Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This morning's email text-for-today: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Isaiah 5:20-23

A good warning before I start this section. I had been teaching for four years and had known since youth that teaching was to equip me for pastoral ministry. We were attending St. Thomas'Anglican Church, Kingsgrove, where Rev. Dudley Foord was the pastor. It was terrific: good Bible teaching, effective evangelism, a healthy church. But I was convinced I could not become an Anglican. On a memorable day our two families went to the beach at Cronulla, where Dudley invited me to be the church's youth leader, and I told him I was entering the Baptist ministry! The Baptists, for some reason (!) wanted me to join a Baptist church in preparation for entering their Theological College, so we went to the nearest one - at Mortdale. It was the largest Baptist Church in NSW at that time, mostly due, I believe, to the effective administrative and pastoral gifts of the senior pastor, Rev. Colin Campbell.

So two good - and contrasting - churches provided complementary models for me as I entered College. I was 'part-time' (note the 'quotes') pastor at Narwee Baptist Church, which began to take off. We added a full-time youth pastor and his wife (Dave and Mary Kendall), then the following year a part-time deaconess. 

These were four hectic years: two young children, driving taxis Friday nights to help pay the bills, preaching twice most Sundays, giving a mid-week Bible study, speaking at lots of youth rallies here and there, running summer camps and beach missions, Crazy - but stretching!

Now I was a very confident young man: leading a Christian Fellowship at Teachers' College and then a suburban church in Sydney came easily to me. My Brethren upbringing taught me to encourage laypeople to study the Bible for themselves. Dudley Foord modeled enthusiastic evangelical pastoral leadership. And the Narwee folk were very flexible. That church grew in spite of there being nine other Baptist churches within a five-mile radius, and the suburb being built-out. It was the youngest Baptist church in the district, and it's a credit to the more senior folk there that my somewhat naive enthusiasm was tolerated at all.

Their weekly program: Sunday - 9.30 Sunday School, 11 Morning Worship, 3 Christian Endeavour, 6.45 Pre-service prayer meeting, 7 Evening Service. Communion - 1st Sunday morning and 3rd Sunday evening. Monday - 8 Men's Recreation Club. Tuesday - 7.15 Girls' Life Brigade. Wednesday - 11 Ladies' Fellowship (alternate weeks). 8 - Prayer and Bible Study. Thursday - 6.45 Life Boys. Friday - 7.30 Boys' Brigade. Saturday - 10 Girl Cadets. Quite busy!

John Maitland, a Baptist historian, prepared a history of NBC for its 50th anniversary (May 2004). Jan and I were there: a wonderful experience. He sent this questionnaire about our time at Narwee:

1.How did you come to be appointed to NBC?

The Baptist 'Home Work Council' put my name to the church, as I recall. And I think Rev. Colin Campbell had a hand in it somewhere (as he did with Mike Dennis' appointment). And as I was living locally, had been accepted as a candidate for ministry with the college, they had to find a church for me somewhere.

It all fitted!

2.Did you have a philosophy/plan in mind for the Church when you arrived?

As I was a teacher before this, I guess my aim was to 'grow people in Christ through Bible teaching'. I'm also, I think, something of an evangelist, and wanted the church to reach out to the community, and see people come to faith in Christ. I seem to have a gift of encouragement.

Reading old sermon-notes from NBC days is interesting (I knew more about some things then than I know now). I found myself often asking 'What's God doing in your life?' I've always had a horror of myself or others 'standing still' in their spiritual life.

3.Did you have any expectations of the Church?

Yes, that we might 'grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' and grow numerically.

4.Was this your first Church?

In a sense, yes. I was president of the Christian Fellowship at Bathurst Teachers' College and that was good training in leadership of a 'quasi-church' (all we were missing in that group was sacraments!). And it was my first experience of being in leadership in a Baptist Church. I'd never attended a deacons' meeting, never baptized anyone, nor conducted a wedding before arriving at NBC (talk about 'steep learning curve'!)

5.As your ministry at NBC developed did you develop priorities for ministry there?

Confession-time: the church was so responsive, and some of the lectures at the Baptist College which I attended (or was supposed to attend) four days a week so dull, I devoted quite a bit of energy pastoring, visiting, preparing three sermons or Bible studies most weeks at the beginning - as well as sitting for, I think, 13 or 14 exams at the end of each of the first two years. (Crazy!). Oh... and leading beach missions on holidays, driving a taxi one night a week to help with family finances, playing sport regularly, lecturing at both the Baptist College and the Sydney Missionary and Bible College... And did I mention being married and fathering two gorgeous children? Back to ministry: personal/pastoral priorities were to encourage people to grow in their faith. In terms of the church, besides the usual pursuits of study, prayer and service, we developed an emphasis on 'overseas missions'...

6.How did Dave Kendall's appointment come about? Also Barbara Wadson's appointment as Deaconess?

Dave was part of a 'Youth Crusade' in our church from 'Ambassadors for Christ' and in conversation I got the impression he was open to a call to youth ministry in a local church. The church had no spare money: when they called me they had to increase the stipend to support a part-time married pastor, and also purchase a manse (in Bonds Road). So one memorable night, after Jan and I committed ourselves to raising our tithe to a fifth of our small income, I divided the congregation into four segments, and got on the phone. (The four groups: those with money and teenagers; those with teenagers but not a significant income; those with money and no kids; and finally the young people themselves). By the end of the night we had pledges, for just one year, sufficient to cover a married full-time pastor's stipend, plus renting a house and purchasing a car. This method of 'financing by faith' we used again at Blackburn Baptist Church to call Robert Colman. The rationale for all this can be found in my book, Your Church Can Come Alive. Dave and Mary were with us for two and a half happy years - a time in which many young people came to faith in Christ, and quite a few left for Bible College training and missionary work. (Remember John Stewart, who went on to a significant ministry with Gospel Recordings?) The Youth Choir under Dave's leadership was also quite a feature in those days! (Remember Dave singing 'Roll Jordan Roll'?)

Barbara Wadson was added as a third staff member (part-time) in, I think, the last two years of our ministry at Narwee. The church had grown beyond one pastor's ability to handle all the pastoral needs, and her visitation ministry, especially to women, was very fruitful.

7.How did you work together as a team? Were there any informal or formal guidelines?

I think we could have had more 'team enrichment' times together: life was so busy back then. But we got on well. Team members knew their gifts and their roles, and were given quite a bit of freedom to operate within broad guidelines.

8.In retrospect, what are the things that stand out

* for the NBC?

The growth of the church, through many conversions, and some transfers; the remarkable commitment to missionary giving (someone calculated that it rose 2000% in those four years); and above all the spirit of unity that pervaded the church. I can't remember a cranky person or a 'hidden agenda'from anywhere in those four years. Remarkable!

* for you?

I remember Joyce Emerson saying early in my time at NBC: 'Why don't we have a hymn, a prayer, and the offering, and you preach for the rest of the time?' I'd never heard that approach to a 'theology of worship' before, and it astounded me that anyone would want to listen to me for double the length of a normal sermon! But the encouragement from the church in terms of preaching/teaching, visiting/counseling, and leadership generally was a wonderful platform for confidence-in-ministry... (Joyce also guided me through the order of service for my first wedding: I still have her notes somewhere, like - 'tell the bride to hand her bouquet to the bridesmaid at this point'!!!)

I recall (with some humility) the deference paid to this young (25-year-old) pastor. Many called me 'pastor' rather than 'Rowland' and acknowledged my leadership in ways that still astonish me, given my inexperience in matters 'Baptist' or 'pastoral'. There are several pastoral highlights - like the man who phoned me at 2 am to tell me with horror that Satan had come into his bedroom; or the confessions of people who trusted me with their deepest secrets, or their marriage/sexual problems, or their wrestling with faith and doubt, or Col Emerson's battle with 'black depression'. Or ministering at the bedside of people who were very ill (like Shirley Date)...

9. It would also be helpful to have Jan's perspective

Jan: When I arrived Gwen Thompson said 'Of course you'll be the president of the Baptist Women's Fellowship!' I responded (feeling quite fearful): 'I've never been to a BWF meeting: why don't you carry on with the job and we'll look at it in a year's time?' Which she did very graciously (and competently) while this 'raw' pastor's wife learnt as much as she could.

Then I did the job for a couple of years, until I went back teaching in our fourth year. I remember some of the picnics we had, where we followed instructions to find the destination, answering questions along the way. We started a senior ladies' fellowship, which did craft and other activities, and reached out to several older women who joined the church. I was in the choir (led by Graeme Baillie), which was great: but the congregational singing at Narwee was always hearty. I led Girls' Brigade as captain for a couple of years. I taught RE in local schools one morning a week while Nancy Lawson minded our two small children. We also had quite a few people-without-accommodation stay in our home for short or long periods (two who come to mind were Marjorie Bee and Helen Sharman). When we moved into 70 Bonds Road I felt we were moving into a palace: it was a beautiful home. I remember parking the VW under a window in the weatherboard church while our two children were asleep outside: something no one would do these days! The overall impressions were of 'busyness' and 'happiness'.

10. Anything else that comes to mind as you trawl your memories of NBC Rowland?

One night in November the first year we were there we had a baptismal service. At the end I gave an 'invitation' to those who were 'deciding to follow Jesus' to come to the front of the sanctuary. I don't know how many crowded down there - 11? 15? - but it was the first time I'd ever experienced a response like that. It was wonderful! (And as most of them were young people, that made it easy to convince the church to call a youth pastor).

The Missionary Conventions, organized by a committee headed up by Albert Stacey, opened our eyes to the needs of the world. Stewart Dinnen from WEC spoke at one of them: a weekend which gave Marjorie Bee (I've forgotten her maiden name!) a sense of call to go study at the WEC college in Launceston, where she met Graham - and the rest, as they say, is history!

I recall with joy working with those at the heart of the fellowship - deacons and their families - the Emersons, Thompsons, Jeffreys, Baillies and other faithful people. Monty Mitchell and his family joined us halfway through my time at NBC: Monty loved visiting people in their homes, and he called on hundreds of folk (especially those connected in some way with Boys' Brigade). Many other good, faithful people joined us - like the Jamiesons (from PNG), the Taylors...

And some of the 'characters' -

* Noel Freeman, an older single man who was a volunteer with Campaigners for Christ, and served very faithfully as a deacon;

* A gentleman who came from I-don't-know-where who was a 'fruitarian' (he only ate fruit) and did tree-lopping for a job. (He'd climb to the top of the highest tree on church picnics, to everyone's horror and astonishment).

* A lady (I've forgotten her name) who lived in a half-finished house. She wasn't well physically, and we organized the church to mow her lawn (which was two feet high at the beginning!)

Finally, after four happy years it was a joy (and a relief) to hand over to Mike Dennis, hopefully without too many 'skeletons in the cupboard'. The church was ready for a full-time pastor, and a building program, and an expansion of its ministries, and Mike and Meg, who are dear friends to this day, were the ideal couple for the job!

P.S. The brilliant Ship of Fools people had a mystery worshipper visit Narwee Baptist Church.

Their photos: (the building extensions began after we left) -

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam! (For the greater glory of God!)

Rowland and Jan Croucher

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