Thursday, March 19, 2015
Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and “Fresh Expressions”
My journal article – The Complexity of Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and Its Appropriation as “Fresh Expressions” – has now been published in Media and Culture. Because it’s not only a publication that is peer reviewed, but also online, it is available for free – here.
In the article, I begin with an introduction to three thinkers who analyse the place of authenticity in contemporary culture. They are Charles Taylor (The Ethics of Authenticity), Philip Vanini (in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture) and Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital).
I then explore the rise of alternative worship and Fresh Expressions under three heading:
- Generation of Authenticity-as-Originality
- Mainstream Appropriation
- Consequent Complexification
This generates what I think is the guts of my argument -
Both “alternative worship” and Fresh Expressions are religious innovations. But Fresh Expressions defined itself in a way that conflated the space. It meant that the boundary marking so essential to “alternative worship” was lost. Some gained from this. Others struggled with a loss of imaginative and cultural creativity, a softening of authenticity-as-originality.
More importantly, the discourse around Fresh Expressions also introduced authenticity-as-sincerity as a value that could be used to contest authenticity-as-originality. Whether intended or not, this also challenged the ethic of authenticity already created by these “alternative worship” communities. Their authenticity-as-originality was already a practicing of an ethic of authenticity. They were already sharing a “horizon of significance” with humanity, entering into “dialogical relations with others” that were a contemporary expression of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (Taylor The Ethics of Authenticity, 52, 48) …. The value of authenticity has been found to exist in a complex relationship with the ethics of authenticity within one domain of contemporary religious innovation.
A colleague who read it last night called the article “brilliant.” A practitioner responded that it made sense of a ministry context they were part of. So that’s very encouraging.
I’ve blogged about some more of the journey to publication here. But in essence, during Presbytery and Synod last year, I pulled together a paper proposal from a part of my PhD thesis that I’d always wanted to develop further. The abstract was accepted, which forced me to write a 1500 word paper for TASA (The Australian Sociological Australian). The feedback was very positive and that gave me enough momentum to turn the spoken words into written words. The peer reviewers used words like “insightful … well-researched … innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s” and it was accepted with minor editorial comments.
It is the first publication resulting from my fresh expressions 10 years on research project and I hope becomes a spring board to complete the book (just write Steve). Or in the words of one peer-reviewer – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.”
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.
Saturday, February 07, 2015
“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.
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 2012
- 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.
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…)
Sunday, May 26, 2013
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!
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.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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)
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.
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!)
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.
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)
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.
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:
- 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.