Saturday, June 20, 2015

Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow

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

My intention is that the conversation is

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

The feedback has been enormously positive.

An email:

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

A final comment.

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

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

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

Friday, June 05, 2015

We’re built for change

In just under four months, I conclude as Principal of Uniting College and shift countries to begin as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This has a lot of implications personally and professionally.

Professionally, I lead a team of 17 people. An essential dimension of my leadership includes helping them process transitions. This means that a challenge of the next few months includes helping them process my transition.

It is always more complicated leading your own transition. It is tempting to envisage working until the last day, closing the door and slipping out, leaving behind a to do list for the incoming. But that would be remiss of my leadership not to include this personal focus. It would point to a set of values that sit in opposition to a culture of communal innovation. It would work against a culture “built for change.”

So I have spent a number of months with my supervisor and line manager thinking through how to lead through this particular transition.

Yesterday I initiated with the team a conversation about the transition. Let me tell you what I did and what emerged. But first, let me share with you the structures that influence the timing. (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:16 PM

Monday, May 18, 2015

growing leaders by growing teachers

Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!

Uniting College exists to grow life-long disciples and develop effective leaders in mission. In order to do that, we must begin by growing ourselves. This includes our skills and abilities as teachers.

Here’s one way this process works for us at Uniting College. Most higher education involves student evaluations. These are completed by students. The results are summarised and provided back to lecturers. Generally this is where the process stops. The feedback is useful. But what happens next? How do you encourage intentional growth as teachers?

First, along with the student evaluations, each lecturer is also provided with a response sheet, which they are invited to fill in. It has four questions.

  • Summarise the positive responses
  • What concerns did students raise about their learning in this unit?
  • What improvements will you make to address these concerns?
  • Any other comments or quality improvements for unit curriculum, teaching and learning?

Four simple questions that invite us as teachers into appreciative inquiry and to think more intentionally about how we can grow as teachers. The four questions that can be answered as simply, or as deeply, as an individual wishes too. The questions invite us as teachers to think about growth. Lecturers are invite to return these to myself as Principal.

Second, I read them. I reply to each one. I affirm the strengths I see, celebrating the commitment to the skill and craft of teaching I see. I provide comment on the concerns raised, sometimes suggesting they are being too hard on themselves, sometimes inviting deeper reflection. I remark on the desired improvements, noting trends I am observing – themes that emerge across the range of topics an individual teaches. 

I am wanting to individualise and contextualise, to let each lecturer know I care about their craft of teaching. Some of these emails replies are over two pages in length, as I engage with their desire for growth.

Third, all these individual email responses that I make to lecturers are de-identified and summarised. This report goes to our Ministry Studies meeting. As an entire teaching team, we consider the report. It is a snapshot of our collective strengths as a teaching team. It is a mirror on potential areas for growth. Together we wonder what we might do as shared and appropriate professional development.

Fourth, this information is fed back to students. They who have taken the time to provide feedback, are informed about actions that are being taken as a result of their feedback. We hope it encourages them by saying something about our commitment to grow as teachers.

It was this process that took up a good deal of my time today. It was this process that generated the comment with which I started this post; “Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!” Because growing leaders begins by growing teachers.

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

accessible formation for transformation: Graduation 2015

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It was such a great night on Monday at the annual Graduation service. I came away deeply grateful for the organisation I’m part of, and reminded of the privilege of being involved.

Several things struck me that I continue to ponder.

First, the diversity of the student body. We graduated Certificate, Diploma, Degree, Masters and Doctorates. We graduated people who came to use having left school at aged 15. We also graduated 6 doctorates, which is a fantastic achievement over one calendar year. This suggests a very rich learning community, with people accessing education at very different, yet appropriately matched, levels of depth and engagement.

The graduate testimonies also bore this out. One graduate spoke of being a new Christian and finding clarity in their faith. Another spoke of how great it was to deconstruct their faith, to rip it apart in order to understand themselves and their world in sharper relief. These are very different points on a wide spectrum of stages in faith journey. It shows the potential of diverse courses to allow diverse people to growth. Conversely, it shows the limitations of limited offerings.

Second, the honouring of ministry in the guest address by Stuart Cameron. Stuart is a graduate and has gone on to very effective ministry in a range of contexts. He spoke of transformation and in doing so, reminded us that ministry changes lives. The stories he told were not “back in the day” but today. In a broken and divided world, ministry, and thus the awards being offered by us at Adelaide College of Divinity, are for the sake of a world renewed. It dignified ministry. In a world of secular solutions, here were another set of stories – of God’s work.

Third, it was fun. Just pure fun, getting robed up, making space to honour hard work, seeing the energy of the Big Year Out cohort, connecting with colleagues.

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Posted by steve at 01:04 PM

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New appointment Lecturer Pastoral Care at Uniting College

Uniting College and Adelaide College of Divinity are pleased to announce the appointment of Rev Kerry Pierce as the new Lecturer in Pastoral Care.

New Lecturer- Kerry Pierce As an ordained minister in the Uniting Church Australia, Kerry has served in placements at West End Uniting and has been a chaplain at Queensland University of Technology, working with ecumenical and interfaith teams.

Mrs Pierce also has experience with Lifeline as a counseling supervisor and trainer and as a tutor at Central Queensland University. She has held membership in the Australian Psychology Society since 1996.

Mrs Pierce is due to complete her Doctor of Ministry through Wesley Theological Seminary Washington DC in May, 2015. Her research has applied the apostle Paul’s cruciform spirituality to adaptive leadership and resource poor congregations.

Her research aligns with the vision of Uniting College to exist to develop life-long disciples for a healthy, missional church, who are passionate, Christ centered, highly skilled mission-orientated practitioners.

Mrs Pierce commented that for her, the process of call included a sense of assurance “that God had a purpose for my ministry in the college.” She will commence in July, teaching Caring Practices of the Church in Semester 2 and working to develop a new range of topics for 2016.

Posted by steve at 06:52 PM

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Situations vacant: Executive Officer (Adelaide College of Divinity)

Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) is an ecumenical body uniquely placed to generate intellectual, public and ecumenical conversations. It is seeking a dynamic Executive Officer with skills in providing strategic direction, establishing strategic partnerships, and general administration including compliance with relevant legislation. Further details are outlined in the advertisement and Position Description & Person Specification on the ACD website or Uniting Church SA website here. This is a full time position. (0.8FTE would be considered)

Please forward applications addressing the selection criteria to kaye.robertsthomson@adelaide.edu.au by no later than May 11, 2015.

Posted by steve at 06:46 PM

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.

vision2

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.

vision1

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.

Jesus-Cleanses-the-TempleDIAGRAMB

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.

orderofservice

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

commuiondesert

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

Posted by steve at 07:42 AM

Friday, February 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 …

postgrad

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