Thursday, December 22, 2005

Central Baptist Church, Sydney

One of the most interesting pastorates I've served was eighteen months as the Interim Pastor at Australia's first-established Baptist Church - Central Baptist Church in downtown Sydney. There's a bit in my story on the JMM website about our experiences there. Here's an email I received today from one of the then-young deacons at that time:


You mentioned CBC of the most memorable aspects ( there were many at that time) was the thrust into reformatting/ refocusing the evening services. I cannot recall all the 4 particular rolling events but the "Electric Church" and the "Central Forum" are two which certainly stick in my mind.... probably because I had a role in working up some of the arrangements under your mentorship). These initiatives were so far ahead of their time... even today I sit in Church Planning meetings etc where people are only tossing around the possibility of such things as potential changes to make some of our church "services" relevant to today.

Maybe you recall two of the Forums ...which were major drawcards and got Sydney Morning Herald coverage etc..."The Aboriginal Question: Is Black Power the Answer?" Some of the attendees I
recall were Mum Shirl, Paul Coe, Neil Appo, Professor Wooton UNSW... and the "Little Red Schoolbook." Justice James Burchett was one of the presenters looking at it from the legal perspective....

Another key thing I recall from CBC days - and which for me was a key new learning experience, was the whole issue of "change management". The exponential pace of change at CBC was not without its risk. I observed from your approach not only to identify "change" as an issue which needed to be managed, but some strategies for managing such. And I believe the results were extremely successful. Over the years I have been involved in significant change management roles (at times even having the position title of "Transition Manager") and have attended post graduate workshops/courses specifically on the topic... but the exposure at CBC by observing/following you on the job as it were was my first and defining moment. I will always be grateful for the time you spent with us (deacons, ministry leaders, etc ) in taking the time to do what a leader is supposed to do.... and this is particularly relevant to change management... in fact that's what leaders are really involved in.


When I get a bit of time I'll fill out more details of this story.


Rowland Croucher

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Enriching our Marriage

We do ourselves a big favour by loving our spouse/partner

The most important modeling we do for our children is to love their parent/ our partner

Marriage is hard work and doesn't become more fulfilling by accident or through the passing of time alone.

The basic idea of this inventory is that each of us goes away to a quiet place, and spends at least 24 hours thinking about the issues. These cover the basics, but there may be more...

Some of headings deliberately overlap: as in all surveys, that helps us cover the most important 'bases'

Then, go away for a long evening meal together, or a weekend, and listen carefully to each other's responses...

All the best: I'm cheering for you!


1. When we first met, and early in our romance, I was especially attracted by your....

2. Over the years, the qualities I have most appreciated in you are....

3. I love it when you....

4. The happiest time/s in our marriage have been....

5. The hardest times in our marriage for me have been....

6. Some of the 'triggers' which have made those times difficult have included....

7. In our communication, let's work on.... When we argue I feel that...

8. Our financial arrangements are O.K. in these areas.... but we may need to work on ....

9. Our sexual life is OK when.... but let's work a bit harder on....

10. In terms of parenting, I reckon when we look back we'll be grateful for.... but will also be sorry about....

11. When we make decisions I feel OK about.... But I'd be happier if ....

12. Each partner needs some freedom to pursue their own recreation/interests/ friends/personal
and professional development... Are the time/s and contexts for these OK for each of us? I feel that couple-time, individual time and family time can be better balanced if...

13. What kind of marriage enrichment-time should we budget for? What should we do together?

14. My goal and hope for the next year, and the next five years for us is... To build a foundation for this we need to...

15. I believe that in our relationship we have the following strengths to build upon...

Extra material...

Shalom! Rowland Croucher


1. Every marriage needs regular special times for do-it-yourselves marriage enrichment, and perhaps a 'marriage check-up' with another person/couple every few years at least

2. Each of us needs empowering friendships outside our marriage

3. Each of us needs empowering relationships in our vocational situations (but we don't always have our preferred needs met, of course)

4. Life for the vast majority of people has not been served up as we would have wished in many or most respects. A good life is all about accepting what can't be changed; courage to change what can be changed; and having the gift of wisdom to distinguish one from the other...

5. When it's tough-going, let us examine thoroughly all the options and work honestly through all the issues before even thinking about running away...

6. Every person needs a nurturing mother (and father) during childhood, and a nurturing father (and mother) during early adolescence. If those are not our experiences, there will be a void in our lives which we may fill with some sort of addiction (romantic/sexual, workaholism, pornography, gambling, substance abuse etc.)

7. Under-fathered males tend to have wrong attitudes to women - seeking unhealthy relationships with women-as-nurturers, or reacting with fear to strong women who may shame them, or treating women sometimes as objects for sexual (or imaginative) gratification

8. Sex with your partner should be playful, rather than simply 'goal/orgasm oriented'

9. When there are Big Problems (or even if there aren't), it's very wise to 'live in the now', in day-tight compartments

10. Gratefulness is the key to happiness

(Summary of random ideas put together with a client-couple)

Rowland Croucher

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When Life Tumbles In What Then?

A sermon by Rowland Croucher at South Yarra Community Baptist Church

Third Sunday in Advent - December 11th, 2005

Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28.


Life will come crashing in on each of us some time. And different people will have different reactions...

The other day a hairdresser I hadn't met previously asked what I did? My usual response is 'I'm a counsellor.' 'So am I,' she said. Of course: most hairdressers and many taxi-drivers are 'counsellors'. 'So what's been an interesting case?' I asked. She said she was working in a suburb not far from here, and an elderly 'regular' came in on a different day than usual. Why did she change her day? Well, her husband was dead at home, dead in bed, he'd died during the night. 'Have you contacted anybody?' the hairdresser-counsellor asked. 'Oh no,' the lady replied, 'I had to have my hair done first!'

Last week I had a birthday (I forget how many I've had :-) and later that night Jan and I and two of our daughters were playing Rummycub. Our son, quite a brilliant poet and philosopher, who loves to 'stir' us Christians at every opportunity came over from next door where he lives with his family and asked: 'If you knew the end of the world was about to happen would you continue to play this stupid game?’ 'Yes,' we all responded. (Martin Luther when asked a similar question said he'd plant a tree)...

Three of the greatest sermons in the English language in the 20th century focussed on this question. Arthur John Gossip tragically lost his wife when they were in their middle years, and the following Sunday he stood in the pulpit to preach. His first sentence: ‘When Life Tumbles In, What Then?’ Gossip took as his text Jeremiah 12:5: 'So, Jeremiah, if you're worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can't keep your wits during times of calm, what's going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?' Gossip preached: 'I don't think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God. And, as Paul puts it, "What can separate us from his love? Not death," he writes immediately. No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of the terror of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, "Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister, for I feel the bottom and it is sound."’ Gossip had reached the bottom of who he was in his grief. But at the bottom, he reached the core of all that he believed: 'You people in the sunshine *may* believe the faith, but we in the shadows *must* believe it. We have nothing else!'

John Claypool, a brilliant Southern Baptist pastor and preacher who became an Episcopalian priest, preached four sermons from the Book of Job while his nine-year-old daughter, their only daughter, was dying of leukemia. In the final sermon he said: 'God reminded Job that the things he had become so indignant about losing actually did not belong to him in the first place. They were gifts - gifts beyond his deserving, graciously given him by Another... To be angry because a gift has been taken away is to miss the whole point of life. That we ever have the things we cherish is more than we deserve. Gratitude and humility rather than resentment should characterize our handling of the objects of life.' In Tracks of a Fellow Struggler he tells how he came to thank God for the *nine years!!!* he and his family had enjoyed the company of their gorgeous little girl, Laura Lue.

The third powerful sermon on this theme was preached on Sunday 23 January, 1983, by the senior pastor of Riverside Church, New York, the Reverend Dr. William Sloane Coffin. The sermon began: 'As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son Alexander - who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family "fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky" - my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and every race, beat his father to the grave...

'My consolation lies in knowing... that when the waves closed over Alex's car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break... And I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday a lamp went out, it was because, for him at least, the dawn had come. So I shall seek - so let us all seek - consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.'

If you listened carefully to those stories, there were *differing* but complementary responses to the reality or prospect of life tumbling in on us: self-respect, living in the ‘now’, faith in a good God, gratitude and humility, and an assurance of the tender love of God.


It's Advent in the Christian year, and that's what Advent is all about. It's about the hopes and fears of all the years, the triumphs and tragedies of all the years, the joys and griefs of all the years and in all of our lives... coming into a healing/salvific focus in the person of God's Messiah. The great classical Advent images are of darkness giving way to light, grief to faith or even joy, the barrenness of a desert to the beauty of paradise – paradise restored, longing to hope and the arrival of God’s salvation – especially in the advent of the Messiah, Jesus our Lord, then and now.

Our readings today are full of these themes.

The prophetic text in Isaiah 61, as you know, was applied by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue to himself: ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21). At the beginning of his messianic ministry he offers this brilliant summary of what he came to do, and what he commands us to do (John 20:21). Last time preaching here I suggested that Jesus’ mission and therefore our mission is three-fold, in every context: justice: confronting the ‘powers’; mercy: addressing people’s pain; and faith: the ultimate belief that the universe is friendly, that God can be trusted.

And it’s all here in our Isaiah text:

* faith that the Lord God has actually come into our situations of misery and pain and grief; bringing

* justice for the oppressed, for captives; the Jubilee ‘good news’ that those who’ve been sold into slavery through war or debt can legally be freed, those who’ve had their lands expropriated can have them back; a gift of hope that the future is as secure as God’s promises; that a covenant of justice will prevail between God and God’s people; and

* mercy – God comes with tenderness to bind up the broken-hearted… comfort those who mourn, giving joy to God’s people like that of a bride on her wedding-day…

By the way, let me lift some words out of our epistle at this point: ‘Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). Prophets are ‘seers’: they see beyond the obvious and the tangible to what is ‘really real’. So in a rationalistic post-enlightenment culture majoring on science and logic we’re a little wary of prophets. But in the Judeo-Christian faith prophets have a central role. The New Testament churches could name their prophets (see Acts 13:1-2). True prophets do two things basically: they comfort the disturbed and they disturb the comfortable: that is, they marry the disturbing word of justice or judgment to the tender pastoral word of love. In Isaiah we hear the prophet proclaiming healing for the wounded and the oppressed, and also ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (a phrase which Jesus omitted, interestingly, from his mandate, and this was part of what would have scandalized his conservative Jewish countrymen!). It’s a pity our churches can’t train, and name, and accredit, their prophets…

Our Psalm (126) is a grand celebration: a paean of praise to God for doing these ‘great things’… for bringing God’s people back to Zion… it was like a dream; they laughed with ecstatic joy; like those who sow their seeds with toil and weeping and fear, but later bring in a bountiful harvest, they carry the sheaves home ‘with shouts of joy…’

John chapter one tells part of the story of John the Baptist, and the metaphor here is of light coming into the world, and baptism signifying the gift of new life, a new way of living.

The epistle reading is from the earliest written manuscript to become part of our New Testament, and Paul encourages us there to rejoice always, be always prayerful, live lives of gratefulness, and he sums it all up in a classical blessing: ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Another great Advent theme is of course ‘Christ will come again’. When I was a teenager I read over 100 books on the second coming: I probably knew more about the parousia than the apostles did! (The important questions about the proton – the creation of the world and the universe – and the eschaton – how God will wind it all up, are not ‘How? and ‘When?’, but ‘Who?’ and ‘Why?’).

Well, what would Paul know about life ‘tumbling in’? The disasters he lists in 2 Corinthians 11 cover it all: this great missionary seemed to live at the edge of life and death all the time - often without food, warmth or clothing, he suffered countless floggings, was stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked three times, a day and a night adrift at sea… you name it. His way of coping? Well, the basic secret is his ‘union with Christ’, and his expectation of Christ’s coming – either in the parousia or in his own dying. That’s Advent!

And now back to our main Advent question: when life tumbles in, what then? Well, we survive by affirming who we are in the midst of the storm. Paul Tillich, in The Courage to Be writes: the 'ultimate courage is to affirm our being against all the threats of nonbeing.' It’s a reality we face every day. The forces of non-being confront us saying, 'You are nobody - you don't have a right to exist.' To affirm who you are as a child of God is the greatest power we have to resist such threats.

There is a story about a Zen priest in China when the warlords were plundering villages early in the 20th century. When his village heard that the warlord was headed toward them, all of the people fled to the hills - except one priest. When the warlord arrived, he inquired if anyone was left in the village. The answer was, 'Only the priest in the temple.' The warlord commanded, 'Bring him to me.' When the priest was brought into his presence, the warlord drew his sword and cried, 'Do you know who I am? I am he who can run you through with this sword and never bat an eye.' The Zen priest replied, 'Do you know who I am? I am he who can be run through with your sword and never bat an eye.' I wish I had that kind of courageous assurance to face up to the threats in my life, don't you?

But Advent is mostly about who God is and what God wants to do in our world and in our lives. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. It was his life-work, the fulfilment of a consuming ambition. He was once asked how he'd feel if the Pope suppressed the Society. 'A quarter of an hour of prayer', he replied, 'and I would think no more of it'.

How does someone get to be like that?

And so when life tumbles in on us, what is the ‘Advent secret’? Actually, we’ve noted several, and I’d like to close with a prophetic Advent prayer.

Somewhere in this prayer each of us is included:

Come, come, long-expected Jesus. To those who have too low a view of who they are, come Lord Jesus. To those in the valley of the shadow of death or despair, come Lord Jesus. To those who have nothing much to be happy about, for whom life is too hard, come Lord Jesus. To those for whom the griefs of yesterday or the fear of tomorrow is just too much, come Lord Jesus. To those of us who care too little or care too much, come Lord Jesus. To those who are living out the consequences of bad choices made by them or for them by others, come Lord Jesus. To parents of difficult or sick or wayward children, or to those who have been abused, or to those who are single and would like to find a partner, or who wish they didn’t have the partner they’ve got, come Lord Jesus. To those for whom work is hard to find or hard to enjoy, come Lord Jesus. To those who long for better bodily and mental and spiritual health, come Lord Jesus. To those who have lost their joy, come Lord Jesus. To each of us here, and to those absent today, in the real situations of our lives, come Lord Jesus with your healing touch. Amen.

Rowland Croucher

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: 'What are you doing Snoopy?' Snoopy: 'Writing a book about theology.' Charlie Brown: 'Good grief. What's its title?' Snoopy (thoughtfully): 'Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?'

This points up a central Christian dictum: God's truth is very much bigger than our little systems.

Our Lord often made the point that God's fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the Good Samaritan. Here the 'baddie' is a hero. It's a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour - and one's neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in 'our group'. Jesus' other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.

'Ethnocentrism' is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I'll do my thing and you do yours - over there. Territoriality ('my place - keep out!') replaces hospitality ('my place - you're welcome!'). I like Paul's commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy 'who really cares' when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.

Sometimes our non-acceptance of others' uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at its root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, 'I hate the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise/ the other guys/ whose enterprise/ has made them rise/ above the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise...'

In our global village we cannot avoid relating to 'different others'. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating - for example when a 'lark' marries an 'owl' (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).

Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a 'right brain' person, why not develop an interest in 'left brain' thinking?

The Lord reveals different aspects of divine truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to 'Stephen... who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.' Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.

A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn't know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations - or even within them - reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is 'multi-coloured'.

If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.



Rowland Croucher


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Husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, pastor, teacher, writer, used-to-be-academic... See here for more: