Friday, November 12, 2010

a way to teach theology

Here’s an idea for teaching theology. Say you have a format which includes tutorials. You also have readings you expect (!) students to read. And a concern that students don’t read enough.

Why not offer an introductory frame, based say around the Wesleyan quadrilateral – experience, tradition, Scripture, reason.

(Hat tip: Diagram from Scott McKnight)

(Or perhaps you’re a bit more hip and you want add a fifth – creation and culture – ie Wesleyan pentalateral!).

(Or the practical theology model offered by John Drane, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty, page 129, which uses reading; tradition; life experience; passion)

Having provided the frame, as you hand out the readings, also handout to each student 10 cards – 2 experience cards, 2 tradition cards, 2 Scripture cards, 2 reason cards, 2 creation/culture cards.

Suggest the following tutorial format:

  • each week the lecturer will offer both a case study question and a set of readings. Say the topic is Spirit and the church. So a question could be “Can a person call themselves a Christian and not be part a the church?” and the reading could be a chapter from Clark Pinnock’s fantastic Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit
  • each week the lecturer will stand at the board and prepare to scribe the student discussion
  • each week discussion is invited. This occurs by inviting each student to play one of their cards. They choose whether they bring an experience, or a Scriptural reflection, or an insight from tradition, or some reason, or an artifact from creation/culture.  (Over 10 weeks, with 10 cards, they choose how they prepare for the tutorial and what they read/reflect upon.)  All must be in relation to the case study question.  Discussion and interaction occurs.
  • in the last 15 minutes you switch from discussion to reflection on the process. Overall, how do the “cards” integrate? are there missing or overabundant parts? what are the implications?
  • each student then writes up a 1 page reflection on the case study question, upon which they are graded. This is handed in at a later date and ensures that they are provided time to settle their own theological view in relation to the question. Students gain extra marks if they do extra research over and above the class discussion. So if a class finds a weakness one week in say tradition or Scripture, and the student goes away and does extra work in this area, credit is gained.

My hunch is that this would provide both an interesting way for students to engage in theology and a way for them to continually reflect upon the actual process by which they do theology. It would encourage reflection that is not just book based and would helps students develop in areas they are not instinctively strong in.


Posted by steve at 10:34 AM

creationary: communion as call and response

I am placing on the blog two communion prayers. Both are based on a call and response, where the essential telling of the story is done by the congregation, not by the presider/leader.

I have found this pattern of enormous help in recent times. It is an echo of the Hebrew Passover pattern, in which the child asks questions and the answers tell the story. It is an echo of Baptist communion theology in which the gathered community are the site for naming sacramentality (for where two or three are gathered, there is Christ). It is a way of inviting the community to do liturgy – the work of the people. It is a chance to deepen understanding, for as people say words, they are more likely to be engaged and thoughtful in and around those words.

One of these “call and response” prayers comes from the church in Kenya. The other comes from colleague Craig Mitchell (more…)

Posted by steve at 08:39 AM

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas crafting with Mary: another entry in the dictionary for everyday spirituality

I continue to find enormous enrichment from Rowan Williams Advent reflections, Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin. I’m into a second daily devotional read. And I think it will inform the service of ordination sermon I’m down to preach on December 5. Here’s what I read today:

Mary, one legend says, was brought up in the Temple precincts; and, like the other young ladies living in this rather strange boarding school, she was occupied for a lot of her time in weaving the veil of the sanctuary. When they drew lots, she was assigned the weaving of the purple and the scarlet thread, and was sent home to Nazareth to spin. She takes up the scarlet wool; pauses to go to the well for water and is greeted by the Gabriel as she goes. But she sees no one and returns, anxious and flustered, to the spinning wheel. This time, she takes up the purple – and Gabriel stands before her and announces her future. (60)

While this is creative re-imagination, it does encourage a creative, crafted approach to Christmas and Christian spirituality. It is an invitation to craft, to hand-make Christmas cards, to paint an icon, to bake some Christmas muffins. And in these very acts of domesticity, to expect that encounter with God and an invitation to bear new life, that spirituality can be woven into the fabric of our ordinary lives, that discernment of God’s threads in our life need not be instant, but can be slowly unravelled.

(I’m also adding this to the A-Z dictionary of everyday spirituality. In this case C is for crafts. For more on domestic spirituality, especially in regard to gender, see here.)

Posted by steve at 09:54 AM

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

prayer for ordinands

May you have the courage and discernment to name yourself,
and those you serve,
both truly
and uniquely.

My prayer for those from Uniting College today who received candles as a symbol of transition from phase 2 (intentional training through formal and in placement mechanisms) to Phase 3 (first full-time ministry placement).

Posted by steve at 07:05 PM

mission shaped church australia?

A sign, small and white, stuck on a door. An invitation to enter, to begin a conversation. The future, uncertain, the companions inside, unknown …

And so yesterday I at Uniting College hosted 11 folk, from 4 States and 1 territory, representing 4 denominations. The invitation, as the sign indicated, was to a conversation about mission-shaped church training in Australia.

The conversation was wide ranging and frank. The outcomes were for the next 12 months. To seek permission from UK to a pilot, in two places, from mid-2011 of an Australianised version of the UK Missionshaped course. One in Canberra using a more intense format over a number of weekends. Another in Adelaide weekday evenings during Semester 2.

An initial (cash) intention to partnership from five groups, with three other likely partners and an open invitation for any and all to join at any time later. A (time and skills) commitment from different folk to be part of a national team of trainers by workshopping segments, both individually and in partnership, with the intent of developing an ecumenical team of learners-together-in-teaching.

And the hope that, based on learnings from the two pilots, based on feedback from the UK, that we might look to run more courses into 2012, not only in Adelaide and Canberra, but perhaps in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.

We finished thanking God for those who have pioneered before us, both here in Australia and in the UK, on who’se work we are building.

And with excitement, of being part of a broadly ecumenical partnership wanting to follow the Spirit in providing concrete mission-shaped training.

And of affirmation, that the sign on the door remains, to anyone, to enter, to join the conversation – one that us uncertain, unknown, but it does now have some companions on the journey.

I’ll keep blogging more details as they shape up; for an earlier post/invitation, see here.

Posted by steve at 03:38 PM

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Shifts: Doing action research in your own organization

One of the very significant shifts in recent decades has been the willingness to embrace experience in knowing. In contrast to “I think therefore I am,” has been the pursuit of “We experience, therefore we grow.”

This has huge implications for being human, for being Christian, for education. This serves to introduce a new book I will be blog reviewing: Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization. It is the type of book that frames and names much about the new missional masters we’re piloting in 2011.

Action research is defined as “an approach to research which aims at both taking action and creating knowledge or theory about that action.” (ix) It is interested not only in individual head knowledge, but in actions and knowledge.

It assumes a spiral approach to life and learning, in which planning leads to action which leads to reflection which leads to planning … and so on. It assumes collaboration, in that what is being studied are themselves active in the study process. It assumes we are all insiders of many systems. This brings us knowledge and the invitation to action.

The desire to be involved in or to lead radical change involves high hassle and high vulnerability, realistic expectations, tolerance, humility, self-giving, self-containment and an ability to learn. Insider action research is an exciting, demanding and invigorating prospect that contributes considerably to researchers’ own learning and contributes to the development of the systems in which we work and live and with which we have affiliations. (xi)

Which surely is what much Christian research and education should be about? (Hence the missional masters, in which leaders use their own context as a place for learning and growth. And this is deemed a place which deserves post-graduate “action-research”.) It should invite us to change, it should expect our churches and our communities to grow and change!

This of course raises a complex range of issues, which the book seeks to explore and about which I will blog in coming weeks.

I would place Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization as a key text alongside Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development which I have been summarising on this blog throughout the year. Put them both together and you have a framework for growing and developing your leadership within your own context and communities, in a way that can advance academic rigour.

Posted by steve at 09:00 AM

Monday, November 08, 2010

Mastering Missional Leadership: A new training initiative

I wrote the following article for New Times, the South Australian Uniting church monthly magazine, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce it here, for readers not earthed South Australian soil.

Tim Costello, World Vision Australia CEO, noted recently: “Our leadership issues are not to do with our denominational structures. They are more to do with both our spiritual and our emotional intelligence.”

Uniting College has a mandate from Synod, to develop effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. For those beginning their formal training a new BMin has been devised that will focus on missional leadership.

But what about church leaders who have already concluded their training?

This question explains the launch, by Uniting College, of a Missional Leadership cohort within the Master of Ministry course. Participants can take all the components of the existing Adelaide College of Divinity Master of Ministry degree – coursework, guided reading, programme seminars and a ministry practice project – and approach them from a missional leadership focus.

Joining this stream is an invitation to work on missional change within one’s own ministry context. Growth as a missional leader is then foster by a combination of coaching, guided reading and peer cohort support.

In 2010, the College offered a short-course on Missional Church Leadership. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “The Missional Leadership Course offers great participatory learning and course content that encourages thinking outside the square” noted one participant. Another described the course as “some of the best study time spent – linking the Bible with theory and practice.”

As the course ended, a realisation was shared that the missional leadership learning journey had only just begun. Leadership development requires both intentionality and companions in a shared pilgrimage. From this awareness arose the idea of forming a Missional Leadership cohort within the Master of Ministry programme.

If you are a person whose initial training did not include a focus on mission and leadership, if you want to enhance your missional leadership skills, and if you understand the value of collegial support in cultivating change in your ministry context, this Missional Leadership stream is for you.

 The plan is to pilot this course in 2011. Prompt expressions of interest are required for this to happen. For more, check out page 3 of the (1 meg) PDF download

Side bar article: 
A typical Missional Leadership cohort track 


Posted by steve at 07:37 AM

Friday, November 05, 2010

my plan for the weekend

going bush :)

Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Youth, spirituality and the arts with John Safran: morning after update

We were talking in class this week about how to stay culturally connected in ministry and I cited the Blake exhibition. I’ve written before on the value of the Blake prize as a window into contemporary culture.

Anyhow, it’s the opening of the 59th Blake exhibition in Adelaide this evening. A bonus is a session with John Safran, from 7:30 pm onward. Titled Talk your arts off, with a theme of youth spirituality and the arts. John is a comedian who has won four AFI (Australian Film Institute), including for his John Safran vs God.

It should be an interesting evening! And I’ll be sure to blog any highlights (or lowlights!)

The morning after:
1. The place was packed, with queues and a waiting list. Lot of interest in either youth, spirituality, arts, John Safran or the combo.
2. Audience is mainly young adult. Not youth, but young. A lot of young adult interest in either youth, spirituality, arts, John Safran or the combo. Would have loved to have known why people came?
3. Panel were mixed in what they contributed. Standouts for me were Rod Pattenden – human and wise – and Humma Mustafa – warm and passionate.
4. The tension between free expression and social responsibility was a recurring theme. Art and religion live at times in uneasy dialogue with tolerance.
5. The loss of context in a global world will require a greater degree of maturity and discernment.
6. Australians feel they are more and more spiritual. The loss of denominations is seen as an opportunity for a genuine spiritual search for meaning. (For more on this, see here)
7. Australians feel they have a distinct take on spirituality. This includes relation to the land. (For more on this, see here). They also like people who are secure enough in their identity that they can laugh at themselves. (For an example, see here).

Coming away, if I was serious about mission today amongst spiritually seeking young people, I’d start by ripping up my Sunday service liturgies and instead creating spaces for experience and for storytelling.

Posted by steve at 05:35 PM

mission as partnership: learning from the other in fresh expressions?

Just had a fascinating and rich coffee conversation about mission. It involves one of the Master of Ministry students, who has been interviewing people returning from short-term mission. A rich data set has emerged, packed with honesty, emotion, insight and question.

It opened up a great conversation. If we are a genuinely “catholic” church (to use the Creed – one, holy, catholic, apostolic) then the current global church is a gift. Every part of the body of Christ will have a unique charism, insights that can challenge and grow us. In the old days missionaries went to “save and serve.” But with the presence of God now in so many countries, mission is about listening and solidarity, learning with and from each other.

Might it be that people in short term mission become the literal “eyes and ears” of a local expression of church? They help the local expression of church, limited by it’s geography and culture, to see the gospel more fully.

(If so, genuine reciprocity needs to happen, in which we receive short terms as well as send short-termers!)

The implications for fresh expressions are obvious. It was old-fashioned colonialism that celebrated “save and send.” What does listening, solidarity and partnership look like? This is a Fresh expressions “ideal” model …

… which suggests that a fresh expression goes through a number of stages in their formative journey. It starts with listening to God’s call, moves to loving service, then is followed by forming community and disciple-making. The result is church emerging in a fresh space, opened up in response to the creative work of God’s Spirit.

The renewed insight for me from today was the reminder of the importance of beginning with listening including to the people we find ourselves among, of loving service not as us doing something for the other, but of finding ways to partner in service, of community forming not based our how we engage relationally, but on the patterns of the host culture, of disciple-making which is a mutual learning.

I hear echoes of what happened here with the Opawa Spring Clean (6th one happened just last weekend), in which we worked to serve with the community, and in doing so found new ways to relate together.)

I also hear echoes of various Christian artists depicting Philips encounter in Acts 8, as a mutual disciplemaking, which is outlined so helpfully in Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission.

Posted by steve at 09:47 AM

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

great local mission story and a spontaneous liturgy

Simon Carey Holt’s God next door is a great little book. Small, easily read, theological, yet practical, it’s a treasure I’ve been using a lot this year, in reflecting on fresh expressions and mission.

It includes a superbly challenging story of local mission, which I have told a number of times in recent weeks. The first time I cried. The second time I had this wonderfully spontaneous liturgical moment, preaching in relation to Zacchaues in Luke 19. Read the local mission story and then I’ll tell you what happened. (more…)

Posted by steve at 04:41 PM

Monday, November 01, 2010

mission really matters

One of the big shifts here at Uniting College in the last few years has been in the area of teaching disciplines. In order to respond to the renewed emphasis in missio Dei and to formation as whole-bodied, not merely intellectual, we’ve moved from three areas to four; from

  • Biblical
  • Theology – systematic and historical
  • Pastoral – (ie everything that doesn’t fit in the other two)


  • Biblical
  • Education and Discipleship
  • Leadership
  • Missiology

I’m involved with the missiology stream. Which is new and hence I often get asked what is “missiology”? So in order to help explain missiology, and to promote the change and in the hope of drawing interested people together in the hope of gentle Kingdom revolution of the world that God loves (!), I have created a newsletter. I’m hoping to provide 3 or 4 a year, with the aim of introducing missiology, offering some helpful resources, and communicating comings and goings. Here’s the front page of the first …

Here as downloadable PDF

(Faithful blog readers will recognise some of the resources, but might still appreciate the colour and the clarity. I am unsure whether to keep it tight at 2 pages, or to provide more resources but in doing so go larger. This time around the viscious red editing pencil won the 2 pages vs 4 pages duel!)

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM