Tuesday, July 31, 2012

mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2012 begins

A second mission shaped ministry course began in Adelaide last week. Once again, there was this profound sense of being among shared minds, among people with a similar ache, a willingness to find their unique shape and connect it to the mission of Jesus.

This image is a snapshot of some of our work from the first session. People were invited to indicate (using a star colour of their choice on a map of Adelaide), where they lived. People then shared some of their hopes (black pen colour) and fears (red and blue pen colour), which were written (with their permission) up on the map of Adelaide.

As was the case last year, this course is a wonderful example of ecumenical partnership, with three “funding” denominations – Uniting, Anglican, Lutheran. Last year we had around 40 participants (including a leadership team of 6). This year we have around 25 participants (including a leadership team of 8).

Two folk who did the course have stepped into leadership and a highlight of the first session last week was having them share their experiences.

Around 25 participants means a much better group dynamic than last year (although it’s not quite as viable financially). A nagging concern for me is that of the new participants this year, only two three are Uniting. Which does seem strange, given all the talk about fresh expressions that there has been over the past few years. (Still time to enrol, go here for info!)

Posted by steve at 12:27 PM

Monday, July 30, 2012

Note to self: Rules of thumb for change agents

I was looking through some old lecture notes (2008) and I found these notes, a sort of “rule of thumb for change agents.” I’ll spend the week walking around it, kicking the tires, reflecting on how they sit in my current context.

But for the record, I’ll also post it here.

• Stay alive – care for yourself and keep a life
• Start where the system is – empathy for the group and the people
• Look for green zones – places of promise
• Innovation is as simple as a good idea, initiative and a few friends – work with the willing
• Celebrate well – build in lots of success milestones
• Light many fires – utilise the complexity of any group by seeking movement in as many places as possible
• Keep optimistic – with a focus on the better future

“Rules of thumb for change agents”, a chapter by Shepard in Organization Development Classics, 1997.)

Posted by steve at 10:36 AM

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympic Games opening ceremony as public ritual

On Friday I blogged about the way U2 craft remembrance into their public presence. I noted how the use of a single line –

Where’s Frank? 13 years ago, this very evening, we said goodbye to Frank Sinatra

becomes a “moment” that engages, deepens and honours. Such “moments” humanise, since all have suffered loss of some sort. They invite reflection, on who we are and how we are. They invite connection, with those who’ve gone before, with those around us, between leader and participant. These, I suggest are the skills needed in public worship and in the crafting of liturgy.

So it was intriguing to see an analysis of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, by an Anglican Dean, also note the importance of remembrance in the ceremony, and the way that such moments allowed spirituality to “leak” into the public arena.

The other moment where faith broke through was in the invitation to remember ‘those who are not here’. After the spectacle and the celebration, what heralded the arrival of the athletes was not a grand rhetorical climax but the silencing of the crowd, an act of recollection, the words of a prayer. For yes, unbelievably, we had all of ‘Abide with me’ sung quietly while a simple ballet on the theme of being lost and found was performed on the stage.

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Saturday, July 28, 2012

spirituality in mission

Not merely by the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed

It is a beatific smile?
A holy light upon your brow?
Oh, no – I felt His presence while
You laughed just now

Beatrice Cleland, in David Bosch’s, A Spirituality of the Road 56

This offers a way to understand a spirituality for mission, the way Christ is transfused among people, across cultures. Missiologist David Bosch suggests a number of ways to frame this. He contrasts a pipe with a branch.

Regarding the pipe

We often call ourselves channels or instruments which God uses to communicate His message to people. Our understanding of such a channel usually is that of clean water pipe which does nothing but allow an unrestricted flow of water. In order to guarantee this flow, the channel or pipe has to be cleaned regularly. Transposed to the missionary sphere the suggestion seems to be that the message has got to be kept aseptic in the process of communication. It should in no way be contaminated but remain absolutely pure. (A Spirituality of the Road, 41)

Regarding the branch

He draws from John 15, the image of the vine and branches.

A channel remains unaffected by what flows through it, but a branch has, first of all, to absorb the nutritive power which comes to it from the roots and trunk. It has to make all this a part of itself, and allow itself to be affected, and renewed and transformed by that power. Only after having assimilated such energy can the branch impart it to the fruit.” (A Spirituality of the Road, 42)

I think this intersects with what I was reflecting on earlier this week, reading Matthew 9:36ff, reflecting on the importance of emotions in the mission of God and the formation of people. A pipe suggests our mission, our engagement with people, should be free of emotions, cleansed of us. A branch suggests that our emotions are essential, are part of the God transfusion. This is a much deeper, much more interesting way to understand our growth as humans, and the formation of leaders. It is consistent with Jesus, in whom emotions of compassion, anger, joy, were not “cleansed” but were integrated into acts of commission, prophetic justice and partying at weddings.

It suggests a theology of Incarnation and embodiment, that the mission and message of God can only be communicated through and in us, in our emotions and being and bodies.

Posted by steve at 01:36 PM

Friday, July 27, 2012

U2’s litany for the saints

It only takes one line. It’s live from Mexico City. It’s on the U22 album. And there it is. In the middle of “Until The End Of The World.”

Where’s Frank? 13 years ago, this very evening, we said goodbye to Frank Sinatra.

One line. And a person is remembered. A memory is triggered. A song, sung repeatedly (played 491 times, on every U2 tour since 1991.)

Change one line. On an anniversary – “13 years ago” – mention a name, and your history and influences are honoured.

So there are some lessons to ponder for liturgists.

  • The importance of remembering
  • The power of one line
  • The need to place all we do within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, to remember the many who have gone before, who have shaped us, challenged us, inspired us, critiqued us

(This is an 8th point, to add to my list of 7 things a worship leader can learn from U2
1. Connect uniquely.
2. Engage through familiarity.
3. Use repetitition to call forth prayer.
4. Secure a 5th (visual) band member
5. Create hope by drawing the best from the past.
6. Plan participation.
7. Invoke passionate practices.

Posted by steve at 12:26 AM

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

how do you how grow emotions of Jesus? a question of Principal (4)

This continues my “As an incoming Principal, I have plenty of questions” series – questions that I ponder as I begin a new role as Principal at Uniting College. (First question, with some responses is here, here and here).

Here is the fourth question I’m asking

How do you grow compassion (and other emotions like joy, anger, sorrow and love for people)?

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus had compassion. The result is commission to mission, prayer that workers will be sent into the harvest. Doesn’t that become a way of understanding a College? That it engages compassion (and other emotions), as part of the educative and transformative act?

According to Matthew Elliott

“The theologies of the New Testament, as we have seen, do not do a good job in incorporating emotion into their framework. As it is in secular ethics, in New Testament ethics and theology emotion is often belittled, trivialized or ignored.” (Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament 256).

So that is a direct challenge to any College (course, sermon, preacher) – the claim that the ways it has taught (“theologies of the ….”) have not engaged the whole person.

According to adolescent psychologists, Haviland-Jones, Gebelt and Stapley

“We usually think of learning how not to be emotional rather than whether or not emotions are being refined and transformed to mature forms.”

So emotions can be, should be, part of the educative process. You should be able to point to intentional ways that emotions are being transformed, just the way you can point to growth in theology of mission or skills in preaching.

Reading the Gospels over the last few years, I’ve been struck by the feelings of Jesus, wondering what I might learn from God who experienced sorrow, crying, radical love, anger, compassion. And now, the question of Principal emerges – how do you grow compassion (and other emotions like joy, anger, sorrow and love for people)?

As I read the Biblical narrative of Matthew 9:35-38, I am intrigued by how the feelings of Jesus shaped his development of leaders. And what that might mean for Principal, staff and students, curriculum and common rooms, chapels and classes.

For more on some of my earlier reflections on feelings of Jesus

  • some leadership reflection here
Posted by steve at 08:26 AM

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

recipes for success? or journeys of discovery?

We tell them exactly how they ought to behave, what they ought to do, how they ought to believe, and what they ought to abandon. We prescribe carefully prepared gospel recipes. But – and this is the core of the problem – only rarely do we allow them to experience all this together with us. They do not go with us on a journey of discovery to search and find together. They are simply being provided with the net result of do this, believe as follows, leave that! They get the ready answer but have not struggled with us in trying to solve the problem. Bosch, 68

This is a quote from David Bosch, A Spirituality of the Road, which I was reading this morning. He is talking about mission and in particular the way that established churches in mission work with the younger churches in mission. But it struck me as having implications for leadership and for education – the tendency to provide ready made answers, the pressure to provide easy recipes. Their is a courage that is needed to keep open spaces for searching journeys of discovery.

Posted by steve at 10:19 AM

Monday, July 23, 2012

defining theological research

Tonight I attended, with my daughter, a high school careers night. One of the presentations outlined the Research Project, a final year independent study. It is described as an opportunity to:

  • research something you are interested in
  • decide how you carry out your research
  • decide on the way you produce your findings
  • make judgements about how successful you’ve been

The presenter noted that a new feature for 2013 includes local universities offering students the chance to join one of their projects, in areas like health and medicine. The student works with the University in one of their projects and gets named in the research as it is written up.

On the way home, the following conversation ensued.

Daughter: I liked the idea of doing research with a university.

Dad: Yes, when they talked about that, I wondered about theology offering a research project.

Daughter: Now that would be cool. They could start new types of churches and explore how people engage with those new forms.

Dad grins, pondering the rather unique view of theological research – the mix of research and practicum, thinking and doing, university and church – the daughter has grown up with.

Posted by steve at 11:28 PM

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No one can serve two masters: academy or church

“No one can serve two masters.” Matthew 6:24

Theological colleges are pulled two ways. The university demands intellectual rigour, PhDs, conference attendance and publications. Increasingly this includes multiple layers of academic compliance.

The church expects effective mission leaders, down to earth application, ideas with legs, lecturers who can walk the talk. Often this includes multiple process around selection, formation and mentoring of students.

The contrast became clear for me in a conversation this week. One of our local ministers, a highly effective ministry leader is also a seasoned and much loved part-time College lecturer in the area of worship.

He noted that there were over 40 new books in his subject area. Which as a minister he simply had no time to read. He wasn’t sure he would be able to continue.

Who would you rather have teach? A person who leads worship every week, an effective practitioner in a complex, growing, multiple congregational church? Or a person with time to read 40 books, a university researcher?

The ideal is both. The reality is we have to choose. Do we face the university? Or the church?

(Note – Practical theology offers a way to do both. John Swinton defines practical theology is critical reflection on the actions of the church in the light of the gospel. Church and university, actions and critical reflection. However, not every lecturer is trained in this way).

Posted by steve at 11:45 PM

Thursday, July 19, 2012

discernment in mission

It was great to be part of the Cato lecture last night and hear Kirsteen Kim, Professor of Theology and World Christianity, reflect on mission today. Her talk moved from Edinburgh in 1910 to Edinburgh in 2010, noting changes in cultures, mission theology and spirituality. She was clear, with great visuals and a dry wit. We are very much looking forward to having her with us next week at Uniting College, teaching an intensive on Spirit and mission.

Among many good quotes was the way she opened up discernment in mission.

In every context there are things to embrace and things to resist. K Kim

This for me is well illustrated in Luke 10:1-12, in the delightful tension between “eat what is set before you,” and “shake the dust.”

(Art from Mark Hewitt who “images” the lectionary each week here.)

In Luke 10, mission includes both embrace and resistance. New Testament scholar, George Shillington interprets the act of “shaking of dust” as a practice of giving freedom to the other, being willing to let them choose, rather than insisting on your way, your perspective, your insight. It’s the curse of Christendom, whether through the gun, guilt or gold. But it’s not the way of Jesus. Shillington concludes that “the idea of imposing a Christian culture on a receiving culture is foreign to this [Luke 10:1-12].” (An Introduction to the Study of Luke-Acts, 90)

In this we are not alone, for we have the wisdom of the church in history and today and the gift of discernment from God’s Spirit.

For more:
– Shaking the dust Aussie style go here
Pluralism and Luke 10.

Posted by steve at 10:25 PM

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

emerging mission: a geographic analysis

Here is something of what I’ve been writing over the last two days, the emerging church 10 years on project:

I wish to analyse this theme of mission as integrative by paying particular attention to the way space is deployed. In other words, to consider mission through a geographic lens. Does mission invite those who participate in mission to go? Or to stay? Are the recipients of mission expected to remain? Or to come?

Let me illustrate with reference to the construction of space in Luke 15:4-7. In this parable, the shepherd leaves. When the lost sheep is found, the shepherd returns. The implications for mission are subtle, but powerful, especially in churches that consider they have a “shepherd.” The result, spatially, is to suggest they will engage in mission by sending their shepherd, who will leave them (the church) to look for the lost. When found, the objects of the mission will be brought back by the shepherd, to that which is “home” (v. 6). Mission is being constructed as a sending, of a single person, by a stationery body, who await in anticipation of fruit.

Marianne Sawicki, in her book Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus suggests that with regard to mission, Scripture offers a number of diverse spatial configurations. One is Exodus. “Liberation means spatial separation and escape …. To escape, you cross over from one place to another. Physical distance separates and insulates you from the evil that is left behind.”

Another is ekklesia. This Greek word was originally used to designate a secular self-governing gathering. Participation was restricted, socially, to free male property-owners, physically, by the size of the building. Spatially, this suggests a “selection, displacement, and establishment of a new physical propinquity.”

A third is colonization. People from one land (in the case of New Testament times, Romans), invade another land, with severe social and economic consequences.

In contrast to these, Sawicki draws attention to the place of salt and leaven in the very early Christian communities. She suggests that salt and leaven provide very different spatial understandings of mission. Rather than leaving (as in the Exodus), they suggest a staying. Rather than changing by separating (as in ekklesia), they suggest a changing from within, by digging in and staying put, through infiltration. Rather than imposing (as in colonization), they suggest a subtle and complex resistance.

Posted by steve at 07:42 PM

Monday, July 16, 2012

a mail male impulse buy

Monday afternoons, I have a regular date with one of my children. (For those who count hours, I work late the other 4 days of the week to keep the ledger sweet.) We’re working on a project together, making an outdoor writing hut. I pick her up after school and we use the few hours to plod away.

We’re always dreamers, accessorising before we’ve put the door on, thinking colour schemes before the walls are up. But we both need time away from reality, time to be fun and flippant.

A few weeks ago we went looking for a mail box. All houses have mail boxes, she loves writing and so it seemed a neat way to add some personality. Alas all the local hardware shops had nothing that appealed.

Too expensive, too square, too common. The list went on.

And then today she showed me this. A real mail male impulse buy.

Posted by steve at 07:18 PM

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spirited Missiology for a global world: our 2012 intensive

We’re delighted to have international missiologist, Kirsteen Kim, with us in a few weeks teaching our mid-year intensive.

For more information, contact the ACD Office, on college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au.

Posted by steve at 11:00 PM

Friday, July 13, 2012

churches that connect

I’m currently spending three days at Ministry Education Commission. It meets annually and involves around 20 people, Principals from Uniting Church Theological Colleges (there are Colleges in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin) and key leaders in education from the various Synods/States. Being here is a “perk” of being Principal, representing Uniting College, and continues my long list of firsts. (It’s been a HUGE first 2 weeks in the role).

Being new, it strikes me as a very obvious window into the Uniting church. Each College presents an annual report. Each College gets peer reviewed every 5 to 7 years by the other Colleges. These reviews get tabled and discussed before all the other Colleges. Issues in education and formation are discussed. For example, yesterday we discussed a recent report on Youth and families and brainstormed ways to ensure the formation of leaders includes training in working with all generations.

It’s hard work. It takes time. It demands considerable maturity, a way of being that is neither defensive nor big noting.

And it says something about being church, about being the body of Christ.

Some church denominations operate mainly as local churches. Each local church sees itself as an entity by itself and chooses what levels of relationship it will have with other churches.

Some church denominations operate in a more top down approach, with an overall leader (a Bishop or a Pope), who provides a sense of continuity and connection.

Some church denominations operate in a more inter-connected, connectional manner. They recognise a shared life, that alone they are not complete, that parts of the life of another body are embedded in each other.

Which seems to me to be what is being expressed at MEC. Uniting College is not an entity by itself, choosing what relationships it will have with other colleges. Rather it exists in web of relationships. How it acts shapes others and it needs this mirror, for accountability and feedback. How it acts is also shaped by others, other groups and Colleges.

It’s not individualism. Nor is it communism. It’s connectionism (is that a new word?), a shared life.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM