Wednesday, November 16, 2011

capacity building and mission shaped ministry

Building capacity is a cute business term. But it’s also a helpful way to think about leadership and your organisation.

Practically, on Friday and Saturday, there is capacity building in relation to the mission shaped ministry course here in Australia, as we look to multiply trainers and thus multiple the course throughout Australia, ie “build capacity”.

The back story. In November last year, a group of strangers gathered. Hosted by Uniting College, the conversation was about ways to transplant the mission shaped ministry course from UK to Australia as a way of raising the mission temperature.

A result was the decision to pilot two courses in 2011, one in Adelaide, another in Canberra. The UK like to train those who want to teach. But we, being down under and upside down folk, asked if rather than be trained at the start, we could be trained at the end! This could have 3 advantages. First, it would enable us to learn by doing, with the trainers able to evaluate our pilot, what we were actually doing, rather than what we could do. Second, it would likely give us more space to contextualise, to feel our way toward what an Australian expression of mission shaped ministry would look like. Third, it might aid in capacity building as we could offer the training not just to those involved in the two pilots, but throughout Australia and on the back of the buzz from running the two pilots.

This is happening. mission shaped ministry train the trainers is running Friday and Saturday, again hosted by Uniting College. We have 33 folk who have registered, from every State in Australia. Which opens the possibility of courses happening in every state in the next few years, along with a distance option for rural folk.

Here is the program.

9:15-9:30 am Opening meditation – Tracey Gracey

9:30 am -10:45 am The story so far: introducing the msm course (John Drane)

Coffee etc

11:15 am-1 pm A sample unit: A02, The Mixed Economy (Olive Fleming Drane)

Lunch (1-1:45 pm), followed by outdoor worship walk (1:45 pm-2:15 pm)

2:15 pm – 3:30 pm Practicalities & processes 1: structures and content
(John Drane)

4:00 pm – 5:15 pm Practicalities & processes 2: environment and ambience (Olive Fleming Drane).

5:30 pm Happy hour and pizza dinner. Followed by optional evening session. Discussions on pilot course so far, and Australia wide future of msm course.

9:15 am – 9:30 am Opening worship – Eloise Scherer

9:30 am -11:00 am A sample unit: A08, What is the Church? (John Drane)

11:30 am-1 pm Where do we go from here?
, with concluding worship Ruthmary Bond

It has been a lot of work and organisation and it’s hard to believe that 12 months after an initial discussion, we’ve got these levels of interest and potential capacity and the potential for mission training throughout Australia.

PS. For Adelaide readers, John and Olive Fleming Drane are offering other input on Thursday 17th (details here).

Posted by steve at 08:01 AM

Monday, November 14, 2011

film review: the cup

A confession. As a Baptist minister, I once found myself winning at the races.

Like all confessions, the slippery slope began some time prior, when I was teaching a class on crossing cultural boundaries. Which resulted in a lively discussion on the applications for life in New Zealand.

One Canterbury student suggests NZ Trotting Cup Day at Addington was for him a cross culture experience, a boundary he then suggested we should cross together. Finding it hard to resist such a public challenge, I found myself in a world of fine hats and fit horses.

As the day drew on, I decided that part of the cross cultural challenge must include meeting the bookies. I mean, if I as church minister expected people to not only enter, but also play in my religious world, then surely the least I could do was participate in theirs.

A bet was duly placed. Later, with a mighty surge my horse was in the money and I left the Addington Showgrounds a good deal hoarser, albiet a few dollars richly.

Memories of horse and hats returned as I watched “The Cup” (directed by Simon Wincer). Based on a true story, of Australian jockey, Damien Oliver (acted by Stephen Curry), who in 2003 rode the Irish horse, Magic Puzzle, to Melbourne Cup victory, a week after the death of his older brother and fellow-jockey, Jason (acted by Daniel MacPherson).

A feature of the film is the use of mirroring. Black and white footage of historic Melbourne Cups is placed alongside racing today; TV footage of Bali bombing is placed alongside the trackside death of Jason Oliver; colour footage of Jason’s body lying lifeless on a hospital bed is placed alongside black and white footage of Jason’s father, who also died while racing.

Such mirroring includes an intriguing window onto the entwined relationship between identity and spirituality, with Damien at the hospital wishes his brother well in death, while his mother at the church, prays for his soul in the afterlife.

Kiwi viewers will bristle at the film’s treatment of Temuka born Phar Lap and the assumption that he is Australian, so soon after the scene in which Irish horse owner Dermot Weld (played by Brendan Gleeson) complains: “They want our presence. They just don’t want us to win. This race is part of who they are. We’re up against the whole of Australia.”

The movie captures some, but not all of the racing industry. It finds the fashion, exploits the dangers and holds the traces on the relationships between horse and human. Yet it skims over the problems of gambling and misses the vulnerability of young girls drinking beyond limits. A movie worth your time, if not your dividend.

Which might leave some of you pondering the fate of my race winnings. A story best left untold, for it would require revealing a certain local Baptist building project built on winnings from the horses!

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.

Posted by steve at 10:51 PM

Sunday, November 13, 2011

sacred urban spaces: Lartelare Park, Port Adelaide

Sacred spaces lie all around us. Part of today included finding and exploring a local urban sacred space, Lartelare Park in Port Adelaide. Named after an indigenous woman, Lartelare, who was born on the banks of the Port River, in a time of change, in which her local habitat, a mangrove swamp rich in sea food and bird life, would be threatened by white arrival.

Lartelare worked for a local white fella, then was evicted from the land of her birth in 1889, in order for the construction of a sugar refinery. For many years, her great-great granddaughter, Aunty Veronica Brodie, worked to share Lartelare’s story with the Port Adelaide community and seek the return of the land to its rightful indigenous owners.

Which has happened, in the shape of Lartelare Park. We walked among stone paths and past native coastal vegetation to find five large honey coloured rocks. Cleft in two, each was a cultural site. Each portrayed a different element of indigenous life, including housing, middens (rubbish dumps), tools and significant animals like the Black Swan. It was an artful mix of shrub and heritage, a reminder of history that lives and the rich deposit that was indigenous (Kaurna) culture and heritage.

It seems a small gesture in a sea of urban regeneration. Amid newly modern apartments blocks, costing over $2billion of developer money, all the original owner gets is a small garden.

Yet theologian Philip Sheldrake, in his book, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity defines place as a “space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious.” (For more, go here). Yet this quote suggests that in fact size is irrelevant. Things can be small and yet still speak of a larger life.

Sheldrake goes on to argue that for Christianity, the Incarnation of Jesus impels us to consider the layers of identity, relationships and memory. Which meant that today became an invitation to enter Incarnation. To enact intercession. To remember. To honour the fight for a just naming of the past. To reflect on what I value. To recall how important history needs to be today. To ponder the possibility of taking a Reading Cultures fieldtrip in 2012.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Friday, November 11, 2011

the messy early church: women, houses and churches

Recently I’ve been getting a bit grumpy about the phrase “messy church.” I’ve been thinking that all church all the time should be messy. Shouldn’t the normal be the involving of all the ages and all the senses and deal with the real stuff of people’s lives, while the abnormal is quiet, respectful, adult only church?

So I was most interested to recently pick up A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity which looks at everyday existence in ancient households, with a special focus on women’s everyday experience. The book has chapters on hospitality, funerals and education. And the data points to messy early church indeed being the norm.

Messy hosts
Houses led by women in the New Testament include Mary mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:14, 40); Nympha (Col. 4:15). Married couples were “vital to the life and infrastructure of the communities.” (48).

But is this simply hospitality? The answer is no. There is evidence of women who acted as patrons, teachers and dinner hosts. They were presiders (and in an environment in which presiding meant a meal that interwove eucharist, food and conversation).

Messy meals
While there is a tendency to concentrate on the expectional woman of early church history, like Priscilla, Phoebe and Perpetua, recent research into Roman families allows us to appreciate the ordinary and domestic. In other words, “within the setting of early church groups, it is safe to assume that conversations about nursing and rearing children were part of daily life and were intermingled with conversations about what we would normally consider as more typical church concerns.” (247-8)

Messy church
What about messy church? well, “house-church meetings must have been noise and bustling places. The sounds of a woman in labor somewhere in the background, the crying of infants, the presence of mothers or wet nurses feeding their children, little toddlers under foot, children’s toys on the floor.” (67) “Children were present everywhere; nothing – not even sexual activity – escaped their gaze.” (93).

Messy worship
Which all leads to messy worship. “The attention given to such “liturgical questions” in later patristic documents as the placement of children during church meetings … reflects a commitment to the inclusion and valuing of children in continuity with the period of the house churches.” (93)

In sum, what emerges is a very messy early church, “a picture of church life that challenges preconceived notions of solemnity in favour of the boisterous and somewhat chaotic exchanges of household life. House-church meetings took place in a setting where midwives were hired, babies were born, nursed, and nurtured, and children grew up.” (246-7)

Posted by steve at 04:02 PM

a story of (un)skillful worship and the mission implications

(I wrote this on a piece of work I was marking today. For me, marking is not about the grade, but about the learning opportunities being created. In this case, I wondered if a story might help clarify the issue a student was wrestling with – understanding worship in missional contexts.)

I was speaking at a conference a number of years ago. When I finished, a person got up to lead closing prayers. They began by noting key features of the day, a few skillful phrases that reminded us of high points. Together we laughed, and nodded, and sighed.

I thought it was a call to worship – it was drawing us together, not as individuals but as a gathered group. It was named (thankfully) God in our midst. I was admiring the skill when the person stopped and said “now we will start worship, with a call to worship. Please turn in your books …”

For me it showed both skillful and unskillful worship. It showed the ability to work with what is, to read context, to read communities, to use phrases to express communal praise.

In contrast to a repetition of words from books. The irony is that in origin, all calls to worship were most likely so skillful, so context appropriate, so life giving that they were repeated. And borrowed. By writing down. And repeated. So that over centuries, they become empty repetition removed from the context and events that gave them birth.

I think the skill of missional worship, is to be able to connect the liturgical forms and richness of the wider church with context and in context appropriate ways. (This is the DJ image I use in chapter 8 of my Out of Bounds Church book.) This requires the ability to read a context, the knowledge of the storeshouses and the skill to weave them together.

Not new for news sake. Nor repetition for repetitions sake. But the skillful movement between the context of life and the storeshouses of the church universal (through time and space).

Posted by steve at 10:57 AM

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

seminaries as missional orders planting missional communities

it is unethical to send gifted, idealistic, and high-potential young leaders into intractable, dysfunctional congregations that will grind them up, disillusion them, and damage them for life

So suggests Brian Mclaren in a recent article on the future of seminaries. He argues that seminaries are doing a great job of providing a robust intellectual environment, ecumenical diversity, are soul-friendly and engaged missionally and offer a rich communal life.

I was talking to colleagues about this very issue over the weekend, expressing concern about the places that talented young ministers can end up in churches that have a slogan:

an unchanging church seeking an unchanging world

Brian offers a simple suggestion: “turn towards the development of new faith communities.”

What a grand suggestion. I would frame it as seminaries forming themselves as missional orders planting missional communities. And it is where, I think, we at Uniting College are structured to head with the Pioneer stream of our Bachelor of Ministry: a degree based on a student spending their time hands on entrepreneurial ie actually planting something – whether congregation or justice project or art collective and around that experience being formed as a leader and in relation to the wisdom of the church in the past.

In the article, Brian acknowledges that this is not for everyone and again, I agree. My response is to suggest that rather than individualised field work, the seminary select some “mission sites.” These would be diverse in context and in partnership with local churches. Seminary lecturers would be expected to be embedded in these projects, offering their talents in relation to these missional sites. One could be in a poorer suburb, another in a new build area, another in a pocket of sub-cultures. (For those reading this in Adelaide, I am actually thinking of specific sites :)

Students would select a mission site, thus finding themselves in clusters of learning through planting focused on a mission sites. The clusters and the sites would allow for a diversity of giftings to be explored, for some to develop mercy, others to plot radical justice, others to nurture being pastoral, others speaking evangelistically. By clustering they are being formed in ministry as team from the start. As a cohort of people, students will enter and exit, around a stable core of people. Gathering at College will be shaped by the issues of these contexts, the College will be praying for these sites (think contextual pictures around the College walls). Over time, new faith communities develop. Seminaries as missional orders planting missional communities.

Anyone else up for such ride?

Posted by steve at 05:22 PM

looking in the writing mirror

Over the next two days, the educational body I work for (Adelaide College of Divinity) is being externally audited (by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency). For most of this year, we’ve been working on our portfolio, thinking about what we do well, and what we could do better, collecting evidence to demonstrate our practice. The audtors received a folder, about 8 cm thick. Today and tomorrow they visit, interviewing students, past and present, boards, stakeholders, staff. Late tomorrow, they give us verbal feedback. This is then written up and we have the right of reply. Then their findings are made public, including sent to other universities (and I think, even to Parliament!)

It’s a lot of work, but also a chance to look at ourselves in the mirror, and thus to open ourselves to growth.

As part of the process, staff have been asked to provide examples of what they are writing and thinking about. It was fun to look back over the last few (six) years, in the midst of being Senior Pastor and part-time lecturer ….

books by steve taylor

to catch a glimpse of hard work. And of growth.

Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

being spiritual, being reflective, being emerging

Three excellent learning opportunities coming up at Uniting College next week.

Spirituality 2 go with Olive Fleming Drane. 
Thursday, 17 November, 9:30-3:30. This informative day will explore the spiritual in everyday life and daily routines as opportunity for divine encounter. It will offer input, examples and space to explore. Topics include – The craft of ritual, Transitions, Ordinary time, Extraordinary time.

Trends in theology: experience, Scripture in practical theology with John Drane
, Thursday 17 November, 1:30-3:00. This will explore what is often a weakness in theology and practice, the way Scripture is brought to bear, to illumine, challenge, even reframe, human experience.

Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, Experimenting: Insights from the church emerging in Scotland with John Drane. This will explore fresh expressions of church on the edges of the Church of Scotland, and outline the opportunities and challenges for being church today. Given historical links between the Church of Scotland and Uniting Church, this should be of particular interest.

John Drane and Olive Fleming Drane are both Fellow’s of St John’s College, Durham, adjunct faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary and are becoming Chaplain at International Christian College in Glasgow, Scotland. They are well known and appreciated as writers, educators and creative thinkers on mission.

Being spiritual, being reflective, being emerging – all themes and conversations central to who we are and are becoming. Or from our logo design

“The logo design speaks of the different journeys people take in their growth in discipleship and service. At key points these converge. That convergence sometimes involves the educational programs of Uniting College. So the pathways converge and then disperse, as people continue their journeys in mission. The cross at the centre of the logo is not just there as a matter of form, but as a real commitment, as Uniting College is consciously Christ-centred.”

For more information on any of these, contact me: steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au

Posted by steve at 08:31 PM

Monday, November 07, 2011

the never ending list: leading in change

I really like this idea, found on the walls of our local IKEA.

the never ending list the never ending list 2

Basically, they are advertising the improvements, they as an organisation have made. While it is part of their marketing, I think it contains some really interesting possibilities that could be easily adapted by any group

  1. start an open ended list titled “the never ending list.”
  2. keep a record of all the projects that could improve your team/group/community/church/business
  3. every now and again, decide as a team/group/community/church/business to pause from life as usual. Shut the door, turn off the phones, ditch a few meetings, stop a church service – whatever you need to do to unplug.
  4. instead gather as a group and invite folk to choose from “the never ending list.” Anything. With anyone they want. Some folk will want to work alone, others in groups. Some will want to work with those they know, others with someone new.
  5. use the time you have put aside from (3) to make progress on the idea
  6. meet at the end to share with each other what you’ve done, over food and drink. Cross of any completed projects. Add any new possibilities thrown up. Celebrate progress. Laugh.

I think it would provide satisfaction, promote teamwork, ensure improvements, all in ways that were sustainable, fun and communal.

Further posts:
For a related practical post on leading and change, see migration days.

Posted by steve at 07:39 AM

Sunday, November 06, 2011

burning bush (Exodus 3 and 4), mission, call, creativity and Advent

I’ve been sitting for the last few months with the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. A few months ago I heard it told well as a children’s story and really hit me. First, mission and the importance of beginning with our ears on. Second, call and what it means for me to respond to God’s call by simply giving my “staff” – my gifts, talents, experiences.

Over the weekend, as a way of trying to dwell further on the text, I googled burning bush icons. (I’m just about to finish an icon (another pioneer Jesus), so I’m beginning to feel my way toward my next icon project.) I could only find about four and one, was most intriguing. It is titled the Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush. (More here)

Mary is surrounded by the flames. She literally sits in the middle of the burning bush, while Jesus sits in the middle of Mary! I like how small Moses is, off and to the side, and the little angels up top, doing their spiritual play!

Textually, much of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in Matthew, is framed as the new Moses, leading a new Exodus. Thus visually, a burning bush icon that references Jesus is very Biblically astute.

What struck me was how visually it connects for me with that superb Advent icon, the Theotokos Orans icon.

Toward the end of last year, leading into Advent, I spent much time reflecting on the Orans icon and the implications for mission, church and pioneer leadership (here and here).

So there is something intuitive here for me, about the need to take of shoes for we stand on holy ground, about the mission of Moses as a forerunner of the mission of Jesus, about refinement, about possibilities.

Yes, I think I know what my next icon might be!

Posted by steve at 06:00 PM

Friday, November 04, 2011

family faith: at Halloween/All Saints part 2

One of the members of team Taylor went “peace-treating” this Halloween. They were keen to join the fun. And be with friends. Others in the family were uneasy with the very concept of trick-or-treating – that sense of expecting a handout.

So a healthy discussion ended in “peace-treating.” They would knock on doors and speak peace to every home. (Yep echoes of Luke 10:1-10!) To practically embody peace, they took along a collection of peace quotes on paper, which they handed out. They are into peace in a big way, so this was a perfect fit with their personality. It meant that rather than get, they would give – verbal peace, the presence of peace, a peace quote.

So off they went and had a great time. It seemed a creative way of practising faith in our world today. It brought to mind some quotes by Miroslav Volf, which I used in the chapter on gospel/culture in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change.

“’Gospel’ always involves a way of living in a social environment….”

“[T]here is no single proper way for Christians to relate to a given culture as a whole. Instead, there are numerous ways of accepting, rejecting, subverting or transforming various aspects of a culture….” Miroslav Volf, “Soft Difference. Theological Reflections on the Relation between Church and Culture in 1 Peter.” Ex Auditu 10 (1994), 15-30.

(This is another entry (P=peace-treating) in dictionary of everyday spirituality. For the complete index of all entries, go here).

Posted by steve at 08:01 AM

Thursday, November 03, 2011

family faith: at Halloween/All Saints Day part 1

Tuesday was All Saints Day and Team Taylor were gathering for family dinner. The youngest had set up a lovely environment, with a central Christ candle and unlit tea lights.

After eating, we considered Halloween, followed by All Saints Day, a time to remember those who had shaped us. Five categories were suggested (written on the paper in the front of the pic) – life teachers, risk-takers, brave one, joke and joy tellers, nurturers.

Names were mentioned and candles were lit.

There was a growing sense that we were not alone, but surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Many at distance both in time and geography. But still a warm and glowing presence among us.

There was also a time to be thankful for those around the table, to remind ourselves that Team Taylor has been, and can be, saints to each other, a practical expression of Christ’s love.

Very simple, but quite quietly memorable.

(This is another entry (S=saints) in dictionary of everyday spirituality. For the complete index of all entries, go here).

Posted by steve at 09:33 AM

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Racing for a cause: Christian responses to the horsies

Earlier this year, I gave my Reading Cultures class a case study. I had presented them with some theory – 5 different approaches that over time, Christians have chosen to relate to their culture

  • withdrawal into pietism
  • fusion of church and state
  • reformationist, working with structures and powers to bring about change
  • liberationist, prophetic action that begins with the poor and marginalised
  • local congregational mission, in which the life of the communal church becomes a beacon for societal transformation.

I then gave the case study and invited them to be “mission consultants” working to identify how this case study might relate to the theory. Since today is Melbourne Cup, I offer the case study here, slightly adapted.

Racing for a cause (Southern Cross News). This year’s annual Racing Mass, to be held on Adelaide Cup weekend, will have added reason for celebration, thanks to the generosity of a local couple. They have leased their promising filly to help raise money for a local mission. The total currently stands at over $100,000. The silks of the horse will feature in the Offertory Procession of the Mass. The owner said it had been great to see the horse succeed and thereby benefit local mission. The owners connection to the local mission go back to their mother, who volunteered for 27 years in the kitchen serving meals to the homeless. The 47th Annual Racing Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 am. All are invited.

How is this church relating to culture in this case study? What are the upsides and downsides of these ways of relating?

Posted by steve at 12:07 PM