Monday, October 29, 2007

david beckham and a faith amid celebrity culture

These are notes to guide a recent radio spot, reflecting on what it means to be Christian in today’s celebrity culture.

Good morning listeners. According to the radio yesterday, David Beckham was a sell-out.

David Beckham is that English soccer guy, now living in Hollywood. And his soccer team, LA Galaxy are going to play an Aussie soccer team, Sydney FC and then a few days later, a Kiwi team, the Phoenix.

Tickets for the Aussie soccer game had gone on sale this week and tickets were sold out. Within a week. Sold out. 83,000 people, selling out $100 a ticket, to see David Beckham.

Now these are not football fans. Nor are these homesick Englishman, desperate for a win after losing the rugby World Cup.

Most of these 83,000 people are paying 100 bucks to see “brand Beckham.” Not a footballer. But a celebrity. Famous for his fashion sense and hair style, famous for his marriage to pop star Posh Spice.

A friend of mine, Scottish Baptist pastor, John Drane, has recently written a book titled Celebrity Culture. How do Christians live in our celebrity world? What is a radio viewpoint when Beckham sells out?

My friend, John Drane, argues that our celebrity culture is actually a fantastic window for Christians and the gospel. But only if we’ll step outside our narrow Christian boxes. Why?

Well firstly, because celebrities, like David Beckham, remind us that in our world today, truth is now relational and personal. We buy tickets to Telstra stadium not because thousands of people are interested in the game of soccer, but because of the life and times of a person, brand Beckham.

Which is surely what Jesus was meaning when the said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That we find truth through the life and times of a personal relationship with God.

So Christianity needs to move away from abstract waffly ideas about God, and get back to the truth of meeting a person, up-close and personal, called Jesus. And that we as Christians need to get better and more confident about being up-close and personal, talking about our relationship with a person called Jesus.

And secondly, and related, we Christians need to get more honest. It’s time for us stop trying to be holier than thou, goody 2 shoes.

Which is why I love the Bible. I do’’t find holier than thou, goody 2 shoes when I read Peter or the prophets or David. I find real people, struggling with doubt and fear and tough decisions and in livingn in messy human relationships.

Which is fascinating when we consider that at the heart of our celebrity culture, people are just like that. We love it when our celebrities become human, real people just like us. So we’re in this culture that allows celebrities to be honest.

Which we need to do as Christians. Because it’s for honest people, struggling but still seeking Jesus, upclose and personal, as the way, the truth and the life. That’s my viewpoint.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Sunday, October 28, 2007

God the furniture restorer

Which for me becomes an image of what God’s like. God is in the recycling and restoration business. God never starts fresh, with a blank slate. Because people just aren’t like that. In reality, all people are damaged by years of sin and misery and self-harm. And God never says to human beings, “Stuff it. You’re useless. I’m going to destroy you and start again.”

Instead God recycles and restores. Walks the demolition yards of our city every day. Takes what looks less than perfect, like junk, from the demolition yard. Strips it back. Finds the grain. Works it creatively. God the restorer and recycler.

This was a bit from my Sunday sermon, on the prophet Micah. Those interested in these images of God might also want to engage with a reflection I did on God the hairdresser.

Posted by steve at 01:15 PM

Saturday, October 27, 2007

phd interview

“I was tired of reading abstract surveys of cultural change followed by a few generalised comments. I wanted to explore what was actually happening on the ground, with people…”

I was interviewed recently for about my PhD; titled “A Case Study Approach to Cityside Baptist Church as Christian Faith “making do” in a Postmodern World. You can read the whole interview here. (And I still have not got around to a 2nd print run, so if anyone wants to buy a copy of the PhD, leave a comment here.)

What is absolutely unbelievable is that they have written that I come from the USA, despite the fact that I talk in the interview about living in New Zealand. Oh well, just goes to show I guess that the emerging church really is born in the USA.

Posted by steve at 10:30 PM

Friday, October 26, 2007

for sale: is their a kingdom in the housing market?

We’re in the process of buying and selling houses. We will make money on the properties we sell, because the property market has risen. We will need to put more money into a new house, because the market has risen. In other words, we’re making a good looking paper profit, which needs to be set alongside our mortgage commitments which will stay the same.

forsale.jpg I am interested in what blog readers have done, or heard done, in terms of applying the Kingdom to sale and purchase of real estate. (And I’d most like to hear from people who have been in a similar situation, as I am a bit tired of armchair theoreticians at the moment.)

Do we give some of the paper profit to God? And in doing so potentially increase our mortgage?

Posted by steve at 11:47 AM

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

digital ethnography and 19th century church

“… the basic idea is to create a 3 minute video highlighting the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime” (from here).

I watch this as an educator and as a preacher. I am struck by the use of digital technologies, by the busyness of students and their ability to multi-task, by their awareness of a changing and broken global world.

I see the rows of seats, a 19th century technology, and I wonder what this snapshot of how students learn today might mean for me this Sunday:
– put all the resources I used in preparation on-line with space for interactivity
– work on ways to encourage multi-tasking during our time together
– have capacity to take email questions as I talk
– invite people to summarise on-line what they heard

(I see Grow as being part of it, and I have already created a website)

What would work against this happening:
– the expectations that I, the preacher, feed people and that I feed them something new and different each week.
– a theology that sees the Bible as special, as above and beyond how people learn, and so uses words like “annointing” to legitimate 19th century practices
– the time that it would take for me to put resources on-line
– the related copyright issues
– the effort that is required from individuals to shift from passivity and inertia to participation
– momentum breeds momentum ie the more people that participated and interacted with me, the better this would go. But in reality, this could be one more thing to add to an already busy schedule for people.

Posted by steve at 10:55 AM

Monday, October 22, 2007

recent film reviews

Here are a bunch of film reviews I’ve done in the last few months. The deal is that I write them for a monthly newspaper and they generously allow me to publish them on-blog at a later date. I try to do a mix of family films, arthouse, New Zealand films and populist and to engage each film firstly on it’s merits as a film, and secondly to offer some gospel connections. It’s a demanding discipline, but well-worth it because it keeps me gospel-thoughtful and culture-facing.

So here is Amazing Grace a probing of the life of William Wilberforce on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery; Eagle vs Shark a New Zealand comedy; Mr Bean’s Holiday a second attempt at turning TV comedy into cinema-tainment ; Shrek 3 a family movie in the Pixar animation stable; Once a wonderful film about migration and contemporary relationships, set in Dublin.

My other film reviews over the years have included:


Posted by steve at 09:19 PM

Friday, October 19, 2007

so what should a pastor be doing?

What should a pastor be doing with their time? It was a question I asked myself on Wednesday. It was evening and the church carpark was full.

Side door is one of our 5 congregations and they were at worship. They have brought a whole lot of plates and were going to throw them at the cross as a way of exploring the place of anger in Christian faith. Is that where a pastor should be?

In the foyer a block course was starting. How to read the Old Testament for all it’s worth will spend 7 weeks exploring tools to read the Bible better. Advertised across our 5 congregations, this is most likely to appeal to Sunday morning where we are doing the Old Testament minor prophets. Is that where a pastor should be?

Across the road the youth group are meeting. Most of the youth group are local community kids from unchurched families and they’re just back from a weekend camp. I have organised for them all to be getting prayer postcards from our Sunday morning congregation, who had prayed the pastoral prayer on Sunday by hand writing prayers for every person who went on camp. Is that where a pastor should be?

At a nearby home, a group are gathering to start the planning for a church camp in February 2008. Is that where a pastor should be?

Well, I’m the pastor and I’m at none of these. I’m in my office doing pre-marriage preparation with a couple. Not regular Opawa church goers, I’ve built a good relationships with the family and so have been asked to marry them. So that’s where the pastor is. Is that what a pastor should be doing? What sort of message is my absence sending to each of the other activities?

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM

Thursday, October 18, 2007

why my filing system makes me a truly valuable employee

My desk tends to end up covered in piles of paper. While these are, IMHO, filed in order, known best to myself, the outsider could be mistaken in suggesting a slightly disorganised life.

In July, one of my employers offered me an inflation adjusted payrise. I was informed of this by letter, and invited to accept this generous offer by signing and returning the said paperwork. Apparently the letter informed me that upon reciept of my signature, the pay rise would be implemented.

Such a piece of paper seemed a minor detail at the time, as I was just back from a 3 week teaching journey, and there were things like family and church and lecturing to attend to. The letter was duly filed in the “to action pile”. During the next weeks (OK, months actually), other things have occupied my attention. Important things IMHO, like family and church and lecturing.

Needless to say that my excellent filing system has served me well, as more and more paper has been quietly filed in my “to action pile.”

Today a window of time allows me to attend to this pile. To my delight, my filing system has worked and the said bit of paper has been recovered, signed and sent.

Some might consider this filing system evidence of a disorganised mind. But the perceptive will merely note that the paper was always safely filed. Further, it was able to be retrieved when needed, which is surely the test of any filing system. Thirdly, my filing system has saved the employer nearly 4.5 months of a pay increase. Surely this should enable me to win the “truly valuable employee” of the year award.

(But please God, may I not have to sign for this award before receiving it, Amen).

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

communitas and mission revisited: updated

Way back in the day (well, November 2005), I posted, questioning the application of communitas to mission.

I think applying communitas to the emerging church will only serve to keep us in our juvenile adolesence. Isn’t it time the emerging church got beyond it’s adolesence and got on with the task of mature Christian discipleship and living.

I was deliberately being a bit provocative, but wanting to raise some questions about what seemed to me to be a pretty shallow reading of the literature. What followed in the comments was a good conversation between Ben Edson and myself, which I appreciated and which forced me to keep thinking.

So I’m fascinated to see Ben post on the subject again recently:

As the years progress I’m getting less convinced of the missiological significance of communitas, i think that is maybe as ineffective as short term mission, and that the focus should be more on aggregation than communitas. For the whole post go here

Ben notes how communitas can be dualised and glamorised and in reality is an abnormal occurrence that only has value as it is integrated back into everyday rhythms. Which sounds to me like my original plea for discipleship and mature living.

I think there are also deeper issues at work here; including does God through evolution or revolution and the need to value a spirituality of the ordinary and everyday.

Just dug out some reading notes from my PhD (yes, yet another example of my legendary filing system!) In Turner, “The Centre out There: Pilgrim’s Goal.” History of Religions 12 (1973): 191-230, the notion of communitas and liminality are applied to contemporary pilgrimage. Turner argues that in our “age of aquarius” pilgrimage is booming. He analyses it as separation; into a margin, liminal, space in which “communitas” in exhibited. Upon return re-aggregation occurs.

In M.J. Sallnow, “Communitas Reconsidered: The Sociology of Andean Pilgrimage.” Man 16 (1981): 163-182, Turner’s notion of pilgrimage as an example of “communitas” is critiqued. Participation in pilgrimage is a short term and loosely structured grouping. Clear distinctions between groups remain and the intensity of communitas was never visible. “From a sociological viewpoint, then, group pilgrimage in the Andes is a complex mosaic of egalitarianism, nepotism and factionalism, of brotherhood, competition and conflict … Indeed, it would be more appropriate in such circumstances to see community, not communitas, as the hallmark of pilgrimage.” (176, 177).

Further reading:
For more of my writing on communitas, liminality and the emerging church, excerpts from my PhD are here.

Posted by steve at 08:54 PM

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

doodling around church as songs and sermon

Today I was doodling with what is now traditional church worship:
fast songs
slow songs
altar call
go home

I was messing around with what I am calling “Grow”: wondering about creating a template that would allow the use of whole variety of ways to learn and engage, working across age ranges; maintaining singing and sermon, adding in food, all together with the aim of growing people through a range of ways to participate. I tend to think through my keyboard, so here is what I typed. (Note that I used a theme to try to keep my doodling grounded, and that theme was “gardening” ie we are like plants. We need to be planted, weeded, watered.)

Welcome and introduction

Video clip (3 mins): humous gardening incidents movie clip

Gathering (4 mins): Plant our names in hanging basket at centre, using track Grow from latest Salmonella Dub album Heal me.

Prayer for growth.

Visual presentation (5 mins): History of gardens through time via here.

7 min interview of a gardener.

10 ten: 10 best/worst gardens in our community.

Sermon on Bible text (12 mins): Possible themes could include Garden of Eden as ideal place to be planted; garden images in Bible; Garden of Resurrection; Garden of Revelation.

What do we learn about gardening for our Christian life? Brainstorm in groups onto A3 sheets. Add to Grow website during week.

Video meditation loop: growth of plant; leading into response

Activity: Come forward to chose your plant to take care of during week and then name your plant on planter stick. During this activity: background music, either DJ or sung

Notices and offering


I sort of liked it. It seemed to me to offer lots of ways to learn and engage. I could see bits of the service being picked up by other people, thus increasing the sense of ownership. It felt accessible at a range of levels.

I began to wonder what it might “grow” into 🙂

Posted by steve at 10:15 PM

Sunday, October 14, 2007

hamilton missional coaching

Saturday was the kick-off of a year long missional church coaching initiative I am running at the invitation of the Anglican Diocese of Waikato. I flew up on Friday evening (staying with a fine host) and back on Saturday afternoon.

12 attendees plus 3 apologies equals a group of 15, which for me is the ideal size. A mix of three denominations, which will add richness to the room. People are driving over 3 hours from places like New Plymouth, Taupo and Tauranga. We will be meeting monthly face to face around the following topics:

missional theology
missional leadership
reading local narratives
finding God in the Other
discerning the Kingdom
change processes
missional worship
missional imaginations
missional church

with learning enhanced by on-line interaction and grounded assignments, as all participants are required to present case studies of their listening around the tables of their community and their imaginings of a missional project.

The venue is great: St Francis Cooperating Parish. We are meeting in a room with full length windows which look out onto a public thoroughfare. For a class focused around the belief that God is present in the stories, it is so apt to have people continually walking past.

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM

Friday, October 12, 2007

pastoral appointments and scholarship opportunity

This was one of the outcomes of our church meeting last nite

Opawa Baptist Church is a multi-congregational church situated in Christchurch. We are committed to mission into our local and wider community, as well as to holistic growth in our personal lives.

We are seeking expressions of interest for two new staff positions, starting late 2007/early 2008:

Mission Resourcing Pastor (1.5 days per week)
Support and enhance our current mission initiatives; ask “mission” questions of all we do, and “next step” questions of our mission programmes; work with lay people to establish additional mission initiatives; equip lay people to be missionally engaged in their workplaces and support the establishment of new congregations reaching different people.

Discipling Pastor (1.5-2 days per week)
We want someone to help us grow people by providing next steps for discipleship in all faith stages. This will include resourcing and enhancing existing activities including assimilation, pastoral care, spiritual growth, small groups, growth coaching, training, baptism and membership classes.

Missional church scholarship
Opawa Baptist Church is a multi-congregational church situated in Christchurch. We are committed to mission into our local and wider community, as well as to holistic growth in our personal lives. We want to continue to resource this direction of our church mission and so are offering a full fees scholarship in 2008 to a student training in a three year ministry degree program. We are seeking a person with a sense of call to ministry and a passion to express this call in pioneering mission in Western culture.

In exchange, you will use your fieldwork to participate in our church life and internship programme as part of a congregational planting team. This scholarship is awarded annually but can be awarded to the same applicant for a period of up to 3 years.

Expressions of interest to Rev Dr Steve Taylor, steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz

Posted by steve at 01:32 PM

Thursday, October 11, 2007

onramps and fastlanes

Missional and emerging church is so much more than candles and coffee. It’s a conversation about participating in God’s Kingdom come on earth today. Our world is changing and in this changing world it is tempting to seek certainty in our historic understandings and in our charismatic leaders.

Luke 10 offers us a different type of seeking. It reminds us that God is active in our world, in the tables and cafes of our culture. It tells the story of a sending God who invites us to seek God’s future in the ordinary and everyday. It is an affirmation that 70 no-name disciples were trusted with God’s missionary purposes. It is an anticipation that as we accept the hospitality of the stranger, God’s healing and redemptive purposes can be discerned.


Since much of this is counter-intuitive and requires new patterns and practice, we need onramps, ways for people to enter into the conversation. We’ve got a few onramps for white boy ministers with their tech toys. We’ve got a few onramps in the forms of books and academic courses. But the onramps are few and the harvest is plentiful and more construction is needed.

fastlane.jpg Alongside onramps we continue to need fastlanes; places where those already in the conversation, those immersed in the mess of table fellowship, can talk and gripe and dream and plan. Last week’s Masters class teaching in Auckland was for me, a fastlane, in which taking the time to do a case study of an emerging church then allowed us to talk much about mission, theology and discipleship.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

a flying visit

It felt wierd to be flying in, and out, of Auckland all in one day. Wonderfully hosted by David Jeans, the Head of St Johns, who I discovered has a very sharp missional brain.

I spoke for 90 minutes to the students training for Anglican ministry at St Johns. (Big shout out to Spanky Moore who tag teamed with me and was great). There was then an open lunch, and informal interaction with staff and students about mission, worship, denominations. Then an hour with David, as I have some schemes hatching that I wanted to run past him (more details might follow in the months to come), and we also talked about me being back at St Johns for 3 days in February 2008, to give a longer and more extended kick of the missional tires of contemporary models of mission including emerging church and licensed shared ministry.

The best bit was renewing acquaintances with people like the librarians, Jacky Sewell, Andrew McDonald, and clergy conference participants that were at Auckland and Waikato.

Then back to Christchurch to do some growth coaching and pre-marriage counselling with a local couple from the community. (I note my need to mention this because someone said I sounded more like a manager than a pastor and I got defensive :)).

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM