Friday, February 27, 2015

beginnings 2015

A great lunch at Uniting College yesterday as we celebrated a whole range of beginnings. There was food and conversation and great joy across the campus as we named a number of new beginnings for people, in partnerships, in presence.

New Life College – New Life Uniting is the largest Uniting Church in Australia. Located on the Gold Coast, we have been working with them on leadership development for the last few years. This has involved teaching one intensive a year on leadership from our Bachelor of Ministry suite of leadership topics. The feedback has been very positive. The partnership is now growing, with a three way commitment between New Life, Adelaide College of Divinity and Uniting College, to offer a range of not only leadership but ministry topics on the Gold Coast. Some taught by Adelaide faculty, some taught by Gold Coast folk. Yesterday Shahn Dee, who is a key administrator at the New Life College end, was down to meet folk and build relationships. It was great to welcome her and name the new beginning in her relationship.

Big Year Out 2015 – We have the numbers to form a viable learning community and so Big Year Out in 2015 is a go. That means that Danica Patselis and a bunch of young adults will be with us for the year, growing around discipleship and mission immersion experiences. It’s now the second year running for the programme, which is so important in building a presence and pattern in South Australia for young adult discipleship.

Marketing – This week we welcomed a new Marketing Officer, Nadia Boscaini. She will work 0.4 for Uniting College and 0.2 for Adelaide College of Divinity. Historically we as a College have been strong on teaching and on administration but not as strong on telling our story beyond ourselves. So Nadia arrives with drive, energy and expertise in these areas.

Principals PA – Denise Boyland is beginning as Principal’s PA Maternity on Monday. Eloise Scherer is on 12 months maternity leave. After meticulous long range plan in August and September 2014 to ensure a smooth transition, an unexpected health concern, meant that I’ve been PA-less for the last month. And a highly stressed bunny have I been! The rest of the administration team have been incredibly helpful, but I’m very relieved with the support that will now flow as Denise settles into her role.

Post-graduate beginnings – with a growing post-graduate programme, including our largest Bachelor of Theology honours cohort, a larger space has been created. It’s great to be able to have the presence of post-graduate students permanently among us, joining us for chapel, morning tea, interaction. There are desks for four, with room for more …


Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reading Charles Taylor missionally: learning party

What does it mean to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?

I am offering a reading group to engage theologically and missionally with Charles Taylor, one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time. We will focus on four key books

The aim will be to absorb, to reflect and to consider the implications for mission and ministry.

Wednesdays, 5.15 – 6.45pm, fortnightly from Wednesday 4 March at Uniting College. Seven sessions, finishing June 10. For information, please comment or email steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu do au.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Research Mondays monthly

The Uniting College team have developed a new initiative to help further enhance the research culture of UCLT/ACD/Flinders; an initiative that post-grads are invited to participate in and contribute to.

March 2 Research programme

Research Hour – Dr Vicky Balabanski, Where is Philemon? The case for a logical fallacy in the correlation of the data in Philemon and Colossians 1.1-2; 4.7-18.

Post-graduate Research Seminars – John Littleton, The Learning-Community: Learning enhancement Parish. Emergent Patterns in Parish learning

Research Hour is an opportunity to hear and discuss some current research being undertaken by faculty and post-grad students. It will run from 4pm to 5pm on selected Mondays, and be followed by drinks and nibbles. (This year the dates are 2nd March; 4th May; 1st June; 3rd August; 7th September; 2nd November.)

Research Hour will be held in the UCLT Common Space, downstairs in the NW corner (onsite at ACD, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park). Post-grad students will be welcome to present their research, and you should make contact with new Post-graduate Coordinator (Tanya Wittwer) if you have something you would like to present.

Post-graduate Research Seminars will continue in 2015, but at a different time and following a slightly different format to how they have run previously. They will run from 2.45pm to 4pm on the SAME days as Research Hour (These seminars will be held in W3, upstairs). They will follow this (approximate, and very adjustable!) schedule:
2.45-3.00 Coffee/tea (yes, and hedgehog slice/nuts :))
3.00-3.10 Introductions and updates: who we are and what we’re studying
3.10-3.30 One post-grad will present from their research: 10-15 minutes of presentation, followed by 5-10 minutes of questions.
3.30-3.55 Opportunity for anyone to share one joy and one struggle from your research and/or one insight from a recent reading/discovery (what it is, why it is helpful to you). There is also potential for some professional development to be offered in this slot, so if there’s something you would like considered for inclusion, let me know.
3.55-4.00 Sorting out who will present at the next Post-grad Research Seminar and heading down to the UCLT Common Space for Research Hour

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Friday, February 20, 2015

Welcome home: A song in which I keep finding added layers

It was announced yesterday that I’ve been appointed the new Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, serving the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. (The Uniting Church announcement has been emailed but is not yet online). I was in meetings yesterday, but here is some of the personal story behind that announcement:

In 2010, Team Taylor crossed the ditch, moving from New Zealand to Australia, from pastoral ministry in the Baptist church to founding Director of Missiology, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology.

The most helpful way I found to understand this call at the time was through the narrative of the man from Macedonia in Acts 16, who appears to the Apostle Paul saying “Come on over.” Paul is a missionary on pilgrimage and the shift “across the ditch” is the next step in an unfolding journey. There would be different cultures, but – like any missionary – the expectation of listening, serving, partnering with what God is already doing.

So began a season first as founding Director of Missiology, then from 2012, as Principal of Uniting College. In May 2014, we indicated to the Leadership Development Council of Uniting College that we would not be seeking an extension of placement in the Uniting church at the end of my fixed three-year term as Principal. It had been an enormous privilege to serve in the Uniting Church. It is very humbling to be invited to lead a different Denomination’s College, candidates and theological education. That’s a lot of trust.

But for family reasons we felt we needed to return to New Zealand. We had nothing to go to, but hoped that making this clear to the LDC would help with their ongoing planning. In order to give the LDC time to quietly do the long range planning they needed, while I informed the Uniting College team, it was news I did not at the time make widely known.

In October 2014, I spoke at General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. A number of things happened during that time that I found unsettling.

First, I was surprised how many people I knew, how many now ministers in the Presbyterian Church I’d been part of training during my time as Lecturer at Laidlaw College, Christchurch.

Second, I took a photo on my cell phone that would grow increasingly important over the next months. It was of two non-Anglo ordinands training for Presbyterian ministry, sitting together, leaning against a side wall of the hall where Assembly was taking place. At the time the photo was for me prayer; of thanks that God is raising up leaders across cultures, of petition that all leaders would find ways to move from leaning against the wall to the centre of the life of their church.

gift from Presbyterian Third, at the end, I was given a thankyou gift, a Maori toki. I can’t recall the exact words from the Moderator of the Church, but it was something along the lines that even though I was “across the ditch”, New Zealand was still home and so this gift was given in the building of friendship. The gift and words meant a lot at a relational level (and in hindsight, at a prophetic level).

In November 2014, the then Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) announced he was moving to a new placement.

A number of folk from New Zealand contacted me in the following days suggesting I consider applying.

I did and was interviewed in late January. This involved a formal interview, a 50 minute lecture, a 50 minute presentation on current research followed by 50 minutes of questions and a number of informal conversations with key stakeholders. It was a very thorough process.

The vision of KCML, to equip church leaders for today’s world and their recent change journey around internships excited me.

Our oldest daughter, Shannon was moving to Dunedin to study Medical Science at Otago University. So the whole of Team Taylor visited Dunedin during the interview process, to provide moral support, to show Shannon around her new city and to wonder if we could imagine ourselves in this Southern clime. Kayli liked the feel of Logan Park High School. Lynne can complete her PhD (in missiology) from Dunedin.

The last 10 months have been difficult for Team Taylor. We’ve had to close a door, with no clarity about the future. We’ve had to live in an in-between space, at times quietly, while church processes moved at their pace.

Looking back now, we can so clearly see God’s love – to end up serving in a similar role (leading an organisation that forms leaders across a church system), in our home country, in the city where our oldest is already at University, feels a great gift.

“Crossing the ditch” back, I suspect I’m a few years “out of touch” with New Zealand culture. We’ve undoubtedly picked up a few Australian, a few Uniting Church, vowel sounds!

Our commitment is to do what we did when we came to serve the Uniting Church, to seek, across difference in cultures and denominations, to – like any missionary – to listen, serve, partner with what God is doing.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why BYO?

As a Uniting College, we invested last year in Big Year Out (BYO). It’s a one year program for young adults. It can be done alongside work or University. It offers teaching in discipleship and leadership, mission immersion and young adult community. Tonight at an information evening, I was asked why a College would get involved in something like this.

First, it fits with our mission. We as Uniting College have a mandate to grow life-long disciples and effective leaders. We have a highly talented team who have gathered a wealth of resources. So to offer that team and teaching into a young adult space makes total sense.

Second, as a Uniting College we’re in a partner relationship with Adelaide College of Divinity. The sole purpose of ACD is to be an ecumenical space, bringing different denominations to learn together. So last year the BYO had young adults from Baptists, Uniting, Churches of Christ and Catholic churches growing together. That’s a really rich learning environment. Sometimes people say to me “Why doesn’t the Uniting College go alone?” And my response is to point to the richness offered by an ecumenical space.

Third my story. I left school intending to be an auditor for the Government. Anyone who knows me well knows that would have been a disaster. By some act of mercy, I decided to pause the scholarship I’d been awarded to study and take some time to think about my vocational path. I found myself in a young adult community, that mixed discipleship and leadership challenges. It was transformative. Who I am now owes a lot to those experiences, not that I would have known it then. So I pray that the BYO has a similar impact on the lives of young adults like me, searching for purpose.

Fourth, it is good for the College. That might seem a bit selfish. But we need the energy, passion and vibrancy that young adults bring. Last year I arrived at work to find a pair of boots sticking out a car window. I could not see a head or body, just a pair of brightly coloured boots – black, with purple, yellow, white stripes. It was a BYO student, preparing for a lecture. We as a College need people like that – free and willing to be themselves.

BYO starts in a few weeks. The BYO Coordinator for 2015, Danica Patselis, has done a fantastic job of planning and organising. She’s available to talk to anyone in Adelaide who wants to know more – danica dot patselis at flinders dot edu dot au.

Posted by steve at 09:33 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as “Fresh expressions”

Yes, yes, yes.

I was delighted with the news today that my journal article The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as “Fresh expressions” has been accepted for publication in mcjournal, an online peer-reviewed journal of Media and Culture. It will be published in late March, 2015, as part of an edition devoted to the theme of authenticity.

There were some lovely comments from the reviewers – “good quality … insightful points … well-researched … the analysis is innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s concept of the ethic of authenticity combined with Vanini’s parsing of the word.”

Here’s the abstract for my article:

Philip Vanini’s theorising of authenticity as original and sincere helps parse the complexity of contemporary religious innovation.

Ethnographic research into new expressions of church (“alternative worship”) showed that authenticity was a generative word, a discourse deployed in these communities to justify innovation. Sarah Thornton’s research (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital) into club cultures similarly demonstrated an entwining of marginal self-location with a privileging of authenticity.

Such acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream (“Fresh expressions” of church). The generative energy therein became focused not around originality but in maintaining the sincerities of existing institutional life.

This article began life as part of a foray I did late last year, taking my research on sustainability and fresh expressions into a sociology context. I had been reading in sociology of religion and so wanted to get some feedback from that particular discipline in terms of how I was utilising their categories in my research.

So I presented two conference papers, this one on the complexity of innovation, and a second one on the sociological parsing of fresh expressions. I was very encouraged with the response to my two presentations. I worked over my study leave in December to turn the paper into an article. And now the news of acceptance for publication.

This was one reviewers concluding comment – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.” Too right 🙂

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM

Saturday, February 14, 2015

from “they” to “we” in mission

This week I was asked to present some thoughts on a missiology of placements. Placements are the process by which the Uniting Church works with minister and congregations.

In preparation, I found myself reflecting on the Biblical narrative in Acts 16:6-10. It is the story of the gospel crossing cultures, taking root in Roman cultures. It becomes the story of the first church planted in Greece by Paul. Philippi is located on a boundary between two provinces. “This narrative is an important one for Luke because it shows the mission’s encounter with the Roman world.” (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 499), Philippi is “Rome in a microcosm.” (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 488).

A feature of the narrative is the way that the initiating action comes not from the missionaries, but from the local community. The call comes from a dream from the man from Macedonia (16:9) to come on over. In other words, the call begins in mission. At Philippi, Lydia is already praying by the river bank and Paul joins this already praying community. Lydia opens her home, and thus provides space, both physical and and social, for this new community. In terms of my topic – a missiology of placement – it is a reminder that placements of ministers begin in mission, initiated by the call of community.

Re-reading the Biblical text, I was struck by a further thought. The text has a fascinating change in language, from “they” to “we.” Paul and Timothy are “they” in 16:6, 7, 8. They are seeking direction, they are struggling to discern a way forward, they hear the call from the man from Macedonia.

And then in 16:10, 11, 12 and ongoing, we are leaving for Macedonia, we are sailing, we are church planting in Philippi. The usual explanation is that the writer of Acts, Luke, has joined the team and thus the language changes from they to we.

But I wonder if there’s more going on than simple grammar. I wonder if there’s something about the nature of mission, especially mission that crosses cultures. The invitation is to move from them and us, to interdependent we partnership.

This will become a feature of Paul’s ministry. Paul works tirelessly with these newly planted churches to express partnership and inter-connectedness (the famine collection in 2 Corinthians, a prime example). In other words, placements begin with mission Dei, and work towards we toward partnerships and interdependence.

This works against two traditional approaches to pioneer planting. The first, that the church is unable, because of Christendom and geographic parish mentalities, to respond to the mission call. Second, that this misison call is for solo operators, for new forms of church that separate themselves from what has gone before.

But the Acts 16 story, suggests that instead, the mission is always calling and that pioneers are always working toward the we. Thus a missiology of placements today will work toward ways to discern calls from outside the church, and the build expressions that are interdependent partnerships. These include relationships, supervision, wider church combined celebrations – that flows both wides.

Such is the “they” to “we” in mission placements.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Water Diviner: 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 January 2015, of Water Diviner.

The Water Diviner
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“your sons … have become our sons as well.” Ataturk, 1934

One hundred years ago, New Zealand invaded another country. It was an unprovoked act of war that many argue gave our country the twentyfirst keys to nationhood. Soldiers went as the boys from Taihape, Clive or Ashburton. They returned as New Zealanders.

Perhaps it was the fact that war touched almost everyone. One in seventeen New Zealanders died or were wounded in WW1. Perhaps it was that sense of participation. Mate with mate in the trenches. Values of solidarity and loyalty and courage under fire.

Whatever the reasons, it was the nation we invaded that in time would show us how to remember. Ataturk, present at Gallipoli, who became leader of modern day Turkey, would inform us in 1934 that “your sons … have become our sons as well.” It remains a gracious and compelling way to respond to those who invade you.

In this centenary year, New Zealanders are invited to return to Gallipoli. Organisers have limited attendance to 10,500, a sign first of the enduring place that Gallipoli still holds in ANZAC memories and second, of the narrow beach and steep terrain on which so many died.

The Water Diviner provides a mature addition to the inevitable national discussion that continues to flow in regard to Gallipoli. Russell Crowe not only directs, but also acts as Connor, an Australian father who in 1919 journeys to Turkey, searching for his three sons, all reported lost at Gallipoli.

The story that unfolds provides a rich intercultural study of the impact of war. The plot is helped by character: the pairing of Connor with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a Turkish widow and also with Hassan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a Turkish soldier. This provides a Turkish perspective on the events of Gallipoli, including their death toll (70,000 in comparison to 10,000 Anzacs) and their descent into civil war in the years following our invasion of Gallipoli.

While the plot was compellingly mature, the acting is limited at times. One reunion scene in particular, involving Russell Crowe, was strangely wooden.

From a theological perspective, three threads intrigue. First, the comment made of Connor’s search, that “the father looks.” It is one way to understand God, as One who looks. Connor’s actions through the movie can thus be read as a contemporisation of Luke 15; the shepherd who looks for lost sheep, the housewife who looks for the lost coin.

Secondly, the role of the church. Connor’s priest (played by Damon Herriman) portrays, in contrast to Connor, a religion more intent on doctrinal precision than pastoral care. The heartlessness of the priest is accentuated by a masterful moment of cinema, in which the sound of the grave being dug outside carries forward the plot, rather than what is happening onscreen in the church. Sound is the generator of action, rather than dialogue or visual symbolism.

Third, the comment made by Hassan, that it is not forgiveness or redemption that is needed after Gallipoli. Rather it is truthful memory. In that sense, it is fitting that The Water Diviner was released not only on ANZAC soils, but also in Turkey (titled Son Umut which means “The Last Hope”)

For surely all sons, yours and ours, Turkish and ANZAC, deserve to be remembered rightly. Such is the work of The Water Diviner.

For more Anzac Day resources, including worship, sermons and others of my writings, go here.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 04:54 PM

Saturday, February 07, 2015

missional practices

“The missional theologian and the practical theologian must work together to make sure congregations … are prepared to address and engage their post-Christendom setting. A missional theological conception of Christian practices offers a new paradigm for understanding the church’s ministry in the world since the old role of chaplain to society is no longer viable or defensible. Through missional Christian practices all members of the congregation take up their place of responsibility, as those strategically placed and adequately equipped to witness to the reign of God. Through participation in Christian practices that are formative and performative, congregations can practice their faith and practice witness.” (Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices)

I came across this quote in preparing this week for next week’s Mission and Community Service/Diaconal intensive. Rather than do the teaching myself, I have pulled together five case studies from five very diverse contexts in which Christians exercise community service. They are

  • the complexity of interface between church and agency (Peter McDonald case study 1)
  • agency as a place of service (Peter McDonald case study 2)
  • powerful question as a practice of community ministry (Joanna Hubbard case study)
  • ministry as chaplain in Mainstreet communities (Bruce Grindlay case study)
  • the processes as community ministry engages with agency (Ian Bedford case study)

It promises to be a real feast, a lovely mix of practitioners and reflection. Two of the participants bring Doctoral study of their areas to the conversation, all four bring years of practical ministry immersion.

My role will be to work with participants to do ongoing reflection, exploring the questions raised for them by the case studies. To better resource that reflection, I’ve been doing some literature searching, exploring writing in this space. (I’ve found some real gems, including Connor’s Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices, but also Rosemary Keller’s, Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Vocational Vision of Women in the United Methodist Tradition) and Gary Gunderson, Boundary Leaders).

I highlight the quote by Benjamin Connor for a number of reasons.

First, because it makes sense of our Faculty at Uniting College, and the emphasis we have put in recruitment on expertise in missiology and practical theology with a congregational and “practice” focus. So it is comforting to have that affirmed.

Second, it chimes with a 50 minute research presentation I did last week, in which I explored theology “face to face” in order to analyse ecclesial innovation. I ended up using the notion of performance, which attracted lengthy discussion from those present.  Had I considered the downsides of performance? I suspect that had I used missional Christian practices that are “formative and performative” it would have been helpful for us all.

Third, it provides a theoretical framework for the work we did at Opawa Baptist when I was Minister there, in which we clarified seven missional practices,  initially for Lent, but in an ongoing way for those exploring membership. In other words, joining Opawa was about the practice of mission.  We worked to frame these practices missionally, which chimes with what Connor is arguing – that Christian practices can’t involve the simple use of what we practised before. Rather, in a new context, a missional context, they will need reworking in light of the missio Dei.

Posted by steve at 11:36 AM

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL: new in 2015

I’m so excited by this. Last year I found a funding source and presented a proposal to employ a person at Uniting College to work developing leadership among migrant communities. We made an appointment in July 2014, and since then, Karen Vanlint has been researching what is happening in this area around Australia, plus networking and listening in and around Adelaide.

The result is this: Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL: new in 2015

Is English your second language? Do you want to study the Bible? Would you like to learn new skills to serve in your church? This course could be what you have been waiting for!
• 8 subjects over two years, one subject per term
• New entry available each school term
• One 2 ½ -hour session per week, venue to be confirmed
• Subjects include Old and New Testament, Living the Christian Life, Leadership in the Church, Christian Beliefs and more!
• Cost: $50 per subject (including GST)

Enrol now for Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL with Karen Vanlint. Karen is an experienced teacher in ESL who wants migrants to have the same opportunity as others to study the Bible.

Email Karen: karen at vanlint dot flinders dot edu dot au or call her on 8416 8420 if you would like more information or to register.

So Adelaide folks, if you know Christians who want to grow in discipleship, leadership and in their English capacities, and who want to learn not in their own ethnic communities, but in contact with the wider church, then please point them toward the Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Monday, February 02, 2015

team time

Today the Uniting College team takes time out. Not to sit in the naughty corner, but to renew and refocus.

Half of our time will be spent on spiritual renewal. We want to be a team that not only works but also worships. So together during the retreat we will enjoy some Godly play, with a Children’s ministry leader from a local church present to invite us to wonder at the Biblical story we find ourselves in. Individually, people have also been asked to bring what renews them. There is space for folk to do that and then to gather and share that with each other, underlining our diversity as a community.

The other half of our time will be spent on planning. We have two tasks. One is to take forward the Capacity Builder strategic plan that guides and holds us. 2015 is the last year of the (four year) plan, and there are some as yet untouched areas that we need to focus on. We have done some parts of our plan superbly, but there at some areas we have yet to touch. These include

  • Faculty increasing their research output
  • Student formation enhanced through the use of journals in which they share courageous attempts to integrate learning with practice
  • Every ordination candidate able to articulate a plan toward innovation and invigoration
  • Regional delivery, taking College to the local church

So I will be suggesting a process whereby the structures we have created over the last few years can be deployed to enable us to achieve these agreed goals. (It is so good having a plan, which means we gather around already agreed momentum).

We also have to re-tell the story of our team culture. We have a set of team values that we continue to articulate and revisit. We will do that again, pausing to check that these values say all that needs to be said about how we want to “be” and “do” with each other in this current season. This is also an act of hospitality, allowing those new to the team to hear if you like, part of our family story.

Posted by steve at 08:36 AM