Friday, August 12, 2011

are you one? or part of one?

A question that’s been zooming around and around in my head this week. Do we see ourselves as the one? Or as part of one?

You end the sentence.

Do we see ourselves as the one church? Or as part of one?
Do we see ourselves as the one church in the community? Or as part of one church in the community?
Do we see ourselves as the one trainer? Or as part of the training options?

Because the answer frames how we lead and how we invite people to relate to us.

For me, I’m glad I’m heading off to a mission-shaped ministry weekend that assumes I am not one, but part of one. Which means I am travelling with many others.

Posted by steve at 07:17 PM

Thursday, August 11, 2011

missional values

This was a (home designed) “brand” on a sweat top being worn at mission-shaped ministry course last night. And what are the missional values embedded in the words?

Eden’s bean. Serving God. Drinking Coffee. Since Day three.

It was another great night. Lindsay Cullen, from the Canberra team, was with us, sharing on the topic of missional values. I think he enjoyed having a 2nd go (having taught this topic in Canberra last weekend) and we certainly enjoyed a new face, some external input and outside encouragement.

Posted by steve at 08:33 AM

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sacred texts in a secular world

Sacred Texts in a secular world: How should we teach sacred texts in a pluralistic, multi-faith, modern university?

(Full PDF is here)

Dr Stephen Garner from the University of Auckland (blog here) will give the 2011 Annual Theology lecture on Thursday 25 August at 8 pm, at Flinders University in North Lecture Theatre 2.

With a number of years teaching Bible and Popular Culture and various courses on ethics and spirituality, with a PhD in public theology, particularly the relationship between artificial intelligence and Christian understandings of being human, and given the complex contemporary relationship between sacred texts and religious expression, this promises to be a timely and important occasion.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM

data, data everywhere: an emerging picture of an emerging church 10 years on

Babies become toddlers, toddlers head off to school, children become teenagers, teenagers become young adults, who ponder the dilemna of getting a hair cut and a real job.

Ten years ago I did some research on a toddler. More specifically, a group of people, Cityside Baptist Church. With a great tagline – Cityside: thinking allowed; thinking aloud allowed – they were exploring the shape of faith in contemporary culture. They graciously let me join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally.) The research ended up being a major part of my PhD and sparked some ideas which became a book (Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change).

Ten years later you begin to wonder what happened to that toddler. Has time been kind? How has it survived being a teenager?

Again, graciously, they let me return. Again, to join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally). (I think it’s a world first, a (longitudinal) study of an emerging church over time.)

Today I’ve been wading through some of the data. This includes 47 completed survey forms, with 22 questions, that explore the shape of their spirituality. The same questions as I asked 10 years, ago, so this allows some fascinating comparisons, to a time before 9/11 and iPhone’s and fears of global warming. There’s so much information, so much really interesting things to probe and ponder.

Ten years ago, this piece of the data alone became two chapters of 20,000 plus words. So after one day of analysis there are no clear trends.

But an intuitive sense – that this community has changed. And that part of the change is a faith that is more integrated, with a greater depth, that is more willing to express Christian faith in word and deed.

Which is a pretty encouraging thing to say about anyone, whether toddler or teen.

Posted by steve at 05:36 PM

Monday, August 08, 2011

Prayer for the dead of winter

in this winter I run,
and so much feels dead
in me, in others, in our world.

help me not forget
nor run on by
the unseen sap of your presence
the hard-worn history,
summer work and autumn blaze
hope in blossom

If you want to make this prayer your own, you could add your initials in the comment section. Similar prayers can be found here.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Spirituality and Paul Kelly: A concert reflection

“An Unforgettable Night of Paul Kelly Songs as you have never heard them before” was the billing for the concert. Australian composer, Paul Grabowsky, had taken various Paul Kelly guitar ballads and reworked, rewoven, remixed them. The result was a fresh and vital take, that served to showcase not only the songwriting gifts of Paul Kelly, but those of the Australian Art Orchestra, singers Vika and Linda Bull and The Choir with No Name.

The concert blurb described how the set list originated.

“Weather? Seasons? Women’s names? Drinking? I’d recently written a song called God Told Me To, the last verse a direct lift from Revelations, which put me in mind of other songs I’d written using Biblical language.”

And so the concert was about God. Strange really, to sit in a 21st century concert hall, listening to some of Australia’s finest musical talent sing. About God. Song after song introduced by explaining the connection to Biblical characters or texts. A live “Bible and culture” tutorial (It’s a topic we teach in our B.Min degree).

Here was the playlist.
48 Angels
Be careful what you pray for
The gift that keeps on giving
Surely God is a lover
Love is the law
My way is to you
Glory be to God
Jump to Love
Passed Over
Meet Me in the Middle of the Air
God’s Hotel
Gathering Storm

It is interesting to place this play list alongside another Paul Kelly playlist. I teach a B.Min class called Reading Cultures and we spend an hour on the music of Paul Kelly. We invite a local Uniting Church minister, Sean Gilbert, to play some songs and reflection on the significance of Paul Kelly.

The play list is so very different. It can include songs like
From Little Things Big things Grow
How To Make Gravy
When I First Met Your Ma
If I Could Start Today Again
Dumb Things
Deeper Water

The shape of spirituality is very different. It is about justice, about listening to indigenous voices, about facing our mistakes, about ritual and seasons, about growth through life, about absence and mistakes, about the seasons of life. It expects to find God not only in Biblical lyrics, but in all the places of our life, in all aspects of being human.

Which for me is a far more grounded, far more wholistic, far more interesting approach to spirituality. It expects God to be a whole lot bigger, big enough to be part of our life as well as big enough to speak through a book. I wonder if it is perhaps a bit more intrusive, God jumping out of church and asking to shape our lives 24/7.

Paul Kelly, Meet me in the middle of the air and Ascension Day worship here.
Paul Kelly, Sound Relief Bushfire appeal and the spirituality of public lament here.
Paul Kelly and the Parables of Matthew 13 here.

Posted by steve at 01:52 PM

Saturday, August 06, 2011

I did not begin a storyteller: learning a craft

I didn’t begin as one.

I hated public speaking at school.

Then I had kids. Kids love stories. Love “Once upon a time …” So I made up some bedtime stories. And when they began to squirm, I quickly realised some things hold attention and other things don’t.

And I watched tellers. In Edinburgh at the Good Craik Club. In New Zealand, Simon Brown with his Parables and poems.

And I practised in community. I invited folk at my first church (Graceway) to be part of a 6 week storytelling workshop. Together we practised. Worked on our craft.

Over the last two days I have been leading worship at the “Church &” conference here in Adelaide. The request was to model all-age worship with an unchurched awareness in a tradition church setting. Rather than come up with something new, for an audience I do not know, I went back to my archives. What had I done, on the ground, in community, in the past? The closest thing I could find where the Brigade services (Boys and Girls) that we used to run at Opawa Baptist.

Two services in which I found myself telling stories – Bill and Ben and their goat called Raisins (Mark 2:1-12); Jane and her rabbit called “Stu” (Mark 1:40-45).

I remembered that it was Friday and Sunday was coming. And with Sunday looming, sitting in my office, I found myself intrigued by the phrase “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What if the Paralysed person in Mark 2:1-12, was a son – not an adult, but a young boy? If so, what does sins forgiven look like for a young boy? And then in Mark 1 – what if the leper was an adult? A father? Who had a daughter? What might a healing from leprosy mean for that daughter? And so I found myself pushed – by the Biblical text, by a looming deadline, by the context of all-age worship, by having an audience that included kids – to tell a story.

At Opawa people seemed to really appreciate them. Both the community kid in the front row who kept being drawn back in. And the faithful over many years, who commented how much they learned from the sermon. (To which I couldn’t resist replying, Don’t you mean a story not a sermon?) Appreciation, at those two services.

And as I continue to tell them. And now at “Church &” people tell me I’m a great storyteller.

All I know is that I did not begin a storyteller.

So does this make storytelling a craft? Which anyone can learn? If they will simply practise with some kids. And watch other tellers. And practise in community. And then push themselves into a creative space.

Posted by steve at 12:28 PM

Thursday, August 04, 2011

worship when a changing world means a changing mission

Last night was the second week of the Adelaide mission shaped ministry course. With 2 new faces, there are now 47 registered. With the nerves of the first week gone, there is momentum in the air. My task is to lead worship and the hope is that all the worship is done in ways that are different, ways that offer possibilities.

The theme of week 2 is the mission of God. So I begin (the call to worship) with the teaser from the movie Up.

It seems to capture mission as risk, surprise, adventure. And so we say together, a missional paraphrase of Romans 8: This resurrection [mission] life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

The next task is the task of prayer. This is offered as an invitation to either ask/intercede or thank/praise. On every chair is a balloon. Half have words from our “changing world” homework, a word texted in by us, which I have written on the balloon. This becomes the task of intercession. As Jesus breathed on the disciples in the sending of the Spirit (John 20), so the invitation is to pray by breathing on our world, to blow up the balloon, praying for the mission of God in our changing world.

The rest of the balloons have words from the week 2 course notes – Scriptures that speak of mission, names of mission moments in history, words from the Anglican 5 marks of mission. This becomes an invitation to praise, to give thanks. As Jesus breathed on the disciples in the sending of the Spirit (John 20:21-23), so we are to breathe thanks, to blow up the balloon, thankful for the mission of God in which we participate.

And so the room begins to breathe. As we finish our prayers, we tie our balloons, our breathe prayers. And we repeat together, the missional paraphrase: This resurrection [mission] life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”.

And we bat the balloons around the room, our joyful, playful, participation, our worship, when a changing world means a changing mission.

(Note, this might also work as a Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary if the Bible texts were John 20 or Romans 8). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 10:16 AM

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

changing world, changing mission

The first session of the mission shaped ministry course included a focus on our changing society. I explored five sections, using photographs from around Adelaide.

  1. Changing Sundays
  2. Changing relationships
  3. Changing cultures
  4. Changing faith knowledge
  5. Changing spirituality

Participant feedback indicated this was one of the most helpful parts of the evening. I wanted this to be grounded in their everyday lives and in ways that might begin conversations outside the church. So I suggested some “homework”:

How has Australian society changed? First, ask someone inside the church. Second, ask someone outside the church. Text us your answer.

It has been great to have the texts roll in over the week. The responses will be woven into our worship tonight (more on that after it happens), but here is a summary:

(Hat tip wordle)

This was based on isolating one key word from each text -

ego; economy; change; no face-face; diverse; financial; diverse; greedy; 4 me; technology; diverse; self-sufficient; busy; parenting lack; technology; affluence; time poor; less family oriented; globally connected; busier; global warming; IT; technology; morals; 4 me; diverse weekends; family structure; communication; aging; diverse; technology

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

missiology in the Uniting Church Preamble

Uniting Church in Australia has over the last few years, moved through a process. the outcome of which has been the addition of a new ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. It emerged from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress), and extensive discussion a various church gatherings

The new Preamble offers 10 paragraphs. They include a brief account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and then makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God. (The complete document is here. )

Here is paragraph 3:

“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”

I have been sitting with these words and phrases over the last few months. What does it say about the mission of God? What does is say about the activity of the Trinity (Creator, Spirit, Jesus) in mission? What does it say for those who want to be participants in God’s mission today? What might we learn from the past, for a mission (especially when that mission includes talk of fresh expressions) going forward?

Warning: I am working on a journal article on this, so comments you make might (properly cited of course) be used in my research :)

Posted by steve at 04:40 PM

Monday, August 01, 2011

Leapers or baby steppers? Is this fresh expressions? Or simply different expressions

The Adelaide mission-shaped ministry course course kicked off last week. With 44 folk registered – add to the fact that it’s pioneering in the sense of being spread across Uniting, Lutheran and Anglican denominations and being a first ever in Australia, let alone in a brand new building, there was a good deal of nervous energy in the room.

As usual, as speaker, I end up probably learning more than those who attended. For me, this was around fresh expressions. Are we talking “fresh” expressions or “different” expressions? And does it matter?

The question emerged most clearly during a part of the evening involving some Fresh expression storytelling. I could have showed the UK DVD, but I asked if instead there might be any local fresh expressions either being dreamed of, or being explored.

Which led to stories of playgroup church, outdoor labyrinths, someone finding themselves being called Pastor of a social poker club, Friday happy hours that were offering community to local neighbours and the beginnings of ministry to Middle Eastern students.

And then the question (in my words) – Are these fresh expressions? Or just different expressions?

What would you say? Here is what I said (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:40 PM