Saturday, April 14, 2012

ordination and the future: a question of mission

An email I sent to a friend, that I realised as I wrote it that I want to place on the blog for my ongoing reference. It is a processing shaped by the unique location in which I find myself – trained a Baptist, ministering as a Baptist minister, now serving in a Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. In doing so, I point to the byline in the header of my blog “steve taylor … in process … all thoughts personal and provisional.”

I don’t see ordination as a functional thing tied to existence, or otherwise, of funding models via church.

I see ordination in the future as being a sort of mission order of the church. As families and society get more and more complex, we need a “training bar” that encourages self-awareness and skilled ministry. As society gets more individualised, we need networks that encourage catholicity, apostolicity and mutuality.

So I see ordination in the future as encouraging this sort of missional ordering – a way of being that exists to encourage training, to develop practices of collegiality and accountability, to enhance peer support and reflection, for apostolicity (starting new things).

Many ordained will be bi-vocational or voluntary, but then ordination has never surely, been simply a function of Christendom’s imagination of church as a building and a full-time presider.

We will also have non-ordination missional orders – and perhaps the Uniting church ministry category of “Pastor” is an ideally container for this. It too encourages training and points toward a sort of learning community in mission.

But this missional ordering is expressed as a more localised expression, more likely to emerge in one location and remain in one location. (Rather than ordination which seems to reference a belonging to the whole church in terms of placement).

So ordination beyond Christendom has a future, as one expression of the church in mission.

Posted by steve at 11:38 AM

Friday, April 13, 2012

encouraging better practice in teaching: snapshots of learning

A few days ago, following conversations with visiting family, I was reflecting on teaching. How do we encourage teachers in their teaching? One suggestion was the use of a journal, shared with a peer, in which together regular reflection on practice occurs.

There were some really helpful comments which have kept me thinking during the week. Plus the fact that my (temporary) “study leave” office is close to a classroom, so I get to hear the occasional lecture as I write.

And this week came news of the sale of Instagram to Facebook for 1 billion.

Which got me thinking about snapshots. A moment of time. A visual media rather than a written media. So what if rather than a journal, you invited teachers to take a snapshot? One per class. Not a literal one. But they are given a blank piece of card, perhaps in the shape of a “polaroid”? On which they have are invited to note down the best teaching moment of that class.

And then teachers meet as peers, spread their “snapshots” and reflect together about what they’re learning about teaching.

Which sparked another possibility. What if you invited teachers to take snapshots not of their teaching, but of their students learning?

Let me explain.

At Uniting College, our mandate is to form leaders. What if each teacher was given a “snapshot” (a blank card), one for every student in their class. And at some time during the semester, they were expected to take a “snapshot” (again not an actual picture, but a quote made, an interaction, an essay, a moment of caring) of that student displaying leadership and ministry. This is based on appreciative inquiry, looking for strength, rather than weakness, in a student.

Imagine being given that at the end of the semester. A fulltime student has 4 topics per semester, 8 per year, 24 per degree. By the end of your time, the student has 24 snapshots of them at their best in terms of leader development.

One of my guiding principles is that ministry and leadership are unique. Each person has a unique fingerprint and our task is to work out how our unique personality and experience form us into leaders. So by the end of the degree, the student has 24 “snapshots.” Spread those over the table, reflect with a mentor on your 3 years of study and I suspect you would have a pretty good mirror on who you could be as a leader. There could even be degree topic toward the end in which you enter a process of leadership reflection – on the snapshots, on your life experiences, on your passions.

What do folk think? Might “snapshots” encourage better practice in teaching? And learning?

Posted by steve at 06:47 PM

Thursday, April 12, 2012

wanted dead and alive: UK alt.worship communities

As part of my PhD research (what became “A New Way of Being Church”, University of Otago, 2004), I conducted research during March – June, 2001 into mission experimentation in the UK. This was focused on alternative worship communities and included both participant observation and interviews with both leaders and laity.

Some ten years on from that research, I have been reflecting on sustainability. As any parent will know, it’s one thing to birth a child. It’s quite another to do the early mornings and late nights, to piece your way through the ups and downs.

So I have begun a “Sustainability in new mission initiatives” Research Project. This first part has focused on the church that was the major focus of my research, Cityside Baptist. I have returned to participate in worship, to interview key leaders, to re-survey the congregation, and to conduct focus groups in response to reflect upon their data. Currently I’m writing up the results.

The next stage of the project involves wanting to explore the sustainability of the UK alt.worship communities I had researched back in 2001.

Here I need some help.  Some initial website research has revealed that of the twelve I researched, four six continue today (two three under another name). Two Four appear closed.  I remain unsure about six two of the communities. They look to have little web presence and so perhaps are closed.

So I have two requests. First, can any of my UK readers check the table here and provide any further information on the current status of any of these groups. I’m particular after information on

  • Late Late Service, Glasgow
  • Sanctuary, Bath (Updated: website found)
  • Resonance, Bristol (Updated: renamed as Foundation in 2005. Thanks Paul )
  • The Bigger Picture, London
  • Graceland, Cardiff (Updated: according to a blog comment (thanks heaps), has closed, although relational connections continue.
  • Holy Joes, London (Updated: Maggi Dawn thinks this group is currently in recess)

Second, I am interested in trying to interview all these groups, or representatives (whether dead or alive!). We need to learn from all our experiments, no matter their current status. I am working toward a research visit to the UK (December 2012-February 2013).  So I would like to locate folk, particularly from those that are closed, or appear to be. So can any of my UK readers provide any followup or contact details?

Thanks, in hope :)

Posted by steve at 02:31 PM

“The Cross is not enough” book review – Chapter 2

As part of my post-resurrection Easter spiritual practice, I’m reading Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, Australian Baptist thinkers. I thought it would be a good discipline to blog as I read my way through the book. Chapter one is here

Chapter two

This is a wonderful chapter. Since the main argument is about the importance of resurrection, not just for belief, but for life, it proposes 12 resurrection zones for living

  • forgiveness
  • whole person
  • empowerment
  • future hope
  • eschatology
  • Eden breaks in
  • confidence
  • face of God
  • ethics
  • judge/justice
  • new community
  • mission

Each zone is explained, linked with Scripture and often accompanied by a story that clarifies and applies. It is great stuff.

The section on new community is a standout, with a side bar exploration of the stories of Genesis and how they allow healing for people treated as non-persons, how “the gospel reverses nonperson status, declaring that in order to be right with God one must be right with one’s neighbour. In Christ there is no nonperson status.”

On the basis of these 12 resurrection zones, Clifford and Johnson call for a “resurrection culture”, which should shape who we are as leaders, as followers and our environments.

Despite it being a wonderful chapter, it did leave me pondering a few questions. As I thought about each of the above 12 zones, I realised that all 12 could be applied to Incarnation. And many of the 12 could also be applied to Ascension. So is there a danger that we will need a book in a few years to argue for the Incarnation in theology and life? Followed by a book on the Ascension? So is the argument of this book simply about a needed corrective? If so, could it actually end up making the same mistake it is seeking to correct, that of imbalances in theology? Further, can any part of God’s theology be isolated and then argued that it is pre-eminent? Or might it be that theology is a weave, in which every strand is both individually rich, yet so much the richer when woven together? So yes we need resurrection for forgiveness, yet forgiveness that also weaves into resurrection themes of creation, incarnation, ascension and Spirit is even richer still?

I look forward to the next chapters, as I continue to ponder the questions. In the meantime, I’m left saying to myself and God’s creation “Alleluia. Christ is risen!”

Posted by steve at 07:35 AM

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger Games and atonement theology: a short film reflection

This post has been further developed into a 500 word film review for Touchstone magazine here.

Hunger Games is a deeply disturbing movie. The movie is set in a future in which each year, 24 children are selected to fight in a televised death match. Roman Gladiatorial style human-tertainment is repulsive enough applied to adults, but to conceive of it for children takes a particular chilling imagination.

To live in a society in which children are sacrificed annually for the sake of peace beggars belief. That said, it should make worthwhile discussion for those who hold to a Christian faith, have just journeyed through Easter and believe in the sole primacy of substitutionary atonement – Jesus dying as a substitute for others.

The Hunger Games is built on substitution, the willingness for some to die for the peace of all. Is this really the best, the only way, that God could conceive to deal with human rebellion?

What is interesting is how the actions of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, offer other ways to frame atonement, in particular the scene in which Katniss buries her friend, Rue Roo.

(Substitution is only one of four better known understandings of the cross held through church history; the other three being Christus Victor, satisfaction and Abelard’s moral theory of atonement).

The flowers laid so lovingly on the chest of Roo began a moment that sparked a riot among those watching. Grief stricken, they protest against the powers and forces that oppress them. In Katniss, we see a desire to live differently, a questioning of the values that shape her world, a willingness, even unto death, to seek another world of possibility. Her act, the laying of the flowers, spark a communal desire for freedom.

On Easter Sunday, I was part of a church service in which the cross was flowered. Flowers laid lovingly (yes on an empty cross, not an dead body). This is the possibility buried (pun intended) in Easter, a questioning of the values that shape our world, a willingness, even unto death, to live differently, to work toward another world of possibility.

All of which refuses to be futuristic sci-fi. On the way home one of Team Taylor wondered if the way our planet today treats the poor in Africa is much different from The Hunger Games. You could sense the ache – that in our generation, justice and equality will be made concrete. May the flowers she, and so many others, laid on the cross this Easter, spark a very different sort of atonement, a renewed willingness to make plain “God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth, as in heaven.”

Further posts on film and atonement:
- Never let me go: atonement theology at its best and worst here
- Inception: dreaming of atonement here
- Harry Potter as a Christ figure here.
- Holy week atonement theologies here.
- Atonement theologies: a short summary here.
- Edmund Hillary and atonement here.
- and a sermon I preached on atonement, referencing Whale Rider and Edmund Hillary, made it into this book (Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement), a really practical resource, filled with atonement sermons, none of which are substitutionary in tone. Me alongside CS Lewis, Richard Hays and Brian McLaren! :)

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM

Monday, April 09, 2012

“The Cross is not enough” book review – Chapter 1

As part of my post-resurrection Easter spiritual practice, I’m reading Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, Australian Baptist thinkers. I thought it would be a good discipline to blog as I read my way through the book.

Chapter one

This introduces the book. Their argument is simple – that Christianity has neglected the resurrection, to its detriment. The opening quote by George Beasley-Murray puts it well.

If the Church had contemplated the Empty Tomb as much as the Cross of its Lord, its life would have been more exhilarating and its contribution to the world more positive than has been the case.

Clifford and Johnson do this by exploring across the breadth of the Christian church

  • the gospel presentations in Acts which all focus on the resurrection
  • Luther, who is his writings urges the priority of the resurrection
  • the work of evangelicalism, including John Stott and the Lausanne movement, which they critique as being so focused on the cross that the resurrection is lost.

While this breadth is commendable, at times it felt too broad brush. Notably, the attempt to cover Roman Catholicism is done by noting a quote from two Roman Catholic theologians. Catholicism is such a large and broad part of the church, any attempt to engage them as dialogue partners needed more attention.

This chapter also introduces a second part of their argument, that the doctrine of the resurrection must be so much more than an intellectual agreement. If resurrection is central, then it must also be able to be integrated into “practical areas of theology and church life, such as in healing ministry, pastoral care, and spiritual development.” Which suggests an intriguing book, as the authors indicate they want to explore the resurrection in areas like popular culture, new forms of spirituality, inter-religious dialogue.

The writing style is accessible, with stories helpfully sprinkled through. These give the impression that Clifford and Johnson are no ivory tower academics, but are themselves deeply involved in mission and cross-cultural encounter.  Alongside the readability of the book is an impressive set of footnotes, suggesting a depth and quality of research.

From Chapter one, this looks like being a really rich post-Easter read, and I’m looking forward to chapter two – The resurrection effect.

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM

Sunday, April 08, 2012

encouraging better practice in teaching

practising teachers should be encouraged to use reflective journal writing as part of their daily professional teaching experience. Nooreiny Maarof, “Telling his or her story through reflective journals,” International Education Journal, 2007, 8(1), 205-220.

My brother from New Zealand is staying for the weekend. A trained high school teacher, with a deep passion for education, and a particular focus on outdoor education and life skills, I always enjoy hearing what he’s thinking and wrestling with.

Today, we discussed the place of student feedback. As we were sharing notes, he commented on a new initiative among high school teachers in New Zealand. Teachers are being expected to keep a journal, in which they reflect on their daily teaching.

It struck me as a brilliant initiative and I began to think about it in terms of tertiary education, and in particular for us teaching staff at Uniting College.

I have often reflected how you need no qualifications to be a tertiary educator, other than expertise in a particular field. Which potentially makes for some very, very bad teaching. Sure, in a tertiary institution, we receive feedback from students, in the form of class evaluations. But this is often highly individual, a teacher receives it, but it is up to them if they do anything with this information.

Last month at Uniting College, we added a quality management step, in that we are requiring teachers to, upon receipt of feedback, complete a one page form reflecting on what they did well and what they might like to change.

But that occurs at the end of a course. What if it was supplemented by the use of a journal, in which teachers reflected on what they hope to achieve in each class, what actually happened, and what they are learning about the art of teaching? For us at Uniting College, it could also include linking to our particular focus on forming leaders. How did what we do – in class and informally – help us in the task of leadership formation? How did it build on what students already bring to the class? What “sacred moments” were we part of creating?

This could then be shared with a peer on a regular basis, throughout a semester, for discussion and mutual support. It would not be tied to performance, but simply a way to encourage reflection on practice and with a peer.

Advantages could include a constant reminder of why we exist, reflection on our practice, peer support in our task, and learning from the best practice of each other.

Thoughts? And what other ideas have you come across for encouraging better teaching practice at tertiary/Seminary level?

Posted by steve at 10:34 PM

resourcing resurrection

What a great line – “you didn’t see that coming, did you?” Superb capturing of the surprise for the Gospel witnesses.

The full text, all 605 words is here, along with link to a discussion guide.

My resurrection spiritual practices this year include shuffling the Jesus Deck from Mark to John (it has just been re-printed, available from “resources at chelmsford dot anglican dot org”), planting my front yard full of native plants and sinking my teeth into some Australian missiology – Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection

Posted by steve at 08:13 PM

Friday, April 06, 2012

“Why did Jesus die?” the child asked

“Why did Jesus die?” she whispered beside me. Three years old, pretty in pink, shoes not yet touching the floor, her mother gently sushed her.  This, after all, was church. Where visitors want to be seen, not heard.

But it’s the question that needs answering each and every Easter.

“Could we think of the cross?” I thought. “It has a flat piece, a horizontal piece, that points to people. Jesus died because the people around him killed him. He said and did things they didn’t like. He said things about God they didn’t agree with. They couldn’t stop him, so they decided to kill him.

Jesus also died, not only because people did something. But also because some people did nothing. Stood silent. Kept their mouths shout.

But the people around Jesus, that is only one part of why Jesus died. The cross not only has a flat piece, a horizontal piece. It also has an up and down piece, a vertical piece. That points to God.

Jesus died as an expression of love, God’s love. There are many ways to respond to evil people and evil plans. We can fight them, run from them, avoid them.

Jesus took a different approach. He decided to love them. It was like he became a sponge that soaks up all the spilt milk.

In the up and down part of the cross, God sucking up all the evil and pain in the world. Think of all the bad things people have done. And not done.

Not just the people around Jesus. All people. Through history. Even you and I. So much of it.

No wonder he died, one person trying to love all the evil out of life. That’s why Jesus died.”

Posted by steve at 01:21 PM

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Seven Sites, Seven Words: indigenous Tennebrae Easter service

We had the privilege yesterday evening of being part of Seven Sites, Seven Words, an indigenous Tenebrae Easter Service.

The service was located at Pilgrim Uniting and involved a journey outside, around the central city. Scripture passages that tell of events leading to the death of Christ were laid alongside readings of parallel stories of white engagement with Australia’s Aboriginal people, of betrayal, denial and death. Symbolic gestures – the coins of betrayal, the whip, moments of white denial – found fresh meaning.

The service has been developed by Geoff Boyce, adapting from Norm Habel’s ‘Healing Rites at Seven Sites.’ It was a wonderful reframing of the tradition of Tenebrae (Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’), capturing the darkness of the events leading to Easter Friday and the pain of colonisation.

The sites were skillfully chosen, ensuring that Easter is not hidden in a church, but public for bystanders to see – as it was in the original. Theologically, the process of identifying Christ with indigenous suffering is an appropriately disturbing, destabilising act. The movement and the invitation to participation added to the personal engagement.

Seven Sites, Seven Words is an event that needs to be experienced by all Anglo-Australians.

Posted by steve at 08:39 AM

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

we’re “calling”

Uniting College seeks a Director of Missiology (0.5) and a Post-graduate Studies Coordinator (0.5). Both positions are crucial for developing effective leaders for a healthy missional church. The Director will lead, teach (undergraduate and VET) and coordinate pioneer leader cohort. The Post-graduate Coordinator will organise, teach and supervise (postgraduate level). Joint applications are encouraged. Enquires to Craig Bailey – craig dot bailey at flinders dot edu dot au. Applications close 11 May, 2012.

More specifically …

Director of Missiology (0.5 FTE)
Uniting College is seeking a leader and lecturer to develop missiology within the life of the Uniting Church in South Australia and the College. This position will suit a person keen to play a role in developing leaders who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled, and mission oriented practitioners.

Tasks will include:
1. Developing the missiology stream at under-graduate and VET level
2. Lecturing (areas may include systematic theology, mission history, missiology)
3. Co-ordinating the B.Min practice stream including the Pioneer leader cohort
4. Participating in the life of the College

Post-graduate Studies Co-ordinator (0.5 FTE)
Uniting College is seeking a lecturer to strengthen our growing and dynamic post-graduate Master and Doctor of Ministry studies programme.

Tasks will include:
1. Teaching at postgraduate level in areas of specialisation (areas may include practical theology, ministry practice, Christian education or leadership)
2. Tutoring in research skills
3. Supervising post-graduate students
4. Developing administrative structure and research capacity
5. Co-ordinating the Journal of Ministry Practice

Joint applications for this position and the Post-graduate Studies’ Coordinator position are welcomed. Applications close 11 May 2012, with expected commencement at the beginning of Semester 2, 2012.

Posted by steve at 11:58 AM

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Easter scattered: a resource

Folk looking for Easter resources on this blog (there are quite a few of you, judging by the current search queries folk are using to get here) might find this helpful …


It is a holiday pack, in which we offered an Easter service that folk could do as groups/families if they went away for the weekend. It emerged out the tension between church gathered and scattered (for more on some theological framing of this see here and here).

How to put energy into Easter, without sending the “come-to-us” signal? The result was designing a service that could be done both gathered and scattered. This took quite a bit of creative thinking, but once done it allowed us to say: if you’re going away for the weekend, grab an Easter holiday pack. If you’re staying around for the weekend, join the services. The Sunday after Easter becomes a bit of a show and tell, as whether we were staying or going, we can reflect with each other on what Easter meant. For more go here. For the actual “scattered” service (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:03 PM

Monday, April 02, 2012

feel the seasons change

Today marks a personal and vocational transition for me. From 1 April to 1 July I’m on study leave, three months break from teaching to read and write.

As Faculty at Uniting College, we gain 6 months study leave after every three years of service. I was due to take this in Semester 1, 2013. However, with my appointment as Principal, which begins 1 July, it would have meant that 6 months after I became Principal, I would have been absent for 6 months. Which is not ideal. So the suggestion was made that, for the sake of leadership at the College, that this be split into two 3 month blocks, with one taken before I start.

So of the next three months, I am based on Adelaide, head down, writing. My major project is a book on emerging church sustainability. This builds on my PhD research, which explored in (great) detail an emerging church in Auckland, New Zealand. Last year, I returned to the same church to repeat the research. This provides what I think is a world-first, an close up inspection of an emerging church over a 10 year period. My hope is to turn this data into a book, tentatively titled “Emerging ten years on”, yielding important insights around leadership, continuity and sustainability.

I also have a number of smaller projects I want to play with – turning my recent mission conference presentations into written pieces available as internet accessible downloads, either as “singles” or as an “album” – tentatively titled “Feelings of Jesus and the mission of God.” I also want to paint an icon, as a way of reflecting on the change of role I am undergoing.

Then in December-March 2012 (3 months plus 3-4 weeks for holidays), I hope to go to the UK. I’d like to base myself (and family) within a UK College training missional leaders. (I’m having a conversation or two about this, but nothing definite has emerged yet).

I’m happy to speak to groups about the data emerging from “Emerging ten years on.” I also want to extend the research – specifically by re-interviewing the 10-15 UK emerging church communities I interviewed back in 2001.

So this morning, rather than head to the office, I’m at home. I’ve turned off my google calendar. What has been so jam packed for the last few months, is now basically empty. I’ve loved being able to say no to basically every speaking invite for the next 3 months.

Although I can’t quite start writing yet! There are still a few things in the “in” tray – some assignments, some Masters processes that need to be enacted.

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM

Sunday, April 01, 2012

holy week at the movies

Last year, in the week leading up to Easter, each day I posted a movie a day that I consider speaks directly to the challenges, unsettling questions and faith demands of Jesus’ journey toward the cross. It is one way to respond to the importance of popular culture in faith expression -

The fact that popular media culture is an imaginative palette for faith … the church has to take that imaginative palette seriously… if part of the pastoral task of the church is to communicate God’s mercy and God’s freedom in a way that people understand then you have to use the language that they’re using, you have to use the metaphors and forms of experience that are already familiar to them. Tom Beaudoin

This year, I’ll summarise it here as a resource:

  • On Monday, The Insatiable Moon (2010), while reading Mark 11:15-16.
  • On Tuesday, Serenity (2000), while reading Mark 14:3.
  • On Wednesday, Gran Torino (2008), while reading John 12:23-14.
  • On Thursday, Dark Knight (2008), while reading Mark 14:10.
  • On Friday, Never let me go (2011), while reading Mark 15:33.
  • On Sunday, Never let me go (again) and Invictus, while reading Mark 16:6-7.
Posted by steve at 09:46 PM