Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Going to the Root: Commentary on Christian Smith’s Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal

by Wayne Jacobsen for BODYLIFE

1. Build Intentional Community

“Radical church renewal begins with a new vision of Christian relationships
in the body of Christ. It affirms that the church should look, and feel, not
like a club or interest group, but a loving, extended family. What is
necessary for people to live like this? People must truly know each other,
share with each other who they really are.”

In short, discipleship and personal care in the body of Christ were never
meant to come through a paid staff or cumbersome programs. Jesus gave his
ministry to people who would live out their lives in close, personal

Let me give you a word of warning about this chapter, however. It seeks to
build that community through accountability and commitment, two words that
are not linked to body life at all in the New Testament and are often
misused to exercise control over people. While I love his goal here, his
methodology will only set us up for disappointed expectations. Love and
freedom is how Jesus called us to embrace body life for it was in
relationship not institution that Jesus vested his life.

That said, the author gives two key pieces of advice: “Christian community
is an alien, alternative reality that must be purposefully pursued and
cultivated” and “It is a living dynamic experience that is nurtured, not a
prepackaged program that is instituted.”

2. Do Church Without Clergy

Don’t panic! I know a lot of hot-buttons just went off. The author doesn’t
advocate throwing pastors overboard, simply makes the case that we do not
need them in the way they’ve come to dominate church life today. “Going to
the root helps us see that our clergy system is not demanded by the New
Testament. It is often counterproductive. And it can obstruct healthy,
biblical church life. Is it possible that one of the best things that could
happen to the church would be for the clergy to resign and take secular
jobs? The problem with the clergy is not the people, but the profession
itself. The New Testament is clear that ministry in the church is the work
of the entire body of believers, not of a single minister or pastoral team.”

>From both sides the fact of clergy in the body of Christ today produces two
classes of people leaders and followers. This is unhealthy from two angles.
On the one hand we expect pastors to be the body of Christ for every one,
and who can stand up to that weight? On the other, it promotes passivity on
the part of believers, waiting for the leaders to sort things out without
going to the Head and following his desires.

The profession always seems to lead clergy to be more program managers than
mentors, making decisions for people believing themselves to have a superior
perspective, rather than linking people close enough to Jesus, that he can
live out his will through them.

3. Decentralize Leadership and Decisions

“Never in the New Testament is one believer, even a church leader, said to
have spiritual authority over another…. (We don’t find) a model of
leadership that is hierarchical, authoritarian or focused on filling
offices. What we find is a very organic, bottom-up model of leadership….
(Spiritual authority) is given to leaders by believers around them because
of the exemplary, trustworthy character of their lives.

The author goes on to say that whatever leadership emerges exists only to
mentor others to hear and follow the Lord. They should function in plurality
without one leader dominating the others. But for decision-making, he
encourages those believers affected by the decision to engage in a process
of consensus-building. “When dominating leaders make decisions and call the
flock to follow, the seeds of apathy and immaturity are sown.” Of course
this works more realistically in groups less than 50 than it does in large
impersonal groups. For that to happen we will have to learn how to handle
growth by multiplying groups not expanding them until they can longer
function relationally.

4. Open Up Worship Services

“Structurally, the worship services of many churches are preplanned,
clergy-centered and performance-oriented (that often) undermine our best
intentions. In the most extended New Testament teaching on church gatherings
( I Cor. 11-14), Paul repeatedly states that the overarching goal of meeting
together is mutual edification building and strengthening the believing

How can that happen if we don’t move away from our pre-planned meetings, and
invite the honest, open participation of all God’s people who gather? This
doesn’t lead to an efficient service, but it does allow the body to be the

Here the author encourages us away from up-front led worship, which puts the
focus on a few and breeds passivity in the rest. Instead people can have the
freedom to lead out in prayer, give thanks, read Scripture, encourage, and
even ask questions from the teaching so that the body can be built up by its
honest interaction in the presence of the Lord.

5. Get Over The Edifice Complex

“Perhaps the most obvious monument to the church’s immobility and
inflexibility are its church buildings. Buildings are massive, stationary
structures, imposing physical symbols of fixity and rigidity.” Here the
author most clearly suggests the home church model, “The early Christians
could have followed the familiar model of the Jewish temple or synagogue and
created specifically Christian buildings to meet and worship in. They did
not. Apparently they believed their homes were the best context for
gathering…. Homes are a place of family, which is what the early believers
were to each other.”

Of course the edifice complex can be just as apparent in avoiding buildings,
and it could be said that persecution may have contributed to the early
church staying in homes. But we still have to ask what do we gain (or lose)
by confining God’s work to a building that more often than not confines the
life of the body, at great expense to build and maintain.

6. Cultivate a Spirituality of Daily Life

How do we relate to a living God in our everyday existence? Too often we
only see that in terms of meeting legalistic, guilt-inducing expectations in
the do’s and don’ts of our behavior. This method never produces God’s
transformation. Radical renewal invites us to cultivate a relationship with
God, that fills every corner of our lives with his presence where we realize
it’s not what we do for God that matters, but what we let him do in us.

7. Practice Lifestyle Evangelism

“The Bible makes it clear that the central and irreplaceable medium for
communicating the gospel is the quality of believers’ lives together. The
lives of people who genuinely love each other, for all their warts and false
starts, will be a truer explanation of the good news than the most precisely
pitched evangelistic message.” Amen.

8. Work for Social Justice

“Doing biblical justice, therefore, means taking positive actions that
create and preserve flourishing human community in fidelity to God’s
covenant—which is to realize a just social order.” This chapter was not easy
to understand, but it demonstrates that God’s heart is for justice,
especially in alleviating the suffering of the oppressed and needy. How we
accomplish that might differ greatly, but we can acknowledge that our
service in places like that is close to God’s heart and the true nature of

9. Do Grass-Roots Ecumenism

“Radical church renewal rejects the unnecessary divisions that separate and
isolate Christians from each other. It calls believers to work for the unity
of the Spirit. But to be meaningful and effective, this work must become the
bottom-up, grass roots work of the people of God.” Don’t confine your
relationships only to believers who make up whatever group you worship with.
God’s work in our world is so much larger, and we can see that when we make
an effort to seek relationships beyond our own group.

I doubt I’ve done these proposals justice by trying to summarize in so short
a space, but aren’t these fascinating? They have each challenged me to take
a fresh look at what it means for me to be a part of the church.

(Taken from Going to the Root in the June 1996 issue of BodyLife, a publication of LifeStream Ministries. Read the whole article here.)

Used with permission.

Monday, November 26, 2007



Money is important: try to think of a day recently where money played no part at all. Were you deserted on an island, or camping in the bush? Or didn't get out of bed? Every society has some form of currency - even bartering economies.

An excellent thing to do with money is to give some of it away. Jesus sat down opposite the Temple treasury. The rich gave large sums. A poor widow put in two small copper coins: 'all she had'. It's a truism that most churches/missions would not survive without the faithful regular gifts of poorer members.

People in generous churches give away their time, their gifts and skills, their prayers, practical assistance and a listening-ear to others. (When they ask 'How are you?¹ they really want to know). And their money...

'Who dies rich, dies disgraced'(Andrew Carnegie). Let us never forget, we were born with nothing; we shall die with nothing. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. But humans, because of their insecurity, tend to be covetous, acquisitive. The desire to possess is very strong: the more we have the more we want. Deficits, inflation, cutting down forests, the greenhouse effect - all are caused by greed. The Bible is clear that we should provide for our family's necessities (1 Timothy 5:8), but each person/family/community ought to figure out the threshold between needs and wants. It's good to have what money can buy, but more important to have what money cannot buy.

And let's never forget the overseas - and nearby - poor. In terms of foreign aid individual Australians are fairly generous. But our government ranks 19 out of 22 rich nations for the aid we give as a proportion of gross national income (GNI). Economist Jeffrey Sachs says that if the world's richest nations took overseas aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2010, it would halve the 1 billion people living on less than $US1 a day. (Try living on $1 a day for a month or two!).

Friday, October 19, 2007


Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote 'The church is the church only when it exists for others.' For him the 'others' were especially 'the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled - in short, those who suffer'. In his Letters and Papers from Prison he writes: 'Our church, which has been fighting only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to... the world.' He continues that our being Christian today will consist of two things: Praying and working for justice. 'All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action.'

*** I learned recently that in my home-state, Victoria, Australia, 7000 young people aged 12 - 24 'sleep rough' every night. A staffworker with the Melbourne City Mission told us that just about all of them come from dysfunctional and/or abusive families. Update: in today's press (October 21, 2007) I read this: 'Each night, one in every 200 Australians is said to be homeless.' Tragic!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in’ (Robert Frost).

In a funny/sad episode of The Simpsons Maude Flanders – a devout Christian lady who practised the qualities of ‘faith, chastity, and charity’ attended a Bible Camp to learn how to be more judgmental! That episode was cited in online correspondence with an atheist this week!

Healthy churches are like healthy families. In your family, you had no choice about your siblings: ditto in God’s family. If I had to pick the members of the church I attend, I probably would not have chosen all of them, and I’m sure some of them wouldn't have chosen me! However, the more I get to know them, and hear what God is doing in their lives, the more I’ve come to appreciate them.

Healthy families are united-in-their-diversity. They manage conflict well. Children and teenagers and adults and seniors are all accepted/respected – their differences are celebrated! Healthy families practice open communication, forgiveness, serving one another. They play and laugh and work together.

One of our choruses says ‘We are family, we are one.' But our songs sometimes don’t match reality. Unhealthy families – church and other - are ‘dysfunctional’: they are rigid (with some unbending rules); they don’t have healthy boundaries, or cope with differing ideas, repressing disagreement with the powerful people; they are abusive: some want to exercise inappropriate power over others; they play ‘conspiracies of silence’ games… and so on. (See here for more).

So let’s practise this: ‘As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you... Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful’ (Colossians 3:11-15).

Rev. Dr. Rowland Croucher
John Mark Ministries


Maude Flanders, a character in The Simpsons, was very devout. She had many positive qualities: faith, chastity, charity. Maude once attended a Bible camp to learn how to be more judgmental!


Here are some wise words from a Baptist pastor-friend, Nathan Nettleton: The Church is not called to tolerance, but to hospitality. Mere tolerance is far too gutless.

Jesus did not model or advocate tolerance of the strangers and outcasts. He welcomed them, accepted them, stood in solidarity with them. In a few cases we also have stories of him openly challenging them to change, but it would be pretty hard to find a story where that wasn't premised on the initial welcoming acceptance. More often it seems that he didn't have to voice the challenge at all, but that people began to change in response to experiencing in him, the overwhelming hospitality of God...


John Claypool used to say: 'With Jesus, acceptance preceded repentance, with the Pharisees - ancient and modern - it's the other way around.'

Sunday, October 7, 2007


In his book Blue Like Jazz Don Miller tells the delightful story of how he and his friends dressed like monks and set up a confessional booth on their notoriously heathen college campus. But instead of hearing other people's confessions, they were confessing their sins as Christians and the sins of Christendom to anyone who was willing to listen and forgive.

I think the world would be willing to listen to a church on its knees, a church that doesn't pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers. I think a mystical, sacramental healing can begin within us and extend into the wounds of our world...

Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, p. 251.


Another feature of healthy churches is that their members take seriously the apostle's admonition: '[Give] thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.' (Ephesians 5:20).

A 13-year-old at a formal dinner spills her main course all over her lap: meat, gravy, vegetables - the lot. Later, she recalls this as one of life's darkest moments, overshadowing a hundred good things that happened to her that week... I have an arthritic finger, a legacy of an old football injury: it occupies my attention more than the thousand parts of my body functioning perfectly.

The surrealists have captured this strangeness in their art: a manure heap in the corner of a field will dominate the canvas, obliterating or obscuring the flowers, whereas in the real landscape the manure heap is quite small.

That's why we are invited to give thanks in all things, at all times. In everything! If it wasn't Paul writing those injunctions I could hardly believe them: he knew what hardship and trouble and plans going wrong were all about. And he knew the imperfections of the churches he founded and visited!

In every time of worship we ought to be invited to 'count our blessings'. Thanksgiving is an attitude of life that recognizes that everything is a gift: and all good gifts come from God. It's also an attitude that has to be taught. Complaining comes naturally; children have to learn to be grateful.

Here's a thought I read somewhere: There's a special thing for which you can be thankful - only you and God have all the facts about yourself!

Suggestion: Phone or write/email someone expressing your gratitude for something they are, or have done. Go on... do it!

Prayer: O Lord you have given us so such. Please give us one thing more - a grateful heart. Amen.

Rowland Croucher

More on Gratefulness/Gratitude...

Friday, August 24, 2007




1. What’s unique about Jesus in this story? Can you imagine Jesus having
a need about which he asks your help?

2. Imagine you’re talking with Jesus – just the two of you – what would
you say to him? What would you expect him to say to you about you?

3. If he offered you ‘the water of life’ how would you understand that?
What are your greatest ‘needs’ at the moment (you can jot items under
headings like self-esteem, fear, guilt, grief, anxiety, anger, finance,
relationships etc. - for your eyes only)

4. If you could ask Jesus’ help in some aspect of your life, what would
your request/s look like?

5. And going back to your ‘village’/home/school/work/friends: what’s the
good news you’d be telling them? How do people/communities become

12.30 PM LUNCH

1.20 PM: OUR STORIES OF FAITH/HOPE/LOVE – where we briefly share with
the group anything we feel is helpful/honest/relevant from our morning’s
reflection on the story in John 4. As others pray for you, what would
you like them to pray about?


REDEEMED’. A brief case-study of the Church in Antioch (Acts 11: 19-30;
13:1-3). Discussion: What features of this ancient church might
encourage our life together? What does your church ‘mean’ for you? What
does a healthy church look like?


FACILITATOR: (Rev. Dr.) Rowland Croucher , John Mark Ministries

Friday, August 3, 2007


A blind man, feeling the leg of an elephant said, "It's like a strong tree." The second, holding the trunk, reckoned that "It's like a thick vine." The third blind man, running his hands across the large body of the elephant, exclaimed, "No, it is like a wide mountain."

The NT Christians were like that. Paul was strong on faith; James on works. Luke-Acts has a lot about prophets; John hardly mentions them. The church, says Paul, is like a single body, but has many parts.

Our Lord bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the Good Samaritan. Here the 'foreigner' is a hero. 'Ethnocentrism' is the glorification of my group, leading to 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!').

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).

No one branch of the church has a monopoly on the truth. 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. So we should accept one another, as we are each accepted by God (Romans 15:7).

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?' God's truth is very much bigger than our little systems.

Rowland Croucher



Pedro, Isabella and their five malnourished children lived in a favela (slum) near Fortaleza, Brazil. Pedro, a day-labourer, worked about every third day. To stop their kids crying from hunger Isabella would feed them little balls of moistened newspaper, sprinkled with sugar. These had almost no nutritional value, but Pedro might get some sleep. The police, bribed by a wealthy landowner, had driven them off their little black-bean farm.

'What do you need?' Isabella replied, 'I would like a blanket for each child.' Pedro: 'I need a job every day to feed my family.' What else? Pedro: 'I want my farm back.' Anything else? 'Yes, where is God when are we treated like "the scum of the earth"'?

Every relationship in the universe - between God and creation, between humans, and between humans and creation - is driven by three dynamics: justice, mercy and faith (see e.g. Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23).

Justice is about 'fairness', the right use of power. Social justice is the strong helping the weak, not exploiting them. Mercy addresses our immediate needs. 'What do you want me to do for you?' asked Jesus. They might include survival needs - food, clothing, shelter, well-being; or emotional needs - respite from depression, a sense of belonging, greater self-worth etc. Faith is the ultimate dimension of any relationship. Can I trust God to care for me? Can I trust you to accept me (Romans 15:7)? Do you have my interests at heart, or do I exist mainly for yours?

A preoccupation with justice can lead to violence and terrorism; a preoccupation with mercy can issue in paternalism ('do-goodism'); a preoccupation with evangelism - inviting people to exercise faith in God - can lead to our treating them merely as 'souls to be saved'.

Pedro and Isabella want their farm back - justice; they need food, clothing, adequate shelter, a job - 'mercy'; and they need to know they're loved by God, and others - 'faith'. These are the three essential dimensions of a biblical understanding and practice of 'mission'.

Every healthy church practises all three, all the time, though it may be called to major on one of these dimensions of mission.

For more on the church and mission visit these articles.

Rowland Croucher

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Europeans did their own thinking about where God was, and asked, Did the church matter through two World Wars or, perhaps more fatefully, in the relatively good times marked by consumerism, materialism, hedonism ?

Robert Merton (a radical sociologist) used to say that the evil in institutions is greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals within them. Reinhold Niebuhr (theologian and pastor) put it slightly differently: society as a whole is always collectively worse than the individuals who make it up.

One of the problems in the way Christians relate to the world is the tension between the 'world's' standards and those of the Church/Bible. The Scriptures use the concept of 'world' in two senses: (1) the whole created reality and the world of humanity created by God (Psalm 90:2, John 3:16, Acts 17:24), and (2) the 'systems of the world' which are in rebellion against God (James 4:4, 1 John 5:19).

Sunday, July 8, 2007


James Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson wrote that on one occasion Johnson ‘went to church’ and afterwards said he was ‘not unduly depressed’.

The 2006 census tells us that since 2001 most Australian churches fell behind population growth (5.8%). Baptists grew 2.4% (but Buddhists grew 17%, Muslims 21% and Hindus 55%). A similar trend is being witnessed in other Western countries.

Professor Gary Bouma, a sociologist of religion, in his 2006 book Australian Soul, says that
Australians are not less religious than they were in the 1900’s: but many have
stopped ‘going to church’.


We have our theories. Here are mine - in 30 short articles.

First: except for churches growing through migration (like the Oriental Orthodox, up 13%), only ‘stricter’ groups (Mormons, JWs) and those which ‘choreograph’ their services are growing (eg. Hillsong: Pentecostals are up 13%). But wait: what do sects and Pentecostals have in common? Both groups generally expect a higher level of ‘commitment’ than older churches. There’s one clue.

Another: Pentecostal services are more attuned to youthful music/TV than the greying churches. Australians watch 20 hours of TV each week. When they ‘come to church’ there’s quite a contrast (in about 5 or 6 respects: what are they? See my take on this here).

As we learned in the previous article, The NT doesn’t talk much about ‘attending church’. Jesus did it regularly (Luke 4:16); the early Christians wanted to be together to share their lives (Acts 2:1) but after a while their zeal cooled, and the writer in Hebrews 10:25 exhorted people not to neglect meeting regularly.

People who have a lot in common (friends, family) will want to be together. They have rituals (greetings, celebrations of special events etc.) and also spontaneous stuff – jokes, laughter, recreation, sharing stories, problems etc. So there’s another clue: how can ‘church’ become truly ‘family’?

Watch this blog for more...

Rowland Croucher

Tuesday, June 26, 2007



I'm assuming you're a Christian. You're impressed - very impressed - with Jesus, but 'church' does not 'turn you on' very much.

I'm currently reading a book by a sociology professor which says that religion/spirituality are on the increase (in Australia and other places), but people linking to formal religious organizations are on the decrease.

In future articles we'll try to figure out why and why... In the meantime see here for a sad/humorous 'take' on this by Rowan Atkinson:

It's interesting that the New Testament gives us very few clues about 'what/why' of church attending. There's only one piece of encouragement to attend church regularly (Hebrews 10:25: 'Don't neglect to meet together, as some are doing'). Just one text refers to Jesus' habit of attending synagogue 'as was his custom' (Luke 4:16). The early Christians after the experience of Pentecost were 'all with one accord in one place' (Acts 2:1).

When you think about it, people who have a lot in common (especially friends or family) want to meet each other - and the closer the bonds of friendship or love, the more frequent those meetings will be. There'll be some rituals which happen every time (like asking how you are, what's happening in your life, how's your health etc.). And some things will be spontaneous - jokes, fun, laughter, sharing stories, problems etc.

God's people through the centuries met together regularly because they wanted to share the stories of their lives, and help one another - and fulfil their mission in the world of helping 'outsiders' too. All this is assumed, so it's not surprising that the Bible contains little information or exhortations to do all this.

Notice we said there are rituals, and spontaneous happenings when friends/family meet. Same with church. Christian rituals include baptism, communion, reciting the Lord's Prayer and maybe a creed etc. But there will also be room for up-to-date stories. Not all ritual; not all stories... but a balance between the two.

Watch this space...

Rowland Croucher

Friday, April 13, 2007

1 Month to Understand your Local Church

Dear friends,

Watch this space: this blog is part of a series attempting to answer the most important 300 questions I've been asked in 18,000-plus hours of counseling/talking to people - and learnings from 70 years of a fulfilling life. Here we'll look at 30 marks of a healthy church.

Other Blogs in this series:

1 Month to Meet the Baptists

1 Month of Books you should Read

1 Month to Learn About the Internet

1 Month of Answers to Tough Questions

1 Month of Devotions

1 Month to Change Your Life

1 Month to Meet Some Interesting People

1 Month to Become a Christian

1 Month To Meet Jesus

Basic idea: you read one of the 30 posts each day and complete one 'mini-course' in a month. (I might even organize a certificate for those who complete the 300 units!)

Some of the material will be adapted from the 20,000 articles on the John Mark Ministries website. It's a big site, (although many of the 100,000+ unique visitors a month tell me it's easy to navigate).

I look forward to journeying with you!


Rowland Croucher