Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Evaluation of innovation training: celebrating an ethics milestone

As I landed back in Adelaide, my phone lit up with the news that Ethics approval has been granted to begin the Evaluation of innovation training research project.

What?
The Uniting College of Leadership and Theology has a vision of developing effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of our training practises, by providing regular and accountable processes of evaluation and feedback.

Who?
In 2011, College initiated new programs, focused on training leaders for church and ministry, with particular emphasis on developing innovative and adaptive practises appropriate for the leader’s context.
1. Equipping lay leadership, through the Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course (in interdenominational collaboration locally)
2. Training pioneer leaders on a path to ordination, through Bachelor of Ministry (Practice stream) (Pioneer leaders are involved in establishing new churches, ministries and other initiatives, appropriate to the context in which they are placed)
3. Offering professional development of congregational (church) ministers, through the Master of Ministry (Missional stream).

The latter two training programmes are unique nationally. (The mission shaped ministry course is an international, interdenominational initiative also undertaken in other states, in partnership with MSM UK)

Why?
This project will evaluate the effectiveness of these training options in building the innovative capacities of church, pioneer and lay leaders.

How?
A suite of questions, developed in 2010 by the Uniting College and National Church Life Survey (NCLS) Research will be asked of students. These questions were designed to test the innovative capacities of church leaders. Benchmark data from the 2011 NCLS will be compared with student data gathered longitudinally.

Data will be compared: beginning students with church leaders nationally (2011 NCLS data), cohort of students over time, and individual students over time.

This research will enable us to assess whether current training is increasing the innovative capacities of students. Aware that this evaluation process may provide information of value to other training providers, ethics approval is sought so findings can be published. Journal articles and other publications on pedagogy/teaching and learning will be prepared and published; focusing on ways training is and can be effective in increasing the innovative capacities of students learning about Christian ministry and mission.

This has been a project I’ve been part of developing for nearly four years, trying to lay a sound research design, in order to build a research base around what we are doing at Uniting College. First was finding the funding, then partnering with NCLS to develop the instrument. Second was finding the funding to design the research and complete ethics approval. Now, finally, we can begin collecting the data.

My personality type finds great significance in the fact that approval was granted the day I return from a two week overseas stint. It suggests a clear focus for the next season of my ministry at College – research on innovation.

Posted by steve at 11:41 PM

Monday, September 29, 2014

the weighted coin: inward

Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.

They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.

In preparation, I designed the following assessment.

You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.

Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.

Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.

Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.

Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;

“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)

And regarding evangelism:

Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).

Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.

One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.

It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”

Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.

Posted by steve at 05:30 AM

Friday, September 26, 2014

mission orandi, mission credendi

Today was the third day of the National Ministers Conference in Jerusalem. A programme re-shuffle meant that I had the luck of doing the last session of the day, starting at 4 pm. After a 7:30 am departure from the hotel for the second day in a row, it was going to be a tough, tough session. So during the afternoon tea break, I re-jigged the session. It needed some group activity, and importantly, an activity that might be meaningful.

The session theme was titled – Walking in their space, gifts of strangers. To explore the theme, we began with Eric, a story of the gifts given by a stranger. We then looked at the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, in which mission agents, in the meeting of strangers, receive gifts.

I noted that this theme, of “strangers/outsiders” being agents of blessing, appears in other places in the Biblical text. For example
• Rahab – Matthew 1:5
• Ruth – Matthew 1:5
• Magi – Matthew 2:11
• Roman centurion – Matthew 8:10 – “no one in Israel have I found such faith”
• Luke 4:26-27- Widow of Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian
• Samaritan woman – John 4:27-30
• Eunuch – Acts 8:26-38
• Roman centurion – Acts 10:1-2

I shared how in preaching on the Syrophonecian woman recently, I was struck by Jesus commendation of her, as having “great faith.” So I entered the story by trying to discern, liturgically, what of her faith was evident in the Biblical text, in words and deeds and by writing an affirmation of faith. I found it a very moving experience, to realise the richness of her Christology at that moment.

So I offered the group an interactive exercise. In groups, take a Bible text. Ask each other what gifts do the outsiders/strangers bring? Have a go at trying to express this gift using liturgical forms eg affirmation of faith, lament, prayers for others?

Why? Practically, it would keep people engaged. It would allow us to be faithful to our call, to prayer the input of the day back to God. At a more subtle level, it would be an example of “mission in reverse.” It would let the voices of those “outside” the community of faith form and shape our worship. In so doing, it might actually inter-weave mission and worship; worship and mission. In other words, a sort of reframing of the historic church affirmation, the rule of prayer is the rule of belief; lex orandi, lex credendi. If we pray our mission, we might end up believing (and acting) our mission.

The result was astonishing. Energy levels went right up. Within 30 minutes, the groups had written 8 short liturgies. Intriguingly, with no orchestration, they spanned an order of service (without the preaching).
• Call to worship
• Prayer of praise
• Collect of illumination
• Confession
• Litany
• Prayers for others
• Word of mission
• Collect of blessing

And so to end the session we worshipped. Each group offered their liturgy. As worship. Which enfolded our day and helped us move through. An example of mission orandi, mission credendi? Time will tell.

Posted by steve at 01:47 AM

Thursday, September 25, 2014

green theologies: ancient, creative

Water gives life. The shores of Lake Galilee are richly green, filled with fruit, treelined and in places covered with grass. On the lake shore at Tagba is the Church of Multiplication. It honours the feeding of the multitudes, the rich abundance of that miracle. What is intriguing is that on the church floor, on either side of the altar, are a set of mosiacs.

churchofmultiplication

They are beautiful, and feature birds, lilies, flowers. Most are local, bird and plant life from local Galilee. The mosaics are from the 5th century and are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land.

It’s an extraordinary expression of green theology. It connects the church indoors with the creation outdoors. It celebrates the local. It is a wonderful link with the miracle story, but contextualised in an honouring of the abundant gifts of land and lake.

And it’s 1500 years old. Green theology likes to position itself as modern, hip and new. The mosaic artists and the ordinary Christians of Tagba would shake their head in disbelief. Their church, their everyday worship, was ancient, ordinarily and creatively green.

Posted by steve at 04:47 AM

Monday, September 22, 2014

processing – projects, significations, institutions – Palestine

Today we drove from Bethlehem to Nazareth. The day began navigating military checkpoints in order to move from our hotel through the outskirts of Jerusalem and onto the motorway north. We spent time on the mount of transfiguration, visiting the Franciscan church. At Cana, souvenir museums offered us wine. In Nazareth, we visited churches erected over potential places of institution.

Monastic movements from Europe now camped on Holy land mountains, souvenirs targeting religious tourists, churches fighting turf wars – and a line from theologian Graham Ward has helped me discern a thread.

“There is then a twofold work for those projects involved in developing transformative practices of hope: the work of generating new imaginary significations and the work of forming institutions that mark such significations.” (Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, 2005, 146.)

It’s a tightly coiled quote. Three words help me make some sense – projects, significations, institutions.

Projects are the future. They are what we are working toward, the dreams we carry that are in the process of being grounded in lives, actions, communities. Significations are the visions, the zeal, the beliefs and values we hold dear and close. Institutions are the groups, constitutions, buildings, schools.

My experience of the Holy Land is of encountering institutions – the buildings, the tourism industry, the complex politics, the religions that fight for their pieces of turf. Each began as projects, a band of monks that arrived from Italy, an idea to make a living, a small community that planted a church. Each would point back to a signification – a set of visions, zeal, beliefs and values.

So what?
- Change involves attention to all three, to projects, significations and institutions.
- Institutions need to keep strong, clear, transparent links to their significations. Storytelling is a key here.
- Projects are the lifeblood of innovation. Wise institutions will keep funding them.
- Significations are deep and powerful. They can be life-giving. They can also be toxic. Practices of discernment are essential.

(For an application of Graham Ward to emerging church, go here).

Posted by steve at 02:14 AM

Sunday, September 21, 2014

processing Palestine

It’s been an intense few days. We landed at Tel Aviv on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring Bethlehem, dipping our toes in the River Jordan, visiting Orthodox monasteries and walking Qumran.

In between has been the inevitable exposure to the deeply riven conflicts that shape this land. Passing police checkpoints and refugee camps, walking the Separation Wall, reading the experiences of Palestines, recorded on the wall as part of an oral museum project.

In trying to process the experiences, I’ve found “Cedars Of Lebanon” by U2 to be helpful.

First, the complexity, perhaps impossibility of understanding, “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.”

Second, the whiff of hope “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes”

Oddly poignant, given my becoming aware of the Rose of Sharon a few months ago, only to see them for sale today near Jericho. They are a plant that remains dry and dessicated for years. It looks dead. But just add water, and wow. What is dead springs to life, flowers, seeds, then prepares for drought once again. An extraordinary symbol of hope.

Third, the one to one human reactions; “Soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank.” That every encounter between “nations” in conflict is in fact a one to one moment between humans.

Fourth, the final verse. It is pure Bono genius, so let me quote the entire verse

Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends

It’s brilliantly lyrically, the repetition of “c” in line one; the contrast between “beginning” and “end” in line three; the juxtaposing of “enemies” in the first line with “friends” in the last. It’s great poetry. (It’s also superb musically, the significance of this verse highlighted by the delicate edge “hammer on.”)

It’s also deeply Christian. Love your enemies is a concept unique to Christianity. It is a radical approach to conflict, a refusal to let the victor-victim narratives define those who participate. Instead, the inversion of power, the gift given to all participants, to chose how they respond, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.

Posted by steve at 05:42 AM

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ode to the feline flirt at Hagia Sophia

Hagia Cat

Cats paw
Hagia proud
Kneaded Turkish pride,

Carpet
East mets West
in consumer dance

Cats mother
Blue Mosque blue bred
Serene in Allah’s will

Cats father
Greek Orthodox
History, marginal minority worn with pride

Cats purr
Scented, scraps from tourists,
tired

Posted by steve at 01:52 AM

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

colours of creation

I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colours will bleed into one

It’s a line from U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking. It’s in stark contrast to some of what I observed today, and have been experiencing over recent months.

Today, the Spice Market in Istanbul. Such richness of colour in the world of spice, so linked to taste, in the food we eat.

colours1

In June, in Sydney, an art installation in the main foyer. It included a fan, gently blowing, that allowed the colours to move, touched by the wind. So soon after Pentecost, it seemed a wonderful expression of Pentecost, the wind of God’s Spirit that does not bring uniformity. Instead, as each heard in their own language, it brings individuality, affirms culture, encourages diversity, insists on contextualisation.

colours2

Over Christmas, a bead shop in Christchurch. Again, such richness of colour. This time, so linked to play, the creative act that is bead making. So close to Christmas, an expression of the act of creation, in which God lavishes not mono-cultures, but the enormous diversity of creation.

colours3

Me things, U2 that you’ve got you’re theology wrong. The colours of the Kingdom are not bleeding into one, but into the rainbow of God’s purposes.

We live in such a rich world. Bring on the colours of creation in all the tables of humanity

Posted by steve at 04:59 AM

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

alt.worship in Istanbul

This is the most gorgeous space for alt.worship.

cisterns Istanbul

The Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Built by a Roman Emperor (Justinian), to store water in 532 AD, they have been opened to tourists in recent years.

It was dark, being underground, which immediately invited a different experience. It was lit, each pillar, creating a rich mood. There was water, being an underground cistern, which gave the light another surface to reflect with. There was music, a soft, ethereal, looped recording, which opened up a even richer space. There was history, something retrieved from the past and offered into contemporary culture. It was a reminder of the beauty and potential of space.

Not all alt.worship can find such spaces.

But that awareness of environments, the interplay of senses and the retrieval of history – those are all key elements in alt.worship. The best exploration of this is Doug Gay, Remixing The Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology. His work on unbundling and retrieval provide an excellent analysis of the rich and complex interactions possible when faith is thrown forward because it is located in the past.

Posted by steve at 04:40 AM

Sunday, September 14, 2014

out of office: Istanbul and Israel

I’m on the road for the next few weeks.

I’m speaking in Jerusalem, at the Uniting Church National Ministers Conference. Prior to that, I’m taking a few days to recover from jet lag. This will be Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia, tasting an immense history.

I have thought very little about it, given the intensity of the last few weeks.

But it is probably the perk of my year, so when I get there, I am sure I will enjoy it.

I will be travelling with my partner, who for some reason, felt she really needed to join with me on this particular trip. That is one thing I have very much been looking forward to!

Posted by steve at 07:39 PM

Saturday, September 13, 2014

fresh expressions through sociology of religion lens

I found out yesterday that The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) is meeting in Adelaide in 2014. I do have quite a bit on my plate this weekend (including travelling overseas).

But I have been keen for a while to examine my fresh expressions sustainability data using a sociological lens, and in particular to engage with the rich material emerging from the UK. So a quick glance through my book shelves and I have offered the following abstract for consideration.

TITLE: A sociological parsing of everyday religious innovation: An analysis of first expressions

Abstract

In 2001, qualitative research was conducted of ten new forms of church emerging in the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Church of England adopted an extensive theological apparatus, including the nomenclature of Fresh Expressions, to define, then manage, these emerging innovations.

In 2012, as part of a longitudinal project, further research was conducted, first, into the development of these individual innovations and second into the interplay between institutional intent (Fresh Expressions) and local communities (fresh expressions). This paper seeks to analyse these interactions using a number of sociological lens.

Firstly, innovative entrepreneurialism, a concept Warner deploys to investigate contemporary religious life (Secularization and Its Discontents, 2010). It will be argued that this lens has limited potential. It provides a mechanism to understand the institutional impulses of Fresh Expressions. It describes outputs from these local (fresh expression) communities. However, it makes little sense of themes emerging from the interview data, regarding the interplay between everyday faith and life.

Second, generational. Many of the local innovations researched emerged among University educated young adults. Research into the trajectories of young adult religious belief (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 2013) certainly offers a more nuanced understanding of fresh expressions as located within a wider sociological ecology. However, this lens offers few conceptual tools to map the interplay between local innovation and ecclesial institution.

Third, belief as cultural performance. Abby Day argues for varieties of belief, as evolving over time, especially when tied to sets of sustaining relationships (Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 2011). This provides a helpful way to understand Fresh Expressions, as a cultural performance responding to changing social ecologies. It also makes sense of some of themes emerging from local fresh expressions. However, the fact that a number of the fresh expressions had, by 2012, ceased, suggests an additional category, that of belief enacted in funeral performance.

Posted by steve at 05:32 PM

Friday, September 12, 2014

a college of passion

Passion.

Twice this week I’ve been told that a Uniting College lecture is full of passion.

First, a visitor. A successful local business person, dropping in to see “what happens”? And at half-time, looking the lecturer in the eye and thanking them for their passion.

Second, a lecturer. Inviting guests to share of their ministry. Glad, at lecture’s end, of the passion. And how it infected the students, shaped the tutorial, infected the ongoing learning of the class.

Passion.

What is interesting is that passion is a core value at Uniting College. You know those vision statements, destined to sit at the bottom of a pile of papers? Well, the vision statement of Uniting College includes passion:

To develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional Church, who are:
Passionate
Christ-centred
Highly skilled
Mission-oriented practitioners

So, somehow, passion has snuck out of our vision statement, leapt of the page and seeped into how classes. How?

I asked this question at our team yesterday. What does passion mean for us? And how has it leaked into our life?

And so together we talked as a team.

  • is it because we care for our students? We’re not just about our research, we’re also about the people who come to learn and grow with us
  • is it because we’re shaped by suffering? That in each of us as lecturers, there has been a personal learning, a vulnerability
  • it is because we’re authentic? We want to walk our talk. We want what we say about faith, about ministry, about life, to be lived in us and livable through us.
  • is it because we’re sacrificial? Many of us have been paid better elsewhere. We’ve taken pay reductions to work here, because we believe in the Kingdom, believe in what we’re doing.
  • is it because we’re whole-bodied? The creative act invites us to take risks, to offer ourselves in risk into our projects, our lectures, our classes.

Passion. In us. In all of us as a team. In our life.  Snd so in our lectures. And please, in God’s grace, in our students.

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2014

facing forward Uniting Colleges

“We need different kind of leadership; people that respond quickly to new situations; people that don’t come with a ready made tool kit of resources; people that know how to draw out the best of the local community” So said Andrew Dutney in announcing the birth of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology five years ago. It was the reason for the change of name, a commitment to be a different kind of College that would train a different type of leader.

It’s consistent with how scholarship is understood in the Basis of Union. Paragraph 11 links scholarship with the mission of the church for fresh words and deeds, as the occasion demands. Thus the Uniting Church seeks a different model of scholar than that offered by the modern University. It seeks scholarship (and by implication, a College) that is ecclesial because it is integrative (read alongside paragraph 10), missionary, innovative (fresh words and deeds) and contextual (as the occasion demands).

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM

Friday, September 05, 2014

A cross to carry: Calvary film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for September 2014, of Calvary.

Calvary
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” Jack Brennan, Village butcher

Calvary is, according to the Christian faith, the place where Jesus met death. It stands at the end of his Passion, the final resting place in a final week of suffering. “Calvary” is also a film, in which a respected Catholic priest in a remote Irish village is invited, unexpectedly, to face his death.

One Saturday, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in the act of offering a routine round of confession, hears an unknown man recount his story of childhood abuse. The actions of a certain “bad priest”, now dead, deserve punishment. Father James, has been chosen, because he is a “good priest”, to atone for the sins on another by meeting his death Sunday week. It is a bitter take on the Christian interpretation of Calvary, in which one innocent man is invited to suffer for the sins of another.

It is a clever move, both theologically and technically. It provides a way to cast a darkening shadow over James daily life as a priest. At mass on Sunday, through pastoral visitation on Monday, at the pub on Wednesday, James encounters a host of multiple minor characters. An angry mechanic (Isaach De Bankole), a cynical surgeon (Aidan Gillen), a dying novelist (M. Emmet Walsh), each amplify the opening confession.

It builds suspense. Which one of the males James encounters is the unknown man in the confessional? Together these multiple characters become a rising crescendo of sustained outrage. The road to James’ Calvary becomes a suffering not only for the sins of a “bad priest”, but for the acts of a “bad church”, enmeshed in a perceived history of colonisation, injustice and oppression.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James is superb. Entering the priesthood following the death of his wife, he towers over the windswept heather of this bleak Irish coastline. Intelligent, deadpan, he seems, like a sponge, to absorb the hostility that surrounds him. He is delightfully humanised by the appearance of his daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Her appearance introduces a further challenge to the Christian narrative of Calvary. If Christ’s crucifixion is preordained, is it actually a suicide?

In “Calvary”, as in the Gospel accounts of Calvary, the Christ light of devotion and faith are held most clearly by assorted women. We met Teresa (Marie-Josée Croze), whose husband dies in a car accident on the last day of their long planned holiday. She meets this tragedy with grace and acceptance. It is a welcome foil to the bitterness of the village and a source of sustenance for James as he contemplates whether his cup of suffering should be taken from him.

In the end, “Calvary” is one man against a village. It is hard to imagine in real life a priest so isolated. Or perhaps this is the message of the movie? That today, the Church in the West is isolated. Alone it needs to suffer, in atonement for the sins of it’s past.

If so, then it might find aid in the faith of many a Teresa as it prays through the agony of Gethsemane and the suffering of Calvary.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 11:43 PM