Wednesday, April 14, 2010

sydney bound for mission, discipling, leadership

The Taylor family head for Sydney on Friday. We have two weekends of “exploring Sydney time.” In between, I am working, teaching a 3 day intensive for ACOM (Australian College of Ministry).

Here is the blurb:

We are living in times of rapid change. Many existing patterns and paradigms face challenges. This course will explore the implications of ministry in a culture of change, with a specific focus on local church ministry. It provides practical case studies on mission, discipleship and leadership and subject these to theological reflection, in order to encourage creative and critical thinking on the nature of mission and ministry today. It will not be prescriptive but will encourage participants in their ability to dialogue between context and Christian texts, offering theological imagination in response to what God is doing in the lives of individuals and communities.

And here is the lecture outline.

I normally accept one “academic” intensive outside New Zealand a year, so when ACOM asked about 18 months ago, I said yes, little knowing that by the time to course rolled around, I would be living in Australia and trying to settle. So the timing for me is less than ideal. I need a break during study break, not more teaching!

Nevertheless, there 15-20 students, which is a great sized group to work with. And as per usual for the creative Steve, every course presents a chance to update my material in light of current reading and refecting. So this will be an essentially new course for me – one that is pulling from Missional Church Leadership, Sociology for Ministry and the Breathe intensive last year.

I’m looking forward to being around a Sydney-side table with some keen minds working on mission, discipling, leadership.

And for the rest of the Taylor family – it’s a holiday in Sydney. I will absorb their joy!

Posted by steve at 02:00 PM

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

saying thanks: turning practices into missional life

This is a most excellent example of helping a community give thanks. It is a church wall at Church of the Trinity Uniting, Goodwood. People are being given (paper) flowers and invited to give thanks.

Over weeks the wall is growing, an emerging symphony of colour. Over weeks what people write seems to be deepening. Over the weeks, people are commenting they are finding themselves becoming more and more intentional about looking for reasons to be thankful in their daily lives. Good stuff. (The pastor, very wisely IMHO, is photographing the wall each week, planning to make it into a movie, to play at years end.)

This became an excellent learning moment in our Missional Church Leadership class (3rd gathering of 10). We were looking at ways to listen and I was talking about appreciative inquiry, the simple practice of saying thanks, as a window into where God’s Spirit might be active. And how the simple act of naming ie saying thanks, gives people an opportunity to further participate.

And at that moment, the photo got passed around and we admired the colour and the effective, yet creative way, of helping people worship.

What intrigues me is how this simple, yet intentional, worship practice might actually be part of the church’s ongoing intentional mission life.

For example: Why not take a note of the recurring themes. Then invite all those who gave thanks over a year to a gathering. Share with them the themes. Get people in groups around questions like what surprises you? Then ask them to think about ways the community could further develop this theme ie be yet more thankful. Perhaps they are thankful for family. Get them to brainstorm ideas, ways they could focus their energy on families. Record the findings and ask if any people want to part of giving their dreams legs.

Start a second year with a second wall. See what happens as you gather people intentionally around what they have identified as important and significant.

Such, I would suggest, is the task of missional leadership:
1. Invite people into missional practices
2. Mirror back to people what is emerging as the practices are lived.
3. Gather conversations about next steps: how then shall we live?
4. Record the findings and return to 1.

It was a great class! (Even without the learning that emerged as another student talked about farm gates. But that’s for another post.)

Posted by steve at 04:54 PM

Sunday, April 11, 2010

the use of art in growing a fresh expression: being church in a time of cultural change

Church as rugby club? Or touch team? I referred last week to this question, quoting an article by Kevin Ward, in which he explores changes in voluntary groups and ways people belong. (Kevin’s article is here, my post last week is here). As I wrote in the Sociology for Ministry lecture:

So, consider that alongside the decline in church, is a widespread decline in all voluntary associations: from Lions to labour unions, from political parties to bowling clubs.

In New Zealand in 1970’s about 400,000 people played rugby. By 1990’s it had plummeted to 100,000.

Why? Factors include authoritarian and controlling environment, rigid structures, high institutional overheads, dress code, conformist culture, lack of choice, repression of individual for sake of community.

At the same time, touch rugby, while only started in an organised sense in 1990, had by the year 2000 over 272, 000 registered participants.

Why? It is minimalist, gender inclusive. Individuals can choose their own team, while teams can choose their uniform and name. Time is limited and there is a high value on socialising and fun.

In other words, traditional structures based on long-term commitment and exclusive loyalties are less attractive than single stranded, less formal, smaller groupings.

It helped me make sense of a most stimulating Sunday afternoon I’ve just had at a Resurrection and Art seminar. It’s one of four Sunday afternoons being offered by the local Catholic Theological College, exploring Jesus passion and art; resurrection and art; Mary and art; Trinity and art.

Two hours, great visuals, a mix of history, theology and spirituality. Along with a nice afternoon tea. It was a most worthwhile afternoon.

I came away reflecting that here was an institution (Catholic Church) providing a way to play touch, resourcing people’s spirituality without requiring them to in any way be part of the institution.

What intrigues me is how this can be self-resourcing and self-starting. There were about 40 people booked, each paying $20 a session. Take out a bit for facilities (which would be unused in most churches at this time of day anyhow, the advertising (which is giving you profile even if no-one turns up), and the morning tea and you still have around 30 hours for a staff person to work up a lecture. That’s enough time to put together a pretty good talk.

(I tried to do this a number of times at Opawa, but the person I kept tried to lure to start the conversation was too booked up and I was too busy and the energy required by the Easter and Christmas Journey made other forms of creativity harder to initiate).

Do it for Easter/Pentecost. Do it again at Advent. Do it again on Waitangi Day/Australia Day, using indigenous art.

Each time, provide a set of art pieces as postcards. After a time, invite people to do more research on the artist and the theology and meet again to share their findings. Or simply to gather in a few weeks to reflect on how their artpiece as helped their journey. Slowly you are building a new community – being church in a new form in a time of cultural change.

Posted by steve at 06:16 PM

Saturday, April 10, 2010

women and the emerging church. a bibliography

For a number of months I’ve been meaning to compile a list of missional and emerging church writers who are female. I’ve been prompted by a colleague who is doing a post-graduate project on women and the missional church, plus a glance over my Missional Church Leadership bibliography and the realisation that it is still overwhelmingly male. Plus stumbling across this podcast, which is me interviewing Jenny McIntosh back in 2006, on the topic of gender and the emerging church conversation.

Which prompted a brief literature search. My criteria included being recently published and with a focus on mission/evangelism/leadership. Here is the list. Who am I missing? (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:16 PM

Friday, April 09, 2010

developing change leaders: book review of chapter 1

While nearly 2000 books were recently written on leadership in an 18 month period, very few address the question:

How do we develop effective change leaders?

Such is the task attempted by business lecturers, Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs in their Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development.

(Given that church’s and church leaders are meant to be into life change, I began to flick through the book. The more I browsed, the more intrigued I was, both by the clarity of the material, and by the extensive reading and practical case studies the author’s draw on. Thinking this might be a good resource, I opened my wallet.)

Aitken and Higgs use a key image, that of “sense-making” to argue that the challenge is not to find some yet to be discovered new golden bullet. Rather the challenge is to make sense of what we know. In chapter one, this focuses on the impact of organisational culture on leadership.

“In broad terms, our framing of effective leadership has shifted notably from the ‘Heroic’, leader-centric viewpoint to a more ‘Engaging’ one which focuses on working with followers to address the leadership of organizational challenges … In today’s complex environment, an approach to leadership which is more ‘Engaging’ appears to offer some useful pointers to more sustainable success.” (13-14, 20).

They suggest leadership is a triangle, made up of thinking, doing and being.

  • thinking is about a range of intelligences – evaluating, decision-making, planning.
  • doing is about the skills and competencies to envision, engage, enable, inquire, develop.
  • being is about authenticity, integrity, will, self-belief and self-awareness.

They then suggest the same triangle for the organisation, in which

  • thinking is in fact strategy
  • doing is policies and practices
  • being is culture, the social glue and the way things are done around here

This introduces the challenges of effective change. Research shows very clear links between an organisations culture and it’s performance. Other research shows that leaders have a strong impact on an organisation’s culture. This sets up chapter 2, which describes the challenges involved in implementing change.

Posted by steve at 07:26 PM

Thursday, April 08, 2010

the spirit today: a theology with popular culture

“a work of outstanding scholarship”

That’s the blurb for a book just out, The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit, in which I have a chapter.

The book began as a conference, back in 2008, which gathered around what is one of the most interesting and growing fields in theology at the moment, that of the study of the Spirit. My chapter sought to provide a theological method by which one might read popular culture. I argue, drawing on Luke 10 and art in relation to the Transfiguration, that in the action of the Spirit in the New Testament, we see that God likes material things – wombs and water, bodies and bread – and this can be applied to help us understand a theology of popular culture and in a more naunced way than if we use an Incarnational approach.

The book has got some great endorsements:

“This ‘pneumatology from below’-not in the methodological but in the geographical sense: from New Zealand-extends the contemporary renaissance of the discussion on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit across the theological loci and disciplines. A veritable pneumatological contribution indeed by Myk Habets and his colleagues from Down Under.”
—Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University

“There has been a resurgence of interest in the Holy Spirit in recent years and this wide-ranging book edited by Myk Habets, who is quickly becoming a major contributor to discussions of the Spirit in contemporary theology, offers reflections that are profoundly theological and sometimes provocatively challenging but always helpful in pushing theologians to think more precisely about the pneumatological dimensions of theology”
—Paul D. Molnar, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. John’s University, New York

“The theology of the Holy Spirit has undergone something of a renaissance in recent times: this collection reflects a valuable contribution to that cause. These are stimulating essays on a range of vital topics in biblical, dogmatic, and practical pneumatology-scripturally responsible, historically informed, and justly conscious of the potentially transformative significance of their theme for Christian existence in the world.”
—Ivor J. Davidson, Professor of Systematic & Historical Theology, University of St. Andrews

Posted by steve at 10:31 PM

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

being church in a time of cultural change

Flat out preparing for a class on changes in religion in Australia. Amid all the sociological theories and depression over declining numbers, the work by Kevin Ward back in 2002 stood out.

“One of the great points of hope for the church is that sociologists suggest we are moving away from an era of rampant individualism into a new communitarian era .. one in which people bring a strong sense of individuality and will therefore be marked by a high degree of diversity and variety … We urgently need to finds forms of church life that resemble a community of touch teams much more than they resemble the local rugby club … If we are willing not only to give the freedom for this kind of evolution to occur, but also to provide resources to foster it, we may find not only a form of church life that actually engages with and incarnates the gospel into the culture in which we are placed, but also, surprisingly, one that more resembles in essence the church we find in the pages of the New Testament.”

Probably the last thing exhausted ministers might want to read this side of Easter. But it does provide a window on the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, that sense of impermanence and willingness to meet Thomas in a different way than Mary, in a different way than Peter.

Posted by steve at 05:14 PM

Friday, April 02, 2010

easter 2010

The Taylor family are all really excited. Moving from pastor at Opawa to teaching at Uniting college means that Easter 2010 marks my first Easter break in 16 years. It’s also the first Easter break the girls will have ever had with me.

Which means a totally new Easter rhythm for us. We’re heading away to a seaside town called Robe. We’ll relax and explore – ancient caves at Narocoorte, wineries in Coonwara, the distinctly Australian saint that is Mary Mackillop. After a very exhausting first term with so many changes, we are so looking forward to catching our breath together.

A second part of the totally new Easter rhythm is that we get to go to Easter services as a receiver, not a giver. When you’re a pastor, the blessing is in the chance to work with the Jesus story in the week leading up to Easter, to wrestle with the texts in preparation. This week it has been SO nice to gather not knowing what the creativity will be, to simply be participants in the story.

We went to what was a very rich Tenebrae service at the girls school on Sunday evening. It featured the readings and extinguishing of candles. It also included a range of choir items, that were crafted into a wonderful re-appropriation of the Christian sung tradition. Plus there was an excellent use of space and some thoughtful prayers. Big clap to the chaplaincy and musical teams at Westminster.

On Thursday, we went to an alternative worship gathering at Wayville, an offering from a new church community called the Esther project. Environment thoughtfully crafted, words chosen well, senses full engaged, space to sit with the Biblical story. Openended and rich.

On Sunday we’ll look to gather with a local rural community somewhere around Robe. This Easter 2010 we’ll end up engaging with just as many church services as if we were a pastoral family, but in a new and rich way.

Posted by steve at 04:09 PM

Thursday, April 01, 2010

opawa’s multiple congregations

New video just out, introducing Opawa (my previous ministry context); one church in multiple congregations.

Opawa Baptist Church Intro from opawa mac on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 09:11 PM

communion as community storytelling

Craig Mitchell offered what I found a wonderfully helpful communion at chapel here on Wednesday.

Often the words leading into communion are said by the person at the front and run the danger of becoming a potentially lengthy monologue. Instead, on Wednesday, leading into communion, the communion leader asked questions of those gathered. Questions like

Why have we gathered here?
What story shall we live?
Where did this story begin?
Whose story is this?
Why then should we speak of this story?
Tell me what he said and did
Let’s celebrate the way that grace has shaped our lives, I invite you to say aloud a prayer of thanks
What is our prayer on this day?

The responses (scripted) were provided by those gathered. In so doing, the people told of the redemptive story, proclaimed the words of Institution, welcomed the Spirit, joined with the crowd of witnesses.

It felt so much more like the work of the people. It reminded me of the Jewish Passover tradition in which learning happens on a question and answer basis. Thus faith formation is placed within the context of home and food and inter-generational relationships. Doing this in Holy Week added yet another layer, for it was on Maundy Thursday that Jesus gathered his disciples for the last time in a Passover type meal.

So thanks Craig, for offering simultaneously a fresh, yet deeply traditional approach to communion.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM