Saturday, June 28, 2014

four week road trip

I’m about to head off on a four week road trip.

Week one I am speaking at the National Ministers Conference in Charleville. The theme is fresh deeds and my fellow missiologist at Uniting College, Rosemary Dewerse,  and I will be using an indigenous model of contextual theology, weaving together children’s stories, Biblical reflection and recent missiology trends.

Week two I am in Sydney, teaching an intensive on mission for Charles Sturt University at the United Theological College campus. There are 20 students. I am framing the week around seven disciplines of mission
1. The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
2. The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
3. The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)
4. The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
5. The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
6. The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
7. The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

These are a frame suggested by Anglican Bishop Steve Croft after he spent three weeks listening to Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict explore the single theme of the new evangelization.

During week two, Team Taylor will join me. In fact, Team Taylor will expand. We are flying over from Christchurch the girls best friends. So while I teach, they will enjoy girl time.

Week three is holiday. Team Taylor will return to normal size and we will explore Canberra and the Blue Mountains. It will be great.

Week four is the second National Ministers Conference. This one is in Sydney, with a focus on multi-cultural. This is the second of three, the final one being in Jerusalem in September. Yet, I am expecting to be a keynote speaker there as well!

One member of Team Taylor will remain with me, miss school (!) and enjoy a week of cross-cultural experience. I’m really looking forward to having a family member with me as I speak and sharing experience with me.

Four weeks. For weeks teaching! So looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 07:06 PM

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uniting College welcomes Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Coordinator

Good news today with the appointment of Karen Vanlint to fill the newly created position of CALD Co-ordinator (VET) at Uniting College.

Karen has taught ESL 0.5 at Salisbury TAFE, for the past 3 years. She has significant experience as a school teacher, here and in the UK.
She has a particular passion for CALD persons, and displayed not only an excellent grasp on the appropriate approaches to establishing this stream at Uniting College, but insight and energy on how it might be significantly developed into the future.

She has a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Education, a Diploma of Christian Studies, a Cert IV in TESOL, and a Cert IV in TA (Training and Assessment).

In the midst of a very rich field of applicants, Karen also spoke of a particular personal ‘call’ to this role, having moved house to specifically engage with communities with higher numbers of CALD people.

Her references noted her diligence, quality and innovation in teaching, and organisational ability. She is an active member of Parafield Gardens Uniting Church.

The position is 0.2, and Karen will commence on Tuesday 29th July. She will focus on

  • the delivery of CALD VET training
  • liaising with ethnic Christian Communities in South Australia
  • student support as required

This position (similar to BYO Co-ordinator and Chaplaincy) is being funded through the release of funds from a specific Trust, to enable innovations which can result in new cohorts of students. We expect it to grow, but are starting small.

Personally, this is probably the most exciting innovation I’ve been part of initiating in my time as Principal of the College.

Posted by steve at 07:08 PM

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Community of practice in flipped learning and indigenous voices

I heard today that I’ve been accepted into a Flinders University Faculty research project. I’m quite chuffed!

The project is addressing the research question: how can lecturers make their subjects accessible, flexible and suitably individualised to promote effective learning without compromising on the quality of the teaching or the integrity of the subject matter under study?

A few weeks ago a call for applications went out, seeking lecturers looking at re-designing and implementing a Semester 2 topic. I replied said that I am teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, which I am wanting to implement flipped learning. I am also wanting to bringing in indigenous voices to explore a diversity of Christology. So if what I was planning to do already was of interest, I’d be glad to participate in a growth opportunity.

Today came the invite to participate. I’m one of 6 lecturers. We will meet together four times. We are asked to keep a journal of our learning. The project will monitor student learning. Together we will present our results, at a Faculty workshop and in writing.

In return each of us is allocated $1200, to spend on buying out teaching time, marking assistance, conference/travel assistance or purchasing of teaching and learning resources.

So why sign up?

  • It will force me to make the changes I want to in regard to flipped learning and.
  • It encourages the type of reflection I try to do anyway. Last year I blogged parts of the course and presented a paper.
  • It keeps me learning as a teacher.
  • It keeps us as a Department plugged into wider learning.
  • I thing this model has possibilities for peer learning as ministers, so I get to experience this as a participant before I suggest it for other
  • I am having a paper published in this area and so this keeps me focused and growing.

More work, but more resourced in a richer conversation, both in teaching and with others across the University.

Posted by steve at 01:36 PM

Sunday, June 22, 2014

change processes: finding voice

On Saturday, I was allocated 60 minutes to lead a discernment process at our Presbytery and Synod meeting, in regard to mission. After I finished, a participant approached me to ask who they could complain to about the process. They considered what I had done a waste of everyone’s time. The conversation helped clarify for me some ongoing questions about change processes across systems.

I want to blog about these, in order to help clarify my thinking. In this first post, I want to outline what I did and why. In a second post I want to reflect on the complaint, and what it helped clarify for me about where and how systems seek energy, change and leadership. In a third post, I want to summarise a presentation I made on Friday, on how New Testament churches inter-connect and to relate it to how churches today are connecting. Fourth, I want to reflect on what I might do differently and what denominational change processes are needed in the 21st century.

SO WHAT WAS THE GROUP PROCESS I INITIATED?

In March, an overseas speaker, Dave Male had addressed the Presbytery and Synod in regard to mission. Towards the end of the day, Dave presented 12 challenges to us. Following these challenges, those gathered spent about 20 minutes in table groups discussing the 12 challenges. People were invited to write their comments, which were collected. The meeting moved on with the existing agenda. In other words, nothing concrete was decided by this gathering of people.

Afterward, I was asked if, the next time we gathered, I could provide some leadership in helping us take some next steps. I was allocated 60 minutes and here is what I did.

Introduction (10 minutes) – The 12 things were re-introduced. Woven into this summarising was “appreciative inquiry.” Various “bright spot” stories, of local examples from the Synod, were presented. This served both as a reminder and as a contextualisation. Where there was no obvious “bright spot”, we paused for prayer.

Introduce process (5 minutes) – The Presbytery and Synod gathers around table groups. On each table was placed a task. 1/3 had a blank piece of paper and they were invited to identify a word or image from bright spots. 2/3 were provided with some part of the table group feedback from last time. The task was to come up with 1 proposal; with 1 action that might help us as a Presbybery and Synod take a step forward.

Group work (15 minutes) – In preparation I had analysed the table group feedback. I had looked for movement. Green lights – What did people most want to push forward? Orange lights – what were things that people were wanting to question, to nuance, to think about more carefully?

Green lights – Train all your people to share their story; Presbytery mission staff to be involved in fresh expressions; Invest in people not buildings

Orange lights -The Role of Holy Spirit in our life as church; the link between evangelism, agencies and fresh expressions; the role of Synod in change processes

Reporting back from the floor (27 minutes assuming 1 minute per table group) – Each table group were invited to present their proposal. After each sharing, the Moderator “tested” each proposal. If people were ‘warm’ they would raise an orange card, if people were “cold” they could raise a blue card. The 3 or 4 proposals that had the least blue cards, would be taken away, in preparation to bring them back as proposals the next time (November) the Presbytery and Synod gathered.

Summary (5 minute) – Thanks for participating, a reminder that the work would become proposals to “vote” on at November Presbytery and Synod and a final 13th bright spot story, to encourage.

WHY THIS PROCESS?

First, at Pentecost, the promise is that the Spirit would be poured out on all people; Your sons and daughters would prophesy; younger people will see visions; older people will dream dreams. I actually believe that. I wondered if, in 15 minutes, we as a Synod might experience that Pentecost Spirit.

Second, we as a Presbytery and Synod have some significant challenges. It just might be that some part of our future, a next step, is actually tucked up in someone’s imagination, among the gathered people of God.

Thirdly, my experience is that processes in which humans are involved are more likely to last longer. So why not keep engaging people in the processes.

PITFALLS THAT MADE ME NERVOUS:

First, time – 60 minutes is a significant block of time in which to expect a large group to engage. Would it be worth it? What if there were no ideas?

Second, and related the process – Would people engage? What if nothing happened? What type of ideas would emerge?

So that was the process. Next time, I’ll reflect on the person who had the courage afterward to complain, and what it signals about where systems look for leadership and change.

Posted by steve at 08:15 PM

Thursday, June 19, 2014

finding voice

Now here is my summary of the movie:

One of my biggest fears at school was the annual speech competition. I found multiple ways – pretending to be sick, skipping class – in order to avoid that moment of terror, the act of public speaking.

Nor am I alone. Studies have shown that fear of public speaking ranks with fear of dying. “The King’s Speech” speaks to these shared levels of primal human phobia.

The movie begins with a man, “Bertie” (Colin Firth). He is alone. He stands in front of a microphone. Slowly the camera pans to a waiting crowd and then zeroes in on the radio dials that signal a worldwide radio audience.

The tension of this primal moment is exacerbated with the realisation that this Bertie is no mere mortal. Instead he is born royal, inheriting the expectation of public performance and proficient patterns of speech. The movie commences to trace “Bertie’s” partnership with unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

This personal drama is set against the backdrop of other battles concerning public speech. Will “Bertie’s” brother (Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce), the current King of England, proclaim publicly his love for American divorcee Mrs. Simpson (played by Eve Best)? Will England speak out against Hitler’s expansionist aggression?

Loss of voice can result from physical damage. It can also result from interior pain. Viewed at this level, “The King’s Speech” becomes a metaphor that enables corporate reflection. Can a nation lose voice? Can a church?

Sometimes it feels like the church finds voice. But it still lacks appeal. We speak in ways that sound loud, brash and ugly. What we say might be true, but the way we say it simply alienates people.

Other times it feels like the church is stammering. We appear uncertain about what we really want to stay.

At other times it feels like our voice is no different from any other voice of any other group. So sure, we have voice. But it is background noise and we have nothing distinctive to say.

So King’s speech invites us to think about finding voice. What does it mean for us to speak? What does it mean for us not only to speak, but to speak in ways that are warm, wise and winsome?

Posted by steve at 10:19 PM

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

DIY supervision, DIY spirituality, DIY leadership, DIY church

“There is even less discussion with supervisors about the changes that might be produced by what I see as rapidly expanding DIY doctoral education practices” – books, blogs, webinars, forums, chats – “Much of this socially mediated DIY activity is international, cross-disciplinary and all day/all night … something is happening here and we (collectively) don’t know what it is. … It’s a field which is fragmented, partially marketised, unregulated and a bit feral. But it’s big, it’s powerful, more and more doctoral researchers are into it, and it is profoundly pedagogical. I’m concerned that British universities are generally (and of course there are exceptions, but mostly this is the case) not helping supervisors to think about this DIY supervision trend and what it means for how doctoral education is changing – and crucially, what the implications for their supervision practices might be.” (Some excerpts from a recent blog post on the rise of DIY in post-graduate study.

The links to spirituality, leadership and church are obvious. For many folk, the internet has become a huge resource in sustaining faith.

This is only a hunch, but I doubt emerging church and fresh expressions would have had nearly the impact (for good and bad) without the internet.

It is a place awash with resources for leaders – sermons to hear, places to discuss, people to follow.

I’ve spent the last two days at the Education for Ministry working group. It is a Uniting Church Assembly project. I’ve sat with 9 leaders from across the Uniting Church in Australia, talking about the future of formation for ministry. Our focus was formal training, and all the time, what about the “big,” “powerful,” and “pedagogical” training that is the DIY of living in a world socially mediated? What are those we train learning via the internet? Who are they “following” that is partial, fragmented and unregulated? What does this mean for how leaders are being formed today?

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trinity art at Tarlee

On Sunday, I led worship and preached at Tarlee Uniting. It was Trinity Sunday and I offered a number of multi-sensory ways to engage the Trinity – a tasting experience, a body prayer, a visual engagement with two art images, the making of friendship bracelets as a benediction. I was a bit unsure how, being new to a church, such input would go. I was also unsure how it would play in a rural community.

Despite my anxiety, people engaged really, really well. There was lots of interaction. What was even more intriguing was that within a few minutes of the service finishing, the visual images were being displayed on the outdoor noticeboard.

trinity sunday at tarlee

The full service was as follows –

Trinity Sunday 2014

Enter – Taste the trio – hand out cracker, cheese and gherkins at door instead of hymnbooks

Welcome – 2 Cor 13: 14 The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Introduction to theme – Why food? Trinity Sunday. Three in one.

Praise – use songs. Use our bodies
God is beyond anything we can imagine (traditionally the symbol of God the Father)
God is with us (and many believe became one of us- the “Son”)
God is within us (The Spirit)
and amongst us (The Spirit)

Children’s talk – introduce Rublev’s Icon, as a way of understanding God for culture that cannnot read, as a picture to be explained.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 13:11-end; Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection – Malcolm Gordon, Sweetest mystery

Confession:
O God, even as we celebrate your unity, we know that sometimes
we break that unity, in our own lives, in our families, in our communities, with your earth

Sermon – introduce a second art piece, then return to name the children’s talk picture as Rublevs Icon, and set the context as a act of public and practical theology.

Offering and Intercession: Pick up on the two lectionary texts. 2 Corinthians 13:11-end and so to pray for church and people we know; Matthew 28:16-20 and so to pray for God’s mission in the world.

Final song: I bind unto myself – St Patrick, Eucharist CD – while making friendship bracelet. Including option of weaving in a bead (My partner had find beads with letters of the alphabet, and people were invited to choose a bead with a name of person that want woven into the Trinity of love.

Benediction: Return to opening greeting, 2 Corinthians 13:11-end

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tarlee bound for Trinity Sunday

I’m off early tomorrow morning to spend a day with Tarlee Uniting. They are about 90 minutes drive away. They are led by a Lay Ministry Team, so I’m there to led worship and preach and hopefully give these hardworking locals a bit of a breather. I love these opportunities and find them so very grounding, to be in the country, with folk who are working on creative, whole people of God, outworkings of faith and discipleship.

It’s Trinity Sunday, so that is a natural place to begin. I will use my children’s talk introducing Rublevs icon (doing theology with our eyes). We will also be doing theology with our hands, making friendship bracelets, weaving the colours of the three figures in Rublev’s icon

After the service, I’ve been asked to engage their leadership team in thinking about mission. I will explore with them how Israel gathered in the Old Testament; patterns of
- sacred spaces
- pilgrimage
- festivals
- family meals

What I want to suggest is that this frees imagination on how to be church and Christian, away from “weekly church” to more contextual patterns. This is a development of some thinking I developed in 2012 for the National Rural Ministers conference. I have added some specific examples and I will be interested to see how it goes with a rural church led by a lay ministry team.

Church begins at 9:15 am, so it will be an early start.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Friday, June 13, 2014

being a missionary church in the early church

In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as doing many miracles. What did those who were healed do after they had encountered Jesus? While some followed, many returned to their homes and lives. What did they do as a result of their Jesus encounter? Would that encounter translate into an ongoing set of practices and beliefs? How would that set of practices and beliefs mix and merge with the set of practices and belief that would become Christianity?

Sometimes, I try to imagine what might happen if two people who had experienced a miracle of Jesus ever met. What might trigger the storytelling which would suggest they had both experienced an encounter with Jesus? What resources would they use to assess each others practices and beliefs?

Let me provide a specific example. What might happen when the healed leper in Mark 1 met the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8?

John Wilson, in his book on the history of Caesarea Philippi, notes that in history, for some 300 hundred years after Jesus death, Caesarea Philippi was a city with a celebrated statue. Residents of the city understood it was a statue of Christ, erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood. (Wilson, John F (2004) Banias: The Story of Caesarea Philippi, Lost City of Pan I.B.Tauris).

So imagine that the healed leper of Mark 1 – brought up God-fearer, monotheistic, no graven images, Jewish – sets out to share the story of his encounter with Jesus.

Goes on a missionary journey, enters Caesarea Philippi ready to preach the message. Spots a statue. Potential outrage (being a God-fearing, monotheistic, no graven images, Jew), turns to confusion as he recognises the hands of the statue are like the hands of the person that touched him.

Locates the statue owner, a woman. She has shared her experience of God’s touch with people, who now gather weekly around this statue to share stories of being touched by God.

How do these two people, very different, begin to realise they are part of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? If the group in Caesarea Philippi have developed a different set of practices and beliefs than the group of mobile missionaries, how will convergence begin to happen? Who gets to decide what is out of bounds church and what is not?

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Thursday, June 12, 2014

people matter: collecting and collating stories in practical theology research

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people!

A Maori proverb that reminds us that people are essential. So what does that mean for research, in particular theology and ministry research? How do we ensure that people matter, from start to finish?

John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, in their excellent Practical Theology and Qualitative research, provide a rich range of examples of doing practical theology research. In Chapter 4, Researching Personal experience, they explore the impact of depression on spirituality. Because people matter, they begin with lived experience.

They interview six people, who have explored spirituality in the midst of depression. Following the interviews, they perform a fairly standard analysis of the data, drawing out themes from across the six interviews.

Because people matter, then then borrow from (the also excellent) Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, a method in which they seek to express these recurring themes, not in the words of the researchers, but in the words of the participants. They weave actual words from the interviews around the themes.

In doing so, we see two moments in which people matter, first in listening to human story, second in letting people tell their stories in their own words.

But people still matter. Lots. So Swinton and Mowat take a further step. They take the compiled stories back to the participants. Do these compiled narratives fully capture your story? Is there anything missing? Are there any misunderstandings or misinterpretation? In so doing, the participants become co-researchers. They get to actively shaping and re-shape the data. The result is a far richer data set, one more likely to truly name human experience.

Or to use another image, a way of letting those being researched look in the mirror that is their own data.

It is only then that Swinton and Mowat take a clearly theological turn. (Although I would argue that a research method in which people matter is a very fine way to do theology). They take themes – in this case including abandonment and the search for God in the abyss – and explore them in relation to Scripture, particularly the Psalms.

People matter. As a result, research begins with human story, tells human story in their own words, clarifies human story.

All because people matter.

And so, I said to the DMin student I was supervising today, why not let this shape your research into pioneers of fresh expressions? Why not not only interview, but take your interview data back to pioneers? Because I bet that as they see their stories, their approach to ministry reflected back, they will want to extend, clarify and nuance the data.

It will become richer, more likely to truly name the practices that shape pioneer ministry.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

It seems appropriate in the week following Pentecost, to note the recent decision of the Academic Board to approve a new pathway in Innovation and Pioneering.

Dave Male has endorsed this, saying:

“This is a fantastic course that equips missional leaders for the present and the future of the church. I would encourage any leader to consider coming on this. It has some of the best material and teachers in the pioneering world.”

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

A new pathway in the Diploma of Ministry will provide a comprehensive foundation in principles and practices of ministries of innovation and social entrepreneurship shaped by a Christian commitment.

The Diploma of Ministry is nested within the Bachelor of Ministry for those who wish to continue their study. This new pathway would be ideally suited for those wanting to transition to Bachelor of Ministry Practice Stream.

The Diploma of Ministry general structure is 8 units, of which 4 are core and 4 are elective. In this pathway students complete 6 required units (including the four core) and 2 optional units. The Diploma can be completed in one year of full-time study, or part-time equivalent study.

Required units

MINS1002 Introducing the Scriptures*

This unit provides an overview of the OT and NT writings, exploring major theological themes (one being missio Dei). Students in this pathway would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in Biblical texts.

MINS1305 Reading Cultures*

Key themes in this unit include understanding communities, global cultures, and ministry models. Students would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in a new mission.

MINS1601 Spirituality for 21st Century Disciples*

This units assists students to develop the ability to articulate biblical, spiritual and ethical bases for Christian discipleship and reflect on application of these in our own life and others.

MINS1510 Introduction to Formation for Ministry*

In this unit students explore the nature and practice of Christian formation, including learning styles, self-assessment, commitment to ethical practice, to develop an understanding of identity in relation to taking on professional role in ministry and the implications for vocation, faith and life.

MINS23xx Innovation as Pioneering

This new unit explores questions such as: Who is a pioneer? What are their practices? How do they sustain their life? (for more, see here).

MINS2518 Supervised Field Education 1

Students in this pathway would undertake SFE for experience in a pioneering context, either starting something or in observation.

Optional units

Two units chosen from the following:

MINS2318 Mission Then, Mission Now

MINS2314 The Theology of Jesus Christ, Word and Saviour

MINS3339 Missional Church Leadership

MINS2537 Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy

MINS2317 Guided Study in Innovation A

Each of these units gives students the opportunity to explore or reflect on themes relevant to innovation and pioneering:

  • Mission Then, Mission Now explores church history for mission lessons for today;
  • Theology of Jesus Christ explores Jesus with particular attention to boundary crossing;
  • Missional Church Leadership invites reflection on mission to Western cultures with particular attention to the local church’s participation;
  • Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy introduces students to practices, images and theological themes in a practical theology of chaplaincy.
  • Guided Study in Innovation A enables a focus on mission shaped ministry

Rationale for new Diploma pathway

We have, over the last few years, used the specialisation pathway in the Diploma to point to particular vocation paths within our suite of courses. A new pathway in innovation and pioneering continues this focus.

We have a BMin Practice Stream offering and the Diploma provides a clear entry pathway.

The Uniting Church have asked us to train pioneer leaders and this course meets this request.

In a diverse educational market, this continues one of the unique foci of Uniting College around leadership, mission and innovation.

Posted by steve at 12:57 PM

Monday, June 09, 2014

skin in the theology game

Does the study of theology require more skin, more personal involvement, than other types of study?

Case study one: Claire is a second year university student. She has one optional subject and spots a summer school programme called “Bible and Popular Culture.”  She has a cousin who grew up religious and it makes for awkward pauses whenever the family get together. She enrols in “Bible and Popular Culture,” hoping to gain an easy credit and to help her talk with the “religious” side of her family.  Unknown to her, one of the classes will be on the subject of trauma.  The lecturer connects the Old Testament book of Lamentations with contemporary experiences of trauma. The lecture triggers for Claire a memory of a moment from her teenage years. Suddenly, in the midst of a university class ten years later, she is overwhelmed with painful memories.

Case study two: Bruce has a deep faith. Studying archeology, he notes an intensive called “Introduction to Theology.” It fits with his timetable.  More importantly, having faith, Bruce arrives at class expecting that this class will connect with what is important to his values.  Half way through the classs, he finds the faith he learnt from his church being disturbed by the content of the lecture.  In a small group, feeling slightly ruffled, he expresses his unease, only for a third person in the group to make a smart comment about the naivety of Christian belief.  Suddenly what Bruce has held dear is publicly exposed.

Case study three: Sue is a PhD candidate. She began theology study as a Catholic. But the more she has studied, the more she finds problematic the position of her denomination toward woman.  Intellectually bright, she enrols in post-graduate study, wanting to explore her questions in more depth.  But her topic – leadership and gender in the early church – is making folk from her home church increasingly uncomfortable.  She begins to realise that the results of her research might well result in her being marginalised within her church community.  Might she have to leave, either  to find a new church, or perhaps even a new denomination?

Each of these case studies are hypothetical, but each are a snapshot from conversations I’ve had with students in my classes in the last few years.

It seems to me that for each of these students, studying theology has meant the finding of some serious skin in a classroom setting.  Lectures have touched on significant personal experiences. Readings have raised questions about beliefs held dear.  Study has brought into into question existing relationships and raised the possibility that it might lead to damage of a person’s communities and identity outside the class.

All of these requires significant personal energy, the investment of soul and spirit above and beyond the learning outcomes and assessment set. I wonder if other areas of study demand as much skin? Does engineering or the history of the Middle Ages or the literature of Ireland impact on identity and experience in such areas?

I suspect that it does not, and as a result, the study of theology is not only a deeply demanding intellectual engagement, but also one that requires significant individual skin in the class.

I wonder what this means for students, for lecturers and for the higher education systems in which theology is taught?

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

call stories and their place in forming leaders

Monday is our monthly Leadership Formation day at Uniting College. It is a day to gather as a community of candidates moving into ordained ministry. There is time to share and worship. There is also time to process the specific formation required of those called to lead others publicly.

This year we have framed formation around 10 practices of mission spirituality. We are drawing on Susan Hope, Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission.

Monday the practice was called and sent. All Christians are called and sent. Thus all ministers are called and sent. However the candidate journey requires thinking about called and sent corporately. What does being sent mean for our identity as ministers? What does it mean to lead a church in being sent? How does Uniting Church ministry, and in particular the Uniting Church Preamble, shape being sent?

In preparation, I asked candidates to bring with them either a “sending” Bible text that challenged them or a Christian in history who led a sent life that encouraged them.

I then invited the candidates to go for a walk and share their story in two’s. Upon return, they were asked to write up what they heard (not what they said) on the white board. We ended up with a white board covered with call stories – Phoebe, Moses, Brendan the Navigator, Joseph, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Moses. A rich tapestry of names that have shaped our call stories. Out in the open, removed from us, placed among us, discussion then followed around two talking points. First, were there shared themes? There were, including

  • God is calling and God’s character is revealed in call
  • many were called to make a difference, to be part of change
  • the call was to risk and adventure. This required trust
  • the importance of struggle in responding to call
  • the diversity of call
  • how often the call story a person named meshed with their personality. The response to ministry was a coming home, a true finding of self

Second, how did it feel to trust our story to another? This question enabled us to consider the fact that call is heard and discerned by the church. Call stories might be shared by us, but they are part of processes in which our individuality is placed among others, among people, among the church. This requires trust and vulnerability. We might be mis-heard. Equally, we might not share truly. This is the humanity of being in ministry and being the church. And so we reflected together on what this meant for us, as candidates, working through the process of formation placed by the church.

It was a rich and valuable process, shaped by a set of simple questions – what call story has shaped you? when we hear these stories and place them together, what do we learn?

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

pioneer exits

Yesterday at chapel included naming the transition that is happening for one of our candidates, Karen Paull.

Karen began at Uniting College as I began in 2010. As a first year, first semester student she demanded her way into my Missional Church Leadership class. She was on about mission she said, and so was determined to take every single class she could on mission. Her candidature included fieldwork as a Netball Chaplain, being a Christ presence among a local church’s sports ministry. Over the four years she has mixed her study with a rich range of practical mission experiences, including attending, and then leading as part of the team running mission-shaped ministry course here in Adelaide and travelling for mission trips to Thailand.

Karen is leaving to pioneer, moving into a fully paid placement as a pioneer, working ecumenically into a local community in Sydney, NSW.

She spoke at the chapel service, reflecting on her experience of God’s love as she has moved through this pioneer training, the highs and lows.

Earlier in the day, she had shared in a candidate group about the significance of Phoebe on her sense of call. A leader, woman, a diaconal serving ministry, a willingness to travel a lot – this deep resonance between this Biblical character and Karen’s evolving sense of call.

There were so many dreams that have become reality in this story. Karen’s dream of being a pioneer, Uniting College’s dream of training pioneers, a local church’s dream of setting aside significant financial resource to practically love a community.

Posted by steve at 08:39 AM