Saturday, June 20, 2015

Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow

This week I’ve been teaching an intensive, Mission and the church.  It has been an exhausting week  – intensives by their very nature are demanding.  At the same time, it has been a very fulfilling week. Nearly half the class was from inter-state and it was a joy to be resourcing the church nationally.  All of the class had significant ministry experience and thus it became not an exploration of theories for when people might move into ministry, but an intensely practical examination of what could be done now, in living communities. It is a privilege to opens a space and keeps alive a conversation about mission.

My intention is that the conversation is

  • hopeful – in the midst of church decline and structures that stifle, to keep providing ways to subvert and maintain
  • storified – if God is going ahead of us, if missio Dei is for real, then alongside theory of mission needs to be stories of God’s activity and action
  • contextual – theory and stories need to be told in ways that allow people to contextually adapt and innovate, not photocopy. Never once did I hear “oh, we couldn’t do that,” which is a sure sign that contextual has been lost from a teaching context
  • creative – whole church, with our whole bodies, embodying the Gospel, needs to be modelled in the course delivery. All these senses need to be engaged, not just the ears and eyes
  • evidence-based – stories of God’s activity are the evidence from which we discern mission. Three of the 8 sections featured post-graduate research which was studying  stories, in order to discern. So time and again we found ourselves immersed in learnings from people coming to faith, communities exploring innovation 10 years on, churches planting community ministries.

The feedback has been enormously positive.

An email:

Thank you again for a great short course on mission, and the church’s place in it. It has given me, and my congregations, much inspiration to live and work to do, and enjoy.

A final comment.

“I’ve gained a freedom to pursue, not a formula to follow.”

As always, I gain as much as I give in these conversations. On Thursday, as I shared some of my research of sustainability and fresh expressions (2 of the 8 chapters I’ve drafted), I found new insights emerging. It is a project I’m struggling to nail, unsure how to tell the story. As the class questions rained down upon me, I found myself making some fresh connections (and kicking myself that I’d forgot to record this section). All an important part of my own processing and clarifying.

Posted by steve at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Doctorate in the Practices of Monastic Spirituality

Congratulations to Gary Stuckey, with news last week that his doctoral thesis has gained examiners approval and he will graduate Doctor Gary in May. I’ve been working with Gary for the last four years on his Doctor of Ministry. It was a fascinating project that mixed having a go, critical reflection and deep reading in the Christian tradition.

Essentially Gary tried to plant a fresh expression of monastic spirituality. He used a short course approach, offering a year long training in monastic spirituality. At the same time, in order to rigourously test his practice, he sought to measure participant’s spiritual experience, at the start, middle and end.

His thesis reflects on his learnings, all the while reading deeply from across the centuries in how monastic patterns were developed and how they sought to form faith. At the same time, Gary becomes increasingly dis-enchanted with what he considers the historical rootlessness of much of what currently trades as new monasticism.

Finding Your Inner Monk: Development, Presentation and Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Program Introducing the Practices of Monastic Spirituality

With a growing interest in monastic spirituality, Gary Stuckey developed and presented a program introducing participants to historic monastic spirituality and its contemporary significance, and spiritual practices drawn from the Benedictine tradition. His thesis assessed the effectiveness of the program in enhancing participant’s spiritual experience as measured by the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale. The project also identified each participant’s spirituality type with a view to determining whether or not it was people with a more contemplative nature who were attracted to and benefited from the program. Gary found that the program did help enrich people’s spiritual experience. The resource material presented, the learning of and reflecting on spiritual practices, and discussion with other participants were major factors in the outcome. While most participants were of a contemplative type, not all were. Those who were not generally benefited from the program, opening the possibility of its wider application in the future.

It was a fascinating and multi-faceted project to supervise, by a creative, dedicated and hard-working person.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Worth coming for the creative resources alone

“It’s worth coming for the creative resources alone,” said a happy punter as they tucked the order of worship into their bag. Yesterday we kicked off at Uniting College another year of Leadership Formation Days.

These aim to build community among individuals on the journey to ordination. So yesterday in small groups and with the aid of colour chips of paint, relationships were built.

They invite reflection on the practice of ministry. So yesterday input on Pauline spirituality and adaptive leadership in resource poor congregations. A rich, deep study of how Paul’s spirituality of ministry connected with the work of Heifetz (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading), and provided richness for ministers in aging congregations.

They provide prayer and worship – in ways that are “worth coming for the creative resources alone.” So yesterday praise, for the generations before who had formed us, and intercession, for the generations we are involved in forming.

orderofservice

Names written on yellow and orange post-it notes, placed around the edge of the communion table. On which some godly play around the lectionary text was done, the giving of the 10 commandments. On which the communion elements, bread and wine were shared.

commuiondesert

They share stories, in order to build our ability to work with the living documents that are the lives of people. So yesterday, two stories of the journey to ministry and the journey in ministry. A few tears, as redemption was enfleshed.

Posted by steve at 07:42 AM

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s that boat going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why the boat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

indigenous women’s Christologies project

The indigenous women’s Christologies project began tonight. It began with an indigenous Adnyamathanha woman, Aunty Denise, speaking at our theology class, talking about how she does Christology. It was an extraordinary performance, with an hour of what was essentially an extremely sophisticated hermeneutic, laced through with stories of how the oral stories of culture help her address “Who is Jesus for her.” So the Jesus theology class got an outstanding example of contextual theology. The evening was open to the public and it was great to have a few visitors join us, and catch a glimpse of the edges that contemporary theology at Uniting College is currently exploring.

A second evening will occur on October 22, when Eseta Meneilly will join us, offering an indigenous Fijian Christology.

Around this speaking, two further processes are at work. The talk was being recorded, for future reference. In addition a researcher was in the room, listening and recording. The aim is the production of a written and video resource study guide, which in conversation with the presenters can be used more widely – by other classes and by other theologians.

I introduced the lecture today with the following:

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different cosmologies is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between cosmology and Christology.”

Now change three words (worldviews and cultures).

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different [worldviews and cultures] is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between [worldviews and cultures] and Christology.”

In hearing the theology of another, their conversation between their local worldview and a Christology, it helps us begin to form and refine our “model.”

So the class are now processing three questions
- How does Aunty Denise do theology?
- Who is Jesus for Aunty Denise?
- What can I and my community learn for how we do theology?

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Monday, October 06, 2014

mission practices in Shaun Tan’s Lost thing

The invite to speak at the Presbyterian Assembly has provided an opportunity to work up some new material on mission and leadership. I’ve been percolating for a while on the wonderful, Academy award winning animation of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. I’ve used it three times at the National Ministers Conference on fresh words and deeds, and today was a chance to shape a significant thought piece.

Structurally, I offered four practices
- going
- discerning
- nourishing wonder
- letting go

These were woven into conversation with a number of other voices. First, the Zacchaues text (Luke 19). Second, Susan Hope’s Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission. Third, The Lost Thing.

I was really pleased with how it shaped up. It seemed to provide an imaginative, practical grounding to my three sessions. And perhaps the first test of a journal article – on the missional insights that flow from the imagination of Shaun Tan.

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Monday, September 29, 2014

the weighted coin: inward

Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.

They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.

In preparation, I designed the following assessment.

You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.

Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.

Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.

Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.

Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;

“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)

And regarding evangelism:

Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).

Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.

One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.

It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”

Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.

Posted by steve at 05:30 AM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places

How do Christians engage with their world?

Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.

The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.

He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.

“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)

Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘Urban Life Together’ Conference

A great initiative in Melbourne, with a call for papers for an ‘Urban Life Together’ Conference, 17-18 October, 2014. It hopes to bring together Christian activists, thinkers, leaders and practitioners to interact around urban mission.

Input is invited from practitioners, leaders, activists, researchers and students to explore themes or relate issues or case studies. Either a 30 minute paper, or a 10 minute presentation. I’m keen to encourage this, so in a somewhat playful mode, have offered two presentations.

Presentation one – Fresh or failed? Sustainable practices in new forms of church

Perhaps, the biggest challenge is not starting but sustaining for new forms of church. This presentation will tell the story of new forms of church ten years on, based on longitudinal research in Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.

It will identify three sustainable practices – ember theology, shifting from key leaders to key values and building catholicity. Biblically, it will dialogue with Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, outlining five layers of sustainability. Finally, it will consider the impact of climate change, first sociological, in recent sociology of religion trends and second denominational, in the advent of Fresh Expressions as a movement.

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission.

Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska: a brief book review

Holiday reading began with Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. Set in Papua New Guinea, it follows a set of characters first in the lead up to independence and second, in the twentyfirst century.

Modjeska is known for weaving fact with fiction and this beautifully written reflection is not exception. The Mountain emerges from her own story, a period of time in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s and a recent return to develop an art-collective. It circles stories within stories, applying the eye of an artist to the complexity of interactions across times and cultures.

The mountain, from which the book is named, is an isolated site of undiscovered beauty. It becomes known to us first through the gaze of the anthropologists, as English-born Leonard and his wife, Dutch-born Rika visit. Second to post-colonial scrutiny, as Jericho, caught between cultures returns to find himself.

In between these personal journeys swirl a rich ripple of contemporary issues, including environmental battles, the impact of development and the search for identity.

As I read, I became aware of theological undercurrents. Whether intentional or not, the book offers a number of intriguing insights into the Christian understanding of Incarnation. Christianity claims the Word made flesh and this gains particular resonance in The Mountain, as the gift of a child becomes redemptive both for individuals and for a tribe, as it seeks to navigate between ways old and new.

The ancestors give us Leonard. We give you to Leonard. And now you return. Ancestor gift. The child who left us, who we called Jericho, has returned, the man who can make a great noise, blow down the walls. Jericho, the name from the ancestor story of Leonard.

This makes The Mountain both fun and an illuminating insight into the complexity of crossing cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jesus and the religions

I’m teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, both weekly in Adelaide and by intensive at New Life Uniting Church, on the Gold Coast, in November. Plus I am teaching on Mission as an intensive in Sydney in July.

So today I was doing some preparation, which included reading Bob Robinson, Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World.  It is a brilliant conceived book. It asks how Christians should approach other faiths by exploring how Jesus engaged other faiths.

It begins with three Gospel stories – Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Doing theology, bringing together themes from the three encounters it argues that their are implications for how contemporary people engage plurality.

  • Be open to surprise, in the same way Jesus was surprised by the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • Affirm what surprises you, again in the same way Jesus affirmed the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • In particular, look for faith and humility. This includes the role not only of faith, but of the content of that faith. In all three examples, their “faith appears to include more than heart-felt hope or desperate concern.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 116).  And so by implication, “Might examples of faith, humility, and insight, wherever they are found in the contemporary world, be affirmed by disciples today – even when they contrast less than favorable with their own.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 117-8).
  • The exclusion of vengeance. For example, Jesus response to the Roman Centurion is a moment of love of enemy. Moving to other Gospel stories, one might note the rain falls on the just and the unjust, or the banquet parables which include, rather than exclude.

What is even more intriguing is an initial chapter in which Christ becomes an exegete.  The focus is Luke 4:16-30, and how Jesus engages Scripture. Robinson concludes that there are fresh readings, new performances of Scripture as Biblical texts are encountered in the power of the Spirit.  This opens up an exemplary Christology, in which the church reads for direction in how to live its life of witness in the world.

All of which makes for a rich teaching resource.

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM