Monday, April 11, 2011

A Uniting Church, an emerging church? updated with more resources

Here is the introduction:

In May, I was privileged to participate, as the Norman and Mary Miller Lecturer, in the 28th gathering of the Queensland Synod. The opening worship was a highlight, a moving expression of the richness and diversity of The Uniting Church in Australia today.

The worship began with an indigenous cleansing ceremony, a welcome to country and the entry of diverse Uniting Church congregations. All were in traditional dress, singing and dancing as an expression of their unique culture. Each of the four Bible readings was given in a different language, while the Prayers of the people were enriched by the use of a conch shell. The communion table, in the shape of a boomerang, was draped in rich fabrics, in the colours of the rainbow and decorated with baskets of local produce. Celebration of communion included the Great Thanksgiving as a prayer of call and response that originated in Kenya. The prayer for the Bread originated in the Church of South India, the Gloria was a sung response using a chant from the Taize community in France while other words from Augustine of Hippo were also utilised.

It was a rich and splendid liturgical feast. At the risk of being facetious, but in order to make a point that is both obvious, yet important, let me make the following observation: that the worship bore little relationship to the early church.

Let me explain.

Here is the conclusion:

The emerging church invites a global, missional theology. It is not a Western manifestation, a product of books in the USA or fresh expressions in the United Kingdom.

Rather, it is a response to the impulse of the Spirit, at Pentecost, throughout church history and across the expanse of global culture.

This is the conclusion to an article I wrote last year. I try to argue that the best way to appreciate the emerging church is by placing it within global mission. I explore a Uniting church communion, and 20th century developments in both church and global mission history.

Titled “A Uniting Church, an emerging church?” it was published in Cross Purposes, a journal to encourage and support theological dialogue. If you want to read the full article, it has just become available online here, by scrolling down to page 3.

Updated: Jonny Baker found my article “delightful” and in email conversation we began discussing the books that are shaping our thinking in terms of seeing church in the context of God’s global mission. Here is what we noted

Kirsteen Kim, Joining in with the Spirit (who we’ve got booked to teach an intensive here in Adelaide on Spirit and mission in July 2012).

Bevans and Schroder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today

Chris Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative

Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture

Dana Roberts, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion

David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission

Gerard Arbuckle, Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership

Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

Since this Uniting Church, an emerging church? article, I have developed my thinking further. This is due to appear in an article titled Evaluating Birth narratives: A Missiological Conversation with Fresh Expressions, due out any time soon with Anvil. Here’s part of the conclusion:

Third, in reflecting on my own attempts to communicate Fresh Expressions to church leaders in Australasia, something happens when the conversation is started with an ecclesiology of “birth narratives”, rather than with the marks of the church. Telling the stories of Brendan the Navigator or of Alexandre de Rhodes pioneer leadership in Vietnam in the 1600s, offers an ecclesiology that values pioneering, risk, and that cannot avoid the constant interplay between faith and culture. Missiology becomes entwined with ecclesiology.

Does this mean that Fresh Expressions might be better served by employing the phrase “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church”? A number of benefits might occur. Firstly, in honouring the global work of the Missio Dei. Secondly, in avoiding of the Western imaginary that is evoked in the word “church.” Thirdly, in the production of a set of ecclesiological criteria – potential, pioneering, risky, engaged with culture – that are more missiologically generative for the growth and development, which includes evaluation, of Fresh Expressions?

Fourth, a birthing ecclesiolgy might more directly link ecclesiology with the narratives of the birth of the church that arose after the Resurrection. One schema is provided by Stanley Skreslet, who offers five New Testament images of mission, linked with mission history. The images are those of announcing good news, sharing Christ with friends, interpreting the gospel; shepherding; building and planting.

One example provided by Skreslet is the Gladzor Gospels, in which the woman at the Well is portrayed as sharing with her neighbours, one of whom wears a Mongolian hat. And so a global mission history offers evaluative criteria that include whether Fresh Expressions expect to exist in mission only for their own cultural sub-group, or whether they are have eyes open to a world with multi-cultural neighbours.

Another example is the exploration by Skreslet of the theme of announcing good news. Skreslet notes that a third of the book of Acts is public speeches and explores how all are uniquely contextual. And so this early church birthing narrative offers evaluative criteria including whether a Fresh Expressions is engaged in the interplay between faith and culture.

Such might be the possibilities generated by the use of the term “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church.”

Posted by steve at 11:55 PM

Sunday, February 13, 2011

emerging churches 10 years on: progress update

Today was another step in my research into emerging churches 10 years on. This is involving interviews, surveys and focus groups.

Today I visited Cityside Baptist in Auckland. They had very kindly offered me their “sermon slot.” So I took some time to introduce myself and my research with them 10 years ago, and then gave them some space to fill out a 22 question survey form.

The questions are grouped in three categories

  • some are taken from the national census and thus allow comparison of the congregation against their suburb, city and country
  • some are taken from the National Church Life Survey and thus allow comparison against their denomination and the church in general
  • some are uniquely related to questions about faith and culture today

At the end of the day, 47 people completed survey forms. 

What is amazing is that ten years ago when I conducted a similar survey at Cityside, guess how many people completed survey forms?

You guessed it. 47!


The next step is to start to analyse the data. The plan is to return perhaps in the middle of the year to run some focus groups – to present the survey data and invite them to help me interpret it.  Plus I am aiming to present the research more formally at an Ecclesiology and ethnography academic conference in Durham, UK, in mid-September. And then, if all goes really well, I’ll roll it together with my PhD and look for a publisher.

But for today, I thankful for Cityside and pondering with amazement the number 47.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Thursday, December 16, 2010

emerging churches 10 years on: major research project

Sitting in the international departure lounge at Adelaide Airport, enroute to Christchurch via Auckland, I got the news I’d been hanging out for, the granting by the university of ethics approval for me to conduct a research project, a study of the emerging church over time.

In 2000-1, as part of my PhD research, I conducted major qualitative research on new forms of church/alternative worship in UK and New Zealand. This involved interviewing leaders, conducting participant surveys and running focus groups. It became a 140,000 word PhD thesis.

Now, 10 years later, I was seeking approval to repeat the research – to ask the same questions, to conduct the same surveys, to repeat the focus groups. And in so doing, to begin to gain some concrete data on what has happened inside fresh expressions/new forms of church/alt.worship communities over time, in discipleship, in leadership, in sustainability, in life stage.

And so while the Taylor girls flew onto Christchurch, I stayed on in Auckland for another 24 hours. And turned on the tape recorder and conducted my first interview.

What I heard was far more interesting and useful than I expected (and I tend to have fairly high expectations!) Some fabulous data on what should be a really stimulating piece of research.

Posted by steve at 12:46 PM

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

alternative, emerging, fresh in australia: new website

It’s a strange time to be in Australia.  Currently there’s a lot of looking to England under the fresh expression brand. A few years ago it was emerging with Brian McLaren.  Before that it was Forge. Alternative, emerging, fresh in Australia – yes the words mean many different things to many different people.

Brands. Do they create identity? Or do they provide something for groups to push, or be pushed, against. As I said, strange times.

Anyhow, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of online list of “alternative, emerging, fresh” communities in Australia.  So in order to try and provide some sort of database, Cheryl Lawrie has set up a Alternative forms of worship and community in Australia website. Basically a wiki and an invitation to any and all groups who feel they are – alternative, emerging, fresh – to both put up, and update as necessary, their details.

So if that’s you (in Australia) head on over and add your details. If you know of groups, please pass the details on …

Posted by steve at 09:59 PM

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the emerging church and the wilderness of God (old post but good post)

Back in 2004, I wrote a post titled – the emerging church and the wilderness of God. I was doing some sermon prep today and it seemed oddly appropriate, both for the sermon, for the emerging church in 2010 and for my current state of being. So I’m reposting it, for posterity’s sake ….

Christianity emerges from a wilderness spirituality;
John the Baptist, camel haired and with locust wings in mouth, emerges from the desert;
Jesus in preparation for ministry, walks into the wilderness;
Israel finds God in the desert, where in the wilderness Moses is called and a nation is shaped.
The rough places and tough spaces become the place of encounter with God.

So what is the place of a wilderness spirituality in the emerging church? A book like The Shape of Things to Come takes growth – in the early church, in China – as the benchmark. A history of vitality becomes the shaping spirituality. When the emerging church emerges from the evangelical church in the US, a history of vitality is the shaping spirituality.

So what of a wilderness spirituality? Where is the encountering of God in the rough and tough? How does the emerging church embrace the wilderness, rather than the myths and shadows of vitality.

Is it time for the emerging church to find new partners in its spirituality? Is it time to stop dreaming of early church glory and embrace God in the rough?

I wonder if this is where the experience of the de-churched becomes redemptive gift. Those who have entered the wilderness and have learnt to find God in the raw might have spiritual gifts to offer.

Wilderness God
Hidden in the deep valley
Obscured by rocky outcrop

This Advent
May we be found in Your wilderness.

(for the comments, which added some rich layers go here)

Posted by steve at 10:35 AM

Saturday, August 07, 2010

review of jonny baker’s book curating worship

Curating Worship by Jonny Baker (although it should really be Jonny and co. and Disclaimer:  I am one of the co.!) is an excellent addition to the emerging church/missional church discussion. 

Curating worship is a term used to frame an approach to worship that is neither liturgical presiding nor fronting a band. Rather it is the skills of framing other people’s elements. It’s a ethos of participation:

“In many church circles the only gifts that are valued for worship are musical ones or the ability to speak well. This attitude needs shattering, and opening up so that poets, photographers, ideas people, geeks, theologians, liturgists, designers, writers, cooks, politicians, architects, movie-makers, storytellers, parents, campaigners, children, bloggers, DJs, VJs, craft-makers, or just about anybody who comes and is willing to bounce ideas around, can get involved.” (12)

Or in the words of the Uniting Church, Basis of Union, “the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service.” Or in a Baptistic understanding, the priesthood of all believers. So curating worship is an approach by which the priesthood of all believers, with their diverse gifts, can find corresponding service in public worship.

What Jonny wants to do is write a book because “creative processes can seem mysterious and unattainable, even intimidating. The hope is that lifting the lid off the process and thinking might help demystify curating worship, and encourage people: ‘You can do it!’ (7)

He does this through what he calls 12 interviews with people involved in curating worship experiences around the world. While Jonny calls them interviews, I actually think they are conversations in which Jonny engages in lengthy to and fro. Because they are companions and friends, because relationships are established, Jonny can push and probe, asking some tough questions:

  • Does it matter if emerging churches remain small?
  • Arn’t some communities actually leading as artists and not curators?
  • What are the theological implications when alt.worship communities close?
  • What is the place of intellectualism?

Which makes this one of the most honest books I’ve seen from inside the emerging/alt.worship conversation. It also means a book in which the medium is the message – a book on curating in which the main author actually curates, shining the light on others. The range is rich – from public exhibition artists to pastors, from New Zealand through Australia to USA and UK, from those at the centre of churches to those off the edges, from lay to ordained.

The book has another heartwarming upside and that is the way it locates itself in a dialogue not with the church, but with the creative world, particularly the notion of curating as it has been researched in art and museum studies. What this means is a book that does not have to gain momentum by scoring points against other practices and practitioners in worship, which makes for a generous and creative read.

Curating Worship is an excellent read that marks a moment of maturity in the emerging/alt worship movement. First in articulating a clear and unique theology of worship. Second in conducting a critical conversation. Third in genuinely modelling a collective approach to authoring.

PS If you live in Adelaide and want to purchase a copy, I have a boxful of 20 books.

Posted by steve at 03:10 PM

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church

Explanatory note: An abstract I’ve just written, trying to get my head around some future research offerings that I would like to be involved in.

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church
Dr Steve Taylor

Discernment is named by the Apostle Paul as one of the gifts given to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:10). In the tradition of the church, it has at times taken different trajectories, from The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, to the Pentecostal movement, to the Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Howard, 2008), in which it gains an entire chapter of coverage.

One way to understand discernment is to consider it as both a gift and a practice, a charism originating in the grace of God, yet a practice nourish by human skills and capacities. Using this understanding, the performing of discernment can then be analysed.

This paper will analyse attempts at the performance of discernment in relation to ecclesiological innovation, in particular to discerning of the phenomenon termed the “emerging church”. A number of attempts have been made in recent years to discern this phenomenon. Some examples include:

  • Don Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2005.
  • John Drane, “Looking for Maturity in the emerging church,” Mission-shaped Questions. Defining Issues for Today’s Church. Edited by Steven Croft, Church House Publishing, 2008.
  • LeRon Schults, “Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging churches,” Theology Today (January 2009).
  • Kevin Ward, It Might Be Emerging, but Is It Church? Stimulus 17, 4 (November 2009).

This paper will explore a number of these case studies, paying particular attention to the performance of the practice of discernment. What has each attended to? What are the sources being engaged? What might be the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?

The aim of the paper is to provide some analysis of the processes by which discernment happens, to provide some commentary on contemporary ecclesiological developments and to nuance and deepen trajectories surrounding ecclesiological innovation.

Posted by steve at 10:04 AM

Sunday, April 18, 2010

ethnicity and the emerging church: context Cabramata

Fascinating day today in Sydney, exploring Cabramata: entering under an Asian arch (I love the fact that the arch has koalas, kangaroos ie Australian animals), walking down street after street of Vietnamese shops, looking for a place to eat that at least had English subtitles on the menu. A very rich and multi-sensory day.

All this while the emerging church in the US fights over ethnicity and racial identity.

In Cabramata it’s hard to imagine an emerging church that would be white, Western, or any shade of colour apart from Vietnamese. Hooray for Cabramata Uniting Church, with a Vietnamese pastor and church worship in multiple languages.

Looking forward to discussing these type of issues – youth cultures, ethnicity, 2nd generation migrant patterns, glocalisation (koalas in Asian arches) – with various folk from the New South Wales Synod on Thursday and Friday.

Posted by steve at 07:59 PM

Saturday, April 10, 2010

women and the emerging church. a bibliography

For a number of months I’ve been meaning to compile a list of missional and emerging church writers who are female. I’ve been prompted by a colleague who is doing a post-graduate project on women and the missional church, plus a glance over my Missional Church Leadership bibliography and the realisation that it is still overwhelmingly male. Plus stumbling across this podcast, which is me interviewing Jenny McIntosh back in 2006, on the topic of gender and the emerging church conversation.

Which prompted a brief literature search. My criteria included being recently published and with a focus on mission/evangelism/leadership. Here is the list. Who am I missing? (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:16 PM

Monday, February 22, 2010

Archbishop Rowan Williams on fresh expressions of church, ministry, sacraments

There is a fascinating podcast of Archbishop Rowan Williams being interviewed about fresh expressions, especially in light of the Synod report just out regarding fresh expressions. (Hat tip Jonny and originating from a collective in Nottingham called Nomad (who seem to have a knack of interviewing some interesting people, including Tom Wright, Greg Boyd and others)).

I’m teaching a class on Church, Ministry, Sacraments in the first semester and might just use the podcast in my first lecture. Here’s is my summary of the Archbishop:

Church is people encountering Jesus, with others, in a life changing way. This happens through the baptism and communion (sacraments). This has also happened in the past, and thus we have the tradition of the church. The task of ministry includes the gift of discernment – of seeing God giving gifts to the church, both in contemporary culture and historically in the tradition – and of learning how to use these gifts – God’s gifts to the church – creatively and well. Key challenges for fresh expressions of church include giving time to listen, to appreciate the words rubbed smooth by generations that can carry us when we find life thin. Key challenges for existing churches are to appreciate new forms as real stuff, and not just an eccentric fringe.

Note how similar the ecclesiology (understanding of church) is to what the Archbishop wrote in 2004, in the Foreword to Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context

‘church’ is what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other (vii)

I wonder what would happen if all Vicars pinned that wee definition to their Prayer Book?

Posted by steve at 10:40 AM

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Double Rainbow: a missiology for the least of these

I’ve been really enjoying The Double Rainbow: James K Baxter, Ngati Hau and the Jerusalem Commune by John Newton. It’s beautifully written, an important study of what is quite a unique form of emerging church, commune’s in the 1970s.

Here’s part of the introduction.

“When Maori and pakeha do these things together, the double rainbow begins to shine.” The double rainbow is Baxter’s symbol for a mutually regenerative bicultural relationship … Pakeka culture’s material dominance was accompanied by an arrogance and ethnocentrism which left it spiritually impoverished. “The Maori is indeed the elder brother and the Pakeha the younger brother. But the [younger brother] has refused to learn from the [elder brother]. He has sat sullenly among his machines and account books, and wondered why his soul was full of bitter dust.”

The book explores Baxter’s forming of the community at Jerusalem. It describes the impact of Parihaka on Baxter and how it turned him toward Maori culture. So much of Baxter’s arrival at Jerusalem has echos of Luke 10:1-12, of Baxter arriving barefoot and throwing himself on the hospitality of the local Maori.

The book moves beyond Baxter’s death, describing the emphasis on the least of the these, nga mokai, the fatherless and nga raukore, the trees who have had their leaves stripped, and the place of relationships and love in the healing of broken people and mental illness. It is a totally unique story: a Pakeha community built on Maori terms.

A lot of my creativity and reading in the last month has been around Kiwi mission themes (Parihaka, local peace stories). I’ve found it energised and humbling. And perplexing. Why, when I’m moving to Australia, am I so challenged? Isn’t it a waste? Shouldn’t I be staying, continuing to thrive in this Kiwi soil? I have no answers, simply wanting to name my confusion.

Posted by steve at 11:32 AM

Sunday, March 12, 2006

podcast: women, the emerging church and male cultures

Here is a podcast I did with Jenny McIntosh . In a first podcast Jenny describes the ministry of Spirited Exchanges as a ministry to those outside the church. Download file: ethos of Spirited Exchanges: 2 mins : 600K

In a second podcast Jenny and I talk about women and the emerging church. We identify three ways in which the emerging church can exclude women;
– in the way the Bible is used
– in not seeking representation in speaking and in leadership
– in continuing a “culture”, patterns of being and talking, that are male in nature.
Jenny and I then discuss one thing men could do and one thing women could do to increase the place of women in the emerging church. I’m biased but I think it’s one of the most helpful and challenging conversations I’ve had in a long time and I think anyone serious about the future of the emerging church needs to listen and ponder. Download file : women and the emerging church : 9 mins : 2.5 MB

Posted by steve at 04:47 PM