Monday, November 21, 2016

Festival participation: ethnographic research

Ethics approval from Flinders University gained on 17 November 2016 for

Festival participation: Engagement of church and community in light of secularisation thesis

The Project:

To interview participants at the Bothwell Spin and Fibre Festival (BSFF), Tasmania. Members of the Uniting Church began this bi-annual community festival and continue to be active participants, including a blessing of the fleece liturgy, the providing of wool for festival participants to craft during the Festival and the holding of a Church service on Sunday as the Festival concludes. The festival has grown over the years, attracting international attention. It is considered a success both by the community and by the church.

This project will explore the meanings attached to this event. It will consider a set of ecclesial foci: Why is the church involved, in particular in the gift of liturgy and craft? What specific theologies shape their involvement? Have those theologies changed over time?

It will consider a set of community foci: What does the community think of the involvement of the church? How do they respond to the gifts being offered? What meanings are attached? How do these two foci connect with theorising regarding the secularisation thesis, which predicts that in modern society, religious participation will decline and religious institutions will weaken.


There is widespread literature noting the decline of religious participation and institutions in Western society. This is loosely organised around a secularising thesis, which is generally posited to be more advanced in modernity, and thus by implication in urban areas. The BSFF is a rural event.

A festival is a fluid event, interleaving together a range of interests, behind which lie a range of narratives. Research of the BSFF can be theorised in relation to the secularisation thesis, given it is located in a rural context and runs as a festival.

Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) argues that in a secular age, festivals will be conducted in ways that eliminate the tension between the demands of everyday life and hopes of eternal benefit, most commonly by dropping the expectations of eternity and instead framing ultimate purpose as this worldly. Paul Heelas (Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism, 2008) argues for the rise of spirituality practised not by discipline, nor by ecstatic experience but through the practices of everyday life. This resonates with the work of Taylor and provides a framework by which to analyse the data.

This research will test the secularisation thesis in regard to the narratives constructed around the participation of the church. Why might the church might be involved? Does their involvement, and in particular their focus on craft, promote a spirituality that is this-worldly? How do participants understand their involvement and the involvement of the church?

The research thus has implications for understanding the motivations behind the general social benefits attributed to festivals. It provides understanding of how the church positions itself within a community and how community participate in such events.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM

Saturday, November 19, 2016

KCML speech at General Assembly

As a member of National staff, I am offered 5 minutes to visit General Assembly and speak about KCML. I wanted to look forward, put some concrete numbers out there and in doing so, note our dependence on God. Here is what I said to GA 2016 on Thursday.


E te Motoreta, tena koutou katoa. Tena koutou e nga tarikete. No reira, tena koutou katoa. Two years ago, in Auckland, I stood before General Assembly as Keynote speaker.

toki In thanking me, then Moderator, Andrew Norton, gave me this Maori toki. (Be careful what they give you, Rod Wilson, visiting speaker at GA 2016). Andrew noted that even though I was then serving “across the ditch”, in Australia, that New Zealand remained my home. So this gift, this toki, was a sign of friendship. I stand before you at this General Assembly, in the surprise of God, as Principal of KCML; grateful for the friendships that have emerged and for the friendships that are yet to emerge.

I thank those who partner with KCML. In the last financial year

  • The national church contributed 22% of our income
  • Synod Otago Southland contributed 19%
  • Local churches who partner in intern placements contributed 18%
  • Presbyterian Development Society contributed 6%
  • The taonga of interest on investments from previous generations contributed 31%

I thank Leadership Sub-Committee, National Assessment Workgroup, Presbytery Candidate Committees; Council of Assembly and the KCML team.

First, we’re not KCM. We’re KCML. We’re not the Knox Centre for Ministers (bracket national ordained). We’re Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. So in the next years we’re piloting the national learning diploma – ways for the whole church to learn about leadership, mission, preaching, worship, being intercultural.

Second, we’re a national College, not a Dunedin college. So next year for the first time in 140 years, we’re taking the KCML Inaugural lecture on the road. In 3 cities, partnering with a local church – St Johns – in Wellington, and a chaplaincy – McLaurin Chapel – in Auckland. It’s called “Come to your senses.” Join us in February to examine a holistic Christian spirituality.

Third, in the Book of Order, Appendix D4, the role of a minister of word and Sacrament includes initiating “creative trends in the Church’s witness.” As a result KCML is partnering with Presbyteries in planting New Mission Seedlings. Just like those seedlings from New World, we want to partner with every Presbytery, to provide diverse learning spaces that nourish creative trends in mission.

Fourth, KCML has a strategic plan. Approved by Council of Assembly in June. The plan requires KCML to look forward in an intercultural, missional context; attentive to the God of Life-giving possibilities. The plan requires us to focus. So by GA 2020, we plan to

  • Establish 7 new mission seedlings in 7 Presbyteries, with local learnings shared through a National Incubator.
  • Cultivate 80 students in the National Learning Diploma, with an online platform across New Zealand
  • Provide postgraduate offerings in mission and ministry, to provide life-long learning.
  • All while sustaining our core business – providing 25 contextually agile NOMs

Two years ago in my GA 2014 keynotes I talked about mission. In Luke 10, Jesus sends. In Luke 14, Jesus includes. In Luke 19, Jesus seeks the lost. Without this God of mission, the KCML plan is stuffed. That’s our only hope and in God we trust. Thank you.

Posted by steve at 10:03 AM

Friday, November 18, 2016

A graduating benediction

I was asked to offer a final benediction as the KCML November block course finished in Friday. It was a final gathering for our Year 2 graduating interns. It was a return to placements for our Year 1 interns. It was the end of a complex blockcourse, one that was ever changing and with multiple external demands for the staff team.

A benediction: Ma te hurihuru ka rere te manu. A Maori proverb that means “With feathers the bird will fly”


Year twos

With Spirit’s wind under your wings
Spirit’s fire in your mouth
Spirit’s warmth in your heart

Year ones

May Jesus’ feelings guide you
Jesus’ prayer sustain you
Jesus’ compassion embrace you and your family

Staff and all of us,

In order that Creators abundance may astound us
Creators diversity enliven us
Creators power make in and through us all things new

Ma te hurihuru ka rere te manu

Posted by steve at 09:45 AM

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Practising hope: gathered and scattered. Resourcing Ministers Day GA 2016

unknown-8 Ministers Day aims to resource ministers. It provides an opportunity to reconnect and be updated on best practice in ministry. This year over 140 people registered, stretching Cameron Hall to capacity. The Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) team worked with the GA theme to offer a day focused around Practising hope: gathered and scattered.

A morning keynote explored hope gathered. Lynne and Steve Taylor introduced research on how PCANZ churches worshipped and prayed on Sunday, November 15, 2015, given the terrorist attacks on Paris. Findings from a survey of 160 churches offered insight into how to respond as church to hard stuff.

An afternoon keynote explored Hope scattered. Mark Johnston offered an understanding of Christ active in the world and the implications for practices of listening and discernment in our neighbourhoods. A panel of five ministers from local church and chaplaincy settings provided practical examples.

unknown-7 After each keynote, 8 workshop options were provided. These were led by experienced ministers from across the diversity of the PCANZ. They enabled in-depth discussion. In the morning practical resources for offering hope in the hard places of human experience were shared. In the afternoon, themes included

  • Mission amongst millenials
  • Listening and innovation
  • Young people detaching from church: The Pacific experience
  • Loving your neighbours
  • Presbyteries and innovation
  • Developing discernment in leadership
  • Listening to rural communities
  • Discerning and following Christ in suburb and city

In the 2016 year to date, KCML Faculty have produced five books or resources to resource the church. As part of the Ministers Day, these were introduced and commissioned through a laying on of hands by those gathered.

  • Songs for the Saints Songbook and CD , Malcolm Gordon, $30
  • The Journey of Worship DVD, Malcolm Gordon, $25
  • Live, Listen, Tell: the art of preaching, Geoff New
  • Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership today, Steve Taylor, $28.
  • Against the Odds: Murray Robertson and Spreydon, Kevin Ward, $35

It is an outstanding achievement for a Faculty of five. All are focused on resourcing the church – in worship, preaching, innovation and contextual mission. They are available from KCML administration.

Participants noted many highlights. This included being able to reflect on practice and hear from gifted colleagues. The Presbyterian Church understands ordained ministry not as a “mere collection of more or less gifted individuals.” Rather, ordained ministry is “a group with shared responsibilities … for the Church’s ‘style of life’ in the world” (Book of Order, Appendix D-4). Ministers Day resources this “shared responsibility” and in 2016 paid special attention to the “Church’s ‘style of life’ in the world.” Thanks to all who worked so hard to make the day a success.

Posted by steve at 11:04 AM

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Unique mix of biblical models, innovation tools & Australasian case studies

builtforchange Here is a 7th review of my book, Built for Change. This one is by Rev Dr Darren Cronshaw. There is a longer, 750 word version, being submitted to an academic journal, but the highlight version reads wonderfully.

Built for Change goes beyond rhetoric and explores case studies, theological reflection and reflective practice of how innovation can be collaboratively fostered. As an out-of-the-box thinker, Baptist pastor, and Uniting and now Presbyterian theological educator, Steve Taylor emphasises that innovation at its best is a collaborative team project, facilitated by systematic and careful process. The book is a model of clear writing, careful structure and practical theology from a reflective practitioner. It will be recommended reading or textbook in some units I am writing and I have personally ordered a dozen copies as presents for colleagues in theological education and mission training, so I think I can say with integrity that I count this as highly recommended.

Darren Cronshaw
– Mission Catalyst – Researcher, Baptist Union of Victoria
– Head of Research and Professor of Missional Leadership, Australian College of Ministries
– Pastor, AuburnLife Baptist Church
– Adjunct Professor, Swinburne Leadership Institute

“Built for Change” by Rev Dr Steve Taylor is available in Australia through MediaCom Education Inc. or New Zealand through Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here. Review 4 is here. Review 5 is here. Review 6 is here.

Posted by steve at 06:03 PM

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thornton Blair Research Fellow: Christian Education

Thornton Blair Research Fellow: Christian Education

Do you have high quality research skills, experience in the design of higher education and a passion for educational formation for Christian leadership?

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) is seeking a uniquely gifted person to undertake action research in education design. This will involve undertaking qualitative research among key stakeholders, designing adult education delivery mechanisms and piloting the delivery of education in Christian leadership.

The Research Fellow will deliver a project that helps KCML clarify how to provide postgraduate educational formation for Christian leadership. Specifically to
1. Publish research into re-reforming post-graduate ministry and mission practice in contemporary contexts
2. Design education material that meets both stakeholder needs and higher education accreditation frameworks
3. Develop a strategic plan for education delivery
4. Initiate pilot projects, with stakeholder feedback.

The successful applicant will have experience in Christian education, project management and the use of qualitative methodologies in social sciences. They will have demonstrable skills in theological reflection, the ability to work collaboratively with diverse stakeholders and excellent verbal and written skills, including research and writing.

It is desirable that they have experience in post-graduate accreditation in higher education and teaching in online environments.

This is envisaged as a fixed term (22 months), part-time (0.6) position. Start date is February 2017 and is subject to a final confirmation of funding. The successful applicant need not live in Dunedin, provided they can demonstrate how they might build and sustain strong working relationships with the KCML team.

KCML especially welcomes applications that will enable it to meet its commitments to being a bi-cultural and intercultural church.

Applications close 9 am, Monday, 5 now 12 December, 2016 (7 day extension due to GA and Kaikoura earthquake). They must include a CV; a letter of application addressing the essential and desirable criteria and two references.

Enquiries to Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

Posted by steve at 07:22 AM

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

visual examen: colour in prayer

We finish each day of our internship intensives with a daily examen.

Examen – defined as a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and grow in understanding how God is present.

Mixed with a morning devotion and a lunchtime intercession, it provides a three-stranded pattern of prayer that weaves through our block course intensives. The danger is that examens become essentially word based – more words at the end of a day full of words in a classroom.

So today, in order to engage our eyes and our sense of touch, I offered a visual examen. I cut up red, green and yellow card into different shapes and grouped them on plates. I walked around the room, offering first red, then green, then yellow. As people chose a colour, I asked them questions to reflect on their day.

  • Red – a strong emotion (how did you feel? who was there? what was said before and after? where was God)
  • Green – a moment of growth (a learning? an insight? a challenge? a connection?). Give thanks to God for these gifts.
  • Yellow – a joy (a moment in relationship? a joke from a colleague? Give thanks to God for these gifts.

I then read a Scripture – Philippians 3:8, 10. “More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ[a] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” It was a reminder of the importance of surrender into the shape of Christ, an invitation to release.

I located one of the icons I have written during my time in Australia (here’s a video of me talking about icons as spiritual practise) and placed it flat, as a sort of plate. I then invited people to place their colours on the icon, as a way of releasing our day to God, returning the gift we’d been given and surrendering ourselves to being in Christ.


Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Daughter: theological film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 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 November 2016.

The Daughter
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Daughter is enthralling, a cinematic triumph in which superb acting and smart dialogue yield an emotionally charged finale.

A grown son (Paul Schneider as Christian) returns to the town of his childhood for the second marriage of his father (Geoffrey Rush as Henry). Reunion with his childhood friend (Ewen Leslie as Oliver) and his loved daughter (Odessa Young as Hedvig) results in a sequence of questions. Christian’s present grief rips the scabs from grief past.

The acting is superb. Paul Schneider and Geoffrey Rush are fine embodiments of a male ability to remain emotionally distant. The tears of abandonment by Odessa Young and regret by Ewen Leslie express perfectly the emotional power of this slowly unfolding tragedy.

Hedvig is essential to the movie’s success. She is lively and rebellious. The result is a joy-filled palette of colours, which accentuate the gathering storm clouds. It is an effect magnified by the somber tones of the movie’s backdrop, a rural forest town in which the sawmill is facing closure.

The Daughter is inspired by an 1884 play (The Wild Duck) by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen. In a movie that draws from the traditional strength of threatre in plot and character, the clever use of sound plays a significant role. The first noise heard is a distant gunshot. Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” is an apt soundtrack as the family wedding descends into painful farce. In two key scenes, the only sound is that of breathing: powerful in anger, pleading in pain.

The New Zealand film industry has connections with this Australian movie. First, when The Daughter is placed alongside 2004 New Zealand movie, In My Fathers Den. The similarities are uncanny. Both offer a strong sense of place, in which memories are haunted. Both star a man returning to his childhood home and a lively teenage girl growing into maturity. Both compress pain past and present into unfolding tragedy. This examination of similarities also underlines the differences, particularly the sombre palette that marks The Daughter in contrast to the moments of beauty that gave joy to In My Fathers Den.

Second, through Sam Neill, who plays Walter, Hedvig’s grandfather. He is the character closest to the wounded healer, a previously damaged nurturer watching over these wounded in the movie’s present.

While theology is difficult to find in The Daughter, Jesus is a word used repeatedly in one pivotal scene. The word is uttered neither in blasphemy nor piety. Rather it is a word of shock, as the hammer blow of an unimagined past obliterates a peaceful present. In its repetition, it suggests one way to understand the death of Jesus. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken” is equally a cry of incomprehension in the face of overwhelming pain. It suggests Jesus as a Divine shock absorber. Simple repeated words – My God – arise from a person absorbing blows at the limits of human experience. It offers a response both pastoral and theological to the repetitive use of Jesus in the face of profound grief.

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 02:52 PM

Friday, November 04, 2016

Is Luke 20:27-38 the most difficult New Testament passage to preach from?

dontworrybesexy1-205x300 It was a question asked by a colleague this week. Here’s my attempt from 2013. I was guest preacher and was asked to preach from Lectionary. The more I wrestled with the text, the more I was glad of the power and freshness.

From the cowardice that dare not face new truth,
From the laziness that is contented with half truth,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
God of Truth, deliver us.

I currently serve as the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. My sense of call to be Principal of the Uniting College owes a lot to Exodus 3, God’s call to Moses at the burning bush.

Back in 2012, I was aware that the College were looking for a Principal and applications were closing. I was attending Church on Sunday morning and as you sometimes do in a sermon – not here I’m sure – I found myself mentally going through all the reasons why I wouldn’t be a suitable Principal of a theological college

Younger than most Principal’s I know
Come from another country.
More comfortable at the edge of the church than at the center

As I was going through this mental checklist, I realised that I was missing the childrens talk. Which was Exodus 3.

The part where Moses gives all these excuses why he wouldn’t be a very good leader. What if they don’t listen? What if I can’t communicate clearly?

And I suddenly realised, I was just like Moses. Giving excuses. God simply asks Moses “What’s in your hand?” (Ch 4:5) For Moses it was a staff. For me it was my gifts and passions.

So we learn something about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. We learn that God calls people. Asks them “What’s in your hand?” Asks them to give their gifts and passions. We learn that call to mission begins in God’s compassion. God tells Moses (Ch 3:7-8) “I have heard their cry. Indeed, I know their sufferings”

A mission that begins with a God who hears people’s cry. Which makes me want to stop. It makes me want to ask what you hear. What is the cry of your community? What is making people in this community suffer?

Indeed, I know their sufferings, v. 8 and I have to deliver them.

I tell you this story because it introduces me. I tell you this story because it also introduces the Lectionary text, Luke 20:27-38.

37 -38 – But in the account of the burning bush, Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”.

God who calls.
God who listens
God who listens deeply enough to know about sufferings.

So says Jesus, This God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’

The Lectionary story from Luke 20 is set in the temple. Jesus is teaching and as he teaches he’s asked three questions. One of the commentaries call these “testing stories.” Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he’s asked questions. So many questions that they get a title – “testing stories.”

So that tells us something else about this “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. This God doesn’t mind questions. Not in the burning bush story of Moses, where three times Moses get’s to ask God questions, to say to God but what about.

I find that such a helpful image for understanding God – a relationship strong enough to hear our questions.

In this particular story, the “testing question” is asked by a person from a group called the Sadducees. A religious group within Judaism. Who have a unique set of beliefs, including a disbelief in resurrection, in life beyond death.

Hence their “testing question.” They offer Jesus a case study. Well if there was a family of 7 boys and one by one they all died, and one by one the next brother married the widow – then, if there is a heaven, what happens to the wife?

The case study is based on historical cultural practice – what was in Ancient Israel called levirate marriage. It’s explained in Dueteronomy 25:5-10. If a married man dies childless, the man’s brother must marry the widow. It has a purpose – to perpetuate the name and hand down property from one generation of men to the next.

My teenage daughters, in the flash of an eye, would tell me how sexist this is. How much it assumes an oldfashioned patriarchal view of family and marriage and gender.

Jesus responds to the “testing question” in two parts.

First in verses 34-36.

This age, with a concern for marriage – that is the existing hierarchical, patriarchal view of family and marriage and gender

And “that age” the resurrection. When children of God, who are children of the resurrection.”

Those words, “children of God”, used in verse 36, have history. They’ve been used already by Jesus in Luke 6:35-36: love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High … 3Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Which sets up two very different understanding of marriage.

For the Sadduccees, in verses 28, 29, 31, “the man takes a wife.” A very traditional, very patriarchal, way of understanding marriage. Sexist, as my daughters would tell me.

In contrast – For the children of God – those who are living out these values of love of enemies, being merciful – the verbs about marriage are passive.

It’s not, the man takes a wife.

Instead it’s literally, “to allow oneself to be married.”

So Jesus is actually offering a radical critique of current understandings of how women relate to men in marriage.

You can choose to be aligned with the this age, these present cultural understandings.

No resurrection because death is the end. Until death, you get to participate in a very legal, very strict hierarchical pattern. Women are to be given and taken by men, women are simply objects to preserve a male family line, women are useful only if they can produce children. That’s choice.

The other choice, the Jesus choice, is to align yourself with the age to come. With resurrection. On which death is dead. In which women, as equally as men, find value not in producing children, but because of how they live their lives, because of how they love their enemies, because of of how they practise justice and live merciful.

So that’s first response to the testing question. Resurrection. Which impacts on how women and men relate.

The second response by Jesus is to turn to another place in the Old Testament. Not to the Levirate Law in Dueteronomy but to Moses, the burning bush and “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, Jacob”.

As I’ve already said,
the God who calls. What’s in your hand.
God who listens, to the cry of people.
God who listens deeply enough to know about sufferings.
God who offers deliverance. Into a covenant, a set of living relationships, Q and A with God, which give us our identity and guides behaviour.

That’s the God of Abraham, and Isaac, Jacob”. For to God, all are alive.

And of course, this story in Luke 20, is placed between the resurrection story of Lazarus in Chapter 16, and resurrection story of Jesus in Chapter 24.

So what we learn about resurrection here is made possible because of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. In order to offer a covenant, a set of living relationships, not just to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but to any who want to be children of God, to any who will live of life of justice and mercy.

We live a world that’s never heard of Sadducees and burning bushes and Levirate marriages. So how does our world understand marriage? How does our world value women?

I was walking through mall yesterday and saw this T-shirt. “Dont’ worry. Be sexy.” So that’s one way our world values women. Not as children of God, of value because of a life of justice and mercy.

Another way our world values women is as consumers. Shop till you drop. So there’s something strangely appealing about what Jesus is offering. To be defined, not by our bodies, our booty or our budget. But by relationship. A living covenant, a Q and A with God, expressed in a life of justice and mercy?

I have to be honest. I approached today’s Lectionary text going – this is tough. This is an obscure argument about an obscure part of the Bible.

Over the week, I’ve gained fresh insight into the radical nature of God’s Kingdom. We’re invited to be children of God. Our relationships with each other, our relationships with God are not defined not by historic cultural patterns. Nor by how sexy we are. Nor by how much bling we have. We’re children of God. Called by a God who listens to the cry of people’s suffering. Invited to live lives of mercy and justice. That’s good news. For us. For our church. For our wider community.

Posted by steve at 02:18 PM

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Presbytery partnerships

In June, the Council of Assembly of the Presbyterian Church strongly endorsed the KCML Strategic plan. One of the five key directions is Presbytery partnerships.


Presbytery partnerships: KCML wish to establish teaching partnerships with each Presbytery. Each will be individualised, given the unique needs of each Presbytery. They will include shared commitments and timelines around the location of New Mission Seedlings and teaching sites for the National Learning Diploma. This move will help KCML be national, forming intentional training relationships with Presbyteries.

To enact this part of the strategic plan is likely to involve three steps

  • Introduction of plan to Presbyteries (of which in New Zealand there are 7: 5 geographic Presbyteries and 2 Synods that in order to be Synods are each a Presbytery)
  • Clarification of the individualised relationship, through a Memorandum of Understanding that might include a 5 year Presbytery training plan and structures by which to innovate around New Mission Seedlings
  • Delivery, with feedback loops

On Saturday I engaged with Northern Presbytery. For 20 minutes I provided some mission framing, for another 20 minutes I shared the 5 parts of the KCML strategic plan and for a final 20 minutes I sought feedback – what excites and what concerns.

The feedback was overwhelming positive, with the Moderator noting how much it helped the elders and ministers of Presbytery to know that challenges are being recognised and that alternative ways forward as a church are being enacted.

Saturday’s conversation brings to five (out of 7) such conversations – held either with Presbytery Councils or a full Presbytery – since the Strategic plan was approved just over 5 months ago. That’s encouraging progress.

While there is much work still to be done – in clarification and in delivery – it is great to be out and about like this around the church nationally. It is a privilege to be given this type of access and to see the diverse parts of the church at work.

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

art resourcing ministry: 3 images that shape my practice

I drove six hours yesterday, to Geraldine, to spend time resourcing a Ministers cluster. They meet regularly every few months and had asked me tto engage with them for about 4 hours, either side of lunch. After some back and forth with the organisors, I decided I would offer three art pieces that had been important in shaping my understanding of ministry. I had not done this before. But my sense was that the space created by art, along with the mix of story, would add value to a group of ministers who need themselves some space to reflect.

I suggested a repeated sequence, in which we would engage in the following process.
– silence to appreciate the art
– discussion of what we noticed in the art
– my story of why the art was important and how is shaped my ministry
– discussion together of the implications for ministry

I offered three pieces (one was a pair).


First, (the top of the photo) an original illustration from Bodge Plants a Seed: A Retelling of the Parable of the Sower, which Simon Smith had gifted to me when I began in ministry at Opawa Baptist. This opened up a rich conversation about leadership as gardening, a set of practices in which we attend to what God has already gifted. (More on this is in my book, Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership).

Second, (the bottom of the photo), some art by Kees de Kort, from Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission, 146-8. This opened up conversation about mission that originates with God. It requires partnership, in which we locate ourselves not as initiators and holders of Scripture, but as guests and interpreters.

Third, John Lavery’s Anna Pavlova The Red Scarf paired with a photo of a girl seeking to imitate the dancer. This allowed a even richer conversation about God as the dancer and how we understand formation. It included reflection on the role of gender, to which I offered the followed resources, a compilation of some writing I did during sabbatical in 2012.

Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes (Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology), by Nichola Slee, suggests that our notions of faith development can reflect a male bias. Her work emerges from interviews with 30 women, which resulted in some 1500 pages of transcribed interviews. She then read these narratives alongside a number of conversation partners – faith development theory and women’s spirituality. She suggests these women develop through a three part process,
• of alienation
• of awakenings
• of relationality

She then makes four broad applications, to those in formal theological education, to those involved in any educational or pastoral care context in church life, to women’s networks and groupings.

First, to ground practice in women’s experience. She suggests making a priority of more inductive and experiential approaches to education. She also suggesting bringing to greater visibility women’s lives. (A simple check list I used in this regard, when I used to preach regularly, was check my sermon illustrations and quotes to make sure I had gender balance, as many women examples as men).

Second, create relational and conversational spaces, for “women’s spirituality was profoundly relational in nature, rooted in a strong sense of connection to others, to the wider world and to God as the source of relational power.” (Women’s Faith Development, 173) Slee suggests we look at our environments, ways to create circles not rows, and processes by which everyone speaks no less than once and no more than twice.

Third, foregrounding of imagination, given “the remarkable linguistic and metaphoric creativity of women as they seek to give expression to their struggles to achieve authentic selfhood, relationships with others, and connectedness to ultimate reality.” (Women’s Faith Development, 175). She notes historically how much of women’s theology was embedded in poetry, hymnody, craft forms and popular piety. So we need to find ways to weave this into our “reading” and our talking. “Yet educators need to go beyond the use of such artistic resources to the active encouragement of learners to engage in artistry as a way of exploring and discerning truth.” (Women’s Faith DevelopmentWomen’s Faith Development, 178) Slee is aware that these suggestions are not new. But from her experience of (British) theological institutions, there is room for growth.

A second perspective comes from Ann Phillips, The Faith of Girls: Children’s Spirituality and Transition to Adulthood She asks what Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1, Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5, the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16, Jarius daughter in the Gospels, have in common?

First, they are pre-pubescent girls. Second, they are agents of new theology. God is made more real, more understandable, more present, through these girls. This is so consistent with Jesus, who takes children in his arms and reminds us that keys to God’s Kingdom are found in them.

Phillips notes that most theologies of childhood have been written by men. She interviews 17 young girls, seeking to understand their faith development. Anne argues for a “wombing” theology as an approach to faith development. It protects and so the need for a “home space.” It enables play, in which the one being birthed is free, away from adult control, to work at their identity. It connects. Regarding church, “membership of a cohort was not enough for the girls to feel a sense of belonging. Intergenerational sharing was named as a significant feature in their attachment to the environment … Girls [interviewed] regularly spoke of the impact on their faith of older people … Most participation was initiated by adults.” (The Faith of Girls, 160)

The approach worked really, really well. The mix of visuals, personal story and ministry application provided multiple entry points. The use of eyes brought a stillness into the room and offered a reflective space. Those not used to engaging art found a strengthening of their skills in the simple invitation to look. The discussion wandered broad and wide, with a degree of honesty, challenge and humour. The four hours flew by.

Personally, it was quite moving, to be taken back into my story. I saw some patterns woven in. I also realised how these patterns continue to shape my current practice and vision. It was a contemplative, holy sort of day.

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM