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Priscilla's Friends: A Resource for the Spouses of Pastors

An Interview with Myself

Written by Rowland Croucher (updated February 2001)

In my training-to-be-a-counselor I had to read Watson and Tharp's excellent book 'Self-Directed Behavior' on behavior modification techniques. One of these is self-talk. So here's a rambling list of questions I'm asking myself - and other people have asked me. Why do they ask such inane questions? I wonder about that sometimes: but in publicity for seminars etc. it's apparently sometimes useful to add odd bits and pieces of trivia about a speaker. Feel free to email me with some others.

Rowland, how old are you?

Chronologically, 63 and a half.

What's the best book you've ever read?

After the Bible, Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley. The descriptions of the Welsh miners' singing is awesome. It's one of the few books I've read twice. I'd put Dominique LaPierre's City of Joy up there too (but not the movie).

O.K., then: best movie?

Time stood still during Deliverance. Recently saw Notting Hill with Jan and our granddaughters. Apart from Hollywood's necessary bawdiness and pre-nuptual sex, it was a nice movie.

favorite meal?

Pancake Parlour fish and salad, apple cider, pancake with blueberries and ice-cream, finished off with a cappuccino, with my wife and maybe another couple.

What's your greatest extravagance?

Don't think I have any: but as my 1970 Holden Torana is protesting about taking me here and there I may have to get a better car which will see me through until death do us part. Update (2001): Gave the Torana to a friend, sold my F W Boreham collection and bought a Subaru (the idea of having three years' worry-free driving appeals to me. I get angry about the whole idea of planned obsolescence).

What would you never give up?

Six sleep cycles (of about ninety minutes each) every 24 hours (= nine hours).

What's your star sign?

Don't know, don't want to know, don't care. Doesn't mean anything (except putting your faith in the wrong place). If someone out there's got nothing better to do, my birthday is December 5.

Back to reading: read any good books lately?

Lots of them: but Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes was special; and Whatsisname's The Color of Water, and Richard Foster's new book Streams of Living Water (which gives six answers to the question 'How do people get to know God?')

If you were to recommend some contemporary Christian authors, who would they be?

Richard Rohr, John Claypool, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Wink, Walter Brueggemann. See under 50 or 100 Best Books on the JMM and my personal websites.

Who do you most admire?

Jesus, followed by Dom Helder Camara and Maria Theresa.

Who do you find inspiring?

Refer to previous answer.

Who would you most like to meet?

Anyone who, after we've talked and prayed, has new insights into their lives, and a new strength to battle on...

What do you want more of?

Silent solitude.

favorite music?

Rossini or Verdi overtures when I've feeling buoyant; any one of a number of concertos for violin and orchestra if I'm feeling pensive; Chopin for background to light reading.

Ideal leisure activity?

Sitting by the log fire on a cold night, with soft music playing, reading with my wife Jan, with the phone answering machine on in another room.

What ten places should everyone visit before they die?

Israel, Ireland, Vancouver (on the odd days when the wind's blown the smog away during Spring), the Australian outback, a Fijian island, London (and the Cotswolds and the Lake District and half a dozen English cathedrals), Paris (but don't expect civility if you're English-speaking), the Grand Canyon, the Victorian Man-from-Snowy-River high country.

Where are you politically?

Depends on the issue. I'm more 'wingless' than right- or left-wing.

And theologically?

Ditto: I'm a radical, progressive, conservative charismatic catholic (small 'c') evangelical. O.K. If you want to pin me down, look at my Statement of Faith on the John Mark Ministries' website, and you'll figure I'm close to the Lausanne Evangelical position on most things.

So you're a fan of John Stott's?

Mostly yes. Except for his Anglican view of baptism, and his bachelor's view of the Atonement (his book The Cross of Christ was terrific apart from his weak exposition of the main point - the atonement as a demonstration of God's love).

favorite song?

The Irish ballad Maggie. We used to sing it on football coaches were we were in Teachers' College. And Jan and I played it non-stop on a recent trip to Ireland.

You're male, so you must have a favorite memory of achieving something great.

Yes, scoring our team's (Bathurst Teachers' College's) only try against the Sydney Teachers' College rugby union team (which had a few internationals in it) in 1958. Also breaking the combined Teachers' College's long-jump record in the same year (I forget how far - 23 feet something I think). And recently: scoring a streak of 100 wins in Freecell (the computer game that comes with Windows 95/98).

Most emotional moments?

The births of our four children: I was there for the last two (they wouldn't let husbands near the delivery room back in the sixties for the first two).

Proudest achievement?

A wonderful marriage. Then four healthy kids, all four with postgraduate studies/degrees, three of them happily married, two of them have provided us with terrific grandchildren, youngest daughter Lindy (25) still at home, which is great too.

What are you angry about?

Poverty and unemployment, most of which is remediable in most places; and clericalism in the church.

If there were one word left to you in the English language what would it be?

Empowerment. That is, the creation of contexts in which people can be encouraged to grow - spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, and vocationally - as they provide the necessities of love and material goods for themselves and their loved ones, and enjoy problem-solving.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Muesli (home-made by Jan) with honey, bananas and prunes, two vitamin C, a garlic, a multivitamin and a fishoil tablet, cup of coffee, cup of fruit-juice, with Jan (she has a smaller muesli portion, and more prunes as she's recently had a haemerroidectomy - those of you who've been through that terrible experience will know what I'm talking about; the rest can use your imaginations!), and the half-hour of Channel nine news, comment by Alan Jones (interesting - and powerful - character), summary of weekend's sport. Then I helped Jan down the stairs with her stuff, and when she'd gone said my prayers...

Best thing about being director of John Mark Ministries?

I walk five metres to work (John F. Kennedy also said that was the best thing about being President), and I attend only one committee meeting every six months. In my work: when people have 'aha' experiences about their life-experiences and belief-systems. There's no better reward than when a couple, in tears, fall into each others' arms with relief, forgiveness, acceptance and joy, after a gruelling counseling encounter.

You're supposed to be a PhD student?

I've demitted. Don't need it. But if there's someone out there who wants a strategic Masters' degree figuring out why there are 10,000-plus ex-pastors in Australia, let me know.

Best study program you've ever done?

A doctoral program in Practical Ministry at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a Masters' in Education at the University of Sydney. In those programs I was able to choose the topics for seminars/ course work.

Worst study program?

A couple of years floundering as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney as an immature 17-18 year old, and four years at Theological College (Morling Baptist College in Sydney). This college was in something of a transition when I attended, and I chafed at driving across the suburbs of Sydney to listen to lecturers reading from their notes, and not welcoming questions. It's changed there since, fortunately.

Best church?

Blackburn Baptist (Victoria) in the 1970s, Narwee Baptist (Sydney) in the 1960s. Terrific people, terrific pastoral teams, wonderful responsiveness.

Worst church?

Better not name them. Let's say there were a couple of churches (I'm thinking of one in Canada and another in Australia) where I didn't seem to fit. That may not necessarily be altogether the church's fault.

Why don't you fit in some places?

Good question. I'm committed to encouraging leaders. So if someone - or a congregation - prefers the status quo to growth and change then both I and they will be quite frustrated with one another.

Do you go to church now?

Yes, every Sunday I'm preaching in different churches. But once a month my wife Jan takes me to 'her' church, Mitcham Baptist, which is good.

You don't 'belong' to a church at the moment. If not, why?

Refer to my response two questions back.

What's the key thing wrong with most churches then?

See my article 'Ministry as Empowerment' on the John Mark Ministries site. Briefly: their clericalism and institutionalism.

Back to John Mark Ministries, what's it about and what do you do?

It's about ministering to pastors, ex-pastors, church leaders and their spouses. I do five things - talk to anyone who wants to listen (ie. preaching), listen to anyone who wants to talk to me (ie. counseling), reading the books pastors are too lazy, I mean busy, to read, writing stuff in books and on the Net for pastors and leaders, and evangelism - particularly on the 'Net.

How is John Mark Ministries supported?

Some people pray for us - a few every day. Financially, donations in return for counseling and speaking roughly pay my salary (which is $20,799 AUD a year - $1 within the 20% tax threshold!) except for holidays; other unspecified donations just about cover overheads; sales of F.W.Boreham books pay for computers and Internet ministries; tax-deductible donations through Opportunity International cover Third World leadership training ministries. Two financial challenges for us at the moment: covering two months away in May/June 2001 beginning with ministries in Malaysia, which we are offering without cost, and I should take a study-sabbatical. We have no funds for either of these. Update: a grant has been made to JMM to produce a website for pastors' wives (this one).

And the research?

I started a PhD, as I said, trying to figure out why there are as many ex-pastors as serving pastors in the churches of Australia. But it got too technical, the topic's too big, and frankly I lost the head of steam I had about it some years back. But it's a very important question, and someone will take it up one day. The Christian Research Association is keen to pick it up again.

Do you enjoy writing?

Not as much as enjoy having written! Best chapters/articles I've ever written are Ministry as Empowerment, Accepting Diversity and Living with Ambiguity (you can find them on John Mark Ministries' website: use the keyword search).

What book's about to be written?

A website - and maybe a book - for the group in our churches who don't really have a pastor - pastors' spouses. I want to encourage them to get together in small groups everywhere. At the end of this year we're taking a couple of months off, to finish the pastors' wives website. This is a strategic - and hurting - group of people. The website will have material on how to survive as a pastor's wife, survivors' stories, Bible studies and discussion questions, and guidelines for sharing and praying together.

What counseling do you do?

It's a small practice - 5 - 10 people a week, with someone on a two-day retreat about once or twice a month. I mostly do one-off diagnostic counseling with individuals or couples, then refer four out of five to others, for reasons of finance or specialization.

If someone's never been to counseling - what happens?

I regard counseling as a kind of friendship, where someone talks about their issues and I offer, mainly, unconditional acceptance, and maybe some wisdom. I walk with many clients after our first session or two, or we go out to dinner (mostly Smorgy's - a smorgasbord restaurant in the next suburb). My areas of specialization are counseling pastors and church leaders and their spouses with regard to issues of 'transition', also relationships and sexual counseling. Although people make a donation to John Mark Ministries, counseling is really an 'exchange of gifts' rather than a commercial transaction, I like to think. See the section on Retreats on the John Mark Ministries' homepage for more information.

And mentoring?

Yes, I regularly see a small group of professionals and church leaders one-on-one - mostly once a month, although a few are once a fortnight, and a couple once a week. Here we may discuss professional, vocational, relational or apologetic issues, or the discussion can be of a 'spiritual direction' kind, talking about how we relate to God. I have a few professional people who have said to me recently: 'There's nothing I think about that I wouldn't now be prepared to talk about with you.' Very humbling.

How do you pray?

These days, with the help of morning and evening prayer from the latest Australian Anglican prayerbook, plus free-form petitionary prayer, and a devotional book (at the moment, an anthology from The Tablet about how well-known people pray, titled 'How I Pray'. And all through the day with the Jesus Prayer ('Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner').

Thank you for your time, Rowland.

You're welcome, Rowland.


QUESTIONS FOR ROWLAND

(from a Christian Magazine editor, November 2000)

THE WORK OF JOHN MARK MINISTRIES

Its purpose?

To be a resource to pastors, ex-pastors, church leaders and their spouses...

Its audience?

The church across all denominations within Australia and beyond; in terms of evangelism on the 'Net - a huge disenchanted audience of thoughtful people who've mainly given up on the church but want answers to Big Questions...

Its success rate - (can it be measured in terms of success?)

Not easily. We try to help. In terms of counseling, many hopefully go away feeling encouraged.

Stories of hope?

See the case studies on the website - particularly 'One Woman's Story' in the Retreats section.

Do you work alone, or with others?

Counseling sometimes happens with my wife Jan - also an ordained Baptist pastor. I'm accountable to a very supportive Board and to a supervisor...

PASTORS IN THE CHURCH

What percentage of pastors are burning out each year?

Difficult to put a percentage on it - but most would feel emotionally and spiritually drained a lot of the time...

Has this gotten worse in the last 10 years?

Yes: more demands are being placed on pastors to satisfy the expectations of a wider range of customers... oops, parishioners...

What can the Christian community do to assist?

See the article How to Encourage your Pastor on our website. When that first went out in a World Vision GRID leadership letter we got a record number of responses...

What else do pastors look to JMM for?

Help in times of pastoral and personal crisis; ideas for surviving in a rigorously demanding ministry; occasionally theological and spiritual insights for their personal journey...

Have the issues changed in the last 10 years?

Only in degree: we're more 'commercialized' and communicators are finding it more difficult to compete with television...

DESERT SABBATICAL

Why did you do it and for how long?

'Cos it's biblical: the sabbath principle is a very important part of the way God's made us. For R & R. To appreciate something of Australia's natural beauty and grandeur. Four months.

Did you learn profound things or was that not the point?

It wasn't the main point. But yes I learned that the devil (pardon my fundamentalism at this point) gets to you to try to destroy your confidence when you're away from the 'daily grind.' I talked to a priest-turned-spiritual director at a Monastery where we stayed. His best advice: 'Give your guardian angel a nickname'. Now figure that out!

Would you do it again?

Yep, for longer...

Has it changed you?

Yes, life is in better perspective, and I'm enjoying slowing down...

If so, how?

Saying no to more things. Referring most counseling clients to others...

ABOUT YOUR WEBSITE

Would you call your webstie a form of ministry?

Most definitely - evangelistic, teaching, encouraging...

If so, why?

The feedback we're getting indicates that people who visit, as well as those who read our offerings on our clergy/leaders' mail-list, and on newsgroups are helped in many ways...

How many hits a day do you receive?

Last count: 12,000 hits a day.

What are people most interested in?

Varies. The highest hit-rate is on articles about homosexuality, masturbation etc. People have questions about these and feel the church can't get its act together on them. Most popular section: Humour (it now is approaching 1,000 funny stories!).

Who have you encountered on the web since putting your information up?

Friends all over the world. I've visited some of them; conducting a wedding of two people who I met on the 'Net (and who met each other there) etc. etc.

WEBSITES AS A RESOURCE FOR PEOPLE

Can a website pastor people?

Not directly I guess. The pastoring happens in about 50 emails I get each day...

Are conversations over the net as good as communicating face to face? Do they supersede the old way of relating?

No they don't: and it's a delight to meet the people I encounter on the 'Net in the flesh. However for introverts like me it's a very relaxing way of communicating with lots of people without having to be so emotionally involved as in face-to-face counseling.

What are the challenges and advantages of using technology as a means of interface?

You have to watch the addiction factor of course. Many of my counseling clients use the Web as a resource to feed their sexual addictions...

What examples can you give of how you've used the net to communicate with people about faith issues?

In my inbox today: a pastor who's living with another woman, the wife of a homosexual man who got no help from her church, a young person who wants to be a Christian in a non-Christian home... the list is endless...

Can Christians utlise the internet better or are they doing a good job already?

Dr Negroponte ('father of the Internet') says the Internet is the only piece of technology where the reality outstrips the dream... I don't know about that, but to have the biggest and best library in the history of humankind is somewhat awesome! I'm encouraging people to subscribe to one of the Texts for Today lists, and maybe visit our Devotional section first thing each day...

Can you give examples?

Lots of ideas but here's one: Try mastering a search engine like Google: it's terrific...

Is website developing perpetuating the whole issue of people suffering information overload, or is it allievating this problem?

Depends if you are selective. When you go into a huge public library it's the same experience: you go to the corners where you get what you need....

YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR JOHN MARK MINISTRIES?

To find a person to replace me in Victoria and a few other states...

Do you have a dream or a passion to use the net further?

Only in degree: I'd see the John Mark Ministries website as a portal through which Australians can visit other places on the Net, and as a resource (with perhaps 10,000 articles) on most of the issues they're likely to need...

What are the pressing issues of our time - for the church and for the wider world?

For the church: to figure out how to live like Jesus in the world...

For the world: the hunger problem is the greatest macro-issue, followed closely by the injustices perpetrated by the powerful against the poor. (So everyone out there: click on the two hunger sites on our frontpage every day, eh?) Then, as I'm an evangelist, I pray that more and more people will come into an experience of authentic faith in the living Lord!

An Interview with Rev. Jan Croucher

Written March 2001

'REV.': WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

(a) God;
(b) nine years of study at a Baptist theological college and a university; then
(c) holy hands laid on me by the Baptist Union of Victoria. Rowland and I were Australia's first Baptist 'clergy couple'.

SO WHAT MINISTRY DO YOU DO?

I'm hoping to get back into pastoral work - with adults. And some preaching/teaching/worship leading. A very important ministry I'm engaged in at the moment is once or twice a week visiting a women's prison in Melbourne.

WHAT DO YOU DO THERE?

Help the women do crafts and cooking; participate in a Christian Discussion Group; get to know the women one-on-one; assist women when they're released.

FAMILY?

Four adult children; three of them married. Four grandchildren - the eldest commencing University this month, the youngest has just commenced school.

DO YOU GO DOTTY OVER GRANDCHILDREN LIKE OTHERS DO?

Of course! I wave goodbye to the two boys each morning as they leave their home next door to ours, and go to school through the back fence. How about that for a terrific arrangement!

WHERE DID YOU SPEND YOUR CHILDHOOD?

Western Australia. I was born in Perth, childhood in the gold-mining town of Boulder; then at age 12 to Broken Hill, also a mining town. Then to Lithgow, New South Wales for my highschool years...

LET ME GUESS: LITHGOW IS ALSO A MINING TOWN, EH?

Of course. My father was a winding engine driver, conveying men down the mines.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY LIFE...

Six of us, wonderful mother, Dad ruled us with an iron rod. He was your typical unlucky prospector, who mortgaged our home to buy mining equipment, which was buried when his mine caved in! When we moved to Lithgow we all - eight of us - lived in a tent for six months (and Lithgow got snow regularly!). Later, after we left home, Dad went back to Western Australia and died doing what he loved most - prospecting. His body has never been found, after he left his broken-down pickup truck to walk for help and never made it. My youngest brother was killed in a car accident aged 22.

YOUR 'WONDERFUL MOTHER'. TELL US MORE ABOUT HER...

I think my mother would feel she made a bad mistake marrying my father. Early in her life she felt a 'call' to the 'mission field'. But as a young man I guess my father was pleasant and persuasive but it wasn't long after marrying him that she lost her autonomy and identity. My father was very controlling: he held the purse-strings, (and wasted a lot of money buying useless bits of machinery) and had the final say in everything. My mother became very resourceful in cutting down her sisters' cast-off clothing to fit her daughters. She retained her faith through all the traumas of an unhappy and violent marriage. (My last beating was at age 19 over some trivial thing).

YOUR HOME: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

Our little house at Oakey Park on the edge of Lithgow had been a miners' office. The eight of us shared two small bedrooms and a sleep-out. Everyone walked through the girls' bedroom to go to the laundry/bathroom. We four girls shared two beds. It was impossible to invite friends home: we never had guests.

SCHOOL EXPERIENCES?

I can't remember an unhappy day at school (though there were plenty of them at home!). I was in leadership in the high school - class captain, school captain etc. and led the School Christian Fellowship.

WAS YOUR FAMILY 'CHRISTIAN'?

Only God can make that judgment. My mother certainly was. My father sometimes sang in church choirs.

WHEN YOU LEFT SCHOOL?

I went to University and Teachers' College in Sydney and Bathurst, N.S.W. Rowland and I were at University together but never knew each other there. We met at Teachers' College.

SO YOU WERE A TEACHER?

On and off for sixteen years, between having small children.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A PASTOR'S WIFE?

I enjoyed every aspect of it - providing hospitality, being involved pastorally with people, running small groups, sometimes leading the ladies' fellowships. There were times when I'd have liked Rowland around a bit more - and our children (particularly the eldest two) felt that way too. But overall we had a very happy family life, and the churches we served were wonderful communities of people.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES/INTERESTS?

Reading, listening to music, sewing, bird-watching, a bit of writing, walking, travel.

WHAT AUTHORS HAVE BEEN MOST HELPFUL?

When younger - John Stott, C S Lewis. More recently Eugene Peterson and Richard Foster. I have enjoyed reading John Claypool sermons. Favorite novelists would include Dostoevsky, Dickens, and Thomas Hardy.

WHAT WOULD YOU NEVER GIVE UP?

Spoiling my grandchildren.

WHO INSPIRES YOU?

Mother Teresa.

WHAT DO YOU WANT MORE OF?

Wisdom and humility. And if you were to ask what I want less of, it's described by a six-letter word women often talk about - weight!

FAVOURITE SONG?

Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?

A wonderful marriage and raising four healthy, well-balanced kids, all of whom have graduated from University, with post-graduate qualifications as well.

YOUR MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENTS?

Death of loved ones - particularly my mother, and brother. The deaths of the five closest members of my family were all tragic.

WHAT ARE YOU ANGRY ABOUT?

People misusing their power against the defenceless and the innocent. Most of the women I meet weekly in my prison-visits have been sexually abused. They are in prison, but most of their abusers aren't!

IF THERE WERE ONE WORD LEFT FOR YOU IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Love, and perhaps forgiveness.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE CHURCHES TO CHANGE?

I'd like to see them reach out more to needy people in the community. I'd like pastoral teams to be more collegial.

FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?

A trip with Rowland around the world in May/June 2001 (for ministry and a bit of a holiday); part-time ministry in a church; losing 10 kilos; getting to know some women ex-prisoners better...
 
rccroucher @ optusnet . com . au
Email Jan and Rowland