rich cultural and spiritual traditions, something of God’s truth hidden from the dominant group. But, more seriously, if the church-on-earth is supposed to exemplify in its life the unity-in-diversity ideals of the New Testament vision for the church, how can such selectivity be countenanced? Church-members ought to be encouraged from the outset to incorporate ‘kingdom values’ authentically in their individual and corporate living. In response to these and other considerations, McGavran says, in effect, ‘show me’. There’s some sort of ‘homogen- eous glue’ in every growing congregation (even if it’s a ‘charismatic’ or ‘prophetic’ glue in culturally heterogeneous churches such as that at Antioch, Acts 13:1-3). He says the ability to transcend racial and ethnic barriers is a fruit of the Spirit reserved for those who have already made consider- able progress in the Christian way. It is not a virtue that can be expected of neophytes. I believe a counter-argument can be made on other than pragmatic grounds (what strategy will win the most with the least effort and dollars?) to those who have trouble with this principle. And it’s simply that the whole notion of ‘progressive revelation’ implies an adaptation of truth to the ability of the recipients to assimilate it. God has been very selective in his covenantal dealings with the human race, and refuses to give rational reasons for this approach. Jacob yes, Esau no, and that’s that. God ministers his grace to selected people, and sometimes, because of their hard- heartedness, stops striving with them, and even ‘gives them up’. Christ himself operated selectively, he came not to call the (self-)righteous, but sinners to repentance. The unproductive fig-tree is cut down. Pearls should not be given to swine. These messages are loud and clear: select- ivity is a function of responsiveness. Perhaps there’s a strategic dimension here: first, the responsive come, then later, and through them, the less responsive. First the multitudes, then a large number of priests (Acts 6:7). McGavran indicates that this is the right approach today too. The best way to win the resistant is to win the responsive first. Bishop Pickett reports that the only place in India in which any significant number of high-caste Indians have been won is Andhra Province, where multitudes of outcasts were won first. Paul’s missionary approach is similarly ‘selective’. He stays in Corinth, for the Lord has many people in that city (Acts 18:8-11). He must tarry at Ephesus, because a great door for effective work has opened for him (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). And, so far as the homogeneity principle is conc- erned, he is quite clear: to the Jew he becomes like a Jew, to win the Jews, and so on (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). I would personally endorse the ‘homogeneous evangelism/ heterogeneous koinonia’ idea. However, there is a very great danger in a church’s becoming like a country club if its people’s values are not prophetically challenged. There is a constant – and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure on preachers to selectively filter their message to reinforce the racism, sexism, or materialism of one particular group of people. The church should, by its preaching and example, be challeng- ing the prevailing non-Christian elements of its surrounding culture. Its business is ‘culture tranformation’ rather than ‘culture affirmation’. One further word: strategy-wise, I agree with James Engel that perhaps the selectivity issue in evangelism is not ‘either/or’, so much as selecting different strategies according to the ripeness of the fields. To extend the agricultural analogy further, we need to ‘analyse soils’ before we sow. Perhaps various pre-evangelism strategies, using mass media, are called for, dependent upon levels of biblical awareness, attitudes, and propensity for persecut- ion, for some peoples, while employing more overt methods of proclamation with others. (25)
Church growth people put great stress on the social and behavioural sciences, particularly social anthropology. The dangers here are self-evident. Sometimes these insights can be used uncritically: some of the presuppositions widely accepted in these disciplines are naturalistic. In practice, there can be a temptation by pastors and missionaries to look for ‘guidance by computer’ or technology rather than through the Word and prayer. Such expressions as ‘growth specialists’, ‘the business of witnessing’, ‘cost per person’, etc. are sometimes found in the literature of ‘elenctics’ (the ‘science of bringing people of non-Christian religiosity to repentance and faith in Christ’). Rene Padilla has suggested that ‘church growth people assume that you make Christians the way you make cars and sausages. Mass production, achieved by having the machinery properly regulated, is the way to do anything’. (26) Having now read fairly widely in the literature, and attended several schools for pastors run by church growth experts (both at Fuller Seminary and elsewhere), my personal contention would be that the social sciences are not used widely enough by them. Too much stress has been placed within anthropological disciplines and insights, and not enough in areas of contemporary sociology, particularly social psychology, and within that field, the dynamics of such areas of study as social class, communication theory, organizational theory, etc. For example, the advantages of a dialogic approach to evangelism in some cultures seem not to be taken seriously. Rather there is a somewhat blinkered view in the literature that proclamation and persuasion are the only viable or biblical modes. But the issue goes deeper. Basically, we have here a problem which is as ancient as philosophical analysis itself, namely the relationship between two levels of truth – the theoretical and the functional (ie. ‘what is orthodox?’ versus ‘what works?’). In religious contexts it is the question of the theological (Word) versus the methodological (the proclamation of the Word in concrete situations). Put another way, it is ‘pure’ versus ‘applied’. The polarization between theologians and the church growth people is a function of these tensions, I believe. Of course, busy pastors and evangelists complain that they have little time for serious theological reflection (‘and what’s the use of all that anyway?’). Conversely, very few highly skilled theologians are pastors of growing churches. Occasionally you’ll find a gifted preacher-theologian who preaches regularly to large congregations (James Stewart, Helmut Thielicke, John Stott), but it may be argued that such preachers have built their congregations around their own declamatory and other gifts, and such congregations are not fully functional in other respects. (Witness the exodus that usually happens when the Great Preacher leaves or dies).
The danger of ‘purism’ is in its propensity towards irrelevance. The danger of ‘appliedism’ is its preoccupation with ad hoc, pragmatic concerns. A purely utilitarian approach builds ministries out of needs, and its cousin, pragmatism, transforms ministry into a marketing strategy. Partly, too, it’s a matter of temperament. I find it hard to imagine some theologians running a sparkling talk-show: they’re just not gregarious people. (Eberhard Bethge says of Bonhoeffer: ‘Because he was lonely, he became a theologian and because he was a theologian he was lonely’). (27) Conversely, it would be hard to imagine a ‘productive’ pastor being reclusive! I would want to encourage pastors not to avoid the creative tension between dogma and experience, contemplation and action. In fact, these days, if we don’t learn both to be effective with people and walk with God, to be good practical stewards of the ministerial trust given to us, and to ‘centre down’, we’ll never win the battle against distress. A pastor these days – and, indeed because he/she wants to all things to the glory of God – has no option but to strive for excellence, both theologically and methodologically, both in exegetical and experiential fields. Back to the question of ‘integration’: there’s a burg- eoning literature on this subject from North America. In essence, I believe that the Holy Spirit – God at his most empirical – guides us into all truth. That truth can be theological, based on a study of the Word, or sociological, based on a study of God’s creatures, human beings. If our presuppositions are biblical, in both areas, I see few real problems. Re the description/ prescription issue: as Peter Wagner openly suggests, ‘church growth science’ is not merely analytical. It helps us maximise the use of energy and other resources for God’s greater glory. It enables us to detect errors and correct them before they do too much damage. It would be a mistake to claim too much, but some enthusiasts feel that with church growth insights we may even step as far ahead in God’s task of world evangelization as medicine did when aseptic surgery was introduced’. (28) Like the world missionary movement on the eve of the Edinburth 1910 Conference, McGavran sees ‘Afericasia’ ready and waiting for the gospel, so the task is essentially that of finding the correct methodology for maximizing the opport- unities. Thoughtful critics have found a couple of problems here. First, there seems to be little emphasis in the New Testament on a self-conscious strategy for church growth. (However, Paul does seem to suggest some intentionality in his focussing upon the entrepot cities of the Mediterranean, leading ultimately to Spain). Second, there is the problem of ‘manipulation’. Australian theologian Graeme Garrett writes: It is true that ‘scientific sociology’ includes amongst its many achievements the study of techniques and strategies for the manipulation of social groups toward certain predetermined ends. The highly skilled exploitation of such techniques in the realms of marketing, commerce and politics is notorious if not scandalous in contemporary Western culture. I do not wish to suggest that the Church Growth writers intend deliberately or cynically to engage in blatant forms of mass manipulation. My only point is that it is dangerous for the church to give even the appear- ance of using disguised forms of manipulation to ‘persuade’ people to become church members. The Gospel allows no warrant for such action. Not by any subtleties, but by ‘the open statement of the truth’ are we to ‘commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God’ (II Corinthians 4:2). Techniques may bring people to the church, they cannot bring them to faith in Christ. (29) Here we come up against the difficult problem of the distinction between ‘persuasion’ (which Paul says he does) and ‘propagandizing’. Is it possible to conceive of a kind of persuasion which does not ‘bend wills’ to some degree? I believe a more cogent criticism was advanced by Orland Costas, when he points out that church growth is a sign, not an instrument of mission. A sign, he says, is something which points beyond itself, so ‘multidimensional growth’ is a sign pointing to the presence of the kingdom. An instrument, on the other hand, is ‘a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered’ (Webster). ‘In God’s mission, it is the church, not its growth, that is the instrument by which the mission is furthered and fulfilled. Multidimensional growth witnesses to the church’s faithfulness in the execution of its task.’ (30) This is a good reason, I believe, for aiming at ‘church health’ rather than ‘church growth’. If God grants an increase, well and good: if not, still well and good. Liv- ing organisms grow anyway, but growth is a by-product of life, not its cause. A church’s growth is not like that of a business: the church is to be evaluated, not by its profits or institutional success, but by its adherence to its Lord’s will and mandates.
For church growth theorists, the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) provides a rationale for success being a correlate of faithfulness. Wagner, for example, 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’. Costas counters that the point of the parable is not the money they made, but, rather, the fact that they did not hide it away. They were faithful not bec- ause they were successful (made money) but rather, because they faithfully put to work the resources the Master had entrusted to them. (31) I believe both Wagner and Costas are half-right. It seems to me that the essence of faithful stewardship is that a steward does what his master wants him to do with the money: that is, he increases it. The wicked and faithless steward has nothing to show for his stewardship. Notice, however, that the man with two talents is not denigrated because he’s not a five-talent person. I have the feeling that the main problem is not with ‘success’ per se, but with the sort of sick competitive spirit we in the church have inherited from the commercial world around us. I believe there’s nothing wrong with being successful, provided our yardstick is between our ‘actual’ and our potential; provided we live A W Tozer’s dictum: ‘God may allow his servant to succeed when he has disciplined that servant to a point where he or she does not need to succeed to be happy. The one who is elated by success and cast down by failure is still a carnal person.’ (32) In other words, some successful pastors preside over churches with growing memberships, and other successful pastors have churches with a static or declining membership. Let us not forget that the New Testament offers us a vision of the church in the books of James, Peter and Revelation that is quite different to the celebrating church in Luke-Acts. The church also suffers. It is faithful not because it is succ- essful evangelistically, but because it is innocent, and hopeful in its life-and-death struggle in a hostile world.
Probably the major problem with the notion of ‘success’ is not biblical or theological but psychological. It’s interesting that the country most ‘success-oriented’ (the U.S.) is, in my view, the Western country where the church is most dynamic. Other nations eschewing the notion of success have the poorest church attendances. I believe there’s a connection there somewhere. A related notion has to do with ‘hope’ and ‘optimism’. In both his books The Humility of God and Christian Hope, John Macquarrie draws a sharp distinction between the two: …there is a great difference between hope and optimism. Hope is humble, trustful, vulnerable. Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent. Hope has known the pang of suffering and has perhaps even felt the chill of despair. The word hope should not be lightly spoken by people who have never had any cause for despair. Only one who has cried de profundis can really appreciate the meaning of hope. By contrast, optimism has not faced the enormity of evil or the results of the fall of man and the disfiguring sin that affects all human life, both personal and social. What drives some people to atheism is not a genuinely biblical hope but the spectacle of an insensitive optimism, masquerading as such hope. (33) Now I do not have any problem with Macquarrie’s central thesis that ‘Our God is great enough to be humble.’ But I’m wondering why I can’t find words like Paul’s ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ in his argument? I believe the biblical idea of hope says something to us both in good times and bad, when our opportunities are apparent all around us, and when the going’s tough. Macquarrie, in my reading of him, limits his discussion to the latter. The main idea is, surely, God is with us in all our times and our testing – when we abound, and when we are abased. Probably the words ‘effectiveness’ and ‘godly confidence’ might be better in this context. ‘Effectiveness’ is the appropriate embodiment of faithfulness in given human contexts. (34) It involves the appropriate coordination of means and ends for the sake of the overall purpose – the extension of God’s kingdom (not ours). One is unfaithful if the aims are misdirected. One is ineffective if the goals are disembodied. But winning isn’t everything! As Vernon Grounds put it, we need ‘the faith to face failure’. In the church of the crucified Lord, one’s esteem should not be a function of ‘better’ or ‘smarter’ or ‘bigger’. For some congregations, faithfulness and effectiveness will issue in growth; for others it will not. For others, it may mean decline, without that church’s having a pathological or terminal illness! So let us not avoid the creative dialectic between being faithful in our love for God and others, and being as effect- ive as we can be in ministry and mission. The dangers of either deriving status and self-worth through ‘success’ or becoming bitter and cynical through ‘failure’ must be avoided at all costs.
There are many other issues we could have looked at. The church growth phenomenon bristles with them: the notion of evangelising ‘people groups’, the lack of an adequate theological/ecclesiological base, a truncated notion of ‘mission’, the question: how can people who have ‘made a decision for Christ’ be effectively nurtured and discipled?, the ‘strictness principle’ enunciated by Dean Kelley (note the title of his book Why Strict Churches are Strong), the question of goal-setting (churches which aim somewhere are more likely to hit the mark, but are numerical goals – whether of people or money – compatible with an Australian ethos?) and so on and on. McGavran has certainly started something! It is important to recognise that his unique contribution to missiological thinking was originally as a counterforce to the ‘mainline’ sending agencies, which were stressing devolution, abdication from proclamatory evangelism, emphasis on the horizontal rather than vertical dimensions of mission, etc. McGavran’s corrective was, I believe, truly prophetic. However, in doing some things well, he and other church growth protagonists have done other things poorly. In the area of mission, for example, they have committed themselves to making a part the whole: mission equals evangelism plus discipling. But mission in the teaching of the prophets and Jesus begins with justice (Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). But that was customary in the sixties and seventies among evangelicals. It is a shame that we have so few theologian-evangelists in the modern church. The books on church growth are saying something very valuable indeed, but sometimes tend to be guilty of residing in ‘simplicity this side of complexity’. Conversely, many of the critics of the church growth movement are wallowing in ‘complexity the other side of simplicity’. May we all move to ‘simplicity the other side of complexity!’ The main issues, I believe, are not whether the church is growing, but whether we are authentically engaged in the mission of God in Christ, through the power of the Spirit. Is the church ‘transforming’ culture rather than being merely culture-affirming or culture-denying (to use H. Richard Niebuhr’s motif)? Someone has said the biggest business in modern societ- ies is that of ‘anxiety reduction’.
Potentially, church growth thinking, if ‘baptized’, can become for pastoral leaders a redemptive rather than a destructive force in their work for the kingdom. We need humbly to say, with John, ‘I am not the Messiah … I am not the expected prophet. I am a voice crying in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord”. I am a herald, clearing the way for the King…’ But we also can say confidently, with Charles Wesley, ‘faith, mighty faith, the promise seizes and looks to that alone. Laughs at impossibilities, and cries, “It shall be done!”.’ A final word from David Pawson: if you wait until the wind and the weather are just right you will never sow anything – and never harvest anything either! (36)

Note: I’m editing this in 2011, and sometime I’ll figure out what the footnotes 1-9 refer to!
(1) Rowland Croucher, Church Growth Up-date, an unpublished paper, 1982. (2) Quote from The Episcopalian, 1977, in Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen (eds.), Understanding Church Growth and Decline, 1950-1976, New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979, p. 293. (3) Ibid, p. 297. (4) C. Peter Wagner, What Makes Churches Grow?, an unpublished paper, p. 2. (5) Regal, 1984. (6) ‘Must a Healthy Church be a Growing Church?’, Leadership, Winter, 1981, p. 128. (7) See Rowland Croucher, ‘Renewal in the Pastorate: An Analysis of Modern Clergy Needs’, unpublished paper, 1982 (8) ‘Clergy Morale’, Clergy Health, Vol 1, No. 3, 1979. My hunch is that church officials have the same attitude towards this phenomonon as doctors have to death and dying: it’s too stark an attack on their whole raison d’etre, so the research isn’t publicized too much. There was an interesting spate of letters in the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet, a few years ago, wondering if the correct number of Catholic priests leaving the active ministry during the past 20 years is 40,000 or 100,000! A couple of Southern Baptist leaders told me they lose 1,000 pastors every year. (9) One concomitant of the denominational ‘blind eye syndrome’ in this whole matter relates to the lack of on-going caring and support of these pastors. A Catholic priest told me he receiv- ed no help whatsoever from his superiors in his struggle, and has yet to get anything other than a complicated, very personal questionnaire, from the Vatican. A Baptist minister in Australia received no communication at all from his denomination’s headquarters – and only two letters of encouragement from his peers. When Charles Davis, the eminent British theologian, left the priesthood and the Catholic church he complained bitterly about the lack of love in it. (See the essays by Desmond Fisher and Jerome Herwin in On the Run, Spirituality for the Seventies, ed. Michael F. McCauley, Dove Communications, East Malvern, Vic., 1974, pp. 134ff and 144ff.) (10) A few years ago the Melbourne Age had this ‘Odd Spot’ on its front page: ‘Secured to his church steeple by a safety belt, the Reverend Gary Burgess of East Millstone, New Jersey, ate a hearty meal of roast lamb and angel food cake as he promised his congregation he would if 200 or more attended a service’ (14.6.84). Such antics are an outcome of the hype inevitably associated with too great a preoccupation with numbers. (11) McGavran insists that ‘a principle and irreplaceable purpose of mission is the (numerical) growth of the church’ (Understanding Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1970, p.32). (12) David Pawson, ‘Let My People Grow’, BUZZ Magazine, November 1976, pp.26-27. (13) Matthew 5:16; 9:37-38; 10:1-40; 13:1-8, 18-23, 31, 47; Mark 1:17; 4:1-8, 13-20; Luke 8:5-8, 11-15; 10:2; John 8:12; 9:5; 14:21-24; 15:5, 8; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 3:9-11; Ephesians 1:5; 2:22; 4:14ff; 1 Peter 2:2,4ff. Orlando Costas, Christ Outside the Gate: Mission beyond Christendom, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1982, p.46. (14) Ibid. (15) Op.cit., p.25. (16) Op.cit., pp.48ff. (17) George W. Peters, A Theology of Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1981, p.23. (18) Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope, New York: 1968, p.54. (19) See Ralph D. Winter in Crucial Issues in Mission Tomorrow, ed. Donald McGavran, Chicago: Moody, 1972, pp.178-187. (20) Marjorie and Cyril Powles, ‘The End of the Era: Further Thoughts on the Church and Mission’, Japan Christian Quarterly, Winter 1968, pp.38ff. (21) McGavran, op.cit., p.198. (22) C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow: Seven Signs of a Healthy Church, Glendale, California: Regal, 1976, p.110. (23) Quoted in Graeme Garrett, Church Growth: Some Questions, an unpublished paper, p.2. (24) Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1973, p.28. (25) James Engel, ‘Church growth strategies plus …’, Evang- elical Missions Quarterly, January 1976, pp.89-98. (26) Quoted by John Yoder, in ‘Church growth issues in a theological perspective’ in The Challenge of Church Growth, ed. Wilbert R. Shenk, Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1973, p.29. (27) Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Collins, 1970, p.23. (28) C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, Glendale, California: Regal Books, 1976, p.41. (29) Op.cit., pp.2-3. (30) Op.cit., pp.52-3. (31) Ibid., p.57. (32) Quoted by John Yoder, in ‘Must a Healthy Church be a Growing Church?’, Leadership, Winter, 1981. (33) John Macquarrie, The Humility of God, London: SCM, 1978, p.13. (34) Robert A. Evans, in Hoge and Roozen, op.cit., p.95. (35) Op.cit., p.27.
Rowland Croucher



Source: The Barna Research Group.

Many clergy within this group leave pastoral ministry due to the Clergy Killer Phenomenon.  This phenomenon is affecting our ministries, congregations and communities.  Day after day, call after call, The Ecumenical Educational Council receives the alarming news, “I am simply unable to proceed in my ministry.” 
After several screenings of the documentary BETRAYED: The Clergy Killer’s DNA, discussions with theologians, sociologists, psychologists, pastors and religious scholars, The Ecumenical Educational Council selected BETRAYED: The Clergy Killer’s DNA the most important Christian documentary of 2013. We recommend every pastor to study this documentary. 

Since the release of BETRAYED in late 2013, we have been contacted by hundreds of clergy, from all denominations, expressing their gratitude for what they call “a film, long overdue” and “the most important Christian movie sinceThe Passion of the Christ.”

We recommend that all Christians, pastors and clergy, church leaders and church members, see this movie so they will develop an increased alertness in order to expose and neutralize the clergy killer phenomenon before it destroys more clergy.

Examined in the documentary are the following eye opening statistics:
70% of pastors report a continuing struggle with depression. 
Source: Hartford Institute for Religious Research

90% of clergy in all denomination will not stay in ministry long enough to reach the age of retirement. 
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics

50% of pastors indicate that they would leave the ministry if they had another way of making a living. 
Source:  Hartford Institute for Religious Research

61% of congregations have forced a pastor to leave.
Source: Christianity Today Magazine

83% of clergy spouses want the spouse to leave pastoral ministry.
Source Hartford Institute for Religious Research

80% of pastors reported they receive no support from peers.
Source: Hartford Institute of Religious Reseach

I pray you will join the growing number of men and women who are finding this film to be of paramount importance for healthy congregational life, and a tremendous resource for overworked clergy who are often targeted by clergy killers.

A critique of the documentary by Rev. Dr. Jason Miller and a synopsis of the film follows below.  Please support this extraordinary film.  Post this urgent message to your facebook and twitter accounts.  Inform your congregation and fellow clergy about this most important educational film.  It is, in our studied opinion, a defining chapter in the life of the Church.

May Easter week bring you the peace and joy of our Savior Jesus Christ.

In His Service,

Rev. Dr. David Moreland

P.S. please email your comments to me:


BETRAYED: The Clergy Killer's DNA
Run Time: 93 minutes
4 1/2 Stars

By: Revd. Jason Miller, D.D., Ph.D.

BETRAYED: The Clergy Killer’s DNA is an extraordinary Christian documentary.

s leading theologians, ministers and preachers in breathtaking sequences explaining the Clergy Killer Phenomenon. Superior Media has produced a perfect documentary that was produced in churches around the world. While watching this teaching experience, I felt every spiritual and mental emotion possible.

BETRAYED it is a Christian cinematic treasure. A great documentary that concentrates on the real unsung heroes of our Christian Faith!

BETRAYED is the equivalent of our walk with Christ in troubling times facing the church today.

An extraordinary feature on the DVD is a prayer by Dr. James Forbes which is composed in the Riverside Church in New York. While I was watching Dr. Forbes prayer I found myself praying with him for every minister and lay person in the world.
This production rates 4 1/2 stars. If you have not been confronted with a Clergy Killer in your congregation, you need to watch this documentary. If you have been confronted with a Clergy Killer you need to watch this documentary.

BETRAYED is the optimum protection for ministers.  

BETRAYED will ensure that your church continues to grow in the faith and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.


BETRAYED confirms that there is a pandemic stretching around the globe at an alarming rate, one of which most people are unaware even exists. It is a spiritual sickness that affects over 50% of all congregations, and every month it is responsible for over 1,500 clergy leaving active ministry worldwide. It has been one of the best kept secrets of the Church until the production of Betrayed: A Clergy Killer's DNA.

Medical experts, leading theologians, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and church historians expose what is called the "Clergy Killer Phenomenon." The reality of "the clergy killer phenomenon" is that evil has found a great exposure in organized religion. Within a congregation, clergy killers are usually few in number. Yet, because they are willing to violate all the traditional beliefs and practices of spiritual faith and mission, the intimidation they inflict on today's clergy is uncompromising and unlike anything people might experience in a secular workplace.

Among the many professionals interviewed is Dr. G. Lloyd Rediger, who coined the "clergy killer" phrase and is the world's premier authority on this growing syndrome. Some people, upon hearing the term for the first time, think it is too harsh and extreme and that no one deserves being called a clergy killer. However, once people hear firsthand accounts of the devastation wreaked upon ordained men and women and their families and congregations, they understand comments from people like Dr. James Forbes, Senior Pastor Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City, who say that the term "clergy killer" is not strong enough!

Throughout this documentary, it becomes apparent that denominational officials, seminaries and lay leaders have either been unequipped to rescue attacked pastors or they have chosen to ignore the problem, hoping that it will just go away.
The production ends with professionals teaching that there are ways to address the clergy killer phenomenon, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed now. There is no more time.

The Ecummenical Educational Council, 2400 East Main Street, Suite 248, St. Charles, Illinois 60174

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