Friday, March 27, 2015

developing a bottom up vision statement

On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked:  “What is the purpose of your organisation?”  The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.

At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team.  “What is the purpose of our organisation?”   In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.

In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.


It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile.  I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College?  Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.


I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,).  One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.

The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards.  This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.

But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Thursday, March 12, 2015

minding the gap in team formation

Minding the gap can build teams and form cultures. Let me tell you what happened, then unpack the learnings.

It began yesterday during chapel. The reader of the Gospel reading missed some words. Instead of

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

the reader initially offered us

For God so loved the world

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Realising the gap, the reader quickly, and appropriately, corrected themselves.

The missing words got me thinking. Those 8 words. What would it mean if they were not just missing, but actually absent. What type of faith would we have if those words were not in the Bible? What type of life might be lived, if there really was no “that he gave his one and only Son”?

To put it another way. Christ-centred is one of the core values of Uniting College. So, if we as a College had no Christ, would it make any tangible difference to life, to our teaching and the way we treat each other?

I decided to make this the focus of our team devotions today. It would offer a continuity with what was a great chapel. It would allow us to explore a core value. In addition, we also have four folk new to our team in the last 3 months. So this conversation might enable them to be drawn more deeply into our team culture.

So I began the devotion, by pointing out the gap. I’d produced the words, the complete verse and the verse with the words missing, on a sheet of paper for folk to hold and handle. In pairs I invited them to reflect on what happened if those words went missing and on whether faith would be different. Each pair fed back, ensuring a shared voice across the team. And then together as a whole group, I asked if the presence of Jesus does in any way affect our workplace.

The conversation was excellent, animated and intense. A newcomer observed that the missing 8 words spoke of love. And her experience of our workplace was of nurture. Which could only come from love. So yes, Jesus obviously was important. Another noted that these words were an invitation, not an imposition. So our commitment to Christ could be done in way in which faith need not be forced. Others noted they had no interest in teaching leadership without Christ and that without Jesus, homiletics was simply motivational speaking. Which they were not in the least interested in teaching. So yes, Jesus was important.

So what did I learn about team formation?

  • First, that the most effective teaching tool can be a question. In this case “do those missing words matter?”
  • Second, that observation can open up significant learning.  In this case one simple observation – of 8 missing words; followed by the question -  resulted in an excellent collaborative discussion.
  • Third, that those new to a team, as they find their voice, can add important richness and perspective to a team discussion.
  • Fourth, that team culture is never static. It requires constant work. Tonight, the Uniting College team culture is richer than it was this morning. Because I minded the gap.
Posted by steve at 09:09 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

lectio decorio (reading the skin)

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).

The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.


I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.

So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).

And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).

I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.

I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.

I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.

But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.

So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Worth coming for the creative resources alone

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

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

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

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


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


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

Posted by steve at 07:42 AM

Friday, February 27, 2015

beginnings 2015

A great lunch at Uniting College yesterday as we celebrated a whole range of beginnings. There was food and conversation and great joy across the campus as we named a number of new beginnings for people, in partnerships, in presence.

New Life College – New Life Uniting is the largest Uniting Church in Australia. Located on the Gold Coast, we have been working with them on leadership development for the last few years. This has involved teaching one intensive a year on leadership from our Bachelor of Ministry suite of leadership topics. The feedback has been very positive. The partnership is now growing, with a three way commitment between New Life, Adelaide College of Divinity and Uniting College, to offer a range of not only leadership but ministry topics on the Gold Coast. Some taught by Adelaide faculty, some taught by Gold Coast folk. Yesterday Shahn Dee, who is a key administrator at the New Life College end, was down to meet folk and build relationships. It was great to welcome her and name the new beginning in her relationship.

Big Year Out 2015 – We have the numbers to form a viable learning community and so Big Year Out in 2015 is a go. That means that Danica Patselis and a bunch of young adults will be with us for the year, growing around discipleship and mission immersion experiences. It’s now the second year running for the programme, which is so important in building a presence and pattern in South Australia for young adult discipleship.

Marketing – This week we welcomed a new Marketing Officer, Nadia Boscaini. She will work 0.4 for Uniting College and 0.2 for Adelaide College of Divinity. Historically we as a College have been strong on teaching and on administration but not as strong on telling our story beyond ourselves. So Nadia arrives with drive, energy and expertise in these areas.

Principals PA – Denise Boyland is beginning as Principal’s PA Maternity on Monday. Eloise Scherer is on 12 months maternity leave. After meticulous long range plan in August and September 2014 to ensure a smooth transition, an unexpected health concern, meant that I’ve been PA-less for the last month. And a highly stressed bunny have I been! The rest of the administration team have been incredibly helpful, but I’m very relieved with the support that will now flow as Denise settles into her role.

Post-graduate beginnings – with a growing post-graduate programme, including our largest Bachelor of Theology honours cohort, a larger space has been created. It’s great to be able to have the presence of post-graduate students permanently among us, joining us for chapel, morning tea, interaction. There are desks for four, with room for more …


Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reading Charles Taylor missionally: learning party

What does it mean to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?

I am offering a reading group to engage theologically and missionally with Charles Taylor, one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time. We will focus on four key books

The aim will be to absorb, to reflect and to consider the implications for mission and ministry.

Wednesdays, 5.15 – 6.45pm, fortnightly from Wednesday 4 March at Uniting College. Seven sessions, finishing June 10. For information, please comment or email steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu do au.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Research Mondays monthly

The Uniting College team have developed a new initiative to help further enhance the research culture of UCLT/ACD/Flinders; an initiative that post-grads are invited to participate in and contribute to.

March 2 Research programme

Research Hour – Dr Vicky Balabanski, Where is Philemon? The case for a logical fallacy in the correlation of the data in Philemon and Colossians 1.1-2; 4.7-18.

Post-graduate Research Seminars – John Littleton, The Learning-Community: Learning enhancement Parish. Emergent Patterns in Parish learning

Research Hour is an opportunity to hear and discuss some current research being undertaken by faculty and post-grad students. It will run from 4pm to 5pm on selected Mondays, and be followed by drinks and nibbles. (This year the dates are 2nd March; 4th May; 1st June; 3rd August; 7th September; 2nd November.)

Research Hour will be held in the UCLT Common Space, downstairs in the NW corner (onsite at ACD, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park). Post-grad students will be welcome to present their research, and you should make contact with new Post-graduate Coordinator (Tanya Wittwer) if you have something you would like to present.

Post-graduate Research Seminars will continue in 2015, but at a different time and following a slightly different format to how they have run previously. They will run from 2.45pm to 4pm on the SAME days as Research Hour (These seminars will be held in W3, upstairs). They will follow this (approximate, and very adjustable!) schedule:
2.45-3.00 Coffee/tea (yes, and hedgehog slice/nuts :))
3.00-3.10 Introductions and updates: who we are and what we’re studying
3.10-3.30 One post-grad will present from their research: 10-15 minutes of presentation, followed by 5-10 minutes of questions.
3.30-3.55 Opportunity for anyone to share one joy and one struggle from your research and/or one insight from a recent reading/discovery (what it is, why it is helpful to you). There is also potential for some professional development to be offered in this slot, so if there’s something you would like considered for inclusion, let me know.
3.55-4.00 Sorting out who will present at the next Post-grad Research Seminar and heading down to the UCLT Common Space for Research Hour

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why BYO?

As a Uniting College, we invested last year in Big Year Out (BYO). It’s a one year program for young adults. It can be done alongside work or University. It offers teaching in discipleship and leadership, mission immersion and young adult community. Tonight at an information evening, I was asked why a College would get involved in something like this.

First, it fits with our mission. We as Uniting College have a mandate to grow life-long disciples and effective leaders. We have a highly talented team who have gathered a wealth of resources. So to offer that team and teaching into a young adult space makes total sense.

Second, as a Uniting College we’re in a partner relationship with Adelaide College of Divinity. The sole purpose of ACD is to be an ecumenical space, bringing different denominations to learn together. So last year the BYO had young adults from Baptists, Uniting, Churches of Christ and Catholic churches growing together. That’s a really rich learning environment. Sometimes people say to me “Why doesn’t the Uniting College go alone?” And my response is to point to the richness offered by an ecumenical space.

Third my story. I left school intending to be an auditor for the Government. Anyone who knows me well knows that would have been a disaster. By some act of mercy, I decided to pause the scholarship I’d been awarded to study and take some time to think about my vocational path. I found myself in a young adult community, that mixed discipleship and leadership challenges. It was transformative. Who I am now owes a lot to those experiences, not that I would have known it then. So I pray that the BYO has a similar impact on the lives of young adults like me, searching for purpose.

Fourth, it is good for the College. That might seem a bit selfish. But we need the energy, passion and vibrancy that young adults bring. Last year I arrived at work to find a pair of boots sticking out a car window. I could not see a head or body, just a pair of brightly coloured boots – black, with purple, yellow, white stripes. It was a BYO student, preparing for a lecture. We as a College need people like that – free and willing to be themselves.

BYO starts in a few weeks. The BYO Coordinator for 2015, Danica Patselis, has done a fantastic job of planning and organising. She’s available to talk to anyone in Adelaide who wants to know more – danica dot patselis at flinders dot edu dot au.

Posted by steve at 09:33 PM

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL: new in 2015

I’m so excited by this. Last year I found a funding source and presented a proposal to employ a person at Uniting College to work developing leadership among migrant communities. We made an appointment in July 2014, and since then, Karen Vanlint has been researching what is happening in this area around Australia, plus networking and listening in and around Adelaide.

The result is this: Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL: new in 2015

Is English your second language? Do you want to study the Bible? Would you like to learn new skills to serve in your church? This course could be what you have been waiting for!
• 8 subjects over two years, one subject per term
• New entry available each school term
• One 2 ½ -hour session per week, venue to be confirmed
• Subjects include Old and New Testament, Living the Christian Life, Leadership in the Church, Christian Beliefs and more!
• Cost: $50 per subject (including GST)

Enrol now for Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL with Karen Vanlint. Karen is an experienced teacher in ESL who wants migrants to have the same opportunity as others to study the Bible.

Email Karen: karen at vanlint dot flinders dot edu dot au or call her on 8416 8420 if you would like more information or to register.

So Adelaide folks, if you know Christians who want to grow in discipleship, leadership and in their English capacities, and who want to learn not in their own ethnic communities, but in contact with the wider church, then please point them toward the Certificate in Bible and Leadership for ESL.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Monday, February 02, 2015

team time

Today the Uniting College team takes time out. Not to sit in the naughty corner, but to renew and refocus.

Half of our time will be spent on spiritual renewal. We want to be a team that not only works but also worships. So together during the retreat we will enjoy some Godly play, with a Children’s ministry leader from a local church present to invite us to wonder at the Biblical story we find ourselves in. Individually, people have also been asked to bring what renews them. There is space for folk to do that and then to gather and share that with each other, underlining our diversity as a community.

The other half of our time will be spent on planning. We have two tasks. One is to take forward the Capacity Builder strategic plan that guides and holds us. 2015 is the last year of the (four year) plan, and there are some as yet untouched areas that we need to focus on. We have done some parts of our plan superbly, but there at some areas we have yet to touch. These include

  • Faculty increasing their research output
  • Student formation enhanced through the use of journals in which they share courageous attempts to integrate learning with practice
  • Every ordination candidate able to articulate a plan toward innovation and invigoration
  • Regional delivery, taking College to the local church

So I will be suggesting a process whereby the structures we have created over the last few years can be deployed to enable us to achieve these agreed goals. (It is so good having a plan, which means we gather around already agreed momentum).

We also have to re-tell the story of our team culture. We have a set of team values that we continue to articulate and revisit. We will do that again, pausing to check that these values say all that needs to be said about how we want to “be” and “do” with each other in this current season. This is also an act of hospitality, allowing those new to the team to hear if you like, part of our family story.

Posted by steve at 08:36 AM

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mission and Community Service Intensive

A course I’m developing this year … Mission and Community Service Intensive

mission and community service

Explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia. Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phases:

  • Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm.
  • Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
  • Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will present their case study, sharing with one another, insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9am-4:30pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor, Rev Peter McDonald and Joanna Hubbard (tbc). Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more to be confirmed). Options for enrolment include professional development, audit and credit.

Enrol at Student Services
P: 08 8416 8400
E: college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au

Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Sunday, January 18, 2015

best fixed term role in Adelaide: PA to the Principal

First day back at work, my PA regretfully told me that she needed to resign, due to personal reasons relating to an unexpected and critical health concern in the family. While a real blow for us all, I do want to affirm the values she displayed, in particular the priority on family.

So my (unexpected) priority for my first weeks back is to find another PA (9 month contract (0.8FTE) (maternity leave))

It’s an excellent opportunity for a senior level Personal Assistant to join a highly focused team and work for a creative, passionate Principal. The successful applicant will need to be well organised, proactive and able to think for themselves. The role includes organising meetings, agendas, papers, taking minutes, keep my diary and communication flowing around a busy work team.

Proven experience in supporting a busy executive is required and support of the ethos and mission of the Uniting Church is essential. More information is here, with applications close Monday, February 2, 2015.

Posted by steve at 08:02 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