Sunday, July 31, 2016

accessible yet substantial, incredibly helpful: Built for change book review

builtforchange Here is another review of Built for Change, by Peter Armstrong, a Uniting Church minister in Queensland. It is the first review to pick up on the creative (innovative) structuring of the book and to note the way that each part of the book offers differing ways into innovation, collaboration and leadership

Innovation is what Steve’s book is all about. Innovation, collaboration and leadership!

The sub-title of the book is ‘…a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership’ and it is very much born out of Steve’s own work and ministry in this area. Even the book itself is somewhat innovative in the way it is set out, beginning with the ‘final chords’ of an outro and concluding with an intro. Within the metaphor of music Steve takes the reader on a journey that he himself has travelled, into the experiences, observations and reflections of collaborative innovation in the context of leadership.

The three parts of his book (between the ‘Outro’ and the ‘Intro’) are (i) Leading Outward; (ii) Leading Deeply; and (iii) Leading Inward. Each part offers differing ways of looking into innovation, collaboration and leadership. Steve offers a biblical framework from 1 Corinthians 3 and 4 looking at six roles and actions – Servant (Listens); Gardener (Plants); Builder (Structures); Managers (Resource); Fools (Risk); and Parents (Guide). He tells the story of experiences on the ground of innovation, collaboration and leadership – both observed as well as engaged. He opens up a theology of connection where leadership theory can converse with theology. And he reflects on tradition as it provides the historical context and cultural values of innovation, collaboration and leadership within institutions and communities. The final section looks at the leader personally, and again from practice and principles, Steve offers wisdom and encouragement for anyone on this journey themselves.

I found this an incredibly helpful book in that it captures wonderings and provides ways to both reflect on and engage my own sense of call to these areas. It is easy to read, in that it is accessible in its form and language, but it is substantial because, for me, it has generated so much more wondering and visioning for what is ahead for me and the church that I call home. I certainly would recommend “Built for Change” to anyone who is wondering or seeking to practice ‘fresh words and deeds’ in this time when innovation, collaboration and leadership have much to offer our church and wider community. Thanks Steve for taking the time to put all of this into a book for others to glean.

“Built for Change” is available in Australia through MediaCom Education Inc. or New Zealand through

Review 1 here. Review 2 here.

Posted by steve at 10:41 AM

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pacific Island Synod bound

I’m delighted to be heading for Auckland to be part of the Pacific Island Synod over the weekend. I will be doing a keynote presentation on Friday, on the topic – singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. I’ve enjoyed the preparation.

This involves working on the bringing of greetings in five different languages and a final benediction in Samoan language. It has involved researching climate change in Pacific Islands and finding resources from Christian faith that might sustain communities entering this contemporary experience of exile.

I will also be weaving in wisdom from the Uniting Church Revised Preamble, including paragraphs that I observed having impact on Fijian Uniting Church leaders like Eseta Meneilly:

1. When the churches that formed the Uniting Church arrived in Australia as part of the process of colonisation they entered a land that had been created and sustained by the Triune God they knew in Jesus Christ.

3. The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

10. After much struggle and debate, in 1994 the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia discovered God’s call, accepted this invitation and entered into an ever deepening covenantal relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. This was so that all may see a destiny together, praying and working together for a fuller expression of our reconciliation in Jesus Christ.

It has also involved seeking to understand more about a Samoan proverb: Fetu’utu’una’i’ muniao. In conversation with a number of Samoan leaders, I wonder if this is could be understood as an Oceania hermeneutic. I can see elements in fetu’utu’una’i’ muniao of the Wesleyan quadrilateral – Scripture, experience, reason, tradition – all held beautifully in an action-reflection, communal approach to voyaging. More later, after I see how fetu’utu’una’i’ muniao lands in the next few days.

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Built for change: review by John Littleton for South Australian Anglicans

builtforchange Another review of my latest book Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership. This one was initially sent to Anglicans in South Australia.

Dear friends, I bring Steve Taylor’s new book to your attention and commend it. I enjoyed the holistic, collaborative and theologically reflective leadership demonstrated in this book. The book is a challenging and rewarding read. Careful reading provides evidence of a reflective practitioner at work. An account of adaptive leadership in practice is combined with a connectional theology of leadership and an analysis of Jesus the innovator as reported in the Gospels. The word innovation takes on a “Christological shape.” Chapter 8 is entitled “Leading myself” and introduces a section on practical and personal leadership strategies. The book shares stories and offers insight into a personal spirituality of change.

Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership explores the six strengths that change requires, and demonstrates that collaborative change is both practical and possible. Steve wrote ‘Built for Change’ around the concluding of his placement as Principal of Uniting College in the Adelaide College of Divinity in 2015 and transitioning into his new role as Principal for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand.

“Built for Change” is available in Australia through MediaCom Education Inc. or New Zealand through

Review 1 here;

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

living off a laptop

Driving back from Christchurch yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve only managed one day working at my office desk, surrounded by my books and files, in the last 4 weeks. Certainly not planned!

First, there were 9 days of block course intensive in Wellington. This was followed by that one day at the office – in which I scrambled to prepare printed resources and organise for the next major piece. That was 15 days on the road. This involved 8 meetings and 5 speaking engagements, spread across 2 countries, 8 cities and towns, made possible through 5 flights and 2 rental cars.

canterbury It wasn’t something I intentionally planned. Rather it was simply what emerged as I tried to make sense of a range of commitments and a set of practical realities.

A desire to be Knox national, rather than Knox Dunedin, combined with a rugby test in Dunedin that sent accommodation prices through the roof, made Wellington a logical option for a KCML blockcourse. An academic conference in Melbourne, made possible a few days of recovery in a friends holiday house near Sydney. A request to speak in Wellington for two days to a group of ministers (Give us this day our daily bread: spirituality of eating) made sense as a stop over coming back from Sydney. A need to connect with incoming (2017) interns and explore potential placements in the Christchurch area, made sense as a next stop after Wellington. Interns and potential placements spread between Rangiora and Geraldine made logical a rental car and so a drive from Christchurch back to Dunedin (mixed in with a lovely few nights restoration at our family holiday home). During which the realisation hit me: one day working at my office desk in the last 4 weeks.

Which meant that today, one of my team cheekily asked the rest of the team if anyone knew who I was. While another asked if I deserved a desk!

Living off a laptop is made possible because of:

1. A flexible family, willing to come with me to academic conferences and join me on holidays and road trips between Christchurch and Dunedin.
2. A focused, competent, self-sufficient work team, very secure in their roles, who get on with their tasks, whether I’m present or not.
3. Evernote and Google calendar, which helps me keep track of a range of details and notes.
4. A computer (Mac) which enables me to access material for speaking engagements as I go, allowing me to be responsive to context and room, to prepare a talk in a hotel room or beachside holiday house.
5. A cellphone, which I can tether as a hot spot and deal with email.

When I began as Principal, I wanted to be a national Principal, not a Dunedin Principal. However I never envisaged the type of movement and travel that would result. I love the richness, the mix of developing leaders, presenting research, offering professional development and dreaming futures with churches and leaders.

But I also love being home and having an office and seeing my books and settling back into the regular routines of running and (snack) writing.

Posted by steve at 08:23 PM

Thursday, July 14, 2016

spirituality of eating: a lectio vocatio

I led a two day retreat for Wellington Ministers this week. The brief was fairly broad: to speak on something they’d not heard from me before. I decided to focus on “Give us this day our daily bread” and explore the spirituality of eating and the implications for ministry and mission.

Each session involved a five step cycle, which I called “lectio vocatio” – listening to God and each other – amid a shared vocation as ministers.

  • Stories: reflective questions that invited story sharing
  • Bible stories – read firstly for ordinary eating
  • Bible stories – read secondly for theological purposes
  • Ministry stories
  • Application: Given the spirituality of “eating” in this Biblical story, what are the implications for ministry and mission?

I was rifting off lumia domestica, an art exhibition by Willie Williams, and how he takes ordinary things (culled from Oxfam shops across the world), and makes reflective, beautiful things. So in the ordinary of eating, there is beauty, which makes us go “wow.”

A first session revolved around Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18, to consider call

  • Where are the places in which you have met strangers?
  • What are the practices of hospitality you have experienced?

People had been invited to bring some cloth meaningful to them. These were laid on the table, as a way of making ourselves present in the circle of God’s love (in which our call to ministry begins). The diversity and colour was a rich reminder of particularity and uniqueness in ministry.


A second session focused on the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17, to consider justice, community development and climate change

  • Who are the “widows” in our community?
  • What are their sticks and flour?

People had been invited to bring a tin can. We reflected on where the “daily bread” we eat comes from and what we knew about the production and people. This became intercession, as we placed our tin cans prayerfully.


A third session focused on Rahab in Joshua 2, to consider formation in mission and our willingness to work with what God is doing in unexpected places

  • Where have you experienced shelter (food and a roof) in the lands of another?
  • When have you unexpectedly heard affirmations of faith?

In ending, we cleared the table. As each person reclaimed their cloth and tin can, they shared an action they would like to engage, as a result of engaging together. The table was emptying, yet there was a renewed intentionality toward our ordinary tables of mission and ministry to which we were returning, grounded in a depth of contemplating (lectio) our vocations in ministry together.


I very much enjoy this type of teaching. The theme provided a different way to reflect on ministry and mission. The movement between silence, Scripture, story and discussion felt empowering, yet provocative. The chance to build something over a number of days opened up every deeper layers of conversation.

Key books in my preparation were: John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation and Rebecca Huntley, Eating Between the Lines and Anne Richards, Sense Making Faith: Body, Spirit, Journey.

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Built for change: review by Peter Overton

bookcover On Facebook Peter Overton has just posted a (lovely) review of my latest book Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership.

This is the book to read, re read, reflect, buy for leadership teams, read, re read, reflect. It’s not a quick fix, it’s adaptive leadership and way more. It’s the story of adaptive leadership in practice and much more. He uses image of Servant/listener, Gardener, Builder, Resource Manager Fool and Parent to unpack Adaptive leadership in I Cor 3 and 4 and applies this to National Church Life Survey. I have already done a Elders/leaders seminar for another Church using the models in this book and it really connected with them, we meet again in Six months to review progress. This by the way was in preparation for a new placement coming in 2017 to the Church so in my words they can be built for Change. Congratulations Steve Taylor.

Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership explores the 6 strengths that change requires, and demonstrates that collaborative change is both practical and possible. Steve wrote ‘Built for Change’ around the concluding of his placement at Uniting College and transitioning into his new role as Principal for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand. The book shares stories, provides theological reflection on Jesus the innovator and offers insight into a personal spirituality of change.

Built for change is now available in Australia and New Zealand. NZ orders via this page. Australia orders to mediacom dot Org dot Au.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Our Little Sister: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for July 2016.

Our Little Sister
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Our Little Sister” is a window into rural Japanese culture. It is a politely, heart-warming, albeit slightly surreal alternative, to Japan as industrialised, high-tech and fast-paced.

Three adult sisters share life in the family home. Together they have found a way to live despite being abandoned by their parents: a father who left for another woman and a mother who disappears for fifteen years, crippled by grief.

At their father’s funeral, the three sisters meet their thirteen-year old younger sister for the first time. In the face of shared grief, she joins them in the family home. It sets in motion the facing of an unfolding set of bitter-sweet, until then unexplored, memories.

“Our Little Sister” began life as manga. Manga is comic and cartoon, a Japanese art form read by all ages. It is big business, an industry worth over $5.5 billion dollars. Manga includes more than action and anime. It has spilled into commerce and comedy, history and horror, murder and mystery, sci-fi and fantasy. There is even a Manga Bible, published in 2006 by Next, a non-profit organization. It aims to appeal to those who no longer attend church or find traditional Bible translations less than accessible.

“Our Little Sister” is Josei manga, a genre aimed at women in their late teens and early adulthood. It began life as a monthly serial: “Umimachi Dairy.” Created by Akimi Yoshida, “Umimachi” means Seaside Town in Japanese. It suggests a rural idyll common among industrialised urban dwellers.

The attempt by director Hirokazu Koreeda to turn the episodic nature of monthly serial into a plot arcing over 120 minutes is less than successful. Three patterns of life are introduced. Daily, there is the preparation and consumption of food. Food is a setting for memory making and community building. This involves repeated scenes both at home as the younger sister is slowly woven into domestic life and at the local diner. What emerges is an approach to food not as recipe books and celebrity chefs but as knowledge shared in inter-generational making.

A second pattern is seasonal. The movie is structured around Japanese rural idyll. These include the cherry blossoms of spring, the plum harvest of summer and the capture of white bait in season. These weave further layers in the unfolding of memories.

A third pattern is generational. In “Our Little Sister”, these involve funerals and memorials rather than births and weddings.

Each of these three patterns amplify the dysfunctional distortion at the movies’ heart. Food, seasons and funerals create memories, each of which is distorted by the strangeness of four sisters live in a mono-generational family unit.

Mono-generational makes sense when your manga market involves women in their late teens and early adulthood. But as way of life it ends up becoming a somewhat surreal “seaside” diary.

“Our Little Sister” is well worth the watch. Despite the attention required when reading subtitles, the humour is rich, the characters rewarding and the crossing of cultures endearing, even if slightly surreal.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Monday, July 04, 2016

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under ANZATS Forum

“Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under.”
Tuesday, 5 July, ANZATS, 4-5:30 pm

Welcome to the Fieldwork in theology forum. This forum focuses on the place of qualitative research in theology. The intention is to share fieldwork notes, the realities encountered in using qualitative research in theology.

Why? The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend in theology. Each year since 2012, there has been an annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK. In 2012, Eerdmans launched two books: Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography edited by Chris Scharen and Pete Ward. (I have reviewed these in the International Journal of Practical Theology and United Church Studies.) There have been sessions on Ecclesiology and Ethnography at AAR since 2012. In 2014, a new journal was launched – Ecclesial Practices journal, edited by Pete Ward, Paul Fiddes, Henk de Roest.

So journal, books, conferences in UK and US all point to a growing trend in theology.

Downunder, the most internationally recognised writing from Australia comes from Catholic theologian, Neil Ormerod. He wrote a chapter for The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. At 684 pages, edited by Gerard Mannion and Lewis Mudge, The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church is one of the most impressive global summaries of contemporary ecclesiology.

Ormerod’s chapter was titled “Ecclesiology and the Social Sciences”. He wrote of a “major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study … an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, Routledge: London and New York, 2008, 639-654.

Ormerod develops this further in his 2005 paper for the Theological Studies journal. He notes that “attempts to engage with the social sciences have not been prominent among ecclesiologists.” (815) For Ormerod, this is a theological problem: “underlying these difficulties lies one of the most profound theological mysteries, that of the interrelationship of grace and nature.” (818)

Ormerod’s downunder perspective gives us some definition. Fieldwork in theology is about a focus on ecclesiology not as idealized, but as grounded in the lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The use of social sciences to clarify the shape of this lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The belief that qualitative research is theological: faith seeking understanding at the intersection of grace and nature.

How and Who? In order to explore Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under, I have brought together a panel of four folk

  • Darren Cronshaw
  • Lynne Taylor
  • Kevin Ward
  • Steve Taylor

All have undertaken fieldwork in theology, using qualitative research in pursuing theological questions.

I have asked them each to share for around 10 minutes:

  • First, a summary of their fieldwork in theology research
  • Second, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology.
  • Third, the most complex issue generated by your use of fieldwork in theology.

The aim is not to present research results as such. Rather it is to explore methods, methodologies and theologies – the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology. We will do this by using our discussion time not to ask specific questions of each paper, but rather construct a mind map, asking what are issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology.

My hope is that this helps us focus on the realities of research and perhaps set a future research agenda.

Posted by steve at 11:39 PM

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology

I’m crossing the ditch this week. First stop is Melbourne, where I am part of ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Second stop is holidays (more on that later).

In Melbourne at ANZATS I’m doing a number of things. These include leading a Forum that I have initiated: Fieldwork in Theology: learnings down-under.

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under
This forum will focus on the place of qualitative research in theology. The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend, as evident in the new Ecclesial Practices journal, the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK and sessions at AAR since 2012. This forum will provide space to share fieldwork notes, including experiences of using qualitative research in theology, issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology and ways to network.”

This involves a panel of four (Dr Cronshaw, Dr Taylor, Lynne Taylor, Dr Ward). Each will address the question: first, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology; second the most complex issue generated by their use of fieldwork in theology. The aim is to allow discussion of the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology, in order to engage the topic focus: the place of qualitative research in theology.

Third, I am presenting a conference paper. It emerges from my experiences on Walking on Country last year and ongoing conversation, digitally and by long-distance telephone call, with Denise Champion.



Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Here is the introduction …

Wanangha nai. Which means in Adnyamathanha, Where am I going? In this paper, where I am going is to share the story of Great Uncle Alf, honoured by the South Australian Police in 2004, who, I will argue embodies atonement: a knowledge of “this place” so deep that the lost are found and returned to home and community.

To do that I need to provide a methodology, which I do through James McClendon’s notion of biography as theology: that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology).

And a Biblical conversation, which I do in conversation with Kenneth Bailey, who argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament).

Wanangha nai: Where am I going in post-colonial missiology?

First, Missio Dei – God is active in the world. Hence in cultures there are God-bearers, in whom God is Incarnate. Not fully. But enough that God is revealed and cultures and communities are dignified as God-bearers.

Second, paying attention to “ordinary readers.” Gerard West, in the context of South Africa, argued that it was well past time for the academy to read Scripture not by educating the non-scholarly to read the Bible like the academy (Reading Other-wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with Their Local Communities). Rather by nurturing communities of “intuitive and critical interpreters …[who].. come to the biblical texts from different perspectives that are equally valid.” I will explore what that means among an indigenous community in South Australia.

After 9 months immersed in Aotearoa New Zealand and the role at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, I am really looking forward to stepping off the dance floor/crossing the ditch, to see friends, to say hello to Melbourne and to pick up some research threads that remain important to me and my mission journey while in Australia.

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM