Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Built for change chapter headings

computer The last few days have been flat out writing (This was the view from our upper deck yesterday evening).  By Saturday I had a complete full draft of around 50,000 words, which allowed me to move into editing mode. As of a few minutes ago (big thanks to an eagle-eyed partner), the first four chapters of Built for Change (provisional title) are now with the publisher. I had hoped to do more, but Christmas deadlines and holidays take precedence. However, I’m very pleased with progress. It is a significantly better book than it was 6 weeks ago and now includes a  theology of innovation – weaving Scripture, tradition and contemporary knowledge – that I think is genuinely new, emerging from reflection on lived experience, in particular seven stories of social entrepreneurship/not-for-profit innovation.

Here is a one paragraph summary – This book offers a practical theology of innovation. It emerges not from a place of theory but from a context of reality, a situation often considered resistant to change. Stories of change are told, including programmes for reconciliation, young adult formation, digital learning, creating a rural community cafe, urban community garden and a creative resource. In the telling is inspiration. Collaborative change is possible.

And here are the current chapter headings.

Built for change: a practical theology of innovation

Chapter 1 – Outro: Final chords

Part I – Leading outward

Chapter 2 – Built for change

Chapter 3 – Collaborative change

Chapter 4 – Learning in change

Bridge – Leading Deeply

Chapter 5 – Jesus the innovator

Chapter 6 – Traditions of innovation

Chapter 7 – A connectional theology of innovation

Part II – Leading inward

Chapter 8 – Leading myself

Chapter 9 – Limited leading

Chapter 10 – Leading reflectively

Chapter 11 – Intro: First chords

Posted by steve at 10:38 PM

Friday, December 18, 2015

last trip of the working year

lastflight I took this photo at Paekakariki on Wednesday, to mark my last trip for the year, as I flew to Wellington for a day on Tuesday, then drove to Palmerston North on Wednesday. It is just over 9 weeks since I began as Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the trip this week enabled me to complete two important tasks.

First, connecting with intern churches. KCML trains using an internship model and the trip to Palmerston North meant that I have managed to connect with the six ministers and local church in which the incoming (class of 2016) interns will be placed. That has involved a local visit and three road trips – to Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua and Tauranga. It has been such a good exercise to sit with local leaders and explore what it means for them to work with an intern and sense their passion and commitment to form leaders for the future church.

Second, connecting with Presbyteries. The trip this week means that I have managed some form of connection with each of the seven Presbyteries that make up the PCANZ. Working from the bottom up

  • a welcome to the Southern Presbytery as I briefly introduced myself at Inspiring Mission, Dunedin;
  • a welcome, introduction and Q and A with Alpine Presbytery in Christchurch;
  • a lunch gathering with available ministers from Central Presbytery in Palmerston North, in which I shared some of what God might be calling us to in this next season as KCML;
  • a visit to Te Aka Puaho, to share in worship and a cup of tea;
  • a visit to two local churches in Kaimai Presbytery (with an invitation to speak in 2016);
  • a meeting with key leaders from Northern Presbytery;
  • engagement with folk from the Pacific Island Synod as part of the block course in Auckland;

Each connection has been different. This is as it should be, because each Presbytery is different and has different patterns of working and being.  For me, these visits are only the beginning. A key part of the future of KCML will be forming training partnerships – each different – with each of these Presbyteries in the years ahead.  But they represent, in the space of nine weeks, a good start in terms of being out and about around the country, connecting and beginning the conversations that will takes us forward in partnership.

Posted by steve at 11:22 AM

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices

I see the writing process very much like a pregnancy. . . . It takes time. And it doesn’t help to push it. (Tammar Zilber) (85)

There is an interesting article just out, by Charlotte Cloutier, “How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices of Academics,” Journal of Management Inquiry 2016, Vol. 25(1) 69–84. It involves interviewing 17 academics about their practice of writing. Cloutier notes plenty of research on what makes good writing, but little research into the mundane, daily practice of writing on a day-to-day basis.

“Our identities and reputations as academics are largely formed on the basis of what and how we write. Many would argue that the fate of our careers rests more on our ability to write than on our ability to teach. And yet despite this, we spend very little time thinking about how we write. Most of us have received little, if any, formal instruction in academic or other forms of writing” (69)

She interviewed seasoned and (mostly) qualitative researchers in the field of organization studies. Patterns did emerge. A key finding was that writing is linked to other practices, of talking, reading, drawing, and thinking.

Regarding talking, practically all the respondents described how their ideas were largely generated through their conversations with others. This involved three areas;
– Informal conversations (face to face and digitally) with coauthors, peers, and students
– semiformal conversations in presentations at conferences
– formal conversations as part of the publication process.

The review process was found by all to be challenging and frustrating. All talked about the need to have a strategy to deal with the inevitable emotions that surround this process. Some were quite strategic.

When I’m writing, I don’t try to write the perfect paper. I try to write a good-enough paper that is interesting enough and intriguing enough for my immediate audience—a set of reviewers and an editor—that allows me to get an {Review and Revision]. (citing Tammar Zilber, 74)

Reading was seen as the lubricant that keeps writing moving. A repeated theme was that “reading and writing were done iteratively and repeatedly, one activity continuously feeding on the other.” (75)

A number used drawing to help make connections. This included boxes, arrows and various mind mapping exercises.

Thinking was important to all. “We write what we think, but in the act of writing, we also clarify our thoughts.” (76) All used some sort of mechanism to help organise their thoughts. For some, this was detailed structures with points and sub points, for others a few dot points. The approach to writing was linked to personality. Some wrote in a linear way, from start to end; while others wrote in a more non-linear method.

Essential was messy writing. “Almost all the authors I interviewed felt that writing became easier once they had managed to write a few sentences, as those handfuls of words gave them something to “mull over” and think about” (77) As a result, all engaged in re-writing.

In conclusion Cloutier noted some important lessons. First, writing is an integrative activity, so there is a need to be continually feeding our writing with activities like conversing, reading, drawing and thinking. Second the importance of developing rituals. There are steps we can take that remind our bodies we are here to write. In other words “writing as a practice that requires practice: a practice that we engage in deliberately and routinely, regardless of our particular mood on a particular day” (80). Third, the understanding that academic writing is actually a social activity.

Posted by steve at 09:17 PM

Monday, December 14, 2015

spaces innovate


Thursday and Friday the KCML core team gathered. We wanted some time to dream, think and plan. The first day involved some strategic planning. What is our charism? What values will nurture our charism? What strategic signposts will point us toward God’s future among us? We worked hard and were surprised, pleased and delighted with an initial draft, which now awaits interaction from our key stakeholders.

The second day was curriculum. What do we want our graduates to know, do, be and relate? How might we be able to assess these outcomes? What are the immediate steps we can take? By morning tea, we were tired. We’d worked hard the day before and we needed coffee. A walk was suggested. We left the beautiful room we were gathered in and walked to a local cafe. Around large tables, the conversation returned to the question that had seemed to exhaust us a few minutes earlier. Suddenly, in this space, there was fresh energy. An unexpected question generated intense discussion and a whole new possibility.

We walked back, excited, nervous, and a bit shocked.

Spaces innovate. Different spaces invite different ways of thinking and being. An important lesson for a group of educators to have experienced, in their own bodies and being.

Which, later that day, would set in train another set of unexpected questions, intense discussion and a whole new set of possibilities. If spaces changed us, what might that say about the type of teaching spaces we want to inhabit.

Posted by steve at 07:31 PM

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Praying for Paris: an empirical study

tear on cheek

Praying for Paris: an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events
Researchers: Dr Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Introduction: Faith lives in a complex relationship with surrounding culture. Christians inhabit a set of beliefs regarding who God is and how God acts in our world today. These become particularly pointed when tragedy strikes. How does the church respond to unexpected violence? What resources does the church draw upon? How to speak of the nature of God, humans and Christian responses to tragedy?

One place to seek answers to these questions is in pastoral prayer. Christian practices articulate a practical theology. As such, the gathered worship service is theory laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history. What Christians pray – what they do and do not say – is thus a potentially fruitful avenue for conducting research into ecclesiastical and religious practice.

Such an approach is suggested in Coakley and Wells, Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture, who explore not only the complexity of liturgical leadership, but also how those who pray and preach in fact become active agents that draw forth the desires and prayers from among those they serve.

This research project seeks to understand how local churches prayed on Sunday 15 November. The date is significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad. As churches gathered on Sunday 15 November, how did they pray? What factors were at work in the choice to pray, or not? What resources might have been drawn upon? What theologies were at work in the response?

Method: The aim was to conduct an empirically descriptive study, in order to reflect theologically on ecclesiastical practice, in this case the church service. An online survey, was designed, consisting of ten questions. It was piloted with a number of colleagues at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. An email was then sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Baptist Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand, inviting them to participate in the online survey. A notice was also posted on twitter and Facebook, asking people to share. This presented three different and distinct avenues for gaining data.

The research has a number of possible benefits. These include
• understanding the factors that shape how churches respond to tragedy
• provide insight into the theodicies at play in contemporary ecclesial practice
• providing understanding of church practice, as a resource for training of future leaders in theological reflection, congregational leading and worship leading and to assist with professional development training
• locate good examples, in order to develop a web resource of examples of rapid respond to global tragedy

The study had a number of limits. The response was likely to be skewed toward those who did respond prayerfully. Further, the reach was determined by the social media reach of the two researchers. However, the research does not claim to capture a quantitatively representative sample. Rather it will only claim to provide a qualitative data set, to explore the theologies at work in lived practice.

Results: The survey was closed on December 1, 2015. In just over two weeks, 155 responses had been received. These will be analysed in order to provide an empirically descriptive and critically constructive theory of ecclesiastical and religious practice in society. As time allows, the results will be processed and avenues for publication sought.

Posted by steve at 07:29 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

99 homes: theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for December 2015.

99 Homes
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Together we approach Christmas. For many the story is about a homeless family being relocated at the whim of an oppressive regime. It is an understanding shaped by the Christmas story in Luke in which a census is legislated and a family has finds “no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

“99 Homes” is thus a contemporary Christmas Eve story. Recently unemployed builder, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family are evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida. The man representing their bank, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), feigns sympathy, insisting he is simply following legislative decree.

The film, directed by Ramin Bahrani, becomes a biting commentary on the post-2008 US housing market crash. Bahrani spent hours in foreclosure courts watching the legislative moves by which families lost their homes in snap judgements. Bahrani’s research is put to use as Nash, returning to protest, finds himself employed by Carver. As Nash explains to Carver, “America is a culture for winners, by winners.” There is more money in eviction than construction. This is the central tension around which the plot revolves. Is home a place of safety, community and memory? Or is home a commodity to be brought and sold?

“99 Homes” is wonderfully shot by veteran cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski. A highlight is a lingering shot of Nash, panning from gun and whiskey bottle to Nash sleeping by a swimming pool. As the ringing phone disturbs his drunken slumber, we realize we are seeing not Nash’s floating body but his reflection. It captures the helpless, lonely reality of one man drowning in what director, Ramin Bahrani calls the “devil,” the system of scams in which government and banking rules are manipulated at the expense of struggling home owners.

So where is Emmanuel, the God with us of the Christian Christmas story? The only direct reference to Christian faith in “99 Homes” occurs when Carver justifies his work of eviction to Nash. Carver applies the lens of church-as-building to Christian faith. There is, Carver practically notes, only room for a limited number of people inside the building that is church. Those left outside, those made homeless from the house of God, are thus required to help themselves. It is a “survival of the fittest” doctrine of election.

Another place to locate Emmanuel, God with us, is in the scene where Nash receives his first payment from Carver. It is cash to clean up a house the departing tenants have sabotaged by destroying the sewer pipes. It’s a baptism of excrement, a welcome to the real world. It represents another place to find Emmanuel, God with us, on the side of Nash as he adjusts his face mask and begins to clean up the worst of human the condition.

It is a reminder that those inside the church buildings must refuse to abandon justice and economics to those with a “survival of the fittest” theology. The world of evictions and economics needs people of faith. The One who so loved the World is Emmanuel, God with us in acts of initial mercy and the restorative acts of justice.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 07:46 PM

Monday, December 07, 2015

road trip 2015

The Spring KCML block course concluded on Thursday. My various teaching slots went well. Working with folk who all already have a primary theology degree and who are all in ministry 70% of the time means different levels of knowledge and question are in the room and I’m still reflecting on that.

Following the block course, I took the opportunity of being already in Auckland, to embark on visiting around the Bay of Plenty region. First, a visit to St Johns Rotorua. We will have two interns connected with this church in 2016. With the current leadership team including a recent graduate, plus having experience of another intern a few years ago, it was a rich sharing of insight and experience.

Second, a visit to Te Aka Puaho. It was a joy to share karakia (prayer) with Whakatane Maori Presbyterian Church on Sunday, a cup of tea afterward with a range of Amorangi (Maori Ministers) and lunch with the Moderator and Te Ahorangi, Wayne Te Kaawa. Wayne is a partner in training and it was good to see him in his home town and to be welcomed warmly to the “heart of Te Aka Puaho.” His wife Helen was just back from Fiji, so the conversation reigned across a wide range of justice issues, both local and in the Pacific.

Third, a visit to St Enochs, Tauranga. We have another intern beginning with this community next year and it was good to share insight and reflect on the privilege of forming leaders in mission.

In betweeen was the sheer joy of driving, of being back in rural New Zealand, of re-connecting with Pohutakawa and fern frond. I visited a number of artists, Trevor Nathan and Maree Aldridge, at the Just Food Cafe. I also connected with a few friends, from previous lives. It all felt spiritual, an earthing, a reminding of place, people and potential.

Now for a few days break, including a return to the Team Taylor holiday house ….

Posted by steve at 10:34 AM

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Where do we get enough bread? Graduation sermon 2015

graduation2015 It was the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership 2015 Graduation Service last night. I was asked as the new Principal to preach. The lectionary text for the day was Matthew 15:29-39; the feeding of the 4,000. In the sermon I unpacked what the text might mean for being church and for ministry. I was able to weave in some creativity, including an art work by Faith Ringgold and setting up on stage a picnic, with different cultural groups bringing their mat and food, in order to explore the diversity of the Presbyterian Church in Aoteroa New Zealand. It gained positive feedback, so for those interested the sermon in full is as follows (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching

The news was made public today that I’ve gained a Flinders University 2015 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching. With over 1100 lecturers at Flinders University and only 5 Awards made each year, it is a very significant achievement. The Award was made in recognition of:

leading sustained innovation in theological pedagogy over six years, implementing quality improvements that ensure the embedded diversity of the student body is a resource in contextualising, personalising and deepening the overall teaching and learning experience.

Application is based on submitting a 10,000 word application that addresses 4 criteria:

  • Approaches to teaching and the support of learning that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn.
  • Development of curricula, resources or services that reflect a command of the field.
  • Evaluation practices that bring about improvements in teaching and learning.
  • Innovation, leadership or scholarship that has influenced and enhanced learning and teaching and/or the student experience.

In making my application, I focused on my teaching and academic leadership over the last 5 years. I wanted to think through what it means to teach in the particular context of the challenges and opportunities of teaching theology in a modern, pluralist, University context.

Teaching theology in a University setting provides a critical, academic and pluralist context. The environment is one in which those with faith and no-faith mingle. As a consequence, teaching theology involves the teacher creating a space in which students participate in ways that are neither pietistic nor dogmatic. This context has been impacted by the rise in recent years of religious intolerance. As a result, the University, in providing spaces in which critical conversations can occur, provides an important societal good. As a teacher, I see my role as cultivating, nurturing and protecting these spaces, growing in students the capacity to work confidently in diverse environments, able to deal with subject matter that they, their peers and diverse communities, remain potentially highly invested in.

It is a great thrill to have the theological context named and recognised by the University. I think I’m the first Award winner from the Department of Theology at Flinders University in 36 years, since it was set up in 1979. Recipients are recognised by the University to be leaders in their field and gain $5000 to spend on things teaching related. So that’s quite encouraging. My hope is to use the financial resources to continue to develop indigenous theological curricula – specifically to expand on the indigenous women’s Christology project.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM