Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spirited-church structures? Friends of students, teachers, creatives?

I’ve found this image a huge source of sustenance this week.

To gaze at the bent back and study the hunched shoulders,
To note the quill, a mind hard at ink,
To be reminded of the Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovering as Companion and Inspirer,
To do some research and find the story, of a man who wanted to live his life in prayer, but was dragged into administration and structures in the service of the church.

I’m tired and so are the students and so on Wednesday we started class by reflecting on those who have gone before, who have also worked hard over bent desk, hoping that in their work, the Spirit might be more fully named.

The man is Gregory and he is saint of students, teachers and creatives. He was leader of the Catholic church from 590 until his death in 604, the first of the popes to come from a monastic background, unwillingly forced from the monastic world of prayer into public church life. (especially through his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the life he used to enjoy.)

Gregory was a missional church leader – most famous for sending a mission to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons of England. From Gregory we get what we know as the Gregorian chant, a system of writing down reminders of chant melodies.

Gregory is known for his administrative system of charitable relief of the poor at Rome. His philosophy was that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. “I have frequently charged you … to act as my representative … to relieve the poor in their distress ….”

My boss made a comment a few weeks ago, about what he called an “old-fashioned” lecturer, the type who did not write academic papers, but who worked out and expressed his theology in the service of the church, on councils and boards and writing church polity. Easy to dismiss. But it’s another whole dimension of ministry, of hard work and bent backs and seeking to see words and structures and administration and decisions be channels for God’s blessing.

Posted by steve at 08:24 AM

Friday, May 14, 2010

mission-shaped “Grow and Go”

One of the things that appealed about becoming part of Uniting College was their intentionality in training the whole people of God. It is this weird tension where one expression of ministry is more formal than in Baptist circles, and thus has more formalised training pathways. Which then leads to a deliberate focus on all expressions of ministry.

Which means that this weekend is the annual “Grow & Go” training weekend. Training for the whole people of God. Their is a key note address on the Friday. Then nine learning streams – all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Shared breaks mean lots of chances for mixing and networking. People are coming from all over South Australia.

This type of thing is a pastor’s dream – every year heading off with leaders, to train and encourage and inspire them – to build shared memories – to invite potential leaders. The trip back, dreaming together with new insights, ideas, resources and inspiration. Every year, building lay capacity. Superb opportunity.

This year the theme is ‘being a mission-shaped church’. 
If God’s purpose of redeeming and renewing the world 
brought the Christian church to birth, what does it mean 
for mission to be at the heart of who we are and what 
we do as the people of God?

I’m leading one the nine streams, exploring mission-shaped community. (Others are exploring themes like mission-shaped leadership, mission-shaped community, mission-shaped worship, mission-shaped preaching, mission-shaped witness etc.)

So I am using the NCLS framework:

and will focus on the Inspirational qualities – of vision, leadership, innovation, and the Outward qualities of service, faith-sharing.

Posted by steve at 09:30 AM

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ascension worship: the footprints of Jesus

I enjoyed how Ascension day chapel worship shaped up today. I always find it hard to put worship experiences into words, but for what it’s worth here are some of the pieces. The Biblical spark was the Ascension and in reflecting on the text I was struck by the idea of Ascension as the departing feet of Jesus. Real feet, now leaving.

That provided a working tactile image, footprints. And then the madly, obvious idea, to have footprints, and to invite people to stand in these footprints of Jesus. This was achieved prior by painting some barefeet, and then walking over 3 metre long strips of frostcloth. (The kids absolutely loved giving me a hand with this part!) When it dried, they looked great. Very simple. Very effective. One set of footprints were in colour.

The other set were in black.

This allowed multiple stations:

  • the black footprints; the Ascension as the absence of Jesus and so the invitation to stand on the (dried) footprints and pray for ourselves and for others we know who experience God as absent.
  • the colour footprints, reflecting on the impact of the footprints of Jesus, who had walked with and among the disciples. I laid, face down, beside each colour footprints, various cards from the Jesus deck (I got my deck here some years ago and it was great to get a chance to use them). So, if people chose to participate, there was a real sense of mystery about which card they would choose and thus which story of Jesus they might engage with.

The colour had another layer. I had started by offering cut up paint chips from paint charts, and the invitation for people, as they arrived, to choose a colour that symbolised their week. As part of our call to worship we shared our chips with each other. Fun, interactive, but an essential part of gathering ourselves as real people, with real stories – and of course the living “colourful” stories of Jesus continuing today.

Around this was woven the usual frame – praise, confession, Bible readings both Old Testament and New Testament, passing the peace, affirmation of faith, sermon, communion, benediction.  For those interested, I’ll place the order of service below.

For me, I had quite profound encounters at both stations. The Jesus deck card I turned up was just bang on the nail in terms of my struggle to follow Jesus at the moment. So bang on the nail it was almost spooky. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:54 PM

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am a stealer of Catholic bread

The rumour has spread around my workplace, passing down the corridors of academia, whispered over afternoon cups of coffee. Steve Taylor is a stealer of Catholic bread.

Yesterday I forgot part of my lunch. Lettuce plucked from my garden was to garnish a tin of fish, to be spread over toast. Alas, in my haste to leave, I forgot the bread. (Those who know me will attest this is a repeated occurrence, but that is not the point of this story!)

My forgettfulness was realised at noon as I entered the staff common room. The space is shared with our ecumenical partners in theological education – Anglican and Catholic. In response to my groan of dismay, the only other staff person present kindly offered assistance. A loaf of frozen bread lives in the staff freezer. It is the property of a colleague down the hall, one who is always absent on a Monday. So by all means, grab a few pieces, leave a note, and replace the bread overnight.

It all seemed to good to be true.

Alas, it is too good to be true. The story has evolved and morphed. As it was passed down the corridors of academia. Steve Taylor, the Baptist from New Zealand, working for the Uniting College has been branded for life. Penance perhaps will be expected? 100 repetitions of the phrase,

“I am a stealer of Catholic bread.”

Posted by steve at 10:39 AM

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Ascension day and emerging worship with Paul Kelly

I spent some time in preparation for leading (Wednesday chapel) worship, playing with Ascension Day, which the church affirms, as it says in the Apostles Creed:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord …
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Tall skinny kiwi engages with Jeremy Begbie concerned that the emerging church doesn’t engage with Ascension Day. Well, Jeremy obviously doesn’t read this emergent/ing blog, like back in 2007 when I noted what Ascension day means for Christian faith. (Get with the internet Jeremy) and when I noted the following points about Ascension Day.

  • God in Jesus is present through all time and space.
  • A human body now live with God.
  • Faith without sight is now the normal way to follow Jesus.
  • God’s people are the primary hermeneneutic of the Gospel.

Anyhow, back to my emerging worship, with me making random connections, humming the Paul Kelly song, “Meet me in the middle of the air”, which was played in my recent Sociology for Ministry class. (Here’s a cover, the actual song I was thinking about was Paul at the bushfire concert.

In the midst of all that bushfire pain, Paul sings acapella a song that seems to claim outrageous hope in the world beyond. Was it inappropriate? Pietistic? Or is there more going on in the music and life of Paul Kelly, that lets him slap a form of eschatalogical, Ascension-like hope on the bushfire table?

Is this why Ascension Day is important for the church – in Creed, worship and theology – because it keeps alive a note of outrageous hope? If so, when, how, in the midst of a broken world, to name it? Not sure if such thoughts will be woven into Wednesday worship, but writing them helps me process them.

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM

Friday, May 07, 2010

mission that’s out of the valley 4: grounded in a local church community

(Last post in this series I promise. For the introduction go here, for the motivation go here for the material go here.)


Last week I blogged the fact that according to 2006 National Church Life Survey data, only 5% of Uniting churches had offered significant training at a congregational level for lay people in evangelism.


That’s not many. Which got me thinking about my ministry. You know, the old “reality” check – was I a leader in a community practising what I was/is preaching? So I shuffled through the following dates ….

2004 – Evangelism as process – I preached 2 sermons on the topic of evangelism. A good deal of energy resulted. A church community forum was held and as a result a number of new community contact initiatives were launched – including Koru, a youth programme and a family film night.

2005 and 2006 – Opawa’s energetic Evangelism Ministry leader, Hugh, used a video series to offer training in faith sharing. This happened once in the church foyer and a second time in a local home group

2007 – God at work – a 3 week course on “Where is God on Monday?” run by (then) Anglican ministry candidate, Nigel Wright, all the way from UK. About 25 Opawa folk participated, reflecting on being salt and light in all of life. As a result a God at work group formed and met regularly, keeping each other accountable in this area of faith-sharing mission.

2008 – Biblical pictures of witness – A four week preaching series that explored the themes of

  • being a mate – sharing with friends
  • having a yarn – announcing the good news
  • crossing the ditch – incarnational mission

followed by Wednesday evening discussion evenings. (For more, see here.)

2009 – Mission collectives, including the living collective. This meet four times a year, led by a lay person, in their workplace, (See here for an overview and here for an example of a night). It sought to offer encouragement, resource, prayer, ideas in terms of faith sharing.

Why blog this?
First, it’s a list of dates that I found mighty encouraging, because it shows a regular, year by year commitment, to encouraging and resourcing faith sharing.

Second, it illustrates one way to look at leadership, not as a linear process, but as a spiral, rotating around certain themes.  Hopefully not a rut! but a spiral, building on what has gone before, learning from the past, recircling to allow new people to join, unavailable people to check in.

Third, it’s just one embodied example of what encouraging in faith-sharing can look like in a local community context.

Fourth, I hope it might spark you to think about what has happened in your context. Let’s share our ideas. What things have you seen done, or been part of, that would be ways to get beyond that 5%?

Posted by steve at 06:22 AM

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Where does the hope come from? guest lecture at Queensland Synod

I’ve been asked to deliver something called the Norman and Mary Miller Lecture, to the Uniting Church Queensland Synod, on May 23. So I’ve been chewing away on what I might say and how. So much, so little time. Here is my current thinking.

TITLE: Where does the hope come from?

(The title is a deliberate play with my Principal Andrew Dutney’s book, titled Where did the joy come from? He’s from Queensland and in the book he explores the history of how the Uniting Church was formed. Which got me thinking about what it might mean to frame mission in terms of “where does the hope come from?).

BLURB: The task of the Norman and Mary Miller lecture is to apply the Church’s past witness to the social context of the modern day. In recognition of Rev Norman Millar’s work in Church Extension, Steve will reflect on his recent ministry experience, which involved leading an established church in a transition into a new mission future.  This ministry story will be set within a leadership framework, in particular the recent NCLS research into Australian leadership. It will also chart the mission lessons learnt and the implications for a theology of change. Steve will seek to weave personal experience, theological reflection and contemporary understandings of leadership and mission.

Posted by steve at 03:24 PM

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sacred sites in Australia?

I am (absolutely loving) teaching a class called Sociology for Ministry. An essential part is providing students with a whole range of tools by which they might read culture, in order to make them better Incarnational missionaries.  To date I’ve used tools including family photos, demographics, contemporary fiction, poetry, film and music.

This week the tool is sacred places.  Theologian Philip Sheldrake defines place as a “space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious”  …. [It] “is always tangible, physical, specific and relational.”  If so, Sheldrake argues, then Christianity must consider place, for the Incarnation impels us to consider the layers of identity, relationships and memory. (Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity)

When I was teaching a similar type of course in New Zealand (Being Kiwi, Being Christian), I had a crazy idea, of teaching not in a classroom, but through a road trip.

The course would start in Bay of Islands – to contemplate Samuel Marsden and early mission; travel to Waitangi  – to consider the Treaty of Waitangi; then to Rotorua- to look at stained glass windows of the Maori Jesus; then to Parikaha – a site of Maori non-violent resistance; on to Christchurch – to the sculpture outside the Art Gallery and the journeys that bring all people; then to Waimate – to stand in front of an Anzac Day War Memorial.

At each of these places we would discuss what shapes us as New Zealanders (identity, relationships, memory) and ponder where we see the traces, and absences, of God.

But this in Australia.  So all week I’ve been wondering what are Australia’s sacred sites? If you were putting together an Aussie bus trip, what places would you visit and why?

Posted by steve at 10:26 PM

mission that’s out of the valley 3: evangelism as mission

  • being a mate – sharing with friends
  • having a yarn – announcing the good news
  • crossing the ditch – incarnational mission

(These are highly Aussie phrases and they came to mind while reading Darren Cronshaw’s most excellent Credible Witnesses, Companions, Prophets, Hosts and Other Australian Mission Models, Urban Neighbours of Hope, 2006, and that give shape to the most useful Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission)

Being a mate – sharing with friends
Look at how people find Jesus in John 1. It’s through friends – Andrew, Philip – who simply invite people to “see.” So mission that’s out of the valley starts with inviting people to see lives changed. It’s not words, but seeing lives changed.

And so a discussion question: How were you evangelised? How do you feel about that now? A chance to remind ourselves that overwhelming the gospel is transmitted through relationships. Equally a chance to share negative stories and so detox ourselves from

Having a yarn – announcing the good news
The book of Acts is interesting, for a third of the content is public speeches. There are 20 speeches in total and grouped together, give us a window into how the early church had a yarn/announced the good news.

An extremely useful exercise can be to place them alongside each other. Take Peter in Acts 2, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14, Paul in Acts 17. Look at what resources they use in announcing, consider their punchline and analyse the response.

What do we learn? That there is no one way to announce the good news. The content changes, the resources used range from Scripture to creation to contemporary culture.

In other words, having a yarn is not about dropping a body of content on someone, it’s about starting with what makes sense in their world. This for me is where the gates of the cross becomes so useful.

For discussion: Does any gate make sense of how you find God? Or do you need another, 11th gate? Share that with the person beside you.

On Saturday a great burst of noise arose, as people shared how God found them. And I had great joy in giving them feedback: I see a whole bunch of people announcing the good news, in ways uniquely appropriate.

Crossing the ditch – incarnational mission
When I read the Zaccheus story I realise that mission happens in Zaccheus house. It is so easy to get caught up in thinking that mission is about people coming to us and our (church) space.

Mission as crossing the ditch is about going to Zaccheus home. Hang out with Zaccheus mates. We form a church at Zaccheus place, not our place. This changes the way be a mate – We join Zaccheus youth group. This changes the way we announce the good news – we start with what God is doing in Zaccheus world.

And if you want a contemporary example, check out the work of Richard Passmore, working with young people outside the church. (Hat tip Jonny Baker). He depicts mission as crossing the ditch in 5 stages:

  • A Contacting Community – Through detached youth work
  • A Growing Community- Through ongoing contact and residential
  • A Connecting Community – Through undertaking a rite of passage committing to journey together
  • An Exploring Community – Through connecting stories and life
  • An Ecclesial Community – Through living together with a missionary DNA

And for a powerful example of announcing the good news in this context, check out his story of Abs and Flow. It’s a superb example of post-Christendom, Western, contextualisation.

My next post is about how this works in an ordinary congregation ..

For earlier posts in this series on mission that’s out of they valley, go here

Posted by steve at 08:23 AM

Monday, May 03, 2010

mission that’s out of the valley 2: motivations for Uniting mission

So on Saturday I spoke to about 70 local Adelaide youth leaders. My topic was mission. Here is what I did.

I started by talking about motivation. Why bother spending a gorgeous autumn afternoon talking mission, especially with a Showdown looming?

  • first, mission is in my blood, and I introduced my background
  • second, mission is in your (Uniting) blood. To explore this I presented a visual summary (hat tip Craig Mitchell) of the Basis of Union. People commented on the priority of words like church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ). This suggests a great motivation, than mission is simply God transforming lives, not of the clergy, but of the whole people of God. So mission is simply changed lives and it’s essential to the Uniting blood.
  • third, mission is also in our history, positively, and I told the story of Brendan the Navigator and the values of risk and edgy adventure
  • fourthly, mission in our history negatively, and I told the story of Samuel Marsden. Who in New Zealand is a mission hero, but in Australia is the flogging chaplain, an appalling mission example as he dealt excessive punishment to convicts. So as we think about mission, we need to own our past, both positive and negative and be aware of how that history shapes our imagination.
  • fifthly, the fact that only 5% of Uniting churches have offered the whole people of God training in faith sharing. That’s a tragic statistic for a denomination in which church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ is in their blood. So, while mission is broad, in the Uniting context, evangelism as mission, certainly deserves some sort of intentional focus.

So, I wanted to talk about mission as evangelism and I intended to explore that under three headings

  • being a mate – sharing with friends
  • having a yarn – announcing the good news
  • crossing the ditch – incarnational mission

(These are highly Aussie phrases and they came to mind while reading Darren Cronshaw’s most excellent Credible Witnesses, Companions, Prophets, Hosts and Other Australian Mission Models, Urban Neighbours of Hope, 2006.)

That was the first part of four segments. For what I said –
1) in relation to faith sharing, go here,
3) in relation to practice at an ordinary church, go here.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM