Sunday, August 02, 2015

playing the fool

I was speaking at the annual gathering of the 3D mission network on Friday evening. Around 100 folk had gathered to hear me reflect on leadership and change, using my time as Principal of Uniting College as a case study. The session was going well. Those gathered seem engaged. There was laughter at my jokes.

I navigated my way through a section on out of the box leadership. I drew on Paul’s description of himself as fool in 1 Corinthians 4 and linked it with notions of clown. Clowns stand outside what is normal and expected. They are allowed to say and do unexpected things. They provide fresh eyes to see new things. It involves risk and it might not work. But, I suggested, it is a Biblical understanding of one dimension of leadership.

I moved to my next point. It involved a slide image. Staring at the image being projected in front of me (but behind the audience), I found myself disappointed with how small it was. How would anyone see. I got out my infrared laser, pointed it at the image and began to explain what was happening and who was speaking to whom.

Gently, my audience interrupted me. Politely they asked if rather than point to the image they couldn’t see because it was behind them, if perhaps I could point to the image they could see, behind me! Which, when I turned to look, was of course plenty big enough.

Sprung. Playing the fool indeed. Without even trying!

Posted by steve at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative renewal through action

I’m speaking this Friday, 6 pm, 31 July, Burnside Uniting Church. Here’s the blurb

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is a world leader in missional thinking and sadly is leaving Australia to return to New Zealand in August (September actually) this year. We are indeed very fortunate Steve has agreed to lead our next metro Gathering teaching sessions.

Creative renewal is only possible through action. What actions lead to renewal?

I will be reflecting on leadership lessons from my years as Principal at Uniting College and offering some reflection on the Uniting church into the future. (If I can find the words. I’m still quite unclear on how I want to say what I want to say.)

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Yarta Wandatha by Denise Champion: book review

Originally published in Uniting Church Studies, 20(2) pp. 69-71.

Yarta Wandatha

Review Yarta Wandatha, Denise Champion with Rosemary Dewerse, Adelaide: Denise Champion 2014.

Yarta Wandatha by Denise Champion is a rich addition to the doing of theology in Australia. As such, it should be compulsory reading for all Australian Christians and a set text for all Christology classes taught in Australia.

The title is derived from Champion’s mother tongue, Adnyamathanha, the language of her people from the Flinders Ranges, in South Australia. It means “the land is speaking, the people are speaking.” As a title, it provides a concise summary of the theological method that integrates book. Second, in using language, it suggests a theology of the heart, a following of God integrated with language and culture, working from place and people.

The book has ten chapters, two introductions, one song (a contemporisation of the Magnificat) and one prayer (Lords Prayer). It is sixty-six pages, attractively presented with colour photographs of the landscape around the Flinders Ranges, the land from which this theology is speaking. While landscape photographs are not standard in academic texts, they are essential to this book, congruent with the theological method being articulated.

Each chapter (except the brief chapter provided by Rosemary Dewerse) is centred around a story. These include Awi-irtanha (The Rain Bird), Yurndu Akanandha (The Creation of the First Day) and Wida Ardupa (The Gum Tree Couple). These stories, located in land, become essential to the theology being advanced.

Despite the variety of stories, a coherent and considered theology is evident. This is summarised in the phrase ngakarra nguniangkulu, God is revealing so that we can see (28). It is a theology that assumes revelation and respectfully seeks to listen to revelation. It suggests that theology is action, of seeing, in order to act in response to what is seen.

One way to explore the theological methodology of Yarta Wandatha is through the lens of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Experience is a key theme. It is evident, first in Champion’s self-location in relation to land, second in her integration with a history of decolonisation. This is a theological method that thus begins with lament, with yulupunha vadiangkapala, the deep sadness that results from a long time of suffering.

With regard to Scripture, Yarta Wandatha starts with the Magnificat (6-7) and ends with the Lord’s Prayer (62-3). There is repeated engagement chapter by chapter with Biblical stories and themes.

Reason is evident, most clearly in the use of story. Champion utilises a tri-partite hermeneutic by which to interpret story (29). Stories teach rules for living, instruct has about the environment and provide insight into the spiritual world. Champion applies these three themes consistently (reason-ably) throughout the book as a way to interpret story.

Tradition is present, although in ways perhaps not immediately evident to a Western reader. Denise tells the story of how her father drew on memory as part of his learning (28). She tells of hearing her mother ask Wanangha nai, (Where are you going?) to which her father would reply Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (I’m going back to this place). As a result, learning from tradition, in the form of memories linked to places, occurs. Land and people are speaking, past to present, as people practise living in their memories. It is an innovative approach to notions of tradition.

It suggests a way by which indigenous theologies can engage with other indigenous theologies. In making this argument, it is important to note that all theologies, whether Western, liberationist or indigenous, are contextual, emerging from a particular time and place. However, Duncan Forrester (Globalisation and Difference: Practical Theology in a World Context) challenges all theologies with the reminder that while “locating us firmly in space and time, bodies also take us beyond mere flesh and blood to confront and reveal deeper threads.” In other words, every move toward particularity – Western, liberationist or indigenous – comes with the invitation to connect universally.

Reading Yarta Wandatha, I wondered if a way to approach any tradition could be Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28). In other words, could acts of “living in the memories”, of going back to the particular places from which the traditions speaks, be applied not only by Denise’s father to access the wisdom of his elders, but by anyone reading Augustine or Aquinas? Theological reflection on tradition would thus become a “living in the memories”, contextually located, place based, a learning from stories from other places and all spaces. Such an approach could allow the memories from other traditions to be woven into indigenous theological work, whether Western, liberationist or indigenous.

Together, Champion’s use of reason and tradition allow her to work fluently between past, present and future, between theory and ethics. To be a person “living in the memories” is also be a person considering how to live and act into the future. This is most clearly seen in the story of Awi-irtanha, the Rain Bird (40-42). Champion uses the story to critique how indigenous cultures from the past are presented today and to consider how she might live in conflict situations into the future.

Yarta Wandatha emerged in a partnership, as Uniting College Director of Missiology, Rosemary Dewerse, built a relationship with Aunty Denise Champion. In time, Dewerse made the offer, to serve Champion by hearing her oral stories and in partnership arranging them in ways that were true to her indigenous voice. The location of copyright, not with a known academic publisher, but with Denise Champion, is deliberate, in the hope that all proceeds from sales might be returned to indigenous people, not to publishing companies.

This partnership raises some provocative questions regarding the role of scholars and the place of scholarship in the Uniting Church today. Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” A consequence of current relationships between the theological colleges of the Uniting Church and various Universities is the pressure for scholars to write in academic journals and “world-class” (read Western) publishing presses. Applying these standards, the “faithful and scholarly” role undertaken by Dewerse in Yarta Wandatha will not gain her any credit from the contemporary academic world.

At the same time, the Revised Preamble commits the Uniting Church to partnership with first peoples. The mutual authoring and assigning of copyright in Yarta Wandatha is surely an embodiment of the Revised Preamble. Returning to Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union, it is a work of scholarship that has indeed resulted in “fresh words and deeds.” The tension between being scholars faithful to church or academy is brought into stark relief by Yarta Wandatha.

In summary, while some might be tempted by a first glance at the length of, and the pictures in, Yarta Wandatha, to dismiss it as less than theological, a closer look, using Wesley’s Quadrilateral, reveals a unique, coherent and potentially transformative approach to theology: one that is ethically and eschatologically mature. This is most particularly evident in the application of reason and the framing of tradition as the stories of “yarta wandatatha,” a living in the memories. If this is one of the first fruits of the Revised Preamble, then the church in Australia is entering a rich and blessed season of theological scholarship.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, South Australia

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

transitions: sabbatical liturgy

A feature of academic life is the sabbatical. It involves time away from the rhythm of teaching. It clears space for research and professional development. It is like compost. Adding layers of material, that over time, can be added to gardens; that over time, slowly add structure, enhance water retention and provide nutrients. So a sabbatical provides layers, that over the next season of teaching, enrich and advance.

At Uniting College, faculty can apply for sabbatical after six semesters. I’ve been thinking for a while that we need some sort of team liturgy that marks the transition that is inevitable around sabbatical. This would help the person going and the people staying, providing a theological frame to a transition and underling values important to the organisation.

So last night I created a transition into sabbatical liturgy. Since the Uniting College is a Uniting Church College, it involved a mixing of Basis of Union and some Scripture (Psalm 42), along with the core values of UCLT. It’s new (and undoubtedly can be improved), but here is what it looks like. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:58 PM | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

a “working” holiday – run: write: relax: renovate

The last week has been “working” holiday. It’s been rich and intense. The week followed a daily pattern – Run. Write. Relax. Renovate. It’s a pattern I’d recommend.

In regard to renovate, we have some tasks that have to be completed before we can put the house up for sale. We brought a real do-up a few years back, and the return to New Zealand has placed a deadline on the project. So the week began with a to do list on the family white-board and away we went.

todolist

Over the week, we completed 7 of the 11 projects, and made significant progress on 10. The entire outside of the house is now painted. The laundry has a new ceiling, which is painted, along with the walls. A new set of front steps has been framed, cut and concreted. The rear side door has a fresh external coat. The front deck is scrubbed, cleaned and prepared for painting. There has been a really good sort of the garage and kitchen, with some stuff cleaned and packed ready to shift and other stuff taken to the Red Cross.

As well as the 11 tasks, there have also been lots of other tasks done along on the way – a new exterior barge board, stain on a small piece of inside skirting and a side garden built. There are still odd little tasks to do, but we think it’s time to call the agent and hold a “finishing party.”

In regard to write, I have some writing tasks that, like the house, also need to be completed. They include my research on sustainability and fresh expressions. I completed a set of interviews back in 2013. I’ve continued to write but the project remains unfinished. I enjoy writing, so I decided to use the “working” week to experiment with different approach, that of snack-writing. Snack writing involves writing little and often. The idea is that it is better to snack than binge, it is better to write little and often rather than seek big blocks of time.

Practically, snack writing involves trying to write five days a week, first thing in the morning, for no less than 45 minutes and never any more than two hours. The theory is that big blocks are virtually impossible to find in the pressures of contemporary academic world. Also, the brain writes better when it is asked to work little and often. You are more likely to be in a good flow by the end of two hours. That gives the brain something to chew on during the rest of the day. It also raises levels of motivation when you return the next morning as it is easier to return to something that your brain recalls as being in a sweet spot. Finally, a research project found that people who shifted from binge writing to snack writing increased in both quantity and quality. (They produced 2 more peer reviewed articles per year).

So I wrote each day, never for more than two hours. Over the week, I wrote 2,500 words, an average of 500 words a day. I made good progress on a significant chapter that I’ve been struggling with. By the end of the week, I felt I had an significant new section and an overall argument for that chapter. I also realised I had gained greater clarity on the entire project and a clearer, more defined argument has emerged. It had provided a way to ease back into what is currently 9 draft chapters written at various times over the last two years. The result is that I can now tell you in 150 words what the book is about, which is very good thing. For me, for the acquisitions editor and eventually for you, the reader :).

Hence the pattern of the “working” holiday week. Run to pray. Write to snack. Relax with coffee (at our local cafe 3 blocks away). Renovate to return (to New Zealand).

I’d not recommend it as a pattern for every week of my holiday. But it certainly helped me put aside my day job as a Principal. And it provided a lovely pattern that generated momentum and progress on a number of fronts.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

valuing empirical research in the study of fresh expressions

This is a section I wrote today, part of Part 3 of the Sustainability and fresh expressions book project

Third, the argument – as to the presence of both sect and mystic types – emerges from a study of one community. In so doing, the value of empirical research is evident. The experience of Matthew Guest, gained by the repetition inherent in ethnography, the repeated experiences of engaging Visions, generate the insights regarding the social boundaries, unseen but present. His interviews provide a depth of insight, probing the complexity of participant experience (Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation). Such data can only be generated by the fine-grained studies characteristic of qualitative research into the lived experience of being in community.

Yet every move toward such depth comes at the expense of breadth. It is an inevitable limitation. We gain insight into Visions, but are left needing to contrast with other comparable communities. This becomes possible by comparison with other empirical studies. The researchers might be different, but the data can be examined, probed for evidence of internal identity and the manner in which relationships with culture are being mediated. This returns us to my data presented earlier, the ten fresh expressions presented in Part 1.

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tomorrowland: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for July 2015, of Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland

Jesus told stories. The technical word is parable. The Kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed. What starts small will become a shelter for all. The Kingdom of heaven is like a net. It catches everything for final judgement.

The parables act as extended metaphors. They invite a new imagination and suggest a new attitude. Invest in small seeds, for from little things God’s big things grow. Act now your preferred future, because all actions will be caught up into God’s all embracing net.

Like all metaphors, when pushed too hard, they begin to break down under a literal gaze. What if the mustard seed died during drought or was dug up by the neighbours dog? If the net is cut by a glass bottle, won’t the fish escape? The reality is that metaphors are not maths equations. They are not meant for literalists. Rather, they function to change the hearer and how the hearer acts.

Tomorrowland performs a similar function. It is a metaphor, albiet extended for 130 minutes. To use the words of Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven is like a lapel pin. Touch it and you enter another world. The hearer needs to change. Act now, with hope, for climate change is not inevitable. Trust science and the optimism of the young, for they can save.

Tomorrowland moves between times. It is framed, start and finish, by the cynicism of Frank Walker (played by George Clooney) and the optimism of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), viewing a set of screens documenting global disaster. It is a visual and storified explanation of hermeneutics, two different standpoints viewing the same world.

The movie then interweaves two storylines. In New York in 1964, a young Frank Walker displays his scientific invention. In Florida, a teenage Casey Newton works to halt the decommissioning of a NASA scientific space exploration site.

Touching a lapel pen, she finds herself in a different world, that of “tomorrowland”. To save her world, she must convince a now old Frank Walker to act again in hope. Acting accolades go not to star George Clooney, but to Raffey Cassidy as Athena. Her wide-eyed stare makes her the perfect child robot. Aged 11, she carries much of the comedy that drives the middle section of the movie.

As with all metaphors, the plot suffers when a literal gaze is applied. Why are the robots chasing Casey not present in “tomorrowland”? How is the final scene possible, given all the characters appear in the same field that Casey had earlier experienced as limited by the confines of her Florida house?

Perhaps the animation genre of Ratatouille, The Simpsons and The Incredibles is still shaping the directorial work of Brad Bird. More likely, such questions miss the metaphor. Tomorrowland is an extended motivational speech encouraging action to halt climate change. It hits all the right notes. The future will be safe if optimistic, can-do, young females are willing to place their faith in science to save.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM

Saturday, July 04, 2015

a super semester

It’s been an exceptional first semester for Uniting College. This is a summary from an email I sent to the team this week:

I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your contributions over this Semester. On top of the regular demands of teaching, supervision, administration and student support, we’ve pulled off some very significant developments in our life as a College. I’d suggest it’s worth pausing, looking back and recalling what we have achieved over the last six months.

Team wise – We’ve welcomed five new folk – Tanya Wittwer (Postgraduate Coordinator), Danika Patselia (Big Year Out Coordinator), Denise Boyland (Principal’s PA maternity), Nadia Boscaini (Marketing Coordinator), Kerry Pierce (Lecturer Pastoral Care). Each have settled well and made important contributions to our life. We’ve been able to appreciate new personalities and worked in different ways to clarify our values, vision and establish new sets of working relationships as a team. We’ve stood with each other through some significant moments of sadness, stress and grief.

Student wise – We’ve seen our first English as a Second Language cohort begin our Certificate in Bible and Ministry. We’ve seen Big Year Out begin a second year, with an increased cohort, in both number and cultural diversity. In these two programmes are the seeds of a very different student profile – younger and far more multi-cultural. We’ve experienced what many felt was our best ever Walking on Country indigenous immersion experience. We’ve celebrated our most successful ACD graduate, including two Doctors in Ministry and our first ever cohort of Cert IV/Big Year Out Students. We’ve experienced our largest ever cohort of Bachelor Theology honours.

Blended education wise – Now into our third semester, we are looking more and more comfortable across our system with ACD Online and video-conferencing. The resourcing provided by Adam Jessep (Blended Education Design Coordinator) continues to serve us exceptionally well, in teaching and education development. This has included exciting progress on the VET Online project.

Development wise – We’ve successfully launched a Diploma of Ministry hub on the Gold Coast, with 17 students now studying with us through New Life College. This has required inducting new adjuncts, developing new relationships and systems of administration and accountability. We’ve put significant work into our Flinders University Department of Theology Review and in the process, found ways to re-imagine and re-dream what world-class theology programmes might look like. We’ve made significant strides in promotion, including an improved social media presence, the return of a regular email to stakeholders, improved brochures and a sharper, clearer look for ACD.

In short, it’s been an exceptional semester for us as a Uniting College. Thanks for all your work, commitment, creativity, energy and persistence. I’m grateful to you all for what you’ve contributed and I’m excited about what we are becoming.

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM

Friday, July 03, 2015

Why write?

Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.

bluemountains I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.

The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.

I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.

Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.

I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.

I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.

I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.

I stand.

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

innovation in teaching ANZATS paper

I presented my paper on innovation in teaching today at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Over the last 4 weeks I have written about 7,000 words of what is now a complete first draft of a journal article. So the task for today was to try and communicate the argument and main structure in the 25 minute time limit – of around 2,500 words.

I began by rifting of a prayer offered as the conference began:

Let us pray that students in theological education may be equipped for ministry and for life. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy
Let us pray that all teachers may be creative in facilitating student learning. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy

My research engages with these prayers. How do students perceive our “theological education”? What is the impact on students of our “creative facilitating student learning”?

There were a good number present and the questions were helpful.

  • What incentives did I build in to ensure students undertook pre-reading?
  • What were the workload implications, not just this year but in years to come?
  • Tell us about the class size and age profile? Does a larger class change the possibilities?
  • Was anything lost as a result of the processes?

These were expected questions. They focus more on the how. How do you teach in the flipped classroom? My paper focused mainly on the why and what? Why would you and what are the results? But the how questions are important, pertinent and natural for the audience – educators. The task now is to take the complete draft and seek a journal article. My sense is that the argument is sound, but that I need a bit more depth around the referencing and some sentence smashing – working paragraphs and words to ensure clarity.

But first, I need to complete a complete 6,000 word draft by 1 September for the Ecclesiology and ethnography conference, on activist research.

Posted by steve at 06:06 PM

Friday, June 26, 2015

Open days: recruitment or community building?

Adult learners face a number of barriers. A set of inner voice are shouting “It will be like school. The lecturers are scarey. You might look stupid. You’re been out of education too long.” It takes courage to enrol as an adult to learn.

Admiring rare books in library

On Tuesday, we offered an Open Day at Uniting College and on a cold, wet night, about 35 folk gathered to learn more about the College. There were short introductions by key people leading Uniting College, Adelaide College of Divinity, Flinders University and the Big Year Out. Pizza arrived. Short tours were offered – of the library, student common room, of a classroom in action including our online platform.

lecture

As I looked around, I was struck by the range of animated conversations as prospective students talked to lecturers. It occurred to me that as a result of Open Day, when these students arrive for the first day of lectures, they will know some people to whom they can stop and have a chat. They will know where the classroom is and where to get a coffee.

open day 2

They are already surrounded by a set of relationships. Thus the task of building a learning community does not start with the first lecture of the first class. It starts from before the first enquiry, and as the student steps through application.

What we were doing at Open day was not recruiting. It was community building, increasing the capacity of adult learners to participate in their own formation.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: The Faith Lives of Women and Girls

Book review: Done for Regents Review 6.2 (April 2015), Regent’s Park College, Oxford publication.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives, ed. Nichola Slee, Fran Porter, Anne Phillips. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013.

One way (for a male) to review a book on women by women is through a lens provided by a third woman. Drusilla Modjeska, in her study of the writings of Australian women describes the “enormous energy” required by women writers to maintain themselves intellectually and artistically (Exiles at home : Australian women writers 1925-1945 / Drusilla Modjeska, 15). She documents the essential role of one person, Nettie Palmer, in nourishing women writers and how her work as an editor created a supportive network in which women writers flourished.

It is a helpful frame by which to approach The Faith Lives of Women and Girls, edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips. Such an approach offers historical insight and encourages a respectful gratitude for their essential and nourishing role as editors and initiators of a supportive network in which research on female faith might flourish.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls is part of Ashgate’s Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology series. It consists of 19 chapters, all written by woman, all emerging from practical theology. Each chapter offers original qualitative research on the faith lives of women and girls, drawing on a range of approaches, including ethnography, oral history, action research, interview and case studies.
This alone makes the volume worthwhile. Reading as a minister, I found myself reflecting on my pastoral and ministerial practice. Anne Phillips chapter (God Talk/Girl Talk) offered new preaching resources, while Kim Wasey’s chapter (Being in Communion) challenged my hopes regarding the impact of women presiding at the Eucharist.

The book raised what seems a perennial question in practical theology, concerning the relationship between sociology and theology. Some chapters felt more sociological and descriptive than theological. Other chapters, like Fran Porter’s work on Irish women’s understanding of God (“The ‘In-the-middle’ God: Women, Conflict and Power in Northern Ireland) offer rich theological insights (including for my Easter preaching at a youth camp).
The quality of research and reflection did vary across the volume. This is perhaps inevitable in a volume that includes both experienced researchers and post-graduate students.

Studies of between six to ten women, as in Jennifer Hurd’s chapter on understandings of death (“The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care) or Francesca Rhys’s unpacking of ordinary Christologies (Understanding Jesus Christ), raise questions about the place of sampling and representation in qualitative research.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls lacked an overarching theme. The introduction suggested a distinct discipline. However the absence of a concluding chapter that synthesised a theme (or themes) raised questions concerning what makes feminist practical theology a distinct discipline. Is it anything that studies women? Is it, given that all 19 contributors are women, something done only by women? Or is it that 19 fine grained studies might, with the ongoing encouragement of contemporary Nettie Palmers, be the grit around which a pearl of great price, research resulting from the lived experience of women and girls, begins to develop?

I suggest the latter and look forward to reading further work from those who contributed to this important and ground breaking volume.

For application to fresh expressions see here.

Posted by steve at 07:16 PM

Monday, June 22, 2015

lightbulbs and 10 year olds: innovation and communication.

I was shown this image on Friday. It was suggested as a summary of some group work that I was a part of.

lightbulb1

A lightbulb has gone off. An important and significant discovery has been made. But that is not enough. We need to think about how to communicate that lightbulb moment.

In this image, this means getting down the ladder and going across to the watching child. We need to ask ourselves “How would we tell a 10 year old?” This is an important communication exercise, in which seek to clarify our ideas by asking how we communicate this light bulb moment to a 10 year old.

There is that old joke. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is meant to be one.

But how realistic is that? It is hard for one person to do, most especially for the person closest to the lightbulb. It is their idea and its natural to be blinded by the brilliance.

So in this image, and in the work on Friday, a number of us were working together. Some were offering creativity, others listening ears, others structuring and framing. It adds an interesting perspective on the task of innovation. It is not enough to have a bright idea. There is another whole piece around communication and collaboration of that idea. Innovation must be shared. It might begin with one, but there are many gifts involved in this process.

Who is the leader in this description? Is it the one person who has had the “lightbulb” moment? Is it the child, who is providing an essential role in helping clarify? Is it the people around, encouraging, listening, reframing?

In reality each person is performing an essential role. Each person is offering leadership. Because it does take many people to change a lightbulb.

Posted by steve at 08:12 AM

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow

This week I’ve been teaching an intensive, Mission and the church.  It has been an exhausting week  – intensives by their very nature are demanding.  At the same time, it has been a very fulfilling week. Nearly half the class was from inter-state and it was a joy to be resourcing the church nationally.  All of the class had significant ministry experience and thus it became not an exploration of theories for when people might move into ministry, but an intensely practical examination of what could be done now, in living communities. It is a privilege to opens a space and keeps alive a conversation about mission.

My intention is that the conversation is

  • hopeful – in the midst of church decline and structures that stifle, to keep providing ways to subvert and maintain
  • storified – if God is going ahead of us, if missio Dei is for real, then alongside theory of mission needs to be stories of God’s activity and action
  • contextual – theory and stories need to be told in ways that allow people to contextually adapt and innovate, not photocopy. Never once did I hear “oh, we couldn’t do that,” which is a sure sign that contextual has been lost from a teaching context
  • creative – whole church, with our whole bodies, embodying the Gospel, needs to be modelled in the course delivery. All these senses need to be engaged, not just the ears and eyes
  • evidence-based – stories of God’s activity are the evidence from which we discern mission. Three of the 8 sections featured post-graduate research which was studying  stories, in order to discern. So time and again we found ourselves immersed in learnings from people coming to faith, communities exploring innovation 10 years on, churches planting community ministries.

The feedback has been enormously positive.

An email:

Thank you again for a great short course on mission, and the church’s place in it. It has given me, and my congregations, much inspiration to live and work to do, and enjoy.

A final comment.

“I’ve gained a freedom to pursue, not a formula to follow.”

As always, I gain as much as I give in these conversations. On Thursday, as I shared some of my research of sustainability and fresh expressions (2 of the 8 chapters I’ve drafted), I found new insights emerging. It is a project I’m struggling to nail, unsure how to tell the story. As the class questions rained down upon me, I found myself making some fresh connections (and kicking myself that I’d forgot to record this section). All an important part of my own processing and clarifying.

Posted by steve at 09:07 AM