Pastoral Survival Guide: by Rowland Croucher.
The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.
After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.
- We have looked at Jesus as our Model, Spiritual Formation, Images of Ministry (Posted 5th March)
Todays post will look at a very important foundational principle, Spiritual Disciplines.
1-5 SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
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).
Rowland Croucher (born 1937) is an Australian pastor, counsellor and author.
Brought up in the Open Brethren in Sydney, following a five-year career as a high-school teacher, Croucher began training in 1964 for the Baptist ministry in New South Wales. He worked for the InterVarsity Fellowship (1968-1970), now the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES); then pastored churches in Australia: Narwee and Central Baptist Church – both in Sydney – and Blackburn Baptist Church in Melbourne, which became a “megachurch” in the late 1970s, with seven pastors, a salaried staff of 25 and 1,000 attending; plus several interim ministries. He was then, briefly, pastor at First Baptist Church, Vancouver, Canada. From 1983 to 1991 he worked for World Vision Australia.
Since 1991, Croucher has been founding director of John Mark Ministries, serving pastors, ex-pastors, church leaders and their spouses throughout Australia and elsewhere. The John Mark Ministries website, with 20,000 articles, claims to be the most accessed non-denominational religious website in Australia.
Croucher has authored 12 books, including Still Waters Deep Waters (with 35,000 copies in print) and has been a regular participant on Australian radio and TV programs. (Wikipedia)