Friday, November 13, 2015

Steve Taylor, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant”

My practical theology of community gardens is now online, published by Urban Seed. It is one of 16 contributions, which are summarised here. They were all presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, which was a grass roots missiology conference organised by Urban Seed on October 17-18, 2014. Conference contributors were invited to submit their presentations, which were then peer reviewed and copy edited, before being made available online – in order to enhance access.

-1 Here’s the summary of my contribution:


Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

In some ways, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant” is is something I’ve been writing all my life. It became words because I wanted to reflect missiologically on community ministry, specifically community gardens. There is my personal interest in gardening, woven with research into inner-city community gardens, Scriptural reflection and my film reviewing. It is online here.

Posted by steve at 07:01 AM | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Abstract (2) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea

Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change

Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission, 2012) argues that missiology has been slow to examine historical fiction from outside the West. A way to respond to his challenge is presented in The Mountain (2012), a novel by acclaimed Australian writer, Drusilla Modjeska. Book One describes the five years leading up to independence in Papua New Guinea in 1973 and ends with a ‘gift child’: a hapkas boy. Book Two describes his return – the child of a black mother and white father – to the land of his birth.

In the book an account of conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea is offered. “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions, the priests who cross the stadium with their crucifixes and their bibles …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG.’” (The Mountain, 291). It is a surprisingly positive portrayal of conversion and transformation, referencing indigenous approval (“the greatest [applause] is for the Christian missions”) and indigenization (“He die for PNG.”)

The paper will take this notion of Jesus as good man true and analyse how this Christology interweaves with themes in The Mountain of ancestor, gift and hapkas. It will argue that The Mountain offers a distinct and creative Christology, one that offers post-colonial insight into the interplay between missiological notions of pilgrim and indigenizing and the complex journeys between there and here. Such a Christology is one result of religious change in PNG.

(My brief book review of The Mountain here).

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM

“regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Abstract (1) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea

Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Posted by steve at 10:15 AM

Monday, August 17, 2015

Europe study leave: Amsterdam, Durham, Holy Island, Adelaide

My tickets for Europe arrived this week. I have some study leave I need to take before I finish as Principal of Uniting College and I’ve been working toward presenting some of my research overseas for a few months. They come together in the following:

  • Friday, 11 September – Fly to Amsterdam via Dubai.
  • Sunday, 13 September – Research. Since I’m now a well-published U2 scholar, I need to keep up with a changing field. In other words, attend the U2 innocence and experience tour for the purpose of remaining abreast of a changing field.
  • Monday, 14 September – Fly to Manchester, then train to Durham
  • Tuesday – Thursday, 15-17 September – Symposium on Ecclesiology and ethnography, Durham. I am presenting a paper titled Activist research: an examination of lived practices in ethnography and ecclesiology. The abstract is here but in summary I want to explore some complexity that surround ethnographic research of the church today – when our participants are still shaping the research process. I will do this by examining a range of case studies from across the academic “habitus” – employment, writing, research and teaching. During this time I will also be connecting with a journal editor hoping to secure a “downunder” journal edition of empirical ecclesial research, linked to the ANZATS 2016 conference.
  • Friday, 16 September – Visit to Holy Island, which was such a helpful pilgrim place a few years ago, as I considered a transition to become Principal of Uniting College. It seems appropriate to visit it again as I consider the move to become Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership
  • Saturday, 17 September – Return to Adelaide via Manchester and Dubai.
  • Tuesday, 19 September – Research presentation at HERGA Adelaide. Under the theme – Brave New World: The Future of Teaching and Learning, I hope to present a paper titled. A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context. I will be sharing results from my research into flipped learning.  This is a further presentation of the Evidence based action research paper I presented at ANZATS in Sydney in June, 2015.

I am grateful for the Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University that makes this possible, by providing provision for attending conferences.


Posted by steve at 10:04 PM

Thursday, July 16, 2015

valuing empirical research in the study of fresh expressions

This is a section I wrote today, part of Part 3 of the Sustainability and fresh expressions book project

Third, the argument – as to the presence of both sect and mystic types – emerges from a study of one community. In so doing, the value of empirical research is evident. The experience of Matthew Guest, gained by the repetition inherent in ethnography, the repeated experiences of engaging Visions, generate the insights regarding the social boundaries, unseen but present. His interviews provide a depth of insight, probing the complexity of participant experience (Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation). Such data can only be generated by the fine-grained studies characteristic of qualitative research into the lived experience of being in community.

Yet every move toward such depth comes at the expense of breadth. It is an inevitable limitation. We gain insight into Visions, but are left needing to contrast with other comparable communities. This becomes possible by comparison with other empirical studies. The researchers might be different, but the data can be examined, probed for evidence of internal identity and the manner in which relationships with culture are being mediated. This returns us to my data presented earlier, the ten fresh expressions presented in Part 1.

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

I’ve spent much of the week, between various work meetings, working on a conference paper on innovation in teaching for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools) in Sydney. The original abstract proposal, which was accepted back in March, is here. I’ve re-worked the title from:

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy


A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

The first title fitted the conference theme, but only worked “in-conference.” So the second title was written with an eye to finding a receptive journal down the track. It was composed as part of an exercise during a Flinders University professional development workshop Publish and flourish on Tuesday.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings I drafted the methodology section, pulled from notes generated during early morning coffee meetings with my Community of Practice cohort last year.

Today I edited in some of the results. These were originally written at the Tel Aviv airport in September last year, stuck in baggage claim, waiting for a baggage collectors strike to end!

Then, in emailing a colleague asking if they could provide a critical read of a complete first draft, I found myself having a first attempt at the conclusion.

My main argument is that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens. In that shift, the class dynamic and the diversity among the student cohort became much more appreciated by the student cohort as factors in their learning. In other words, students became essential to the learning processes. If the call of Jesus to “come follow” is a call to transformation that is set in the context of relationships of learning, then the use of technologies, when underpinned by explicit pedagogical care, are essential elements in “re-humanising” learning. They can turn the entire student cohort into teachers, inhabiting different roles in the “conditions” of learning.

It is amazing where one finds oneself writing – desks at home, cafe tables, University lecture rooms, work desks once the corridor goes quiet, polished floors in the no-mans land that is baggage claim. (And no doubt the hotel accomodation in Sydney the night prior to paper delivery on 1 July).

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Monday, May 25, 2015

Activist research: an examination of lived practices Conference paper accepted

Delighted that my conference paper for the 2015 Ethnography and Ecclesiology Conference, September 15-17 has been accepted.

In this paper, I will be trying to unpick some of the complexity around studying the living church. Picture this – Augustine withdrawing his approval for you to use his Confessions in your research, because the letter belongs to him. The Ethiopian Enuch shuffling into your sermon on Acts 8, and putting up his hand at the end to ask a question of your exegesis of his community. Such is the complexity that surrounds doing ethnographic research on the church today – when our participants are still shaping the research process. I want to explore the limits and opportunities that result.

It will be my 3rd conference visit to Durham, having been there in 2010 (for the Fresh Expressions Research conference) and 2011 (for the first ever Ethnography and Ecclesiology Conference) and I’m looking forward to being in that beautiful, historic and compact city again.

Here’s the full abstract –

Activist research: an examination of lived practices in ethnography and ecclesiology

Implicit in the project known as ethnography and ecclesiology is a reconceived epistemology. The turn toward lived experience, along with a commitment to both empirical and theological understandings, ushers in a set of ambiguities. These tensions, while disturbing Enlightenment notions of objectivity, hard facts and replicability, if conceived accurately, can become a rich source of data.

One set of tensions is between researched and researcher. To focus on these interactions is consistent with the argument by Paul Fiddes that empirical-ecclesiological study is a shared habitus characterised by relationships in which Christ can be embodied (Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography (Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography)). It is also consistent with the particular complexities of empirical-ecclesiological study, in which, unlike historical-ecclesiological study, the researched are active agents.

The interaction between researcher and researched will be examined through the lens of activist research. Charles Hale defines activist research as distinct from pure and applied research, with implications at every stage of the research process.

This category of activist research as it applies to the interaction between researched and researcher will be examined in four different sites. The sites will include practices of both research and teaching, since both are essential to the academic “habitus.”

First, the research by Paul Bramadat of the activities of an Evangelical Christian Group on a Canadian University campus (The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Life)). His theoretical commitments are disturbed as Bramadat realises that the community has welcomed him because of their desire to convert him.

Second, the research by Steve Taylor of an emerging church in New Zealand. During the research, the attempt to locate the researcher as objective and detached was challenged in a focus group as unhelpful for this community.

Third, the research by Robert Orsi of contemporary Catholic religious practices in USA (Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them). He finds himself questioned by a participant. How can he as a researcher understand the researched unless he shares their beliefs regarding the practices (of prayer) being studied? In each study, the researcher is challenged by the “activism” of the researched.

Fourth, the teaching of an undergraduate University topic, reshaped in light of the epistemological demands inherent in ethnography and ecclesiology. Changes included bringing activists into the classroom to present their research in a case study format and expecting students to engage in the class as “activist researchers.” Feedback demonstrated increased levels of student engagement and a redefinition of their understandings of ecclesiology. However it also indicated that the “activist” shift resulted in a more contested space between individuals within the classroom.

What becomes evident in each of these four studies is that activist research is a helpful lens by which to understand ecclesiology and ethnography. Categories of pure and applied are contested as the researched asks fundamental questions in the research of the researcher.

This provides a way to theorise the relationship between social science methods and theology. The turn toward ethnography and ecclesiology is based on a reconceived epistemology, in which research is relocated as a set of “activist” practices in, with and among communities.

Dr Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer Flinders University and Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology

Posted by steve at 08:32 AM

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan

I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.

After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Lonergan Icon

I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.

I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.

. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe

I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.

I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.

On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.

Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.

I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.

I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.

A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.

There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.

Posted by steve at 11:31 PM

Friday, May 08, 2015

Creative research

Traditional research methods are used to “avoid creativity” (179) Such is the provocative challenge by Helen Kara, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. She argues that traditional research value hard facts and replicability. In so doing, it ignores contextual specificity and limits the knowledge, experience and skills that many sectors of society can bring to the table.

Kara is an independent social researcher. As a result the book is practical, filled with examples of research. The focus is on four methods of creative research: art-based, technology, mixed-method and transformative. Each are tracked through processes of ethics, data gathering, analysing and communicating. The bibliography, running at 19 pages, is a reassurance that creativity in research does not mean a decline in quality and rigour.

I really like the way she includes a chapter on writing and another chapter on presentation. This in itself is a reminder that an essential part of research is how we communicate our thinking. As Kara explores graphs, art, technology, I was struck again by how narrow is the world of thesis and journal articles.

colouring outside lines I’m encouraged to read Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide alongside Colouring Outside the Lines. Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry from the Adelaide College of Divinity 2010-2014 (more here). Many of the essays from our Adelaide College of Divinity post-graduate students are creative in their research.

Reading Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide also brought to mind a recent post, in which I ponder activist research (one of the methods praised by Kara) and consider it theologically.

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship. Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework. “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.” In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs. (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

Read more -

Overall, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide feels emancipatory. It wants to see all sorts of knowledge and experience woven into quality research, incorporated in ways that still value ethics, planning, analysing, communicating. Kara is aware that this requires risk, primarily for the status quo. But it does provide some intriguing possibilities, especially in seeking to integrate communities and leaders of communities into the real-life change possibilities that should be inherent in research.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision.  I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.

During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.

A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.

It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique.  So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today.  Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))

Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.

It also makes sense of the students I supervise.  Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference.  They also are “activist researchers.”

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship.  Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework.  “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.”  In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs.  (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies.  How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?

At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4)   She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched.  This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5)  Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)

So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction Book review

“[H]ow remarkably easy it is for middle-class white Americans to be pacifist, since for many it need involve little beyond talking correctly.” So observes Healy, Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction (93) as he reads the version of Christianity being offered by Stanley Hauerwas.

Nicholas Healy is interested in what he calls the concrete church. What actually happens in churches and how can that enhance our theological study and method? In order to help him think through what he is doing, he engages with the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. On the surface, both might seem friendly. They both care about the church, about the realities of being Christian in contemporary life.

But Healy’s Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction, in fact becomes a rigorous, sustained, yet respectful critique of theological project emerging from the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. It’s worth reading for that reason alone, as an example of how to listen carefully and engage deeply with those with whom you find yourself disagreeing.

The book has five chapters. The first, an introduction, sets out how Healy plans to read Hauerwas. It is a methodology for theological critique, one that seeks a respectful, yet rigorous engagement. The second chapter works across 26 books written by Hauerwas, to argue that Hauerwas’s theology is church focused. The third chapter reads Hauerwas in conversation with Schlieirmacher. While at first an unlikely theological conversation partner, Healy argues that both have a turn toward the subjective and the church.

The fourth chapter reads Hauerwas in light of ecclesiology and ethnography. It argues that Hauerwas deals with ideals. The result is a set of distortions that ignore the complex and often rather messy realities of the churches’ actual existence, creates unrealistic patterns of discipleship that in fact unhinge from historic Christian understandings of salvation and grace. The fifth chapter develops in depth the impact of these theological distortions, mapping out the ways in which Hauerwas’s turn toward the ideal church is in fact deeply problematic, most particularly in relation to Scripture, authority and Christology.

I first came across Healy in my research into fresh expressions of church. I was looking for ways to develop ethnography to explore ecclesiology. (See Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography). I wanted to know whether insights from ethnographic and sociological views of the church can enhance ecclesiological method and substance. Healy becomes a helpful reading companion in my quest.

  • He helps me think theologically. “Church practices therefore require us to reflect upon who God is and how God acts toward us.” (119)
  • He allows me to consider the work of God missionally, with the Spirit’s activity inside and outside the church. “If our intentionality is Christian, we can bend almost any socially-sanctioned practice into a Christian practice, even if it is not such to most people.” (119)
  • He reminds me that apologetics has taken a particular shape in contemporary culture, one that risks losing the value of apologetics as helping the church understand its own faith better. “Only in the modern period, when theologians seemingly lost confidence … did they mount cross-traditional arguments for our beliefs. (107)”
  • He pushes me to consider not only faith practiced well, but faith practiced badly. This includes ways to allow for the differences between and within church communities, to be honest about the multiple communities and relationships humans experience and the need for a “theological understanding of failure and mediocrity” (107) as part of being honest about being church.
Posted by steve at 10:33 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Colouring Outside the Lines: Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry

colouring outside lines I’m delighted with the publication of Colouring Outside the Lines. Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry from the Adelaide College of Divinity 2010-2014. It profiles the unique work of the postgraduate pathway of the Adelaide College of Divinity over the last five years. (Uniting College, as a member college of the ACD, provides the teaching and supervision input for the postgraduate programme).

Colouring Outside the Lines includes essays from eight students representing the ecumenical student body (five different denominations). They provide a snapshot of action-reflection at the coal face of misssion and ministry across Australasia today. Many of the insights come from “missional experiences occurring outside of church and Christian framed spaces” (Barney, 52). In other words, as these students have located themselves at an Easter community event, in a community garden, as an artist working with the stories of the silenced, storytelling at a Fringe Festival. It also includes an introduction from Rosemary Dewerse and myself, the two postgraduate coordinators during these years. This introduction, along with a short conclusion, provides an intellectual frame for what is the ‘Adelaide school’ of postgraduate mission and ministry.

For a number of years we have wanted to find ways to publish our students work. This year six of our students presented at Australian Association of Mission Studies, with three of their papers gaining publication in a book resulting from the conference. Another student was published earlier in the year in Mission Studies.

Colouring Outside the Lines, published by MediaCom, provides a lovely way to end the year. For those interested, here are the Contents: (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:40 AM

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doctor of Ministry in Mainstreet chaplaincy


Today we graduated Bruce Grindlay Doctor of Ministry. He received his examiners reports a few weeks ago, on his thesis From Altar into the Agora: Toward a reframing of missional voice and posture of the Mainstreet. Normally we graduate annually in May, but specific circumstances meant an individual ceremony for Bruce was most appropriate.

We’re a small enough College, a flexible enough College, to be able to offer this sort of individualised approach. We crafted a 20 minute service, which include worship, prayer, Scripture, intercession, the presentation of the award and a response by Bruce. It was lovely, with some very poignant moments, including the thanking of Juan Luis Segundo, a liberation theologian who had mentored Bruce.

I was one of Bruce’s supervisors in what was a fascinating Doctor of Ministry project. (A minor supervisor, as Bruce made clear in his speech today, given that so much of the input into the project came from Dr Peter Gunn). Bruce had, in his final ministry placement before retiring, found himself a chaplain to his local business community. That led him on a fascinating journey, given that marketing phrases currently used in Mainstreet shopping environments use religious grammar and images, yet without God. So Bruce analyses whether a church should partnering with current community development strategies and the missional voice and posture that it might adopt.

In his own words:

This thesis analyses the missional identity and vocation of a church located in an open-air, retail, shopping environment and explores the interplay between this Mainstreet shopping environment and the life and mission of the ‘Mainstreet’ church. It explores how marketing phrases echo the theological and missional grammar of the church. In this post-secular environment it asks whether this rhetoric uses religious grammar and images, but without God. By means of an analysis of the images and activities associated with Mainstreet, and a consideration of the theology of shopping, it explores whether current community development strategies on Mainstreet offer new opportunities for congregations to move from the ‘altar’ into the ‘agora’ and to adopt new missional postures. It maps out navigational skills to guide congregations wishing to develop a contemporary missional identity and engagement. It concludes by asking whether the church on Mainstreet can, proleptically, be a sign in word and deed of the Kingdom of God.

Today was a day of great joy and celebration. Much hard work. Much!

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Thursday, June 12, 2014

people matter: collecting and collating stories in practical theology research

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people!

A Maori proverb that reminds us that people are essential. So what does that mean for research, in particular theology and ministry research? How do we ensure that people matter, from start to finish?

John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, in their excellent Practical Theology and Qualitative research, provide a rich range of examples of doing practical theology research. In Chapter 4, Researching Personal experience, they explore the impact of depression on spirituality. Because people matter, they begin with lived experience.

They interview six people, who have explored spirituality in the midst of depression. Following the interviews, they perform a fairly standard analysis of the data, drawing out themes from across the six interviews.

Because people matter, then then borrow from (the also excellent) Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, a method in which they seek to express these recurring themes, not in the words of the researchers, but in the words of the participants. They weave actual words from the interviews around the themes.

In doing so, we see two moments in which people matter, first in listening to human story, second in letting people tell their stories in their own words.

But people still matter. Lots. So Swinton and Mowat take a further step. They take the compiled stories back to the participants. Do these compiled narratives fully capture your story? Is there anything missing? Are there any misunderstandings or misinterpretation? In so doing, the participants become co-researchers. They get to actively shaping and re-shape the data. The result is a far richer data set, one more likely to truly name human experience.

Or to use another image, a way of letting those being researched look in the mirror that is their own data.

It is only then that Swinton and Mowat take a clearly theological turn. (Although I would argue that a research method in which people matter is a very fine way to do theology). They take themes – in this case including abandonment and the search for God in the abyss – and explore them in relation to Scripture, particularly the Psalms.

People matter. As a result, research begins with human story, tells human story in their own words, clarifies human story.

All because people matter.

And so, I said to the DMin student I was supervising today, why not let this shape your research into pioneers of fresh expressions? Why not not only interview, but take your interview data back to pioneers? Because I bet that as they see their stories, their approach to ministry reflected back, they will want to extend, clarify and nuance the data.

It will become richer, more likely to truly name the practices that shape pioneer ministry.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM