Friday, January 31, 2014

a loose collaboration of experimental journeyers

Over the last two days, I’ve been at the National Fresh expressions and mission-shaped ministry 2014 conference. Today, I provided a brief public explanation to those gathered of the story to date.

The conference emerges from a loose collaboration of experimental journeyers. Back in 2010, I heard a number of people around Australia saying, “It would be good to offer more focused training and resourcing in mission.” I suggested a conversation and the result was a decision to use the mission-shaped ministry course as a focus. We decided to seek to collaborate together to develop and contextualise this for an Australian context.

The focus would be on local delivery by local partners, with the blessing of the original designers – mission-shaped ministry England. Together we would be a resource as fellow travellers. Anyone could offer a course, as long as it was local, ecumenical and within their capacity, professional.

Seven groups initially said yes

  • Anglicans Canberra
  • Anglicans Adelaide
  • Lutherans SA , NT
  • Uniting Synod SA
  • Uniting Synod Vic Tas
  • Uniting Synod NSW, ACT
  • Uniting College

New members could be added at any time. They simply need to ask and to pay a $1000 fee – designed to give us a start up fee.  We whacked up an agreement, to be reviewed annually at national gatherings.  We’ve since met four times

  • Pilot workshop – May 2011
  • Training with the Dranes – Nov 2011
  • National peer learning – Nov 20123
  • This conference – Feb 2014

Today I chaired the “annual meeting.”  The energy in the room was palpable. There are new partners keen to join us (we’re now a grouping of 12 different entities). We’ve made decisions to keep meeting. First, a 1.5 day gathering, of pioneers and practitioners, to share and storytell, November 2014, in Adelaide. Second, November 2015, in Melbourne, a two-part gathering, to continue the contextualisation project re mission-shaped ministry and to again gather pioneers and practitioners.

A few years ago there was just a dream. Now there’s an energetic, dispersed, coalition of experimental journeys.

It’s also really practical example of ecumenism in the 21 st century. I counted 5 denominations around the table today – all with a shared passion for mission, drawn together by projects.

Posted by steve at 02:47 PM

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Adelaide mission-shaped ministry reunion

Tonight is an Adelaide reunion of mission-shaped ministry course participants.

We’re bringing together folk from the 2011 (45 participants meeting at Burnside Uniting) and 2012 (15 participants meeting at City Soul) courses. For reasons of community and coaching.

Regarding community, they’ve not met each other, yet both been through the same experiences. They’ve both experienced ecumenism, hospitality, community, interaction and input around fresh expressions, pioneering and mission-shaped ministry. So it will be fascinating to see what happens as people that are strangers, yet share a similar experience, and hopefully passion, mingle.

Regarding coaching, we’re also hoping to get some energy moving around the what next of coaching in community. The mission-shaped ministry course is not about information transfer, but about the invitation to participate in mission. So, since they were commissioned, since they left with a range of hopes and dreams, what has happened.

We’re not sure, so we’ve designed the following process. (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:47 PM

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Melbourne mission

I spent the weekend in Melbourne at the invitation of the Port Philip West Presbytery.

On Friday night, I engaged with twenty of their core leaders on the topic of new forms of church in a changing world. I mainly talked about some of my UK sustainability and fresh expressions research data, with a particular focus on how denominations can partner in experiments.

On Saturday, i did three sessions with around 70 folk from the Presbytery. I was asked to speak on discernment, imagination and innovation. This meant a long search through my har drive, to eventually pull stuff from my Missional Leadership courses, from my Getting on with Mission distance topic and from teaching I’ve done around change and innovation.

A highlight was the way they engaged with Acts 8, Philip and the Ethiopian, with some really rich group insights. What did Philip offer – listening, openness, risk-taking, relationship with God – which then became a grid for what it means to be church today.

I went over earlier on the Friday, in order to meet with the Melbourne mission shaped ministry team. A group, with folk from the Uniting, Baptist, Anglican and Presbyterian church, are working (hard) on launching the mission shaped ministry course in Melbourne. They’re currently running information events and advertising, including this video, for a course starting in Hoppers Crossing in September.

It’s been quite some months since I’ve been working with lay folk around mission, leadership and change. I’ve missed it!

Posted by steve at 11:33 PM

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Supper at work for mission -Gustave Van De Woestijne’s

Gustave Van De Woestijne is a Flemish Expressionist painter of the early 20th century. His work includes The Last Supper and it is huge.


It hangs almost floor to ceiling in the Groeninge Museum, Brugge, Belgium. (Image is on flicker here)

In the Catholic context of Belgium, surrounded by the religiosity of previous centuries, it is a stunningly unreligious piece of work. One simple full loaf of bread sits on the table. There is no cup, grapes or any other food on the table. Around the table are clustered 12 disciples, portrayed as workers, Flemish miners or farm hands.

Which leaves the size. Why paint what is one of the largest paintings in the Museum? Why make something so ordinary so large?

Either a sign of no faith? A critique of the ceremony and wafer thin spirituality of the religion he has experienced? It certainly has the checkerboard floor often used in religious art.

Or full of faith? A reminder of the very large place for God in the ordinary, in simple bread, shared among workers hands? If so, it has echoes of the worker priest movement, such an intriguing mission development in France, among Catholics, in the 1940s. Priests asked to be freed from parish duties in order to work, in factories, in order to try and reconnect with the working class. It is a fascinating, bold, and innovative approach to mission, that was closed down by the Pope within a few decades.

It is the type of fresh expression/emerging church I’d love to see, one that jumps out of middle class subcultures and across class boundaries, out from church and worship and among the 24/7 patterns of working life. A movement that could only be nourished by a Jesus breaking bread with workers around ordinary tables of life.

Posted by steve at 06:57 AM

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Comprehending mission

What is mission? “the effort to effect passage over the boundary between faith in Jesus Christ and its absence.” (Jonathon Bonk, Preface to Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology, ix)

Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift.

Skreslet provides an overview of recent trends in missiology. Books like these are gold. They allow a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading. In my case, as I research popular culture, how can it find a place in missiology? As I teach mission shaped ministry, how might the mission at work be located within global mission trends?

Chapter one. Who Studies Christian Mission, and Why?
The chapter begins with a resurrection story. It notes how in the 1960s and 1970s, missiology was in decline. “At many institutions, chairs of mission studies were reoriented and then connected to more politically correct areas of the curriculum, such as ecumenical theology, comparative religion, third world theology, intercultural theology, or world Christianity.” I can see many of those pressures still at play in the Uniting Church in which I currently work.

This decline was prompted by the evaluation of the colonial era. The decline also coincided with a growth in secularity in the West.

However despite unease in the West, Christian mission has grown, often generated by churches outside the West. “The astonishing and quite unexpected vitality that now marks Christian mission worldwide invites scholarly attention.” (2) There has been an explosion, especially since the 1990s, in mission studies, in new journals and new lecturing positions (including here at Uniting College).

Skreslet suggests two current approaches to reflecting on mission are at work.

First, curricular. Introductions in mission have developed in connection with particular training courses. Examples cited include Perspectives in World Christianity, Following Christ in mission and Missionaries of Christ.

Second, theological reflection. “[M]issiology is taken to be a shorthand term for theology of mission, theology of the apostolate, or sometimes the theory of mission.” (4) Examples cited include Transforming Mission, Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, Concepts of Mission: The Evolution of Contemporary Missiology and (especially for Australian’s), Introduction to Missiology.

Skreslet is “not convinced that theology of mission [this second approach] is the best avenue by which to approach the field of missiology.” (9) He is concerned that it privileges certain data. “For modern theologians operating in the West, scripture, tradition and Christian expereince are the sine qua non of their craft … Issues of culture and the existence of other religious traditions may enter into these discussions, but they typically do in in the guise of environmental factors.” (9-10)

In other words, the abstract is more important than the particular. And theologians are more important conversation partners than historians, sociologists and anthropologists. “What we have today, by and large, are many introductions to mission theology but very few treatments of missiology as a whole.” (11)

Skreslet is encouraged by current patterns in dissertation research, younger scholars are pushing the boundaries of missiology ever wider. Every kind of scholarly enquiry can be, and is being, explored.

Having surveyed the field, Skreslet then defines missiology as “the systematic study of all aspects of mission.” (12) It is an intersection point of many disciplines, including secular. He argues for a “community of practice,” a set of “particular scholarly habits.” (13)

First, interest in crossing boundaries and how contact with cultures might transform senders and receivers.

Second, reality of faith and non-faith. It expects a critical empathy with what is being studied.

Third, an integrative impulse. “Christian mission is a social phenomenon that encompasses an unlimited number of local contexts, each of which may be affected by global trends. Every layer of culture – from the material to the conceptual – may be engaged when faith is shared across national, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries.” (14)

Posted by steve at 09:47 AM

Saturday, August 04, 2012

multi-sensory worship at mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2012

A second week of mission shaped ministry course on Thursday evening.

Each week includes worship. We have a commitment to try and worship in ways that don’t include singing. This is not because singing is not important. But it tends to be a default in Christian gatherings. And since mission shaped ministry course is about exploring new possibilities, it seemed appropriate to place some limits, in the hope of generating creativity.

It certainly worked in Week 2. One of the pioneer leaders training at Uniting College, and a candidate for ordained ministry, Karen Paull, led. She had prepared a central table, on which was a compass. We were invited to gather based on our location in Adelaide. In groups we were invited to reflect on our context:

  • Where were the weeds in our communities?
  • Where were the good things?

This led into prayer. Weeds were placed in the blue rubbish bin as an act of confession and intercession, while candles were lit for the goodness of the Christ-life. Finally, in benediction, we each took rosemary, which if placed in water in our homes, will grow roots and can be planted, an expression of us going to grow, to take root, to be the fragrance of Christ in our communities.

In 15 minutes, so many senses were engaged – smell of rosemary, hearing as we listened to those around us, touching in the candle lighting, seeing as we reflected on our communities. All amid classic Christian worship practices – of praise, confession, intercession, benediction. All within the framework of mission – gathering for and on behalf of our communities.

A rich, rich evening.

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2012 begins

A second mission shaped ministry course began in Adelaide last week. Once again, there was this profound sense of being among shared minds, among people with a similar ache, a willingness to find their unique shape and connect it to the mission of Jesus.

This image is a snapshot of some of our work from the first session. People were invited to indicate (using a star colour of their choice on a map of Adelaide), where they lived. People then shared some of their hopes (black pen colour) and fears (red and blue pen colour), which were written (with their permission) up on the map of Adelaide.

As was the case last year, this course is a wonderful example of ecumenical partnership, with three “funding” denominations – Uniting, Anglican, Lutheran. Last year we had around 40 participants (including a leadership team of 6). This year we have around 25 participants (including a leadership team of 8).

Two folk who did the course have stepped into leadership and a highlight of the first session last week was having them share their experiences.

Around 25 participants means a much better group dynamic than last year (although it’s not quite as viable financially). A nagging concern for me is that of the new participants this year, only two three are Uniting. Which does seem strange, given all the talk about fresh expressions that there has been over the past few years. (Still time to enrol, go here for info!)

Posted by steve at 12:27 PM

Saturday, May 12, 2012

2 great mission shaped ministry video resources

Following the success of mission shaped ministry Adelaide in 2011, a creative and hardworking team are beavering away, working on a course for the 2nd half of this (2012) year.

Venue: City Soul (13 Hutt St Adelaide). This facility offers a casual cafe set up which will ensure a communal, creative and interactive environment.

Cost: $400. This includes 11 evenings of input plus 2 weekend gatherings.

Credit: The course can be taken for credit in the Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry degree. Enquiries to Steve Taylor.

- 4 Thursday evenings, July 26 to August 23, gathering from 7:00pm, input from 7:30-9:15 pm.
- Weekend Retreat 1, West Lakes Resort, Friday Night and Saturday, 31 August and 1 September.
- 3 Thursday evenings, September 6 to 20
- 3 week pause between Sept 20 to Oct 18 is given as a chance to put legs on some of the content in your local community
- 3 Thursday evenings, October 18 to November 1
- Weekend Retreat 2, Old Adelaide Inn, Friday Night and Saturday, 9 & 10 November

This includes a number of great video clips. Like this, a short 1 minute long video clip – single shot, creative use of an object, short script.

Which really nicely compliments another excellent 7 minute long video, with course participants from last year sharing what they valued about the course.

It’s a joy to see this type of creativity at work. Go mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2012.

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jesus the great contextualiser

““let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). How wise! In inculturation the most important quality of the evangelizer is the gift of listening.” (Arbuckle, 164)

More from the wonderfully accessible, deeply insightful Gerald Arbuckle’s, Culture, Inculturation, and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique. As I posted earlier in the week, Arbuckle is concerned that the failure of the church to understand culture is making us naive at best, dangerous and destructive at worst.

In Chapter 10, he explores what we can learn from Jesus the Inculturator. First a definition

“Inculturation is a dialectical interaction between Christian faith and cultures in which these cultures are challenged, affirmed, and transformed toward the reign of God, and in which Christian faith is likewise challenged, affirmed, and enhanced by this experience.” (152)

Then a note on how similar is Jesus culture to today’s postmodern notions of culture:

“There was nothing discrete, homogenous, and integrating about [Jesus's] cultural world because it was filled with all kinds of tensions, fragmentation, and subcultural differences.” (153)

Then analysis of how Jesus used social drama, how he used moments when relationships between groups break; to encourage liminality; and open the possibility of growth.

Example – Mark 10:46-52 Bartimaeus. Arbuckle notes how

  • inculturation is person-centred – Jesus speaks directly to Bartimaeus, socially a non-person
  • inculturation is collaborative – “by his [Bartimaeus] actions is himself an agent of inculturation, challenging in collaboration with Jesus the crowd’s culture that rejects people who are poor.” (155)
  • inculturation requires spiritual and human gifts – “The gift most needed in evangelizers is the ability to listen and converse with people in a way that respects their human dignity.” (155) This is based on Mark 10: 51, the cry of Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus does not assume what type of help is needed, but instead listens.
  • liberation is an integral part of Inculturation – healing is social, cultural, economic, spiritual. Bartimaeus is not only healed of blindness, but finds he is given voice in the community of God, is respected as a collaborator in healing.

The chapter continues with analysis of the SyroPhonecian woman in Mark 7:24-30 and the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42.

Finally he concludes with Jesus use of parables “Probably this is his [Jesus] most important method of inculturation.” (162) He notes how these emerge from an attentiveness to the everyday world of those he serves.

“Simple and ordinary circumstances of daily life such as eating, walking, and even a request for a drink of water often become social dramas of special importance for Jesus in his ministry of inculturation.” (159)

Posted by steve at 04:46 PM

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

msm Adelaide final “report” in video format

Mission shaped ministry Adelaide. 40 folk from three denominations gathering over five months to reflect on mission and spirituality today. How did it go?

Well, we asked participants that very question on the last night and here’s the result: a final “report” not in words, but in video.

Also wondering if this might serve to promote mission shaped ministry throughout Australia – it’s a first being with Australian rather than British accents :).

Big thanks to Stephen Daughtry who gave his time to shoot and edit.

Posted by steve at 03:48 PM

Thursday, December 01, 2011

mission shaped ministry Adelaide calls it a dawn

Endings became beginnings, as the Adelaide mission shaped ministry course concluded last night.

The evening began in celebration, with food and sparking wine. Around tables folk looked back, reflecting on what the course had meant. They looked forward, reflecting on first next steps and what ongoing relational connections they wanted:

  • coaching
  • learning networks
  • regular reunions

The evening concluded with worship, a thanks for all we had experienced and then a commissioning into the dawn that is God’s new possibilities.

Spontaneously the lights were turned out and the leaders thanked. Each lit candle represented a person from the course, better equipped to be light in their communities. Each unlit candle represented the potential of future courses, (Semester 2, 2012) to ignite more lights into the community. A new dawn.

Throughout the night we shot video, interviewing folk about what the course meant to them, hoping to create an Aussie accented mission shaped ministry promotion. The camera person commented how they were blown away by what people shared and the sort of life changes they were speaking of, which was really neat to hear.

Posted by steve at 06:16 PM

Monday, November 21, 2011

mission shaped ministry national gathering update

Friday and Saturday was mission shaped ministry train the trainers gathering, hosted by Uniting College, which I sort of facilitated. About 35 folk from 4 denominations around Australia gathering, some with experience of pilots in Adelaide and Canberra, others wanting to know more about running mission shaped ministry courses in their patch.

John and Olive Drane provided input drawing on their UK involvement.  They demonstrated a session, allowed us to debrief it and shared with us the vision, values and practicalities. Those from Adelaide and Canberra shared what it was like for them to run a course, what they had learnt and what they would do differently next time.

The time concluded with a discussion of the future and the following steps were agreed:

  1. The welcoming of two new partners – Uniting Synod of Western Australia and a Uniting grouping (perhaps Synod or Presbytery) from Queensland.
  2. The seven existing and two new partners ask msm UK to extend the current Memorandum of Undertanding, and the embedded pilot phase ethos, allowing local groupings to continue to run in a pilot, experimental phase. (This could result in pilots in Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Sydney, Queensland, plus again in Adelaide and Canberra sometime in the next 12-18 months).
  3. We want to keep meeting as a national body. We favour a sort of working coalition which can resource, network, allow us to encounter diversity. To enable this, we will meet as a national body in November 2012, in Adelaide, hosted by Anglicans, at Adelaide College of Divinity, bringing with us more shared experiences of local pilots in action.
  4. Set up two working groups, one to explore how to get a video of stories of Australian fresh expressions, the other to explore how to develop ethnic participation in the mission shaped ministry course.

So there we are. 12 months ago, there was nothing. Now there is a coalition of 9 partners (more are welcome at any point), representing all of Australia apart from Northern Territories, all feeling empowered to run their own local msm courses, yet all keen to keep gathering around our shared experiences in on the ground mission training.

Personally, it’s been a lot of extra work, not just being part of running a local msm pilot, but also leading (sort of) what has effectively been three national gatherings over the past year. But I’m delighted with the outcomes and with the sense of shared collaboration and equality that has emerged.

Posted by steve at 08:52 AM

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

capacity building and mission shaped ministry

Building capacity is a cute business term. But it’s also a helpful way to think about leadership and your organisation.

Practically, on Friday and Saturday, there is capacity building in relation to the mission shaped ministry course here in Australia, as we look to multiply trainers and thus multiple the course throughout Australia, ie “build capacity”.

The back story. In November last year, a group of strangers gathered. Hosted by Uniting College, the conversation was about ways to transplant the mission shaped ministry course from UK to Australia as a way of raising the mission temperature.

A result was the decision to pilot two courses in 2011, one in Adelaide, another in Canberra. The UK like to train those who want to teach. But we, being down under and upside down folk, asked if rather than be trained at the start, we could be trained at the end! This could have 3 advantages. First, it would enable us to learn by doing, with the trainers able to evaluate our pilot, what we were actually doing, rather than what we could do. Second, it would likely give us more space to contextualise, to feel our way toward what an Australian expression of mission shaped ministry would look like. Third, it might aid in capacity building as we could offer the training not just to those involved in the two pilots, but throughout Australia and on the back of the buzz from running the two pilots.

This is happening. mission shaped ministry train the trainers is running Friday and Saturday, again hosted by Uniting College. We have 33 folk who have registered, from every State in Australia. Which opens the possibility of courses happening in every state in the next few years, along with a distance option for rural folk.

Here is the program.

9:15-9:30 am Opening meditation – Tracey Gracey

9:30 am -10:45 am The story so far: introducing the msm course (John Drane)

Coffee etc

11:15 am-1 pm A sample unit: A02, The Mixed Economy (Olive Fleming Drane)

Lunch (1-1:45 pm), followed by outdoor worship walk (1:45 pm-2:15 pm)

2:15 pm – 3:30 pm Practicalities & processes 1: structures and content
(John Drane)

4:00 pm – 5:15 pm Practicalities & processes 2: environment and ambience (Olive Fleming Drane).

5:30 pm Happy hour and pizza dinner. Followed by optional evening session. Discussions on pilot course so far, and Australia wide future of msm course.

9:15 am – 9:30 am Opening worship – Eloise Scherer

9:30 am -11:00 am A sample unit: A08, What is the Church? (John Drane)

11:30 am-1 pm Where do we go from here?
, with concluding worship Ruthmary Bond

It has been a lot of work and organisation and it’s hard to believe that 12 months after an initial discussion, we’ve got these levels of interest and potential capacity and the potential for mission training throughout Australia.

PS. For Adelaide readers, John and Olive Fleming Drane are offering other input on Thursday 17th (details here).

Posted by steve at 08:01 AM

Friday, October 21, 2011

the one stand at mission shaped ministry

The mission shaped ministry course resumed in Adelaide on Wednesday night. There has been a 5 week break, in order for folk to enjoy school/university holidays, to reconnect with family and to have some time to put some legs on some ideas.

So we are now into the 2nd half of the course, when things get more practical, as we talk about starting new things, about growing fresh expressions to maturity, about discipleship and what is church.

Last night was also a bit of one-night stand. During the week, 110 Uniting Church ministers have been in Adelaide, at the National Ministers Fresh Expressions conference. Part of the week has included site visits, and so we suggested observing a mission shaped ministry course in action as an option. Given that the course is new in Australia, we hoped that this would help with momentum and understanding and sync well with the planning to extend the course into other states in Australia in 2012, especially with John Drane and Olive Fleming Drane offering train the trainer training in November this year (currently we have 25 folk booked in for that, from all of the Australian states, which is very exciting). Which meant about 60 new folk arriving on Wednesday night.

We set it up as a “fish bowl”; with the usual tables for participants in the middle, and then around in a U-shape seats for those watching. All had notes, but the interaction focused on the participants. Which felt a bit different, but they quickly got down to work and it seemed to work alright.

At least until 8:55 pm.

The plan was to separate over coffee, with the last 15 minutes being either a fresh expressions activity for regular participants. Or space for those observing to ask general questions of the course.

Just as people began to sort themselves, the bus driver announced he was leaving. At 9 pm.

So like a rush of air, the place suddenly emptied. The stand was over. With not even a chance for a quick debrief and a thanks and goodbye for the evening!

Posted by steve at 07:50 AM