Friday, July 30, 2010

planting fresh expressions down under: a tale of seven churches

Here in South Australia we recently enjoyed the visit by Dave Male. One of the big helps for me was when Dave talked about the size of the core team in planting fresh expressions. He was making the point that the smaller the team, the slower the progress, but the more likely it would be radical re-expression of missional life. In contrast, the larger the core team, the more quickly the plant might grow, yet the more likely the new plant can end up look like it’s planting parent.

It helped me make sense of my fresh expressions experience.

My partner and I planted Graceway in 1994. That was last millennium, when noone was talking about fresh expressions or emerging church. But we knew that our mates were dialling out of church, yet still were encountering God. We started reading the literature on cultural shift and out of that emerged Graceway. We had values of community and creativity and participation, so we met cafe style, always had food, had a barstool for open sharing and explored the whole-body in worship. The planting team was small and it was such a long, hard slog, real pioneering.

There was simply none of the infrastructure and conversations and books that there are around now. We endured at times quite active hostility. But we learnt heaps and plugged away. We made mistakes but we saw God move. We saw some unchurched find faith, developed a distinctive way of life, built networks with the community and found ways to serve and love people. After 9 years we moved on. Graceway was fragile but had some good leaders.

We moved to Opawa in 2004. We were at Opawa six years and in that time had a go a planting six fresh expressions. One per year is good going when you think about it! (I talk about the multi-congregational ethos, which gave this initial shape elsewhere on this blog).

First was espresso, a Tuesday night discussion community for those wanting to explore faith questions is a conversational, open way.

Then came the hymn service, soup on Sunday afternoon, choosing of favourite hymns, a testimony and a sermon. connecting with those for whom hymns was an important part of faith formation.

We tried a number of experiments for spiritual seekers, running a journalling course in a local cafe, offering Sense Making Faith course. Each was important in connecting us with spiritual seekers, but none developed into a cohesive congregation. (Still important, still a great learning, still saw folk baptised.)

We re-planted our evening service in two different forms. One was a monthly Soak service, as a time to “soak” in God. Not so much a pioneering work, but more a contemplative space for people to make time to engage (soak in) God. Sung worship, lectio divina and then a range of stations. Lot of attention paid to the space, which, being in main auditorium was always big and worked really well in terms of contemplation.

The other was Grow which used the table as the main metaphor. People gathered in groups and on each table was an A3 sheet of paper in which people were invited to reflect on two theological questions – who is God and who are humans. Grow had a three week focus and each evening used multiple inputs – video clips, interviews, during the week challenges, top 10 quiz, sermon, prayer.

Another trial was made with the Gathering, which used a local community cottage to work with folks local and close to the church building. Lots of food, gathered around a big wooden table, Bible open.

Looking back, using Dave Male’s lens, helped me see that Opawa was a totally different way of planting fresh expressions than Graceway. Rather than lone “ordained” pioneers, we were involving teams of lay people. (Which you simply don’t have when you are the lone pioneer). Each expression looked for 4-5 people who gathered around an “itch” to explore new possibilities. Each faced the downside, the danger, of becoming a new form of worship, rather than a genuinely missional new form of church.

As Dave says, both types have their strengths and weaknesses. Multiple congregational planting with lay teams is much easier, while pioneering is much more radical.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is. (In fact, I’m not actually often sure what the point of this blog is.) Perhaps someone might find some resonance in one of these tales of seven fresh expression churches.

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

talking mission head in the UK?

There is a UK research and networking conference I would love to attend in the UK on the weekend of 17-18 September. It looks a worthwhile conference, but it is a long way to fly for a few days. So I thought I would use the blog to flag the possibility and ask if any of my UK readers could use a talking “mission” head either before or after.

I have spoken in a wide range of denominational contexts (and can provide references – even a Bishop(!) – if wanted). I can engage at both academic and popular level. My interests are in mission, leadership, change.

More concretely I have recently been found talking on

  • leading an established church through change, the practical and spiritual challenges of a “mixed economy”
  • worship, and proclamation, as a creative conversation between installation art and the evolving live performances of band U2
  • theology of pop culture, using pneumatalogy and Luke 10 as a lens
  • cultivating innovation in leadership and communities
  • hospitality as mission, particular as it related to their turf, not ours
  • how colonised communities resist their colonising cultures, with a specific focus on Bible reading practises
  • fresh expressions downunder, including use of lay teams, public art installations and spirituality2go

If you think I could help serve you, drop me an email steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz

Posted by steve at 06:02 PM

Missional church, missional liturgy

“For several years, I have offered workshops and classes on “missional liturgy.” A frequent response has been, “How can I make my church’s liturgy missional?” As I listened to these questions and probed more deeply, it has seemed as though people were asking about techniques … I began to realize that it was the wrong question.” (44-45).

There is a helpful article in the latest edition of Theology today, by Ruth A. Meyers on the shape of worship in missional church, which I will be adding it to my list of compulsory readings for the Missional Church Leadership courses I teach.

The article starts with a real life story of a missional community. Always a good sign, because a key theology underpinning missional church is the focus on lived communities and their practices, in contrast to starting first with elaborate theories. The article then places their lived practices alongside existing understandings of worship.

  • Inside and outside – gathered public worship builds up and resources Christians who then go out to serve in mission
  • Outside in – gathered public worship is seen as mission, attracting people who are changed by the worship experience
  • Inside out – worship is mission, not as an instrument to change people as with “outside in”, but as an full expression of God’s mission

The article then argues that all, and yet none, of these three categories describe missional worship.  After a helpful survey of recent shifts in mission – mission is a partnering with a Trinitarian God rather than humans taking initiatives – she then outlines a number of concrete practices, in which mission is worship and worship is mission. The list sounds traditional, yet has an intentional reframing.

  • Reconciling community – the more diverse the worshipping community, the more worship is missional, showing forth God’s reconciling love
  • Hospitality – welcoming those not yet active members with a focus on who is not here from our neighbourhood? Hence, what might need to change in us?
  • Symbol – using language of the people
  • Proclamation – seeing all the acts of gathered public worship as educational
  • Intercession – praying beyond our narrow parochial concerns, which in turns open those who pray to transformation
  • Offering – worship engaging the whole of life and all the people
  • Thanksgiving – simple gratitude
Posted by steve at 04:03 PM

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Can I swap my pliers for your economic Trinity?

A charge often levelled against theology is that of inaccessibility. I heard it again a few weeks ago. Why do theologians use incomprehensible words and talk in ways that none can understand?

I’ve been pondering this and have now decided that fair is fair.

That from now one, when someone accuses theologians of incomprehensibility, I will ask if I can borrow from them a silver metal thing, shaped like scissors, that snaps shut and has plastic handles.

14 words.
14 words that can still mean at least a number of tools.

When one word – pliers – would do.

Yes, theologians use short hand, words like economic Trinity.

2 words.
2 words that summarise 46 words: “the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, the formation of the Church, the daily lives of believers, etc. and describes how the Trinity operates within history in terms of the roles or functions performed by each Person of the Trinity.” (From Wikipedia).

I’m being smart. My point is simply this. Don’t we all use code words as short hand, as a way of speeding up conversation? Petrol heads have distributors, sheet metal workers have pliers. So can theologians have their economic Trinity?

Posted by steve at 04:42 PM

Monday, July 26, 2010

a new semester postgraduate focus

A new semester starts here at Uniting College today. The focus for me this Semester is the post-graduate area and it’s so nice to be building on foundations, rather than heading into unknown and uncharted terrain.

First is the continuation of Program seminars. I’ve blogged about these before, noting with excitement how these build collegiality and are constantly developing people’s ability to reflect theologically on current ministry practice. We’ve got new students and a really rich denominational environment – Salvation Army, Anglican, Lutheran, Churches of Christ, Catholic, Uniting – at play.

Second is the continuation of Missional Church Leadership. Students are at the half-way stage of the course. That means that today we are gathering around presentations of their listening in their unique contexts. As they present, I am working with the class developing their capacities to engage in processes of discernment. This is not theory, but requires stepping into real, living mission contexts and together exploring what God might be up to.

Third, the icing on the cake, is the post-graduate distance course I’m co-teaching for Otago University. It’s a “foreigner”, on my own time as it were. The topic is contemporary preaching and I am looking forward to co-teaching with Lynne Baab. The students have set up their own blogs and with the wonders of modern technology, I in Adelaide, will be engaging with Kiwi students throughout Aotearoa. It’s nice to realise that I might have left New Zealand, but in the grace of God, I can continue to be involved in my home!

Posted by steve at 06:47 AM

Sunday, July 25, 2010

updated: Build-your-own prayer stool: some useful websites

I’m wanting to build my own prayer stool. Not sure why, it just seems a creatively, impulsive thing to do. Sometimes, creative impulses are worth following. A quick surf of the web reveals a few useful websites

  • For best creative graphics go here.
  • For softies, ie tips for padding, go here
  • For a prayer stool that collapses down, due to the use of hinges, go here.
  • For an ecological angle on the project, go here.

So the next step is to go and get the necessary pieces of wood …

Update 1: Here it is …

complete with hinges, so it can be folded …

I am happy to make these, at cost plus postage, for anyone who wants. Just leave a comment …

Update 2: And one of my students has just taken this a step further. They are wondering about starting worship by inviting those gathered to make their own prayer stool.  Wood and nails will be provided. And people invited to make their own, then use their own during the worship. (Then take their own away – the ultimate spirituality2go takeaway).

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM

Saturday, July 24, 2010

FOSMT (free and open source missiology textbooks)

Helpful post here by AKMA on steps to an open source theology. He is discussing the Old Testament, but so very easy to apply to missiology. In sum

  • First, work out an overall structure and uniform presentation.
  • Second, find authors to write initial chapters to flesh out the structure
  • Third, edit chapters for uniformity and place on web.
  • Four, arrange a PoD publisher to sell papercopy
  • Five, encourage uploading of alternate points of view.

The result:

Bing, bang, bong, you have an open-source, free as in beer, free-to-reconfigure, free-to-supplement or even -alter (provided you give credit and don’t offer the altered version commercially without the author’s agreement) textbook. And that textbook is now useable anywhere English is read, for free. And that textbook is putting your name(s) in front of students and teachers all over the world, especially in places where they can’t necessarily afford the doorstop hardbacks that the textbook publishers love to charge so much for. And that textbook can easily be kept up-to-date. And if some agency were to fund it (and such funding needn’t even come to very much, in the world of granting — small to moderate honoraria for authors, editorial/production support, and so on), they could slap their name (or a prominent donor’s name) right there on the cover and on every title page

So I am wanting to develop for next year
a) mission-shaped course for Australasia
b) Mission then and now history and theology paper.

I wonder what these would look like FOSMT. Anyone want to partner in either step one, work out an overall structure and uniform presentation; or on step two, author a chapter; or on step three, being an editor, or on step zero – being the initial funder in order to position/brand your organisation as an innovative, missionary-focused, partnering type?

Posted by steve at 01:08 PM

Friday, July 23, 2010

Formation panels as a process in leadership formation

If you arrived at Uniting College today, you would have seen a carpark full of cars and a steady stream of students coming and going.  Today is Formation panel day, when teams of 3-5 people gather around each   candidates processes for ordination. Practically the panel is carefully chosen to bring missional leaders, faculty academic advice and skills in adult education. The same panel meet with the same candidates three times over a year, in a process that might take up to five years and involve academic study, fieldwork and readiness to transition into first placements.

Formation panels, and the carpark full of cars, are a recent development for training here in South Australia and have been shaped by a number of theological beliefs that are worth naming.

First, that training for ministry is not intellectual, but deals with formation for discipleship, inviting the whole person into processes of integration. Thus a panel is a way of making intentional this belief and will be exploring with candidates anything from life to balance, relationships to academic study to fieldwork.

Second, that candidates are engaged in ministry with and among the church. Hence the church, and not solely the academy, should be involved in their formation. I love seeing that carpark full of cars, some people driving up to two hours, all people living in and among the demands and pressures of congregational life. This is the church at work, giving time and focus toward leadership formation.

Third, that each candidate has a unique calling. This is not about producing cookie cutter ministers, all following the same template. Rather time in Formation Panel is given to listen, listen, listen, and then seek to shape a unique programme around each student –  mixing study, fieldwork, supervision. Every programme is unique and is revisited in each and every Formation panel, wanting to be flexible to student growth and development.

It’s an exhausting, time-consuming, complex process. It is demanding for the panel and for the candidates. But it makes some important theological points about the formation of leaders for the church of tomorrow.

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

church for the (kiwi) man in the shed

My interests include the relationship between church and society, gospel and culture. What is the role of the church in the world? How does the world see the church?

I’m currently enjoying The man in the Shed, a collection of short stories by Kiwi writer, Lloyd Jones, published in 2009, a commercial follow-up to the success (Commonwealth Writers Prize and shortlist for Man Booker Prize) of Mister Pip.

One story, Lost Cities, begins with Alice, who is painting her (rural Canterbury) town, building by building.

“And after the theatre, she plans an eating house and, next to it, a bar, and across the street a police station and gaol. And at the end of the street, a church of sharp cheekbones and high forehead. Within view of the church Alice adds the farmhouse.” (52)

A typical rural town, complete with to be expected church. The pages of the short story continue to turn.

Over time, Alice’s husband dies and her son, Mark grows. In time, Mark leaves for the bright lights (of Sydney). All the time, Alice continues to paint, the same picture, touched and re-touched, a visual reflection on her changing life in changing times. She paints and repaints. The tree grows, the buildings are modernised, threatres and restuarants are added, the city crowds are coloured in.

“Milling among the crowd over the ‘historic’ flagstone area are hotdog vendors, jugglers, pickpockets, thieves of all descriptions. There are yellow cabs, policemen on horseback, a flotilla carrying a beauty-pageant queen.” (59-60).

It’s a gorgeous sentence and a fascinating way to visualise change. The painting work as the still point, the canvas which captures change. So what will be the place of faith, the church, as times they are a changing?

“Over the church hovers Alice’s paintbrush. She hesitates to demolish it because the city will need a soup kitchen for the lives stranded short of the promised land.” (60).

It’s a fascinating glimpse, one perspective, on the future of faith in a culture of change. In the imagination of Kiwi author, Lloyd Jones, the future obviously needs a church. The reason is based on what Lloyd sees as the role of the church in contemporary society – to care for the broken and dispossessed. As it does that, it earns the right to remain in a contemporary painting, as it exists as a beacon of hope.

Yet such a place for the church, remains for Alice simply a painting. She might be grieving, she might be oh so creative. However, church remains for her an object painted for “them.” Never, for creative, middle-class, grieving Alice.

A fascinating way to paint the body of Christ into society today!

Posted by steve at 06:40 PM

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

wind of Spirit blows on and on and on: valuing takeaways

Tim Keel just dropped me a line to share a lovely story of the gracious, caring, unpredictable Spirit. He describes being part of a worship experience I lead in Pasadena, back in 2005. (I blogged about it back here.) The story then blows on, taking shape some 5 years later. Tim writes …

I returned to my office to clean it out. That involved box a lot of things up. But I also took the opportunity to go through old files to see what I wanted to keep and what could be thrown away. Going through old conference files, I found this postcard. Because of the impression Steve’s prayer made on me at the time of the conference, I wrote it out on the back of the postcard … To randomly find a postcard from a place I would soon being leaving for…I can’t adequately describe how powerful it was to read and then pray that prayer at a time when everything in my life felt like it was being blown apart.

It’s a lovely, encouraging, inspiring story. What strikes me is the importance of things that make worship tangible. I talk about this in my book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change.

Walter Brueggemann describes the task of mission in a postmodern world as one of funding, of providing the bits and pieces out of which a new world can be imagined. The emergent church needs to see itself as “funding” tourists, providing a deep and wide enough passage to enable postmodern people to navigate their way to God.

Sourcing tourism through the provision of spiritual products can be a key mission task of the emerging church. This builds on some of the current worshipping practices of the emerging church. It invites a move beyond gathered worship to consider how the church can be missionary, offering its spirituality resources as spiritual product to a spiritually hungry world, without expecting the crossing of a threshold of a church door. Let me give a few practical examples.

Most tourists buy souvenirs. When I talk of souvenirs, I am not thinking of kitsch. I’m thinking of photographs, personal mementos, shopping bags and those soaps, shampoos, and sugar packets from hotel rooms. These are souvenirs. When the tourist returns home, the handling of these takeaway souvenirs rekindles memories. The emerging church is asking itself what kind of physical souvenirs we can send home with those who journey with us.

For the last few years, churches like Graceway and Cityside have used art as part of the Advent experience in the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each Sunday, a different piece of art was introduced and reflected upon. The art pieces were printed on postcards and distributed. Attendees could take them home as a spiritual memento for the week and perhaps return to the reflections of Sunday’s experience. They served as spiritual takeaway, a souvenir to hang on the fridge door.
At this juncture, the souvenirs become missionary. Everyone remotely connected with the church can be sent a pack of four postcards. The church as tour guide is now offering spirituality to people both gathered and scattered. The e-mails and letters of gratitude flow in.

When churches start adding physical souvenirs, people have access to spiritual resources without having to open a church door. A theological stake has been driven into the ground. The church has recognized that people are at different places in their spiritual journeys. The church is loving people enough to go into the “highways and byways,” trusting the wind of the Spirit to do its work in people’s lives.

Five years on from when I wrote that, my thinking still holds. Our worship needs tangible shape. I don’t see a separation between the wind of the Spirit and the practicality of a takeway. Rather, drawing on Eugune Rogers, After The Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology From Resources Outside The Modern West: “To think about the Spirit it will not do to think ‘spiritually’: to think about the Spirit you have to think materially.” (56). And if you want to drift further back in time, then here is a scrap from a Pentecost sermon by Gregory of Nazianzen: “[I]f [the Spirit] takes possession of a shepherd, He makes him a Psalmist, subduing evil spirits by his song, and proclaims him KIng; if He possesses a goatherd and a scraper of sycamore fruit, He makes him a Prophet [Amos 7:14] …. If He takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world…. If of Publicans, He… makes them merchants of souls.”

This wind of the Spirit blows on the material world, and essential to our engaging the Spirit is our working with God’s creation. Like postcards.

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Monday, July 19, 2010

asylum seeker facts

  • The vast majority of people seeking asylum in Australia arrive by plane.
  • 95% of asylum seekers arriving by boat are found to be genuine refugees.
  • Just 3441 asylum seekers were given refugee status in Australia last year, roughly 1% of the total migration program for that year.
  • In comparison, around 50,000 people over-stayed their visa last year alone – mostly people with business, student or holiday visas.
  • Australia only accepts 1% of the worlds’ refugees.
  • At the current rate of refugee arrivals, it would take 20 years to fill the MCG.
  • It is not illegal to arrive in Australia seeking asylum.

From here.

  • Ruth, part of genealogy of Jesus, was a refugee.
  • Moses was seeking asylum when he fled Egypt.
  • So was Jesus when his parents fled from Herod’s military might.

From here

Sorry, I’m sure this issue is more complex than such simple sound bites.

Posted by steve at 06:03 PM

Sunday, July 18, 2010

new minister for Opawa Baptist

The church I used to pastor, Opawa Baptist has called a new minister and over the weekend, the Petrini family (Rob, Monique, Isabella, Alex and Jessica) were welcomed and Rob inducted as Senior Pastor.

Rob is Australian, while Monique is Mexican. The family have been located in USA, where Rob has been involved in a number of pastoral ministry roles. Rob brings a heart for discipling the first 3rd of life, worship and apologetics. The search committee chose to advertise the role internationally. (I thought they were nuts!) The downside was having to wade through over 100 applications! the upside was what could be a really interesting cross-cultural combination.

We wish to Petrini’s and Opawa all the best in their next stage of the journey. Part of the Taylor family sense of call was a very strong request to trust God – that the God who gave us such good friends and church family in New Zealand would be able to do that also for Opawa, as they looked for the next piece of their pastoral team.

For those interested, below are the greetings that we sent, first as Opawa considering calling a new senior pastor, and second for the commissioning … (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:48 PM

Friday, July 16, 2010

Aussie headbutts: worse than the underarm?

It looks like another low blow in Trans-Tasman sporting relationships, with an Australian cyclist, Mark Renshaw headbutting a Kiwi, Julian Dean, in Stage 11 of the Tour-de-France. (Video footage is here).

Renshaw, Cavendish’s leadout man on HTC Columbia, rammed his head three times into the shoulder of Dean, the leadout man for Tyler Farrar on Garmin-Transitions, in an apparent bid to push him out of the way during the final sprint. Dean was leading the pack at the time. (Link)

The incident, on a stage more public even than the infamous Trevor Chappell underarm incident, is sure once again to throw the spotlight on what it is that constitutes the true character of Australian sporting identity.

Posted by steve at 09:19 AM

Thursday, July 15, 2010

a depression prayer worth pondering

Father God,
it is hard to hope each morning,
to look forward to new treasures and mercies,
discovered when we are alive to your presence in all that we encounter.

Open our minds to the endless possibilities of life and power and thought.
Help us to meet you in our everyday life, in our anxieties and difficulties,
for you are there with us in our pain and sorrow.

Lift us from despair to new hope. Restore and renew us each returning day,
so that we may find joy in our journey with you. Amen

A prayer from the Mozarabic Sacramentary (10th century), that I’ve been finding profoundly helpful the last few weeks, as my workload has slowly ground the joy out of living. (Hat tip)

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM