Friday, April 30, 2010

mission that’s out of the valley (1 of 4)

Updated: for what I said –
1) in relation to mission motivation, go here,
2) in relation to faith sharing, go here,
3) in relation to practice at an ordinary church, go here.

I’m speaking to youth leaders from around Adelaide tomorrow, at a training day called Out of the valley. I was asked to speak about mission and as I’ve been reflecting, I want to focus on the sharing of faith. More evangelism, but still a subset of mission.  I hope to do a number of things

  • free people from a 1 size fits all understanding of faith sharing
  • help people grasp more of God’s story
  • help people find their own unique story within God’s story.

(Update: according to 2006 National Church Life Survey data, the denomination least likely to have offered significant training at a congregational level for lay people in evangelism is .. yep, you guessed it, the Uniting Church! Only 5% of congregations in the last 2 years said they had offered congregational training in evangelism.)

Below is one of the tools I’ve just been working on. It offers 10 different ways people might understand the gospel. It’s based on Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church but I’ve attempted to summarise (mangle) it in a few sentences.

What I hope it does is help people find an echo of their story and a way to link their unique story with a Biblical frame. I’ll let you know how it goes, but if you have time, I’d love to know which statement which might describe your experience. (For me it was, and is, the peace gate). If none do, can you sum that in a few sentences. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:28 PM

Thursday, April 29, 2010

call stories

In the Scriptures there are some lovely call stories – Jesus calling disciples to follow. Each call unique, each person valued.

One of the things I’m loving about my new role here at Uniting College is a greater relationship with students. I was simply too busy at Laidlaw to have this privilege. So over the last few weeks it has been neat to ask students how God called them and listen to the work of God. God is still calling disciples to follow. Today, as well as back in the day!

What is striking is how unique each call is. No one size fits all. Just as in the Gospels, just as in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, different parts of the body have different shape.

This has some quite profound implications for theological formation.

First, training must start with listening to this call. There’s a profound humility in the fact that we are only responding to what God is breathing into life.

Second, training can no longer be one size fits all. It must be flexible enough to build on the unique sense of call and the unique shape of the body parts.

Third, training needs to be life-long. A call is not sustained by 3 years of study, but a life of ongoing formation, of new learning, of reflection and reading.

Fourth, God is not just calling people to be church ministers. Imagine a church in which all call stories were valued? In which a lawyer could be heard, and shaped, for lawyer ministry, just as a pioneer leader or a school chaplain.

Uniting College is working really hard to assemble a range of paths and patterns by which training can happen – training that starts with call, that values uniqueness, that looks lifelong, that is for the whole people of God.

It’s like lego, trying to put together a range of building blocks, so that we can serve God’s call stories.

Posted by steve at 09:31 PM

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

future Adelaide: a leadership dreaming process

One of the big tasks recently for me has been working toward the facilitating of a dreaming time in regard to mission and the future of the Uniting Church. It is part a 360 review – looking forward, backward and sideways, in relation to one of the mission experiment undertaken by the Uniting Church Synod of South Australia.

I was asked to conduct the looking forward part. So I invited about 15-20 people to join me around the big picture question of how can the missional temperature of the church in South Australia be raised. This type of thing requires energy, so food was provided, along with a range of inputs.

Another input was to try to get us to step forward. I reckon you can dream in 2 ways. One is start from now and think forward. Another is to jump forward and then start to think backward. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Given that in this context, we are deeply involved in the now, I decided we could try jumping forward.

So I asked my partner in contribute her research skills in preparing a scenario, looking at Adelaide and the Uniting church in 7 years time. She prepared a two page summary sheet (here), and also found this video.

So this was the start of our time together. Over food, in groups of 4, people discussed the future:

  • what strikes you?
  • what could contribute to a different imagination?
  • what might be missing or lacking from this scenario?

I’ll blog the rest of the process on Friday. First, a few days for you to use the resources for yourself. Let me know what you come up with!

Posted by steve at 08:14 AM

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Job as poet: a “sensitive-in-suffering” and post-colonialist reading

There is a superb reflection on the Biblical book of Job, in Sacred Australia, Post-secular Considerations (2009). It comes from an Australian poet, Peter Boyle. Whether he is of faith is unclear. Irrespective it is a creative, absorbing engagement.

The first window is the note that Job is a poet, describing his inner world in the deep experience of suffering. We glimpse authenticity. Which, in relation to Job, if we are honest, none of us seek, given the experiences Job describes.

My links: Such a window saves Job from being exclusively religious or Christian, because the Bible is the gutsy narration of human experience.

The second window is the note that other poets have suffered and in their suffering, like Job, have accused God.

My links: Such a window saves Job from being exclusively religious or Christian, opening a dialogue between the Bible and the literature of any, and many, who name pain.

The third window considers that Job is wealthy, and asks the question as to where Job has gained his wealth from. Could it be that his wealth has come as the expense of others? If so, Job becomes like so many Westerners, well to do in a world in which others suffer. At which Peter Boyle offers one of his poems in which he offers a way forward.

  • Be silent in the face of suffering, willing to let the oppressed speak until they also are silent.
  • Give back what we have taken.

What a treat – a reading of the Bible which accesses themes of how to live in a suffering world.

Posted by steve at 10:46 PM

Friday, April 23, 2010

alice in wonderland: a theological film review

Alice in Wonderland
A film review by S(hannon) and S(teve) Taylor

It should work. Computer animation should be perfect for bringing to life a masterpiece of literary nonsense, otherwise known as Alice in Wonderland. Especially in the hands of a seasoned Hollywood director (Tim Burton) and a genuine Hollywood star (Johnny Depp).

It should work.

Sadly, it didn’t, not for the twelve year old, nor her accompanying father.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a playful reinterpretation of themes and characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll).

Alice, now grown up, faces a marriage proposal. She finds herself caught between family expectation and personal dreams of freedom and adventure. Fleeing the decision, she finds herself falling down her childhood rabbit hole, returning to a wonderland filled with painted roses, competing Queens, a grinning Cheshire Cat and a Mad Hatter. Yet her search for identity continues, for if she is the real Alice, she is fated to fight the fearsome Jaberwockie.

And so, for 108 minutes, Alice struggles to find her true self. The film is thus a mirror of her adult world, her search for the real Alice.

Perhaps this is why the film struggles to work.

It fails to find an audience. If it’s a kids movie, why weight it down with adult themes? If it’s a children’s fantasy, why create scenes that remain too scary for those needing parental guidance? As a kids book, how do you overcome that common cliche in which innocent child falls into a world of fantasy?

The redeeming features are few. They include the acting of Johnny Depp (well known for starring roles in The Pirates of the Caribbean saga, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Chocolat), who is a superbly sinister and clearly Mad Hunter.

Another is the cinematic wonderland of stunning visual effects. (Although audience response to the 3D version remain mixed.) Scenes like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, in which Alice shrinks and expands, all the while surrounded by unchanging characters, are compelling pieces of cinematic creativity.

Yet a film is the sum of more than the stunning effects or the best efforts of acting A-listers. Without a coherent plotline, Alice in Wonderland simply wobbles toward a cinematic rabbithole. It looks fantastic, but ends up tumbling into incoherence.

S’s fantastic facts file:
– The original book has been translated into 125 languages and twenty four times has been made adapted to the big screen.
– The book began life as a story told to bored kids during a punt up the River Thames.
– Kiwi viewers might note the use of a koru, not as a symbol of new life, but amid a dark sinister forest setting.
– Well known “Alice” phrases now in common usage include the lines “Off with his head” and “Curiouser and Curiouser”
– Mathematical concepts are ingrained in the book.
– In Chapter Eight, where three cards paint white roses red, may be a reference to the Wars of the Roses.
– The author was a church minister. So would this make this piece of literature “Christian”?

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology at Uniting College of Theology and Leadership, Adelaide, Australia. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes regularly at

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM

The pain of being known

A wonderful surprise yesterday, with a text from Kiwi friend, Paul McMahon, with news that he was flying from Christchurch to Sydney for 2 days to attend a family funeral. Yes, we so happen to be in Sydney and yes, we can catch up. So as we finished a wonderful tea, in Newtown (must blog about that gem of a Sydney suburb), Paul walked through the door.

Another wine glass please waiter and so the conversation began! Poor kids, who wouldn’t get home until 11 pm!

We met Paul and Anne within days of them arriving in Christchurch, both of us looking for houses and hoping to settle. I was just starting at Opawa, while Paul was just starting toward his Masters in Theology, pursuing his passion – a Kingdomly just world as it might be shaped by government. (He did his Masters on a Christian theology of tax).

Paul was a student in my classes. Together Paul and Anne helped us plant espresso, one of Opawa’s congregations. Paul joined the paid pastoral team at Opawa in 2008. He is exercising what Uniting churches would call Ministry of Deacon, ordained with a focus on the community and building bridges from the community back into the church and under his leadership, Opawa’s engagement with the community has strengthened and deepened. He’s done it superbly well.

He also worked as a Researcher for me/Angelwings – tutoring in some of my subjects, helping me with research, sometimes preparing lecture notes – all stuff that enabled me to accept various speaking engagements beyond Opawa and Laidlaw College

So it was a wonderful time, but a sharp reminder of loss – friend, pastoral colleague, church, speaking. One of the reasons I’m having to work so hard at the moment at Uniting College is because I’ve lost Paul from the team that was around me. Such is the pain of moving, you build a team, and then have to start again.

In Australia everything is new. Sitting with Paul I realised once again what it was like to be known, to have history, to have done life, to have become comfortable in weakness. It was such a wonderful time, yet a reminder of the pain and grief that walks with me in these days.

Posted by steve at 09:30 AM

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 3 What does it take to lead?

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here.

Chapter three explores what is required to lead change effectively.

One helpful insight is the fact that they need to be able to operate both on the church and in the church, to both performing public skills (ensuring existing functions like preaching, pastoring and organisation) and backstaging (engaging support, working with resistance, influencing the future).

Key phrases keep appearing – “deal with ambiguity” (44), “deal with ambiguity, paradoxes and dilemnas” (45), “facilitative and engaging practices” (55)

The danger lights, especially in regard to some existing church change process, are there if we want to pay attention:

“Might not the continual search for the hero-leader be a critical factor in itself, diverting attention away from building institutions that by their very nature, continually adapt and reinvent themselves, with leadership coming from many people and many places and not just from the top. (45 citing Senge 2002, 64)

When, oh when will the church get over the search for the one dynamic, command/control type leader. When will it realise that their is no magic bullet, that leaders need “not follow a set or common approach to the overall change implementation process.” (49) Instead: “It is only by learning new things about ourselves, our relationships with others and discovering new ways of seeing reality that we can start to implement new [business] practices” (49)

Research of 84 leaders shows “that effective change leadership requires the leaders to have a high level of Emotional Intelligence.” (50)

Over 100 change leadership stories (when, on when might the church collect 100 change stories and use them as one of the data sets for reflecting on leadership. Could we be part of this with the Master of Ministry), showed three broad groups of behaviour, and a subset of behaviours:

  • Shaping behaviour – lead by example, expect hard work and enthusiasm, personally persuasive, expecting accountability.
  • Framing change – working with others to create vision and direction, explaining, educating and communicating on need for change, giving freedom for innovation within broad frameworks, changing how things get done as well as what gets done
  • Creating capacity – developing the skills of others in implementing change, offer feedback and coaching, working across the organisation at all levels, ensure adaptation of reproducible systems.

The change stories indicate that while directive type leaders focus on the first, shaping behavior, this actually negatively reduces the likelihood of change. Yep reduces! By contrast, it is the last two – framing change and creating capacity – that bring long term change.

This data was reduced to four core change leadership principles:

  • attractor – creates energy for change by connecting with others emotionally to embody the future, creates compelling story, weaves it to make sense of the life of the organisation, seeks good of the organisation above their own, able to adapt their leadership
  • edge and tension – amplifies disturbance by telling truth, is constant in tough times, challenges assumptions, stretches people, grows talented people
  • creates a container – holds the tension around the change by managing expectations, faces conflict, encourages, creates safe space to take risks, seeks alignment of resources
  • transforming space – creates movement by showing commitment, is vulnerable in a way that frees people to new possibilities, breaks existing patterns and challenges systems.

I’ve just spent 3 days and over 20 hours with 15 students. The topic was change and the leadership question sat with me all week. How to develop these people? How to best use the time? Was this the best use of my time? Should instead have been researching change stories? offering ongoing and longterm coaching with a few leaders?

The next chapters might answer these question, as they will turn to explore how to develop change leaders.

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anzac Day resources

anzacdaycross250.jpg I’ve had a number of people email requesting info regarding Anzac Day and worship: for the record

  • the journal article I wrote on the subject is Steve Taylor, “Scars on the Australasian Heart: Anzac Day as a Contextual Atonement Image,” New Zealand Journal of Baptist Research 6 (2001): 48-74
  • here is a sermon (2004)
  • here is my reflections on being part of a Dawn Parade in 2007
  • and here is some worship (2009)
Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Monday, April 19, 2010

future of religion in australian society paper acceptance

Email today from Melbourne College of Divinity, notifying me that my paper proposal – The art of gentle space-making: responding to a de/colonizing God – has been accepted. It is part of their 2010 Centenary Conference, with the grand title ” The Future of Religion in Australian Society.” Being held 4th to 7th of July 2010, they have billed it as a seminal event in theological reflection in Australia. Nice to have landed a paper, only now, in the midst of all the other things I’m juggling, I have to find time to write it! For those interested, here was the proposal I sent it back in February … (more…)

Posted by steve at 08:38 PM

Sunday, April 18, 2010

ethnicity and the emerging church: context Cabramata

Fascinating day today in Sydney, exploring Cabramata: entering under an Asian arch (I love the fact that the arch has koalas, kangaroos ie Australian animals), walking down street after street of Vietnamese shops, looking for a place to eat that at least had English subtitles on the menu. A very rich and multi-sensory day.

All this while the emerging church in the US fights over ethnicity and racial identity.

In Cabramata it’s hard to imagine an emerging church that would be white, Western, or any shade of colour apart from Vietnamese. Hooray for Cabramata Uniting Church, with a Vietnamese pastor and church worship in multiple languages.

Looking forward to discussing these type of issues – youth cultures, ethnicity, 2nd generation migrant patterns, glocalisation (koalas in Asian arches) – with various folk from the New South Wales Synod on Thursday and Friday.

Posted by steve at 07:59 PM

Saturday, April 17, 2010

developing change leaders book review of chapter 2

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here.

Chapter 2 The Challenge of change
This chapter explores the challenge of change. It provides a helpful diagram, linking change to what looks like a grief cycle – shock, anger, resistance, acceptance, hope. As with grief, people need time.

This includes noting the potential of resistance:

“Whilst resistance is generally perceived as being a negative within a change process, it is important to consider that resistance can be an indicator that change is having an impact. Furthermore, it surfaces the key issues and concerns which need to be addressed in order to ensure the effective implementation in the long run. Finally, resistance can play a positive role in surfacing challenge and insights which can prove beneficial in achieving the change goals or indeed discovering more appropriate ones.” (31)

Of course, to respond to resistance in this way, and be able to surface such positive possibilities for a change process requires a fairly unique skillset, far removed from “Well, this is what we have decided.”

It also depends on the approach to change, of which 5 are noted:

  • Directive: the leader’s right to impose change, which has the disadvantage of breeding strong resentment
  • Expert: generally applied to more technical problems, in which a specialist team leads
  • Negotiating: accepts that those involved in the change have the right to a say in how the changes are made. It takes longer, but equally is more likely to last longer
  • Educative: changing people’s hearts and minds. Again, takes longer but is more likely to last
  • Participative: while driven by leaders, all views are considered as change occurs. Again, takes longer but has far greater by in.

They note the shift from linear and programmatic notions, to emergent notions of change, characterised by the appreciation of the entire system, the acceptance that change can start anywhere (and the larger the system, the more likely that large changes begin at the edge), leaders as facilitators instead of drivers of change.

They then analyse over 100 change stories to conclude that change was successful when:

  • it was understood as complex
  • processes were used that genuinely involve people
  • change leaders have the skills to involve people.
Posted by steve at 10:08 AM

Friday, April 16, 2010

re-framing the prodigal in regard to fresh expressions and established church

Ben Edson has re-written the parable of the Prodigal son/Waiting Father/Faithful son/absent prodigal daughter (choose your title with care, because each character opens up a different interpretive lens).

There was a mother who had two sons. The youngest one said to his mother, mother thanks for the years that you’ve looked after me, thanks for all that you’ve give me, but I think that you’ve got it wrong. I’m going to take all that I have inherited from you and go off to country foreign to you and experiment.

After being away for sometime the younger son started to recognise that he had been foolish and needed the love and support of the mother. He decided to go home back to the mother. He would say to her: I am sorry that I left you, your resources are so diverse, I miss you and I want to be part of your family.

The first part is here. The conclusion, offering 3 alternative endings

  • the institutional church’s slow grinding to death of innovation
  • the arrogance of fresh expressions
  • an embrace between margin and centre

is here. It’s a wonderful example of re-framing and re-creating, and a fascinating use of Scripture.

Initially I loved it, the creativity, the multiplicity of endings. But now I’m not at all sure. When I have the words to name my unease, I’ll try to complete this post by explaining why … (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:27 AM

Thursday, April 15, 2010

fresh expressions regenerate discussion

re-generate is a series of pub conversations, begun in the creative mind of Craig Mitchell, providing an interactive space around the meal table for those wanting to be involved in being church that is thriving and connected to the culture. (I’ve been the speaker at a couple here in Adelaide, then hosted another with Jonny Baker in March).

There was another on Monday night, not with a speaker, but an open invitation to any Adelaide locals who have begun to create or lead a fresh expression, those who have an urge to do so, and those who have an interest in this movement to come and share their experiences and dreams.

About 20 people gathered. Over food we shared what had drawn us to the table. As the night evolved it seemed there were two groups of people: those looking for ideas or stimulus for their life of their congregation; and those already engaged who want to wrestle with issues like funding, sustainability, the journey to faith, developing leaders, etc.

The upshot was enthusiasm to begin a series of regular pub conversations based around participant questions (people add their questions to a bowl from which we could draw a topic for the following gathering – wonder who suggested that idea :)).

The next one is planned for early June (details coming) and will focus on two issues
– how to fund a fresh expression
– how to sustain a fresh expression

The hope is that it’s not just Uniting church and perhaps the fact that it’s question based from those who gather will help to include other denominations.

It was an exciting night to be part of!

Posted by steve at 02:41 PM

sara coakley and the future of theology symposium

On 12-13 July 2010, in Sydney, an international symposium on “Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology”.

Organised by Ben Myers, with contributors from around Australia, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom, Rome. And one Kiwi-in-exile – me! (I’m doing a paper wanting to have a conversation between prayer and the Spirit as it happens outside the faith community – Bono’s public invoking of the Spirit to be present at their concerts is what has got me pondering).

Topics being covered include:

  • Does systematic theology have a future?
  • Trinity and mysticism
  • Priestly and non-priestly prayer
  • Embodiment and the body of Christ
  • Analytic theology
  • Subjectivity and responsibility
  • Praying theology
  • and a public lecture by Sarah Coakley

More details are here, with a full list of abstracts here.

Posted by steve at 02:06 PM