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EFAC Australia

Essentials

NarcissismDeGroat, Chuck.
When narcissism comes to church: healing your community from emotional and spiritual abuse.
IVP: Downer’s Grove, IL., 2020.

"Many pastors get fired, but Driscoll got fired for being an a**hole" So goes the tag line of the recent long form journalistic podcast investigating the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and its pastor Mark Driscoll. However, as emotive as this assertion is, it subtly misses the mark. While Driscoll may embody that trait, the more troubling problem was tied up in a personality trait that our culture slavishly fêtes: narcissism. Often we are too cavalier as we toss this term around and use it for informal diagnoses of all kinds. Nevertheless, narcissism—in its pathological and popular types—is profoundly damaging in personal and social relationships. Yet as the church elevates the humility espoused in Philippians 2 as a model for Christian discipleship it correspondingly seems to ignore the presence of narcissism within its bounds.

Chuck DeGroat's new book When Narcissism Comes to Church speaks into this difficult space. From a wealth of knowledge from twenty years of both practical and academic pastoral and counselling experience, he builds a

solid and sobering picture of narcissism within the church, and how the church often fosters such traits within those who minister. It is this experience that also tempers the detached approach and sees narcissism as built upon power, desire, fear, and shame wrapped up in the 'compelling package' (19). Musing 'Could it be that the very men and women who are called to be shepherds of the flock struggle most with narcissism?' (19)

While many books have been written on the good, the bad, and the indifferent of narcissism, this work takes a different tack to many. After a helpful examining of the clinical basics of narcissism, DeGroat casts a wider net by highlighting other forms of narcissism than the traditional 'grandiose' incarnation. By including vulnerable narcissism a richer picture of overt and covert narcissism is built.

UnleashedArnold, John & Heather Wood (compilers)
Unleashed: Stories from All Saints’ Booval.

JF Arnold Publications, 2021.
Available from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. $20 + $6 postage.

John Arnold and Heather Wood have done us a great service by collecting and publishing these twenty-one testimonies from parishioners at All Saints’ Booval, in celebration of the parish’s 125th anniversary. The faith journeys of the contributors had their origin in the period between 1955 and 1965, during the incumbencies of the Rev Colin Ware and his wife Judith and the Rev Don Douglass and his wife Margaret.

Booval is a working class suburb near Ipswich on the western fringes of Brisbane. Members of the parish were employed at the nearby railway workshops, woollen mills and underground coal mines. In many ways these are the stories of ordinary Australians at an ordinary Anglican parish in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Yet this was no ordinary parish, as is evidenced by the extraordinary number of children in the Sunday School and Youth Group, and the extraordinary number of parishioners who went into full time vocational ministry, including service with the Church Missionary Society and Bush Church Aid (seven ordained priests and eleven missionaries). Many lives were extraordinarily transformed. Nor was the parish wealthy or educated. Yet God in His mercy delighted to make “something out of nothing”, enabling vibrant congregational life, evangelism and discipleship, substantial property improvements and even the establishment of a half-way house for residents discharged from the nearby Goodna Mental Hospital, where the parish maintained a long-standing ministry of visitation.

Very few parishes have such a record of sending so many into ministry. Furthermore, there have been few large and dynamic Anglican parishes in working class contexts. It is therefore illuminative and helpful to discern some of the common threads woven through this tapestry: A strong commitment to corporate worship and prayer – and not just on Sundays;  a commitment to expository preaching; the promotion and training in daily Bible reading and prayer, using Scripture Union resources; a massive commitment to relational children’s, youth and family ministry; a commitment to systematic gospel outreach, including parish missions; together with a commitment to global  mission, evidenced in a strong local Church Missionary Society League of Youth group.

PeterBrainI will never forget the opening lines of the veteran missionary Bishop Alfred Stanway; ‘the two biggest temptations for missionaries and ministers are sex and money’. It was 1965 at the CMS Summer School in Katoomba. I was 18, a Christian of 15 months and it was the day after my first Beach Mission. I was stunned by the opening line but greatly helped by his talk. Some 10 years later a different speaker on the same platform, Michael Griffiths, said the same thing as he expounded the 8 reasons for sexual purity from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. I was not stunned this time, but once again greatly helped and challenged to be faithful to God, my wife, our new family, God’s people and to my calling as a newly ordained pastor.

It took me a couple of weeks to get over the sadness and grief of Ravi Zachariah’s infidelity. I still find it painful to learn of the accusations and supporting reports from the investigations commissioned by RZIM. What do I do with his books which I have devoured and profited from? How do I pray for my Hindu dentist who so gladly accepted the copy of his last book, intrigued by its title, ‘The Logic of God’? How do I keep my anger from causing me to be self-righteous or, conversely, unfazed by his, and others, both high-profile and ordinary leaders’, duplicity? How do I help younger brothers and sisters who are deeply hurt, very much confused, even despairing? What do I, a happily married retired pastor, need to learn from this sad situation? Perhaps this article will help me and others who have similar feelings.

We must thank God for the godly examples he has given us who continue faithful in the sexual and other aspects of their lives and ministries. Whilst we want to avoid the sin of some, we take heart from the faithfulness of countless faithful ones whom God has granted to us [Philippians 3:17]. This will temper our despair and remind us of the need for constant vigilance in our own walk with the Lord [1 Timothy 4:16], the ease with which we can be tempted [1 Corinthians 10:11-13] and the wisdom of constant self-examination [2 Corinthians 13:5]. The truth: there but for the grace of God go I must be heeded, keeping us from pride and complacency. Richard Baxter’s warning: A holy calling will not save an unholy man, should likewise ring in our ears to keep us from presuming upon God’s grace.

HarryGoodhewBiogPiggin, Stuart
Harry Goodhew: Archbishop, Godly Radical, Dynamic Anglican.
Morning Star Publishing: North Sydney, 2021.

Apparently, Marcus Loane thought that biographies ought not be written of the living, though he attended the launch of John Reid’s biography of him. Is this biography of Harry Goodhew, Archbishop of Sydney, premature therefore? Stuart Piggin argues that twenty years in retirement provides sufficient time for a good perspective. Is he correct? Piggin concedes that many would regard him as being too close to Goodhew, but Piggin then argues that he did not know Goodhew as well as he himself thought he did, thus implying more objectivity than might otherwise be anticipated. Is he right?

The closeness of Piggin to Goodhew certainly adds a personal dimension to this biography. Goodhew is not portrayed in any remote way. His warm personality and personal piety are always evident. Harry appears to be widely known as gentle, gracious, humble and godly in character. While Piggin’s depiction of Harry is always full of praise – too hagiographic? – the main point of commending Goodhew’s godly character is indisputable.

Character is undervalued in our world, even in Christian circles, where achievement and ability are rated so highly. We excuse people’s poor character in politics, sport, business and church because of their track record of getting things done. Secular leadership manuals often frame Christian leadership expectations, usually again devaluing character. This biography’s constant reference to Goodhew’s prayerfulness, humility, graciousness and spiritual fruit is as refreshing as it is important. Character matters, godly character above all.

MikeFlynnAt Swinburne University in Melbourne, the School of Business is teaching servant leadership because evidence for the effectiveness of Jesus’ teaching on leadership has been building for decades. Harvard Business Review famously called it ‘Level five leadership’—a humble, eclectic, teachable and even wise form of leading that puts the goals of the corporation above the personality of the leader. There is nothing sentimental or ideologically skewed towards championing introversion here. This is business: this form of leadership is justified by the superior results it achieves.

But leadership is complex for us in Melbourne. We know that our city is obsessed with critiquing leaders; with looking for leaders and removing them. It is one of the ordinary goods we have anxiously made into an ultimate purpose as we seek the keys to a meaningful life on our own terms. We deeply believe that if we just get leadership right, all will be well.

But this is Australia where we practice a brutal form of egalitarianism. We cut down without mercy even the most beautiful and deserving of our tall poppies. We knock down those who might have excelled, given time, grace and opportunity. Then we complain wise people steer away from leadership in public, corporate, and church life—leaving weeds behind.

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians show us that these wrangles over leadership are not new. Different leaders had accumulated different factions within the church. People were lining up behind Paul, Cephas (Peter) and Apollos—and, by 2 Corinthians, possibly Titus. There were the Super Apostles who were abusing and misleading the young church.

Paul wonders if the Corinthians are crazy. Why make idols out of leaders? “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). His point is that leaders in the church are not saviours, they are farmers.

2 TIMOTHY 1:9-14

The letter of 2 Timothy, regarded by many as the last of Paul’s letters, functions as a farewell letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, engaged at that time in leading the church of Ephesus.

It is a realistic letter about the challenges of ministry, and at times the realism might seem to convey sometime more like pessimism. However, as I have read this letter several times over the last season of ministry I have been struck by Paul’s optimism – an optimism that is striking considering his own location (prison), his expectation about his own death (imminent), and his consciousness of the threats (inevitable and plentiful).

The source of Paul’s ministry optimism can be found, I believe, in six verses in the middle of 2 Timothy 1. In verses 9-10 we see the first source of Paul’s optimism – the significance of the gospel within all of history and eternity. The saving grace of God predates the history of the universe, as it is given before the beginning of time (verse 9). The saving grace of God then appears within human time and history through the life and ministry of Christ Jesus (verse 10). And that saving grace then connects believers to an eternal future as death is destroyed and immortality brought to light. The grace that existed in Christ before history, enters history, and transforms history into eternity. What greater cause of optimism could a gospel herald and teacher have than to know this history of the gospel! It means that suffering for the gospel leads not to shame but to humble confidence (verse 12).

The second source of Paul’s optimism is his knowledge of God as the one who will guard the gospel. The phrase in verse 12 requires a little work to unpack – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” The day that Paul has in mind is clearly the day of judgment and Christ’s appearing (see 1:18 and 4:8), so what is it that Paul has entrusted, and God is able to guard? Suggestions are many, but the key to understanding is to notice that Paul uses the same two words (‘guard’ and ‘entrusted’) in verse 14, where that which is to be guarded is the gospel itself. Paul entrusts the heralding and teaching of the gospel for the next generation to Timothy (verse 14), but he has already entrusted that transmission of gospel proclamation to God, and God is able to guard it. Even as he exhorts Timothy to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” Paul is optimistic because he knows that God is the one who will himself guard that gospel until the day of Christ’s return.

SimonManchesterWhen I was Chaplain to the North Sydney Bears Rugby League team (and you may know that my prayers for their humility were powerfully answered), I once went to the ‘post-mortem’ meeting on Monday and was told ‘it was probably not a good time for me to be there’.

The coach was obviously giving an expletive-laden barrage to the players (after a terrible loss) and either felt that my saintly presence would curb his freedom of speech or that he would have to explain his terms to me as he went… probably the former.

But picture the football coach at half-time as his team has shown no energy or courage or cleverness or skill (or warrant for big pay-packets) and the score is now 38-0 to the other side (if he’s a soccer coach this is serious). He will be angry – quietly or loudly.

What can he do but berate his players and tell them that they are a disgrace to the fans, to the sponsors, to themselves – and especially to him? [The flip-side to this is a fantastic first half where they are belting the opposition and congratulating themselves… but I digress].

It seems to me that too much preaching falls into the ‘coach at half-time’ category. Not that the preacher is angry but he has little to say beyond personal motivation. Think for example of a sermon in the second half of an epistle.

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