Tuesday, September 30, 2008

calling aussies regarding family faith formation

I met someone today who wants to grow in the area of ordinary congregations exploring spiritual formation across generations. They don’t have many kids, but they don’t want to send those they have got out of the building. They want to experiment with providing ways for families – young and youth – to grow together.

And he wanted to know if he was alone. Are there any Aussie churches exploring this, trying experiments, having a go?

Posted by steve at 08:44 PM

Monday, September 29, 2008

sabbatical update 5

Monday morning update

the weekend that was: food and friends – trips to Willunga market and to a local winery. Social catching up with two of the lecturers at Parkin-Wesley. Refreshing.

where i am at the moment: Photo0014.jpg

Tabor College – teaching a class on Living the Bible in a contemporary context with about 22 students. I normally teach this class as a 1 week block course somewhere overseas once a year. The last few years it has been Fuller. This year it is Tabor. Their campus is beautiful – in an old orphanage in a lovely established part of town. The local cafes are great, the technical support has been excellent and I am anticipating an excellent week.

on my to-do list this week: teaching this course well.

procrastinating about: (still) some emails in my inbox. I’m on sabbatical, but they keep rolling in …

next trip: still trying to con friends into houseboating on the Murray River with us. Just about given up.

how i’m feeling about this week: energised and refreshed. I am halfway through my time here and as I jogged this morning, I gave thanks to God for the way that simple things, like no evening meetings, and 2 day weekends, and time with my kids, have started to recharge my soul.

Posted by steve at 05:11 PM

Friday, September 26, 2008

why i’m emergentkiwi (still)

In 1994 my wife and I began church planting. We moved into a suburb, called Ellerslie. She joined the netball team and I began washing our clothes at the local laudromat, building relationships, practising Incarnation. Demographics told us it had a predominance of young adults, which resonnated with our age as church planters and our listening to our friends. We had friends who had faith, and who were finding faith, but outside the church. These friends valued relationships and participation and they wanted a faith that made sense of all of their lives and all of their persons. We began to talk about shared values of community, and creativity and about overcoming the sacred/secular divide and a community of Jesus followers began to form.

We felt very lonely. We suffered a lot of antagonism and disdain from some (not all) older Christians. (We were probably also aggressive and insecure in our response and that made it worse!)

Then we find some travelling companions. And this is really important. We found some travelling companions, they did not found us. Initially we found the alt.worship movement in UK. Then we found the Young Leaders Network, and tallskinnykiwi. And then we found Emergent in US. These were friends who were asking similar questions, about faith and mission in our time.

And so my blog is called emergentkiwi. In honour of finding some friends and about a shared conversation.

But the antagonism continued. And now the US antagonism was polluting New Zealand waters. (And perhaps the US emergents were also a bit aggressive and insecure and made it worse, but that’s up to them to own that). And the shared global conversation became dominated by a US brand. Happens all the time, with all forms of pop culture.

At the time I was doing my PHD study, on new forms of church and mission and discipleship. It became my book The Out of Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of faith in a culture of change. (Yep – sold as part of the US brand :)) And I was reflecting more theologically and intentionally on what was going on.

And I was being invited to speak about the emerging church. And I kept getting all tangled up. What was it? Could I define it? And when I did, did that make my listeners in? or out? And what did I think of McLaren?

And all the time I am thinking – this is not where I began. I did not begin with definitions. I began in a local community with a desire to connect people with Jesus. And so I stopped defining and tried naming those impulses. I would start with Acts 2. At Pentecost, people from many nations began to hear in their own language. That is the missionary work of God’s Spirit. So when my friends stopped hearing God in their own language, then our church planting was simply a reflection (good and bad) of the missionary work of the Spirit.

And I would show the fabulous emerging church cartoon by David Walker. And we could all laugh at the emerging church – and then to realise that this was simply some people “hearing God in their own language.” Which then gave space for every participant to think not about definitions of in and out, but about their group, their context, their culture and begin to wonder what it would mean for people to hear “in their own language.” And so I did not have to defend the emerging church and participants did not have to compare themselves to the emerging church, but only to think about their own context.

And then I would turn to Luke 10:1-12

It starts with prayer and sending. And so we need established churches to send people. And so the attractional vs incarnational dualities were sidestepped.

A text that invites disciples to go and speak peace. That’s the first response of missionaries to culture, to go and speak peace. So we don’t need to be afraid of the big bad wolf called postmodernity. So let’s go, to our networks and neighbours, outside the walls of a church and start by speaking peace.

Luke 10 then calls disciples to dwell at the tables of culture. So we should be happy to listen, well and deeply, to the narratives and dreams and hopes and aspirations of tables. So we need to do cultural exegesis – well and thoroughly, not poorly and lightly – as part of the missionary encounter.

Luke 10 then suggests that in the grace of God, healing might happen and Kingdom conversation might begin and faith community might begin to form. It will be bottom up, and particular and localised (although it will be able to share stories of healing and shared Kingdom values between localised communities). And so emerging church is one such attempt. And emergentKiwi will be local and US Emergent will be particular and alt.worship will be unique and Forge will speak in Australian. And we should be able to share stories of healing and Kingdom talk. And participants listening don’t need to become like me, or like McLaren or like Alan Hirsch or Cheryl Lawrie. Rather they need to look for God’s works of healing in their our context. It also means that WillowCreek is also a form of particular healing. And so it’s not about small church or large church, PAL or NTSC, singing or video loops, PC or Mac, but about the grace of God forming local bodies of Christ.

And Luke 10 invites us both to speak peace and to shake dust of our feet. And so there are times when emerging will be critical of postmodernity. We are not marrying the spirit of the age. We are deeply concerned about the sin of consumerism and we love the story of Jesus and we are angry at practices that damage God’s earth. But we will do that from a position of Incarnation, following Jesus who loved the world and did not come to condemn, but to save.

And now, when groups gather with me around Acts 2 and Luke 10, the conversation is suddenly no longer about definitions and about in and out. Instead it is around mission and change and the Kingdom of God. And for the last few years I have loved being part of this and worked with all sorts of denominations and in a good number of countries.

And now some of my friends are walking away from the label emerging. And the www, which helped carry the conversation, is now carrying the demise. And lots of people love it and will work very hard to spread the news. And frankly, this will make some conversations even more antagonistic. When I go to speak, someone will put up their hand and so “Oh, but I hear emerging is dying.”

And I will look at them and part of me will want to cry. How could my efforts to be part of God’s work, born for such a time as this, now be called dead.

And part of me will want to hit over the head all the people who have stirred and misrepresented and fought over labels and words and used the web to spread disinformation and increase their blog ratings.

And part of me will smile. What will they call the next thing, I wonder?

And I will respond to the question by suggesting we turn to Acts 2 and Luke 10. I will suggest we stop worrying about what we call these “new forms of church.” Instead we think about what it means for us to be obedient to the mission of God, because we are born “for such a time as this.”

Which, actually, is a much scarier conversation, because labels keep us academic and intellectual. But mission invites us to follow Jesus into God’s world, like lambs among wolves, taking nothing but our faith in the active, missionary Spirit.

Posted by steve at 12:59 PM

Thursday, September 25, 2008

missional imagination resouces

Some of the resources I used yesterday; speaking on “leading in a post-Christian era” with Churches of Christ, South Australia:

These books; ONE – Picturing Christian Witness by Stanley Skreslet: and

TWO – Do Christians know how to be Spiritual? by John Drane:

THREE clips from this video of church on the move;

FOURthis video of missional imagination;

Benched from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 02:08 PM

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

sabbatical update 4

Monday morning update (on a Tuesday)

the weekend that was: a 4 day trip to the outback – lotsa driving, lotsa walking, lotsa gazing in awe at big rocks in dry places, sleeping under stars, singing dingos and camel rides for the kids.

where i am at the moment: Parkin-Wesley with ears blocked. The C in Parkin Wesley is now for Construction, not for College. Office renovations are under way. Do I stay – with internet and security – or do I go to a cafe?

on my to-do list this week: speaking to Churches of Christ leaders here in South Australia on Wednesday. I have spoken twice to Churches of Christ in Victoria/Tasmania, so should be an interesting day.

procrastinating about: some emails in my inbox. I’m on sabbatical, but they keep rolling in …

book i’m in the midst of: Lollipop shoes by Joanna Harris. (A followup to the famous book/movie Chocolat).

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: Prefab Sprout – Adromada Heights, track 4 – Life’s a Miracle, a funeral request in honour of the life of blog-friend Tom Allen

next trip: trying to con friends into houseboating on the Murray River with us. trying ….

how i’m feeling about this week: tired – all these weekends touristing! great experiences, tired bodies.

Posted by steve at 05:07 PM

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Creating a Culture of Adaptive, Innovative Missional Engagement in local congregations

Here is what I am doing with the Churches of Christ (South Australia) next week.

My brief is to help their ministers and key congregational leaders understand how they can liberate the missional imagination of their congregations and then to harness that in applied mission initiatives. Their five year goal as a denomination is to: Create a Culture of Adaptive, Innovative Missional Engagement in local congregations, “and anything you can offer which would add value to this would be appreciated.”

Here is where I am heading:

Session 1: Biblical frameworks for mission today. Placing Luke 10:1-12 in the life of a local congregation.

Session 2: Leading in mission. Placing Saint Brendan in the middle of contemporary leadership styles. Implications for local church and local mission.

Session 3: Ministry as listening and naming the Kingdom. Our world today, adaptive vs technical change. More of the Opawa Baptist story including multi-congregational approach and using Bible in community.

Evening Session (open to all): Leading through change. Some personal reflections on the challenges and opportunity of leading an established church through significant periods of change.

Wednesday, September 23, all day and evening, Happy Valley Church of Christ. Note that the evening is a stand alone session open to anyone.

Posted by steve at 09:35 PM

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

thoughtful reflection on missional church

A thoughtful reflection by Mark Sayers on the missiology of missional church here.

1. Failed to define what is meant by “attractional”

2. Failed to define what is meant by “incarnational”

3. Being overly defined by a reaction to mass/popular culture

4. Failing to understand “low fuel tank faith”

5. Being wed to Gen-X culture.

I have tried to say similar things about attractional and incarnational here and here and here (but less well than Mark).

I’d personally want to say more about mass/popular culture and low fuel tank faith. Regarding, mass/popular culture, I think there is a quest for “chic and cool” which bugs a lot of alt.worship stuff, a sort of snobbery of mass culture that has made it elitist. At the same time, there is a tension here, because if most innovation comes from innovators, then they are likely to live among the chic and cool.

Regarding low fuel tank faith, this is where we need to work out our theology and images of mission. A lot of work went into this, for me, after we planted Graceway. It was the desire to find ways to reenchant people’s passion for spirituality and mission that lay behind my Out of bounds church? book.

In terms of the worldwide emerging church movement I would add;

6. We have failed to honour our parents. We have been too quick to slag off at established church. Yet all the time they are funding our mission (ie paying salaries) and have given us faith and life. So a lot of my time in recent years has been the move to Opawa and the working with established denominations, because theologically, surely God can work anywhere, inside and outside the church.

In New Zealand I would add;
7. We have failed to develop relationships with minority cultures. We have not taken justice and relationship building seriously enough and so we remain too white and Western and male.

Posted by steve at 12:25 PM

Monday, September 15, 2008

sabbatical update 3

Monday morning update

the weekend that was: we skipped down to Victor Harbor and had a lovely walk around Granite Island. we found a pub showing the rugby and fought to keep just 1 of the 4 TV’s focused on international sport (rugby) rather than inter-state sport (AFL). on Sunday we had a magical 6 hour cruise of the mouth of the Murray and then up the Coorong National Park, with fascinating insights into the Aboriginal ability to survive.

where i am at the moment: Parkin-Wesley, listening to the wind roaring outside as a gale howls through Adelaide. I was at the beach cafe journalling this morning and it was so impressive, these huge lumpy waves bearing down.

on my to-do list this week: writing. i am making good progress on the missional church leadership book. i also hope to get some feedback from the publishers this week, after sending them the initial, framing, chapter and a revamped chapter summary.

procrastinating about: I have been asked by Semiea journal to write a piece on the Bible in Brotown. Abstract needs to be done this week.

book i’m in the midst of: John Grisham, The Innocent Man. Disturbing non-fictional take into a dysfunctional US legal system.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: nothing really.

next trip: Uluru! The pennies have been saved and a long weekend is planned, to absorb one of the wonders of the world. We leave Thursday and return Sunday.

how i’m feeling about this week: Upbeat – about the rugby and the league, about the fabulous family memories we are creating, about the mental stimulation from the Tabor seminar and about the gift of space to write ie clarify some thoughts.

Posted by steve at 01:27 PM

Friday, September 12, 2008

redeeming consumer culture

Can consumerism be redeemed by Incarnation?

I hear lots of Christains railing against consumer culture, about how bad it is, about how the megachurch is a sellout to it.

I listen from a gospel/culture perspective. No culture is solely good. Nor is culture solely bad. All cultures are both and all cultures are open for redemption.

A quote from Eugene Rogers: “Culture” introduces multiple ambiguities … [it] …. can be unfallen, fallen, redeemed; essential or constructed; individual or corporate. …. Mobile as water, [culture] is not static, but dynamic. A creature of the Spirit, it is to grow … Christian culture-narratives require a dynamic and differentiated account. (After the body, page 149)

The question is how? How did Jesus redeem? Well in the Incarnation, he entered the world. Some things he embraced. Other things he shook the dust of his feet. But his starting point was entering. Doesn’t this give a missional impluse to how we approach consumerism? Rather than finger pointing, we affirm that it can only be redeemed as we Incarnate ourselves within it.

I’m off to shop. Incarnationally.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2008

updated: The broadband Bible. A living text for I or we?

update: The seminar went well. About 30 in the room and some excellent interaction. I got a bit polemical at the end, but hey, I’m not a protest-ant for nothing! It took longer to prepare than I thought, with my thoughts ending up being about 3,000 words and taking a whole day to pull together. But I probably have the guts off a paper, (which is a bonus) – just need to find a home for it. — Wanted — journal publishing in the area of how the Bible is used in communities today.

I am due to deliver a post-graduate seminar at Tabor College tomorrow, 10 am-12pm. Here is where I think I am going ….

Modernity has been traced to Rene Descartes famous dictum: I think therefore I am. While a robust Trinitarian theology offers a more complex relationship between the one and the many, the “I” and the “we”, Descartes might well feel at home amid much contemporary church practice, where the dominant use of the Bible tends to focus on the intellectual employment by one individual, commonly called a sermon.

The relationship between the individual and the community, with specific reference to practices with regard to the Bible, will be probed through seven case studies

1 – art images referencing Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
2 – the authoring of the Pauline corpus
3 – the Book of Kells and a Celtic scriptorium
4 – the front cover of a NIV Life application Commentary
5 – the practice of Dwelling in the Word
6 – Lectionary readings
7 – Kingdom signs blogs

Posted by steve at 01:32 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

larger than life a blog eulogy for Tom Allen

One of the blogs I read regularly is Tom Allen aka big bulky anglican. The link came via Nigel Wright, who was with us at Opawa as part of his Anglican ordinand training in 2006. It is one of the mysteries of contemporary church life that a UK Anglican can be partially formed by a NZ Baptist church, but it was certainly rich for us at Opawa. I think (I might have this wrong) that it was Tom who suggested to Nigel he make contact, for Tom was Nigel’s Vicar at that time.

Following Nigel’s visit, I grew to really value Tom’s via the blog – doing ministry in an established church context, creative, intelligently critical of systems for clergy care and survival, anglo-catholic in his approach to mission – it all made for a very rich blend that nourished me lots. In those moments when I felt alone and stupid and like I was wasting my time in ministry (which is quite often :)), Tom’s blog reminded me that I was not alone, that there were other creative, thoughtful people in established church contexts.

People often ask me if I belong to minister’s groupings. For a while I have struggled to answer, but increasingly in the last few months I have said yes, and it’s on-line – that I have a group of ministers that via their blogs, nourish me, inspire me, sustain me.

Can that be done on-line they ask?

I don’t know, I reply but it works for me.

So I clicked on Tom’s blog last nite to find news of his sudden death. And I grieved. It feels strange to grieve someone you have never met. It feels strange to have no more news about someone’s death than a simple message online.

I will light a candle tonight, for a man I never met, for his family and for those whom he influenced. I will ponder the seeming futility of life. I will give thanks for blogs, and the way they have connected me to people who have enriched my life.

Posted by steve at 02:43 PM

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

sabbatical update 2

Monday morning update (on tuesday)

the weekend that was: We went to the local sporting religion – a “footy” final. Quite a cross-cultural experience – much more of a family feel than rugby matches in New Zealand. Then had a lovely Sunday – breakfast in bed for fathers day, a walk and a beach play. I found it hard not to get resentful of all the other fathers days that the church has claimed from me and my kids.

where i am at the moment: Parkin-Wesley, staring at a computer screen.

on my to-do list this week: another day in the classroom, day 2 of my missional church leadership course. meeting with the head honcho of the Uniting church to talk about the two Bible studies I am doing for their state-wide gathering beginning of November. then on Friday doing a 2 hour post-graduate seminar at Tabor College.

procrastinating about: a ruthless re-write of a section of the missional church leader book. i have wondered if there is a biblical section needed, pulling together some of my Opawa sermons over the last years. That has ballooned to about 12,000 words over the last week, but it needs a ruthless edit to change speaking words to writing words.

book i’m in the midst of: James. It has arrested me, and it taunts me.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: Paul Kelly, from little things big things grow.

next trip: we are planning to head down south this week, hoping to connect with old-school friends in a little fishing village called Robe.

how i’m feeling about this week: inadequate. on friday i sent off a chapter and revised table of contents to the publisher, with the change of direction (more biblical content as noted above). but there is so many books out there, and so many sermons spoken in churches every week, and what can I, a little Kiwi, offer to the global world of mass-produced words.

Posted by steve at 12:43 PM

Monday, September 08, 2008

missional movies

I used British film, Grow your own, in the missional church leadership class today, and it worked a treat.

We had spent the morning looking at the character of missional leadership, which is often fairly hard-hitting, as we realise how deeply our understandings of leadership are shaped by cultural narratives of entrepreneur/go getter, rescuer and practical knowledge provider in contrast to the leadership encouraged by Luke 10:1-12. So we needed some breathing space and Grow your own worked well.

Other movies I have thought of using are Across the Universe and Whale Rider. What about you? What movies best sum up for you the missional church conversation? While you have a think, this is my recent Grow your own film review …


Posted by steve at 08:11 PM

Friday, September 05, 2008

sabbatical blogging

my kids sabbatical blogs are much more interesting than mine – Shannon here and Kayli Anne here – with their differing personalities very much in evidence.

Posted by steve at 05:08 PM