Thursday, October 01, 2015


sunset Today we leave Australia, after nearly 6 years of placement with the South Australian Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. First, as the founding Director of Missiology. It was such a gift to be invited to provide leadership in mission in what was a new venture for the College, seeking to teach theology and church history through the lens of the mission of God. Over 2 and a half years, a new Bachelor of Ministry was developed, including a pioneer track. A missional masters cohort was established and mission-shaped ministry begun.

Second, as Principal of Uniting College. Over 3 years, as a team, a wide range of changes were implemented. These included a move to blended learning across all our topics, a CALD teaching cohort, a Big Year Out young adult discipleship experience, 8 vocational specialisations in the Diploma of Ministry, a Chaplaincy Co-ordinator, a much improved financial and strategic position, a re-negotiated relationship with Flinders University and the planting of an inter-state hub. Much of my learnings from this season are being processed in the upcoming book, Built for change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership.

empty office Yesterday once the packers had emptied my office, removed every last book, file and paper clip, I walked the outdoor labyrinth for the last time. It was in the labyrinth that the call to be Principal had sounded – literally. So it somehow felt fitting that the call to be Principal should end in the labyrinth as, office empty, I took time to process – Solvitur Ambulando “It is solved by walking”.

There was nothing profound. Just a deep sense of gratitude. That the God who calls, provides. That the twists and turns of life are in God’s hands. That all I need to do is take the next step. In this case, onto an airplane, and into a new season, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Posted by steve at 01:25 AM

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Breathe of life

I found this while packing, written during a 2007 =conference

Genesis God creates
Breath of life
Chemicals, atoms, cells – transformed in humans
to love, laughter, friendship, creativity, nurture, innovation
Such Breathe of life

John 21 God re-creates
Breath of life
Resurrected Jesus breathes
to peace, forgiveness, empower
Incarnational presence
As Father Sent me, so I send
Such Breathe of life. Be human. Be fully human

Posted by steve at 09:55 PM

Monday, September 28, 2015

walking the zone of transition

I took this video as part of my spirituality retreat at Lindisfarne last week. I found myself reflecting on zones of transition, those physical spaces that reference change.

transitionsholyislandloop from steve taylor on Vimeo.

In this case it was the high tide line. The sea weed is a marker. Above the sand is dry and safe, below, the sand is wet. I found myself walking the high tide line, simply being in the physicality of experience.

That’s our current experience. Friday was my last day as Principal at Uniting College. All through the weekend we worked, preparing to shift. Bio-security laws are tough going into New Zealand, so the barbeque needs to be de-spidered, the tents cleaned. It will take six weeks for our stuff to be shipped, so there’s working out what we can fit into a suitcase that will be enough to live on – clothes, entertainment, books – for six weeks. There is a work office to declutter, deciding what paper needs to stay for the incoming Principal, what I want to take with me.

Today – Monday – the packers arrived and are with us until Wednesday. Thursday we fly, leaving Adelaide around 1 pm, arriving Christchurch late evening. Sunday we begin the drive to Dunedin, arriving Monday to take possession of the house.

We’re walking a zone of transition. We’re tired. We’re emotionally spent. All we can do is walk, step by step, decision by decision, box by box.

Posted by steve at 11:30 PM

Friday, September 25, 2015

ministry + art + story: Living Libraries innovation

Living Libraries

BYO lunch and join Cogs Smith, Sil Hein and Linda Forsyth for a conversation about the Art of Pastoral Care. The artists will tell the stories behind their artwork, which will lead to a conversation about the intersection of art and pastoral care. This is the culmination of The Art of Pastoral Care Exhibition currently being shown in the Adelaide Theological Library. Tea and coffee available.

Thursday 8th October 12.30-1.30pm – Adelaide Theological Library

Posted by steve at 01:16 PM

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My HERGA 2015 (Higher Education Research Group Adelaide) paper

herga I spoke at HERGA 2015 (Higher Education Research Group Adelaide) today. It was a well run, high quality event, from the free coffee cup and conference bag, to the excellent catering, to the range of intensity and passion brought to bear on education in higher education.

The room was packed for my presentation, although I think it was for the presentation after mine. Here is my spoken paper, titled – A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

Keywords: flipped learning, e-learning, higher education

The Brave New World of higher education faces an inherent conflict. Standardised frameworks encourage one-size fits all. At the same time, the student body is increasingly diversity.

In 2014, I participated in a Flinders University Community of Practice. The focus was on learning that is connective, mobile and personalised. I made changes to what was a core Bachelor of Theology topic. It had historically been taught in traditional ways that focused on the technical language of systematic approaches to the theology. I made 5 changes
• Changed assessment to expect student to student interaction outside the gathered lecture (connective)
• Placed all lecture content online (mobile)
• Introduced students to Blooms taxonomy as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students
• Shifted the contact time from lecturer-driven to student-choice of small group activities linked to Blooms taxonomy (personalised)
• Introduced indigenous voices to enhance diversity (illustrations on personalised)

This can be theorised using Garrison’s community of inquiry model, which argues that communities of inquiry are built using social, cognitive and teaching presence. Social presence requires me to cultivate within myself and the class effective communication and group cohesion (in this case via the change to the assessment). Cognitive presence involves, through exploration, assignment and evaluation, integration and confirmation of understanding (in this case through student choice group work and through indigenous voices). Teaching presence includes course design, facilitation and direction (in this case through the use both theoretically and pedagogically of Blooms taxonomy)

The Community of Practice sought learner feedback by asking the same four questions start, middle and end of our diverse topics. What are you most interested in learning? What resources will best support your learning? How valuable is it to have choice? What aspects of the topic are you concerned about (if at all)?

At the start, students identified that they were most interested in the content of the subject – the theology of Jesus. They were excited about choice. Some had concerns, not in relation to “flipped learning” but with their ability to master the online technologies.

At the mid-point, three significant shifts had occurred in the class. First, students had moved from a 100% anticipation of content, to a 50% content and 50% consideration of how they were learning. This was evident in comments focused on the learning dynamic of the class and the diversity of their peers. Second, students felt supported in their learning by the resources and through the lecturer engagement (teaching presence). Third, choice continued to be seen as positive, in extending learning and enhancing motivation.

By the end of the course, the mid-point patterns remained. Student responses continued to indicated not only appreciation of content but also included reflection on how they were learning. The role of fellow students remained significant with the diversity of the class named as a significant factor in learning. (“It has helped me be able to see different points of view and helped me to realise that we all are able to “do” Christology from our own background.”) Choice continued to be seen as a positive. It was perceived to increased engagement and have a positive impact on learning. In analysing the responses linguistically, theology was not only being used as a word linked to content. It was also being used as a verb, a “doing,” an active, engaged process in which students participate, in contrast to what is contained in set texts. Students made links between personalisation, diversity and this “doing” of theology. (“Yes it has helped me to understand Jesus in a more relevant way for a 21st century setting.)

Haythornthwaite and Andrews, E-learning Theory and Practice argue that students fill three roles in an on-line community.
• E-facilitators provide interim summaries and influence the trajectory of the discussion.
• Braiders reinterpret the online debate in different styles.
• Accomplished fellows take initiatives that invite participants to explore a subject in more depth.

This provides a way to theorise my data. Take this introduction to a final assignment by one student. “I … was inspired by the presentations of [two indigenous church ministers] …. This stemmed from the group activity, where … I was asked by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to my culture.” Using Haythornthwaite and Andrews’s theoretical categories, the learning begins because of two accomplished fellows (two indigenous church ministers). Challenge came from the group activity, in which a classmate (not the lecturer) acts as both a facilitator, influencing the discussion and a braider, re-interpreting lecture material during a group discussion and inviting a different style, in this case of application.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews also argue that e-learning is “an inextricably social act.” It increases connection with the local, as “learning gets re-embedded.” It expects a greater focus on “learner agency.”

“In conventional learning and scholarship, there is an authoritative, hierarchical power system at work. The teacher acts as mediator for the student between the body of knowledge … In e-learning the canonical texts are themselves committed to digital format and thus become at once more malleable, more open to critique … The ‘voice(s)’ of the original author can be placed alongside the student voice or voices. The learning process becomes … more democratic .. less hieararchical.” (E-learning Theory and Practice, 57-8)

This is certainly consistent with my data. Teaching theology involves engagement with significant texts – including the Gospels, to the Christological debates of the Early Church, the challenges of modernity and post-colonial critiques. For an individual student to engage a lecturer in a traditional lecture setting requires speaking in front of their peers, with the expectation of being knowledge in front of a more experienced academic. However, if engagement with lecture material and readings is shifted to group activities, students have space to process among peers.

This makes sense of the student assignment. It is one thing for a lecturer to ask a student to apply what this means. There is a different weight altogether when a student asks their peer to “connect [their] own culture and Christ.” In this moment, another student has become the “learner agency” that invites a “re-embedding in new local environments.”

My research is a limited sample – of one class in one semester. But it provides evidence that the use of teaching that is mobile, accessible and connective reshapes the student learning experience. Flipped learning enhances student agency and increases appreciation for diversity among the student cohort. It can turn the entire student cohort into teachers, inhabiting different roles in the “conditions” of learning. In other words, students as well as teachers are essential to the learning processes.

Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72

Haythornthwaite, C. & Andrews, R. (2011). E-learning Theory and Practice. Sage: London.

McInnis, C. (2005). “The Governance and Management of Student Learning in Universities.” In Governing Knowledge. A Study of Continuity and Change in Higher Education. Edited by Ivar Bleiklie and Mary Henkel. The Netherlands: Springer. file:///C:/Users/jong0009/AppData/Local/Downloads/0deec520376135d76b000000.pdf.

Preston, C. J. (2008). Braided Learning: An emerging process observed in e-communities of practice. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 4 (2): 220-43).

Posted by steve at 11:04 PM

Saturday, September 19, 2015

backpacking transitions

Lindisfarne was a great place to process transition. I asked the taxi to drop me off early so that I could walk in. With a heavy back pack, the act of taking it off when I sat down for lunch became a rich bodily reminder of what I am processing. I am taking off the Principal “back pack.” As I do, a certain level of weight and responsibility is removed.

Yet I’m still me, with or without back pack. I am still graced by God, bound by family relationships, gifted with certain insights. It was a rich insight to realise that I am still vital, still loved, despite the demands of the Principal placement over the last three years.

There was great joy over the rest of the day, walking back pack free, enjoying being me.

During the second day, the backpack was worn constantly. This was partly reality, that I had no where to store it. But I could have asked the pub where I was staying. I chose not too. The task of this day was to look ahead, to begin to hear God for this next season. That required the back pack on, for it is in the middle of things that God speaks.

Carrying a back pack produces initial soreness of muscle. But over time, the body will harden. This is encouragement for the next season. In a few weeks, having taken one back pack off, I will put on another one. It was helpful to realise that the initial days of new responsibility are in one sense a temporary soreness.

Posted by steve at 08:41 PM

Thursday, September 17, 2015

spirituality of transitions: Lindisfarne


Today I head to Lindisfarne, Holy Island. It has a rich and deep spiritual history. I went there in 2012 for a time of retreat at a number of significant life junctures. I was in a process of call to be Principal of Uniting College. So the time on Lindisfarne was important in terms of prayer and reflection.

On Holy Island, I encountered another transition. Here is what I wrote -

Inside the church, St Marys, I came across my fathers death. A lifesize sculpture, four men carrying a coffin stands inside the door. It is black, carved in stone. Cold, enduring. It is a confronting moment, facing death. Enclosed within ancient stone walls, it makes the church feel like a tomb.

The moment was more confronting, for my father’s name is Cuthbert. Entering that church, in that retreat of transition, I faced the reality that one day, I would carry my father’s coffin.

So, some four years later, I am returning. I’m wanting to place myself again in that rich and deep history. I go expecting to be prayerful about the ending of one season of being Principal (at Uniting College) and the start of another (at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership). I go expecting to honour my father, whose name is Cuthbert and to be glad of his ordinary saintliness in my life.

I’m taking Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion Through Life’s Losses and Sorrows by Joyce Rupp. I’ve used this personally at times of transition, including to help me find God when a community I really wanted to work with said no. I’ve used it in ministry, to help communities process farewells and individuals engage with deeply buried grief.

Posted by steve at 06:47 PM

Monday, September 14, 2015

Last Cab to Darwin: a theological meditation on outback place

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for September 2015, of Australian film, Last Cab to Darwin.

Last Cab to Darwin
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Last Cab to Darwin is a visual introduction to contemporary Australian stereotypes. Indigenous men drink and fight. White fella Australians drink and fumble emotionally. English women tourists are blondes willing to sleep around.

Death strides into the midst of these caricatures. Rex (Michael Caton), a taxi driver from Broken Hill, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With three months to live and afraid of hospitals, he hears of Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver), advocating in the Northern Territory of Australia for the right to euthanise.

Last Cab to Darwin is based on a true story, including the gaps in Australian law between Territory, State and Federal parliaments. It offers the potential to dwell in complexity. The reality is that the road trip genre becomes an excuse to speed past rich cultural complexity.

Driving his cab to find Dr Farmer, Rex encounters Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), who proceeds to fight and drink his way with Rex toward Darwin. Their narrative journey is broken by a set of clichés, including watches that stop, feral cats hung from outback trees and Tilly’s salvation through sport, if he can beat the bottle. Speeding toward yet another stereotypical scene (Darwin sunsets), Tilly has a one night stand with English barmaid, Julie (Emma Hamilton), who wraps herself into their journey. These images, of indigenous men, white fella Australians and blonde English women tourists simplify the complexity that could ennoble Australia today.

I refer to the lens through which the outback is viewed. The desert landscape depicted in Last Cab to Darwin is simply a dusty red backdrop through which visitors pass, collecting experiences on a road to somewhere. There is no sense of another story, of “anhangha idla ngukanandhakai,” the indigenous (Adnyamathanha) understanding of living in memory.

This understanding of outback is beautifully depicted in the recently published Yarta Wandatha. It is a rarity, a theology book with colour photographs of outback landscape. Unlike Last Cab to Darwin, these scenes are never backdrop on a trip to somewhere. Rather, each is story, around which memory is wrapped. Interpreted in Yarta Wandatha by indigenous woman Denise Champion in creative dialogue with the Christian story, we find the unfolding of a very different outback story.

Last Cab to Darwin introduces two indigenous women. Polly (Ningali Lawford) is Rex’s neighbor, having an affair they are both scared to make public. Sally (Leah Purcell) is Tilly’s wife. The movie provides stereotypical similarities of these indigenous woman. Both are abandoned by their menfolk. Both approach conflict by shouting angrily at those they love.

Such is the simplicity of stereotype. In contrast, when Denise Champion tells the story of Awi-irtanha, the Rain Bird, we encounter a more complex story, in which indigenous resources, considered in light of Jesus, avoid the ugly consequences of unresolved conflict.

Watching Last Cab to Darwin I kept waiting for the road trip to engage these stories on the road between Broken Hill and Darwin. The only hint is when Tilly locates Sally’s mob as fighters against colonial invasion. Once again, 40,000 years of rich and storied memory is lost, replaced by the stereotypes of recent arrival.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is becoming of Knox College for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 01:29 AM

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

a parting gift: lecturer and Principal wordle

What words describe Steve as a lecturer and Principal? 22 random students were polled and asked to share three words each. Most responded and provided 40 words that create a word picture.

Steve Taylor lecturer wordle

Steve, thank you for taking your call so seriously, and bringing your whole self to this placement. You have and will continue to be a profound influence on us all.

Posted by steve at 11:53 PM

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Built for change: Innovation and collaboration in leadership book contract


I was delighted last week to sign a book contract with Mediacom for what will be my second book, tentatively titled “Built for change: innovation and collaboration in leadership.”

It will be a book about innovation. There are many books of theory about innovation and many books from overseas about leadership. (Hence I deliberately sought out a local ie Australasian publisher). I want to write a book that emerges from a context of reality, from a real life situation of change. (Mainly the last three years as Principal of Uniting College). I want to provide some practical stories of change and then consider them, first with the wisdom of hindsight, second with the theological probing that is the gift of the Christian tradition.

I hope the book offers an understanding of change that is both practical and possible, in ways that celebrate collaboration, enhance equality and make access possible.

It is a project I’ve been mulling over for the last few months. My first days writing in June is described here. As I processed the shape of the project over two days in July with my supervisor, I asked myself “Why write?.”

Posted by steve at 10:23 PM

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

My close of placement service

Close of Placement Service: Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor
Time: 3:00 pm
Date: Monday 7 September 2015
Where: Chapel of Reconciliation, Uniting College, Adelaide College of Divinity (34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park)

Everyone Welcome.

Please join us afterwards in the College Common Space for drinks and nibbles from 4pm-5:30pm, where there will be the chance to say farewell to Steve, Lynne and Kaylee, to hear some words of thanks and enjoy a glass of wine or juice and some local cheeses.

RSVP 3 September 2015 to

Posted by steve at 09:13 AM

Friday, August 28, 2015

missional theology of sacraments and the church

Thesis 1 – The sacraments are about the Spirit, not the church. This initial move establishes God as the rightful author and agent of sacramental theology.

Thesis 2 – The Spirit can fall on who and whatever it wants. This is consistent with the Biblical data, in which God keeps surprising. We see this in the ministry of Jesus, most particularly the encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. Interestingly, this has links with sacramental theology, in the reference to crumbs from the table. We see this also in Peter’s encounter in Acts. Again, I note that this also has links with sacramental theology, in the invitation to eat.

Thesis 3 – The role of the church is thus not to define sacramentality, but to discern sacramentality. The church remains essential to a sacramental theology, not as a definer and defender of boundaries, but as an ongoing discerner. David Ford, in Self and Salvation: Being Transformed notes that the Eucharist is “true to itself only by becoming freshly embodied in different contexts.” This is a way of understanding “rightly ordered”, as an invitation to authentic embodiment.

Thesis 4 – This requires a rich and complex set of tools. We see this move (struggle even) toward discernment, in both the narratives mentioned above, as Jesus affirms the great faith of the Syro-phonecian woman and Peter discerns freshly the work of God. Both of this moves require a process of reflection – in community, by grace, with coherence to the interweaving of experience and tradition. The role of missional theological education necessitates developing skills in these processes. It is this that will enable sacramental practice to emerge from those gathered in community gardens, around skate parks and amid the tables of messy church. The result will be that indeed, in bread, wine and water, Christ will feed the church.

Posted by steve at 10:18 AM

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dunedin property owners

Our quick jump across the ditch has proved remarkably successful. We looked at 8 properties in Dunedin over the weekend. We were accompanied by a Dunedin local, who was invaluable in terms of local knowledge and insight. The upshot was that we made an offer on a property on Monday, which was accepted on Tuesday (subject to building inspection).

It’s a great place that all four of Team Taylor fell in love with pretty much from the moment we walked in the door. It is architecturally designed with lots of character spots to sit and connect. It’s got sea views over the Otago Harbour, yet is set in native bush. It’s close to work, yet has a drive home with harbour views that will be important in creating the necessary distance. It’s not got a lot of room for garden due to the bush, but a glass house should really help and there is plenty of room for chickens and perhaps even a beehive or 3.

Practically, it has 3 bedrooms and 5 different configurations of living areas, which should well suit the needs of our family. We expect to be able to take possession on the date we wanted – the 5th of October – which gives us a week to settle before I start at Knox and Kayli starts at her new school on the 12th of October.

It is a great relief psychologically to know where we are going, stopping and staying for this next chapter of our lives. It’s difficult to express how important this is for our family.

Posted by steve at 09:35 AM

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wanted: Director of Missiology

This was my old job – with a nice twist – church engagement! The last two applicants have been Kiwi’s. Third time ….?

Director of Missiology

Uniting College and Mission Resourcing South Australia together partner in mission. We are seeking a lecturer and leader to develop missiology within the life of both the Uniting Church in South Australia and the College. This will involve forming leaders, educating in its best and broadest sense and fieldwork participation in applied missiology projects. Tasks will include:

1. Developing the Uniting College missiology stream at under-graduate, post-graduate and VET level

2. Lecturing in areas of missiology, contextual mission and innovation

3. Providing research leadership in missiology, including supervision at post-graduate level and connecting research with community stakeholders

4. Working strategically with Mission Resourcing to support and develop mission projects among congregations, communities, regions and networks

5. Strengthen pioneering and fresh expressions as contextual mission

6. Participate in the life of the College, including the formation of leaders in mission

The successful applicant will have a unique skill set that should include experience in education and formation, leadership skills in mission, community mission experience, post-graduate qualifications and an ability to innovate within the faith and polity expressed in the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia.

A position description is available from: either Steve Taylor, Principal Uniting College, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park, SA 5032, or Amelia Koh-Butler, Executive Officer, Mission Resourcing, 212 Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000,

Applications close 5 pm, 8 September 2015, with interviews Wednesday September 23 and expected commencement at the beginning of Semester 1, 2016.

Posted by steve at 09:52 PM