Sunday, November 30, 2014

an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission

I preached at the ordination of five Uniting Church ministers today. They are an intriguing bunch. One is a pioneer, two are from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), three are heading inter-state, which suggests an endorsement by the church nationally of our training practices at Uniting College. Anyhow, here’s the sermon.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God.

“The Uniting Church in Australia? It’s all about mission.” That’s according to Introducing the Uniting Church in Australia. Written by Andrew Dutney, currently President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

When you do an ordination, always name drop the President.

And so today’s Gospel reading invites us to look at ourselves, as ordinands, as gathered friends, as the Uniting church – and wonder how we shape up in light of being “all about mission” in Luke 10:1-9.

Some of you learn by doing. As you came in, you should have found 2 sheets of paper on your seat. One, instructions on how to build a boat. Second piece of paper, to make a boat. You’re invited, as I speak, to build a boat.

Some of you learn not only by doing but also by hearing, so come with me to our Bible passage, to verse 1.

Which offers a glimpse of God. Who is God? Well in verse 1, God is revealed as a sending God; appointing people, for the purpose of sending people. And the purpose of that sending is for wider society. That’s in verse 2 – the word “harvest” which is repeated three times in case you slow and you’re began to drift off at that point in the Bible reading.

You are sent, for a harvest. Any farmers in our midst, any wine growers, any orchardists – will be the first among us to realise the urgency of this sending God, the overwhelming focus that needs to be on wider society.
When the harvest is ready, you simply work. From dawn to dusk. Because every minute you delay increases the chance you’ll lose your harvest – to birds and blight, to rain and rot.

So this image of God as a sending God, is set in a context of urgency, an urgency shaped by a concern not for our internal needs, for our own survival, for your own agendas. But for those of wider society.

That’s the God we meet in Luke 10. This image of God is consistent with how Luke, with how the Gospels, with how the church through history has experienced God. The theological word – what you 5 being ordained, heard time and again at College – missio Dei.

It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church. It’s not that we’re bringing people to the altar but that we’re bringing the altar to people. That’s who God is.

How’s that boat going?

Because after experiencing this sending God in verse 1 and 2, we see outlined a set of behaviours of those sent by this sending God. And that’s in the next verses

Take nothing in verse 2; Speak peace – in verse 5; Accept hospitality –Not give hospitality, but eat what is set before you – in verse 8; look out for healing – verse 9

Let me unpack what this might mean with a story. A few weeks ago, I was doing some research on churches in Australia engaged in community ministry today. I interviewed a church that had planted a community garden.

Now more and more churches are doing this. What was unique about this church was that they planted their community garden on a rooftop, four stories high. In central-city Sydney.

In explaining to me how this 4 stories high, central city community garden began, I was told that the church decided to plant a garden, because it was something they knew nothing about.

They had no gardening experience. And so that’s why they decided to plant a garden. Which meant that they had to ask for help. From the local community. And so as a result of asking for help, local gardeners are now deeply integrated into this community ministry. And it feels a really genuine “harvest” to make a pun out of the story and the reading in Luke .

Later in the interview, I decided to check if I was really hearing this right. “It sounds to me, I said “like your lack of knowledge – about gardening – actually became like a gift. By starting with what you didn’t know, it gave the community a way in, a way to get involved.” “

“Absolutely” was the animated reply. “Absolutely. Start with something you don’t know how to do. Because it opens up a different way of being with your community.”

Which I think is what’s being suggested by this Gospel reading, the behaviour’s the sending God is inviting us to in Luke 10.

Take nothing. When you do that, you’ll need help.

Speak peace. Peace is a First Testament word. It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s about peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbor, migrants, strangers. Peace, down with the earth, in the gardens, on which God-in-Jesus walks.

Look for healing. For wellbeing in people’s lives – for wellbeing in our communities. Up with God. Across with neighbor, migrants, strangers. Down with earth.

It’s flipping upside down our traditional understandings of mission and of what it means us to be a good neighbour.
What if the task of the church in mission is actually not to be a good neighbour?
Rather what if the task of the church is to act in ways that enable our communities to be good neighbours?

How’s that boat going? Do you have a name for it yet?

So what does this mean for ordination? For you 5 – Sherrin, Esteban, Adam, Karen, Casey. For us gathered as church and friends to support you? One way to explore that question is for each of us to ask ourselves where we want to locate ourselves in this Bible reading.

Do we want to locate ourselves by siddling up and standing beside Jesus. To find ourselves at the centre of the action, who sends people out into God’s world?

Good news is that we’ve built an entire church culture around that mode of mission. We’ve developed enormous resources to sustain that type of leadership.

Bad news is that this way of being church requires a world which died about 30 years ago. I’m being dramatic. I’m a preacher. And there are, of course, exceptions. But the reality is, that the church with minister at the centre, sending people out, is now a very old-fashioned way of doing ministry. Is that where you want to locate yourself in this text?

Or do you feel most comfortable being sent. Taking no bag. Speaking peace. Accepting hospitality. Looking for signs of healing.

Bad news is that this is scary and vulnerable. It might not work. It might come across as manipulative. It might leave you, like a disciple in Luke 10, hungry with nowhwere to sleep. Or a church with a community garden that is indeed a fine example of how little you know about gardening. Polite way of saying dead.

If that’s the bad news, the good news is that this is the vision of ministry at the heart to being the Uniting Church.
To quote from paragraph 14 of the Basis of Union – (always name drop the Basis of Union in an ordination sermon)
The Uniting Church recognises … a period of reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the building up of the fellowship in mutual love, in commitment to Christ’s mission, and in service of the world for which he died.

Which is why I chose Luke 10 as our reading. And why I’ve invited all of us, you 5 being ordained, all of us church and friends, “the whole people of God” to try and locate ourselves in Luke 10.

But why the boat?

Perhaps it because Luke 10 has shaped the mission life of the church down through history. Like Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland, 5th century. Became a monk. Served the church faithfully. Then at the age of 80 sensed God calling him to a new adventure. I’ll repeat that. At the age of 80 – always good to have something to look forward to – sensed God calling him to a new adventure with God.

Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, felt that he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit. Like in Luke 10 – to be sent by a sending God.

The story goes (The Voyage of Saint Brendan: The Navigator) that Brendan set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. He and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Where-ever they went, they where shaped by Luke 10. They proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, up, across, down to all creation.

But we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person from Europe to land in America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.

Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition set out to disprove the myth. He built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. But with a radio to call for help. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route and with many of the same adventures, that Brendan the Voyager wrote of. Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, to build a boat, and go on an adventures with God.

So that’s one name for your boat. Brendan’s boat.

What Brendan did was how the Celtic church understood mission. Not once, not twice, but so popular they invented a new word to describe it – peregrine – traveller, pilgrim. Robert McFarlane in his book on the history of walking (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) wrote of “Ocean roads’ – thousands of them. – In a world before cars and planes, boats were the fastest means of long distance travel.”

On these roads that the Celtic church did mission. Take no bag – just a boat with no rudder. Speak Peace. Looked for healing.

So that’s another name for your boat. Peregrine – pilgrim.

And then there’s the Uniting Church. To be more precise the emblem of the Uniting Church. Reading from the book with which I started, President Andrew Dutney, Introducing the Uniting Church.

The black background represents the darkened world. Upon this background the cross of Christ, the risen, crucified One. The dove with wings of flame depicts the Spirit. Beneath it all, holding it up is a … what? ….(34)

“it reminds me of a boat, with the cross as its mast and the dove’s wings as the sail.”

And no rudder. That’s Steve Taylor not Andrew Dutney.

Because, says Andrew “We are uniting, not united. We are on a journey,” a pilgrim people, “looking to the future.” So that’s perhaps that another name for your boat. You as 5 ordinards. Us as the church – that in every Council and in every ordination and in every act of ministry and in every decision, about finance and property, a Uniting Church.

A Uniting Church in Australia. In which it’s all about mission.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of the Uniting Church, be acceptable in your sight O Sending God.

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

intensive week: campus comparisons

It is intensive week at Uniting College, with three intensives running in two different geographic locations.

In Adelaide, Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy is being taught by Rev Dr Trevor Whitney. It has attracted folk from around the country, including Frontier Services Patrol Ministers, some of whom have driven for ten hours to be part of the intensive. Their 4wd vehicles sit, large and proud, in our carpark, a physical reminder of a national church.

In Adelaide there is also Formation for Christian ministry, being co-taught by Dr Pete and Sue Kaldor. They’ve joined us from Sydney for the week. That class also includes folk from inter-state, Ministers whom we at Uniting College have trained and now sent nationally, returning for ongoing training as part of their post-ordination training.

In Gold Coast, there is Theology of Jesus, being taught by myself. It is another step in the partnership between New Life Uniting, Robina, and Uniting College Adelaide. According to the Gold Coast locals, there are around 530,000 people who live on the Gold Coast. There are no theological Colleges, apart from a few Pentecostal churches that run in-house offerings. There is also a lack of distance providers in Queensland. The result is a group of the most enthusiastic students I’ve ever had, so grateful for the chance to learn and grow.

Without wanting to create a rivalry! the fact is that Gold Coast campus is far better equipped than the Adelaide campus! Check out this view … some students working on a group project.


This is just the start. New life have a vision for offering ministry training throughout the Gold Coast. To make that happen they are outfitting a newly built area as a lecture room, are planning a dedicated student cafe area and have a medium term plan to build a dedicated set of lecturer offices. It’s a privilege as part of Uniting College to partner with them in their dreams.

Posted by steve at 02:37 PM

Sunday, November 09, 2014

teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus

My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week.  It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food.  One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.


The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.

In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.


The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.

To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.

It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack. 

So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.

Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Thursday, November 06, 2014

too busy not to listen

As the Semester ends at Uniting College there is the usual tiredness, mixed with piles (and piles) of marking. At times of busyness, the need to make time to listen is even more important. In fact, listening is one of the most important things a leader can offer their community. We have two ears but only one tongue for a reason. Hence the following invite, being sent out to our students in the next few days. It is an invite to be listened to ….


It has been a year of significant change for students at 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park. Whether you are studying for a Flinders University or Adelaide College of Divinity award, there have been changes – with new technologies, with the library, in ecumenical relationships.

As the year ends, Janet Buchan (Executive Officer, ACD) and Steve Taylor (Principal, Uniting College), would like to spend some time listening to students. Whether you are undergraduate or postgraduate, part-time or full-time, we would like to hear from you.

What is working well? What could work better?

We will offer you pizza. We will guide you through a process of clarifying and refining the good and the bad.

We make three commitments

  • We will provide you with pizza if you RSVP
  • We will listen
  • We will make what emerges a priority for us into 2015.

Date: Wednesday, November 19, 5:30 pm-7:15 pm, student common room. RSVP by Monday, November 17, to lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au

Hoping to see you

Janet Buchan and Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Boyhood: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for November 2014, of Boyhood.

A film review by Steve Taylor

“The good news is that you’re feeling stuff.”
Father to son in Boyhood

We have either all had one or observed one.

I refer to boyhood: that process by which a child grows into an adult. “Boyhood” the movie follows Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

“Boyhood” was twelve years in the making, twelve short stories, each written over the shooting period. It was collaboratively, director and actors together shaping the narrative direction.

Director Richard Linklater is known for movies including “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight.” Each of the three “Before” movies focused on one twenty-four hour period.

Each explored generational rites, earning Linklater a reputation as the definitive cinematic capturer of 20-something contemporary culture, a visual Douglas Coupland.

In “Boyhood,” that one day becomes thirteen years. Academics call it longitudinal studies, repeated observations of the same variables over long periods of time. They also call it particularity, in which the focus on the singularity makes accessible what is universal. It’s impossible to watch “Boyhood” without thinking of your own becoming of age.

Each of the “Before” trilogy also features Ethan Hawke, who in “Boyhood” faces his own need to grow, from 20-something to father of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). She is also Linklater’s daughter. After the first three years of filming, she wanted out, asking her director father to find a way to kill her “Boyhood” character.

If Linklater is master of the capture of contemporary culture, then what are we seeing as we look in the “Boyhood” mirror? Reflected back are images of developing technology, the seduction of education, the corrosive power of alcohol, the potential of parents no matter life’s circumstances.

The theological notes are intriguing. Good news, a phrase rendered cliché and clunky by so many Christian churches, becomes in “Boyhood” the appreciation “that you’re feeling stuff.” It sets up the final scene in which Mason asks if we seize the moment? Or do the moments seize us? Hence good news becomes feeling the experiences of the now.

It is an intriguing attempt at theology, given that growth over time, grasped through a sense of unfolding memory lies at the movie’s core. This is best depicted by Mason and Samantha’s mother (Patricia Arquette), as she faces the adulthood of her children.

“This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own funeral?”

For her to experience the now is news more bad than good. Which perhaps is the real message of “Boyhood.” That growing up is for adults.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 08:51 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2014

looking up

I love the creativity by which spaces are changed. Here is a wonderful example from our recent holiday in Turkey. The interior of a large room, and from the ceiling had been hung bright yellow coloured rings.


Walking inside, we noted a change of colour, from yellow to green, along with a change of shape. It seemed invitation, pointing toward another room.

lookingup green

They had even placed a swing inside. Which sure enough, you were allowed to play on. I watched a young child head straight for the swing, and another young couple enjoy some fun together.


It changed the entire look and feel of the place, from large and stark, to playfully invitational. I have no idea why (not being fluent in Turkish) but it was a memorable and striking way to invite us to “look up.” It created interaction, built conversation with strangers (Wow, what is it?) and offered a set of memories that walked with us into our week.

A church could use their “looking up” to change with the colours of the church year, to hang angels at Advent, to create more intimate surroundings in winter. For a positive, practical, example, Cityside Baptist in Auckland were superb. They had strung wire across their auditorium and this allowed them to attach spots, but also to provide a range of creative offerings – flowers, poppies at Anzac Day.

Up is as much of a space to be curated as the front. (For more on curating and worship; see Jonny Baker, Curating Worship and Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader)

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM