Friday, June 11, 2010

a brilliant ending: teaching sociology for ministry

I am still buzzing at the presentations of students in my Sociology for Ministry class. They had done so much work! Outstanding in their creativity and their attention to both sociology and theology. One group presented an idea of opening a Sudanese cafe as a way of welcoming migrants on the fringe of an existing church. Another suggested a video making competition as a way to work alongside unemployed working class youth. Another suggested a multi-purpose spirituality centre in a new build community and even built their own website. Their presentations each took over 45 minutes each, carefully attending to context, articulating clear theologies of ministry, emerging from grounded research of existing communities and existing ministries.

Sociology for ministry is a compulsory introductory level paper in the degree. The aim is to explore at the interface between society and ministry in the Australian context, developing skills so students could research their communities and reflect about the implications for ministry.

Not being a local, and only having been in the country a few weeks, a foreigner teaching Sociology for (Australian) ministry could have been a disaster. What do I know about Australia?

Equally, not being a local, teaching Sociology for (Australian) ministry could have been an advantage. Rather than show my knowledge, could I show them the research tools I am using to try and understand my new local context? So each week I used a different type of sociology tool – poetry, songs, movies, demographics, fiction novels, sacred places, history – to cover a range of topics including family, work, leisure, religion, plurality, spirituality, globalisation, IT cultures.

In order to facilitate shared learning, I decided to set a group learning assignment. (For more on creating class learning communities see here.) Each group got given a prepared case study, a real local community. Each case study noted some community strengths and some community challenges. The task was – as Sociology for Ministry consultants – to present to a church leadership team (me) some ways forward that were faithful to both the sociological context and had a clearly articulated theology of ministry. While all of us – lecturer and students – were a bit nervous, the results exceeded all of our expectations.

If this is the future of Australian ministry, there are some real possibilities brewing. It was also an endorsement of the essential formational nature of papers on contextual ministry, of group learning processes and the potential of case studies to bring energy and grounded focus into a class.

Posted by steve at 09:51 AM

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

being church in a time of cultural change

Flat out preparing for a class on changes in religion in Australia. Amid all the sociological theories and depression over declining numbers, the work by Kevin Ward back in 2002 stood out.

“One of the great points of hope for the church is that sociologists suggest we are moving away from an era of rampant individualism into a new communitarian era .. one in which people bring a strong sense of individuality and will therefore be marked by a high degree of diversity and variety … We urgently need to finds forms of church life that resemble a community of touch teams much more than they resemble the local rugby club … If we are willing not only to give the freedom for this kind of evolution to occur, but also to provide resources to foster it, we may find not only a form of church life that actually engages with and incarnates the gospel into the culture in which we are placed, but also, surprisingly, one that more resembles in essence the church we find in the pages of the New Testament.”

Probably the last thing exhausted ministers might want to read this side of Easter. But it does provide a window on the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, that sense of impermanence and willingness to meet Thomas in a different way than Mary, in a different way than Peter.

Posted by steve at 05:14 PM