Thursday, June 30, 2011

Living the text intensive – learning from Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and U2

I’m teaching an intensive – Living the text – in a few weeks (11 -15 July). It has become a bit of signature course for me. I first taught it at Fuller Seminary in 2006, again in 2007, then at Tabor in 2008, a couple of times in Christchurch and finally a segment by distance last year at the University of Otago.

So this is number 7 and it’s been fun over the last few days to update the readings, ponder the case studies, hit a few refresh buttons and consider what we can learn from the likes of a Rob Bell or a Brian McLaren or a Bono Vox about communication.

There’s still space for a few more, so if you want a week of story, community and creativity that seeks to resource the use of the Bible in local church communities, then drop me a line.

Here’s the plan for the week

The text today: The text as strangely familiar
Case study: U2‘s Bullet the Blue Sky; Rob Bell “Resurrection”

Imagination: Community
Case study: Communal lectio divina by Brian McLaren

Environments: Spirit2go
Case study: Show and tell from the Taylor grab bag

Storytelling in theory: Storytelling in practice
Case study: Amateur Godly play

Sunday’s coming: Structures, preparation
Case study: Participant offerings and discussion

And here’s the course blurb: This course will explore the communication of the Biblical text in a contemporary world, with particular missiological reference to the use of the Bible in a contemporary context. It will apply theological insights around text, community and culture, to the task of maintaining and communicating the integrity of the Biblical text with reference to postmodernity. This course will take for granted skills in expository preaching, and deliberately seek to critically explore other ways to engage and present the Biblical text.

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM

tech tools in ministry: writeboard, kindle and snapz pro

Over the last 6 months, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about and then putting to use in ministry, a number of new tech tools;

  • writeboard for worship planning
  • kindle for speaking
  • snapzpro for teaching

For those interested, here’s a run down … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM

Prayer for those with a common cold

I’m suffering from a common cold – sore ears, sore throat, snuffles, blah.  This prayer (hat tip Michelle Coram) is proving helpful.

God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessing in disguise.
Amen – Michael Leunig

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why engage a leadership 360 process in Christian ministry?

Yesterday I blogged about a new Masters intensive, Leadership 360. As Sandy Jones spoke today, on why do 360? I took the following notes …

  1. Overcomes isolation. A common complaint from ministers is about a sense of is isolation in ministry. They get so little feedback and when they do, it’s often complaints. What they have found is that a Leadership 360 opens up constructive feedback loops.  You get some perspective on your strengths and impact you are having on people.
  2. Eavesdropping into expectations. The leadership 360 has involved working with 100s of leaders. A recurring surprise is the fact that the 360 tool offers not just a window into  a leaders own personal leadership. It also offers a window into the expectations that people have, or yearning for, in leadership. This is really helpful, as it allows insight and discovery of more about the community of faith you are part of and what might be significant for this group of people.
  3. Celebration. Invariably the 360 allows a chance to celebrate God’s grace through a person’s leadership. This is key, to take the feedback as a chance to honour before God what people are thankfulness for about your ministry.
  4. Assumes team. No leader can be great at everything. A 360 makes that obvious.
  5. Exploration of perception. The tool is not designed to describe what a great leader looks like, but interact with perceptions of those who engage with you in ministry.
  6. Invitation to journey. The process provides a space for journeying. It includes coach working with you to help a person process and plan. It mixes personal reflection mixed with coaching.
  7. Education. Doing the 360 can have an educative role for congregations. It helps folk realise the breadth of being in ministry. This can often cause them to want to better support and train. Which returns us to point one – it works against isolation in ministry
Posted by steve at 07:36 PM

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creating safe spaces for leadership development: Missional masters

This evening a Masters of ministry (missional) intensive begins, with folk from inter-state and rural South Australia gathering for 3 days of learning.

The point of the Masters of Mission (missional) is to encourage action reflection research – for folk to be able to treat their context, their ministry placement, as the primary place for reflection on mission and ministry. This means a thesis that is more of a journal, a record of what has been implemented (action), and the learnings (individual, community, theology, missiology) that have resulted, which in turn has lead to more action, and more learning. And so the spiral between action and reflection continues over the 3-4 year period. Academic rigour is essential, but it need not be abstracted, impersonal, detached research.

Around the thesis is built a cohort experience (6 times a year) – for collegiality – along with, over the period of the Masters, a range of readings and intensive experiences.

This includes a leadership intensive and in particular the use of a 360 tool. As students engage in the Masters of ministry (missional), we want them to have a clear picture of themselves as leaders. Most leaders both overestimate and underestimate themselves. Our perceptions get skewed by ego, insecurity and the muddle around the word “leadership.”

To facilitate the 360 tool, we have worked with an independent resource, Sandy Jones, who has a consultancy in this area.

It has required a considerable amount of pre-work, in which the participant nominates 15-20 people who see them in action – in meetings, in peer relationships, in ministry – and are invited to reflect back what they see. This data is compiled and is provided, anonymously, to the participant. At the start of the intensive, each participant is linked with a coach, with whom they meet three times over the time. Once to make sure they are hearing the data correctly (most of us focus on the negative), a second time to start to devise a growth plan that builds on the strengths and faces the weaknesses, a third time to ensure the plan is realistic and achievable. That relationship will continue over a 12 month period as the plan is implemented.

It is a first time. But we hope that rather than teach an intensive about leadership, that instead folk in ministry get an accurate picture of who they are in context, and a chance to be strategic about their growth in mission and ministry. Which in turn sharpens their thesis, their action in a context.

For a Masters in Missional Leadership brochure.

And then more specifically, the shape of 2011 – Year One

Further posts:
For some thought pieces on the underlying methodologies of the Masters of Ministry (missional), see (here and here and here and here).

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Sunday, June 26, 2011

more on Exploring U2: the book

Here’s some more information about Exploring U2. Is this rock and roll? book (in which I have a chapter – (“Bullet The Blue Sky” As An Evolving Performance).

Edited by Scott Calhoun and with a foreword by music journalist Anthony DeCurtis, Exploring U2 is a collection of essays examining U2 from perspectives ranging from the personal to the academic and is accessible to curious music fans, students, teachers and scholars alike.

Four sections organize sixteen essays from leading academics, music critics, clergy and fans. From the disciplines of literature, music, philosophy, psychology and theology, essays study U2’s role in developing their listeners’ concepts of personhood and identity; U2′s evolving use of source material in live performances; the layering of vocal effects in some of U2′s signature songs; the crafting of a spiritual community at concerts; U2’s success as a business brand; Bono’s rhetorical presentation of Africa to the Western consumer; and readings of U2’s work for intertexts, spiritual statements, irony, conservatism and hope in space and time.

Official band biographer Neil McCormick presents U2 as a “Dublin-shaped” band, and for the first time in print, Danielle Rhéaume writes on how discovering and returning Bono’s lost briefcase of lyrics for the October album propelled her along her own artistic journey.

This thoughtful and timely collection recognizes U2’s music both as its own art and as commenting on personal journeys and cultural dialogues surrounding contemporary issues. It offers insights and critical assessments that will appeal to scholars and students of popular music and culture studies, those in the fields of theology, philosophy, the performing arts and literature, and all intellectually curious fans of U2.

The book is due for publication with Scarecrow Press (academic reference and professional books publisher owned by University Press of America) in a variety of formats in October/November of this year.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Saturday, June 25, 2011

U2 “Out of Control” at Glastonbury

U2 have just concluded their headline act at Glastonbury, finishing with “Out of Control.” (Full set list here). U2 tend to finish with a quieter, more reflective song like Moment of Surrender or 40, while “Out of control” tends to be played early in the “energy” part of their sets.

So the use of Out of Control to conclude a show is interesting. A nod to the difference between a festival compared with a concert? A nod to the sort of schedule which seems them play Baltimore (USA) on the 22 June, Glastonbury (UK) on the 24, then flying back across the Atlantic for East Lansing (USA) on the 26th?

Or perhaps it was because of the lyrics;

Eighteen years of dawning
I say how long; You say how long

given that this was U2’s first ever Glastonbury appearance and given the postponement, due to emergency surgery on Bono’s spine, from last year.

“Out of control” is from their first album, Boy, and the song was first played live in 1979. That’s like 30 years ago. It’s a pretty gusty call to finish a headline performance at a global music festival with a song from your first album. It got me thinking about my first attempts at creativity – those early sermons and fumbling attempts at alternative worship. Would they stand the test of time?

While on the subject of U2, this week by email arrived the Table of Contents and the cover image for the Exploring U2. Is this rock and roll? book in which I have a chapter (one of 16) titled (“Bullet The Blue Sky” As An Evolving Performance). The book is (still) on track for publication with Scarecrow Press (academic reference and professional books publisher owned by University Press of America) in October/November of this year.

Given the accessibility of the subject matter (popular music) and that this is an international publisher, it got me wondering about having a bit of book launch here in Adelaide. Perhaps linked with the new Bible and Culture topic being taught for the first time ever this second Semester at Uniting College?

Posted by steve at 12:08 PM

Thursday, June 23, 2011

(updated) quite the media man: an ABC day

Updated: for those interested I said no to ABC radio. And yes to ABC TV in my capacity as Flinders University lecturer. The result is here, with my 20 secs worth from 4:05-4:24. (Mostly shots of my office and books)

As I got off the plane from Melbourne yesterday, my phone rang. It was ABC TV, the 7:30 report wanting an interview, a wider perspective on a local and topical church issue.

After discussion with my various “bosses” my answer was yes and so today the cameras arrived and set up in my office. Lighting check. Sound check. A range of questions. A bit of coaching (weave the question into the answer). Some background type shots of me answering email.

And they were gone and who knows what might be sliced and diced for the viewing public (on Friday).

Three hours later, another phone call. ABC radio, wanting me to be part of panel (Sunday evening) discussing another topical issue.  Still tossing this one around, as it’s a even “hotter” than the first.

And at some point there is my day job (marking!!)

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

a crash course in fleeing Western captivity. part 1 culture

According to Wilbert Shenk (“Recasting Theology of Mission. Impulses from the Non-Western World”, in Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Western theology has pursued an inward-focused, intellectual, and pastoral agenda rather than outward-looking evangelistic and missional agenda … As Western theology moved into the university and was professionalized, it became increasingly detached from ecclesial reality and cultural context. (117, 8).


This means that all talk about being Christian, about church, about mission, in the West, runs the risk of being corrupted by the scripts of Western theology, of being overly inward, intellectual and detached.

For Shenk, the way forward is to learn from the global (non-Western) church. He suggests wisdom from the global church has come in four areas -culture, Spirit, Jesus and church.

Let’s start with the first. With regard to culture, we need to learn skills to look for God in culture. Shenk  draws on the work of Andrew Walls (“The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture” Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Christianity Today has called Andrew Walls “the most important person you don’t know.” Walls argues that while mission needs to hold in tension both the Indigenizing principle (God starts where we are at) and the Pilgrim principle (God invites us to change), that mission must begin with the first, with indigenization, with starting where people are.

  • Indigenizing – only way we can understand Christ is “in our own language” – in our context, our culture, our concepts. In other words, God starts despite our prejudices, suspicions, our hostilities.
  • Pilgrim – God takes us in order to transform us. That faith will put us out of step with culture and invites us to link with our past, with the church through history, with another’s sets of ideas, concepts, assumptions.

For discussion.

1. What would it mean in your community if you started with “indigenizing”?

2. What examples of “pilgrim” have you seen in your own experience?

Posted by steve at 09:16 PM

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Melbourne on mission

Monday afternoon I headed for Melbourne. I was keynote speaker at the Uniting Church Presbytery of Yarra annual ministers retreat, invited to speak for three sessions on mission.

  • Mission today – a crash course on recent trends (culture, Spirit, Jesus, church) in non-Western mission and some implications
  • Mission as fresh expressions – missio Dei, Luke 10:1-12 and how they might shape fresh expressions
  • Leadership and mission – Mary and Elizabeth and how they might shape our imagination as leaders today

The first session was totally new, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, to try and summarise trends in mission. So it was a fair bit of work, but a good excuse and it certainly helped in setting a mission framework for our discussions. (Although like all first times, the session lacked a bit of colour.)

The group were a good bunch – quiet, thoughtful, intelligent, diverse. In addition, the numbers and setting and sense of history with each other ensured some really excellent discussion. (And quite some interest in some of our mission training options.)

It proved a memorable trip. It started with the suggestion that I pick up a rental car, which made sense logically. But it did require driving in rush hour through a strange city and then 90 minutes drive into the country, to a fairly isolated retreat centre. It got dark, the night stormy and wet, blown branches strewn all over the roads, which got narrower and narrower. And the evening news that the ash cloud from the volcano in Chile had returned. And so my flight back was cancelled.

The result was an overnight delay and a missed Faculty meeting.

But some good time in casual conversation, which is always so valuable in helping me get my head in Australia.

Posted by steve at 09:11 PM

Monday, June 20, 2011

mission really matters newsletter

Here is the 2nd edition (June 2011) of the mission really matters newsletter (an occasional communication from the Missiology stream at Uniting College intended to spark conversation, share resources and promote training). It includes an overview of mission progress in the last 6 months, some resources, comings and goings and upcoming events. If you want me to be on the e-mailing list, drop me a line.

Posted by steve at 10:49 AM

Saturday, June 18, 2011

study leave in UK?

I am wondering about taking 2 weeks of study leave in the UK, September 19-30.

I am due to give a conference paper (Emerging church 10 years on? a longitudinal study) at an Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference at Durham September 20-22. I am then due to input to Masters and D.Missiology students at Cliff College on Sept 27-28. So I’m looking for somewhere quiet to study (and walk) in the Northish of England in between.

I have a few thoughts (connect with Church Army Sheffield Centre or Lindisfarne), but thought I’d ask if there are any UK readers who might have suggestions.


Posted by steve at 08:14 PM

Friday, June 17, 2011

teaching Jesus today

“…Theologians are now primarily called to provide not a theoretical argument for Christianity’s plausibility, but an account of how Christianity can be part of the solution—rather than part of the problem—on matters that make a life-and-death difference to people, especially the poor and the oppressed. Kathryn Tanner, Kathryn. “Christian claims: how my mind has changed.” Christian Century 127, no. 4 (February 23, 2010), 40. 

This quote (hat tip Paul) haunts me, a call for those who teach, research and train leaders.

It was hugely important in the new VET Christology distance course I have been writing this semester and in my own thinking, including the Flinders University debate.

Posted by steve at 11:36 AM

Thursday, June 16, 2011

film review: Australian film Mad Bastards

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

Mad bastards
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Mad Bastards begins as an Aussie version of Once were Warriors.

Flames flicker as thirteen year-old Bullet (played by Lucas Yeeda), tosses a homemade Molotov Cocktail onto a wooden verandah in outback Australia. Meanwhile Bullet’s absent father, Aboriginal man, (TJ as Dean Daley-Jones), is drinking and fighting his way through Australia’s urban decay.

To resolve the distance, Mad Bastards becomes road movie. Think Convoy, Easy Rider, Smokey and the Bandit. Or closer to Australia, Mad Max.

TJ hitches toward the vast expanse that is the Kimberley (an area of north west Australia twice the size of New Zealand), seeking his son Bullet, whom he abandoned at birth. A quest, both physical and metaphorical, in which the journey provides opportunities for redemption. Which for TJ will include facing the past, including his estranged wife (Nella as Ngaire Pigram), father-in-law (Greg Tait as local police officer Texas) and his indigenous culture.

What Mad Bastards lacks in polish, it gains in reality. Director (Brendan Fletcher) began with oral stories from indigenous people and uses mostly untrained local actors. It makes for some ham moments but in a manner similar to Mike Lee (Secrets and Lies) allows them to improvise, threading their own experiences through the script.

This is a real movie about a culture and a country on a journey. In the week of the movie’s release, one of the actors, Roxanne Williams, was convicted of murdering her partner in their Kimberley home. In the month of release, journalist Nicholas Rothwell wrote of “a crisis of grief … a spiritual collapse so deep it cannot be held back … as an entire culture, acting collectively, destroys itself. (Living hard, dying young in the Kimberley, The Australian)

Kiwi readers might find such social comment difficult to comprehend. Where Maori have a treaty and a common language, indigenous Australians are in fact many nations with no historic legal protection.

The movie skillfully weaves in two further journeys, one therapeutic, another musical. Local cop, Greg Tait, responds to the violence and societal breakdown by starting a local men’s group. Sausages are devoured and no-one talks until Greg leads the way, sharing of his own struggles to parent and protect.

The musical soundtrack is a winner, made for the movie by local band, The Pigram Brothers and Alex Lloyd. Part calypso, part roots, part saltwater love songs, the band appear as actors in the film, traveling through the Kimberley, playing their quirky original music. It offers another thread in the road movie tapestry, upbeat and gorgeous yet at some dissonance with the themes being explored.

Curiously, the answer in Mad Bastards is baptism. TJ is told that while he does not belong to this indigenous community, he is welcome to become part of their lives. The next scene occurs by a river, where an elder stands, tipping water over TJ’s bowed head.

So begins transformation, as hospitality is offered, brokenness is faced and grace received.

Posted by steve at 05:10 PM