Tuesday, July 19, 2016

living off a laptop

Driving back from Christchurch yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve only managed one day working at my office desk, surrounded by my books and files, in the last 4 weeks. Certainly not planned!

First, there were 9 days of block course intensive in Wellington. This was followed by that one day at the office – in which I scrambled to prepare printed resources and organise for the next major piece. That was 15 days on the road. This involved 8 meetings and 5 speaking engagements, spread across 2 countries, 8 cities and towns, made possible through 5 flights and 2 rental cars.

canterbury It wasn’t something I intentionally planned. Rather it was simply what emerged as I tried to make sense of a range of commitments and a set of practical realities.

A desire to be Knox national, rather than Knox Dunedin, combined with a rugby test in Dunedin that sent accommodation prices through the roof, made Wellington a logical option for a KCML blockcourse. An academic conference in Melbourne, made possible a few days of recovery in a friends holiday house near Sydney. A request to speak in Wellington for two days to a group of ministers (Give us this day our daily bread: spirituality of eating) made sense as a stop over coming back from Sydney. A need to connect with incoming (2017) interns and explore potential placements in the Christchurch area, made sense as a next stop after Wellington. Interns and potential placements spread between Rangiora and Geraldine made logical a rental car and so a drive from Christchurch back to Dunedin (mixed in with a lovely few nights restoration at our family holiday home). During which the realisation hit me: one day working at my office desk in the last 4 weeks.

Which meant that today, one of my team cheekily asked the rest of the team if anyone knew who I was. While another asked if I deserved a desk!

Living off a laptop is made possible because of:

1. A flexible family, willing to come with me to academic conferences and join me on holidays and road trips between Christchurch and Dunedin.
2. A focused, competent, self-sufficient work team, very secure in their roles, who get on with their tasks, whether I’m present or not.
3. Evernote and Google calendar, which helps me keep track of a range of details and notes.
4. A computer (Mac) which enables me to access material for speaking engagements as I go, allowing me to be responsive to context and room, to prepare a talk in a hotel room or beachside holiday house.
5. A cellphone, which I can tether as a hot spot and deal with email.

When I began as Principal, I wanted to be a national Principal, not a Dunedin Principal. However I never envisaged the type of movement and travel that would result. I love the richness, the mix of developing leaders, presenting research, offering professional development and dreaming futures with churches and leaders.

But I also love being home and having an office and seeing my books and settling back into the regular routines of running and (snack) writing.

Posted by steve at 08:23 PM

Thursday, July 14, 2016

spirituality of eating: a lectio vocatio

I led a two day retreat for Wellington Ministers this week. The brief was fairly broad: to speak on something they’d not heard from me before. I decided to focus on “Give us this day our daily bread” and explore the spirituality of eating and the implications for ministry and mission.

Each session involved a five step cycle, which I called “lectio vocatio” – listening to God and each other – amid a shared vocation as ministers.

  • Stories: reflective questions that invited story sharing
  • Bible stories – read firstly for ordinary eating
  • Bible stories – read secondly for theological purposes
  • Ministry stories
  • Application: Given the spirituality of “eating” in this Biblical story, what are the implications for ministry and mission?

I was rifting off lumia domestica, an art exhibition by Willie Williams, and how he takes ordinary things (culled from Oxfam shops across the world), and makes reflective, beautiful things. So in the ordinary of eating, there is beauty, which makes us go “wow.”

A first session revolved around Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18, to consider call

  • Where are the places in which you have met strangers?
  • What are the practices of hospitality you have experienced?

People had been invited to bring some cloth meaningful to them. These were laid on the table, as a way of making ourselves present in the circle of God’s love (in which our call to ministry begins). The diversity and colour was a rich reminder of particularity and uniqueness in ministry.


A second session focused on the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17, to consider justice, community development and climate change

  • Who are the “widows” in our community?
  • What are their sticks and flour?

People had been invited to bring a tin can. We reflected on where the “daily bread” we eat comes from and what we knew about the production and people. This became intercession, as we placed our tin cans prayerfully.


A third session focused on Rahab in Joshua 2, to consider formation in mission and our willingness to work with what God is doing in unexpected places

  • Where have you experienced shelter (food and a roof) in the lands of another?
  • When have you unexpectedly heard affirmations of faith?

In ending, we cleared the table. As each person reclaimed their cloth and tin can, they shared an action they would like to engage, as a result of engaging together. The table was emptying, yet there was a renewed intentionality toward our ordinary tables of mission and ministry to which we were returning, grounded in a depth of contemplating (lectio) our vocations in ministry together.


I very much enjoy this type of teaching. The theme provided a different way to reflect on ministry and mission. The movement between silence, Scripture, story and discussion felt empowering, yet provocative. The chance to build something over a number of days opened up every deeper layers of conversation.

Key books in my preparation were: John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation and Rebecca Huntley, Eating Between the Lines and Anne Richards, Sense Making Faith: Body, Spirit, Journey.

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Built for change: review by Peter Overton

bookcover On Facebook Peter Overton has just posted a (lovely) review of my latest book Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership.

This is the book to read, re read, reflect, buy for leadership teams, read, re read, reflect. It’s not a quick fix, it’s adaptive leadership and way more. It’s the story of adaptive leadership in practice and much more. He uses image of Servant/listener, Gardener, Builder, Resource Manager Fool and Parent to unpack Adaptive leadership in I Cor 3 and 4 and applies this to National Church Life Survey. I have already done a Elders/leaders seminar for another Church using the models in this book and it really connected with them, we meet again in Six months to review progress. This by the way was in preparation for a new placement coming in 2017 to the Church so in my words they can be built for Change. Congratulations Steve Taylor.

Built for Change: a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership explores the 6 strengths that change requires, and demonstrates that collaborative change is both practical and possible. Steve wrote ‘Built for Change’ around the concluding of his placement at Uniting College and transitioning into his new role as Principal for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand. The book shares stories, provides theological reflection on Jesus the innovator and offers insight into a personal spirituality of change.

Built for change is now available in Australia and New Zealand. NZ orders via this page. Australia orders to mediacom dot Org dot Au.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Our Little Sister: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for July 2016.

Our Little Sister
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Our Little Sister” is a window into rural Japanese culture. It is a politely, heart-warming, albeit slightly surreal alternative, to Japan as industrialised, high-tech and fast-paced.

Three adult sisters share life in the family home. Together they have found a way to live despite being abandoned by their parents: a father who left for another woman and a mother who disappears for fifteen years, crippled by grief.

At their father’s funeral, the three sisters meet their thirteen-year old younger sister for the first time. In the face of shared grief, she joins them in the family home. It sets in motion the facing of an unfolding set of bitter-sweet, until then unexplored, memories.

“Our Little Sister” began life as manga. Manga is comic and cartoon, a Japanese art form read by all ages. It is big business, an industry worth over $5.5 billion dollars. Manga includes more than action and anime. It has spilled into commerce and comedy, history and horror, murder and mystery, sci-fi and fantasy. There is even a Manga Bible, published in 2006 by Next, a non-profit organization. It aims to appeal to those who no longer attend church or find traditional Bible translations less than accessible.

“Our Little Sister” is Josei manga, a genre aimed at women in their late teens and early adulthood. It began life as a monthly serial: “Umimachi Dairy.” Created by Akimi Yoshida, “Umimachi” means Seaside Town in Japanese. It suggests a rural idyll common among industrialised urban dwellers.

The attempt by director Hirokazu Koreeda to turn the episodic nature of monthly serial into a plot arcing over 120 minutes is less than successful. Three patterns of life are introduced. Daily, there is the preparation and consumption of food. Food is a setting for memory making and community building. This involves repeated scenes both at home as the younger sister is slowly woven into domestic life and at the local diner. What emerges is an approach to food not as recipe books and celebrity chefs but as knowledge shared in inter-generational making.

A second pattern is seasonal. The movie is structured around Japanese rural idyll. These include the cherry blossoms of spring, the plum harvest of summer and the capture of white bait in season. These weave further layers in the unfolding of memories.

A third pattern is generational. In “Our Little Sister”, these involve funerals and memorials rather than births and weddings.

Each of these three patterns amplify the dysfunctional distortion at the movies’ heart. Food, seasons and funerals create memories, each of which is distorted by the strangeness of four sisters live in a mono-generational family unit.

Mono-generational makes sense when your manga market involves women in their late teens and early adulthood. But as way of life it ends up becoming a somewhat surreal “seaside” diary.

“Our Little Sister” is well worth the watch. Despite the attention required when reading subtitles, the humour is rich, the characters rewarding and the crossing of cultures endearing, even if slightly surreal.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Monday, July 04, 2016

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under ANZATS Forum

“Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under.”
Tuesday, 5 July, ANZATS, 4-5:30 pm

Welcome to the Fieldwork in theology forum. This forum focuses on the place of qualitative research in theology. The intention is to share fieldwork notes, the realities encountered in using qualitative research in theology.

Why? The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend in theology. Each year since 2012, there has been an annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK. In 2012, Eerdmans launched two books: Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography edited by Chris Scharen and Pete Ward. (I have reviewed these in the International Journal of Practical Theology and United Church Studies.) There have been sessions on Ecclesiology and Ethnography at AAR since 2012. In 2014, a new journal was launched – Ecclesial Practices journal, edited by Pete Ward, Paul Fiddes, Henk de Roest.

So journal, books, conferences in UK and US all point to a growing trend in theology.

Downunder, the most internationally recognised writing from Australia comes from Catholic theologian, Neil Ormerod. He wrote a chapter for The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. At 684 pages, edited by Gerard Mannion and Lewis Mudge, The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church is one of the most impressive global summaries of contemporary ecclesiology.

Ormerod’s chapter was titled “Ecclesiology and the Social Sciences”. He wrote of a “major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study … an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, Routledge: London and New York, 2008, 639-654.

Ormerod develops this further in his 2005 paper for the Theological Studies journal. He notes that “attempts to engage with the social sciences have not been prominent among ecclesiologists.” (815) For Ormerod, this is a theological problem: “underlying these difficulties lies one of the most profound theological mysteries, that of the interrelationship of grace and nature.” (818)

Ormerod’s downunder perspective gives us some definition. Fieldwork in theology is about a focus on ecclesiology not as idealized, but as grounded in the lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The use of social sciences to clarify the shape of this lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The belief that qualitative research is theological: faith seeking understanding at the intersection of grace and nature.

How and Who? In order to explore Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under, I have brought together a panel of four folk

  • Darren Cronshaw
  • Lynne Taylor
  • Kevin Ward
  • Steve Taylor

All have undertaken fieldwork in theology, using qualitative research in pursuing theological questions.

I have asked them each to share for around 10 minutes:

  • First, a summary of their fieldwork in theology research
  • Second, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology.
  • Third, the most complex issue generated by your use of fieldwork in theology.

The aim is not to present research results as such. Rather it is to explore methods, methodologies and theologies – the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology. We will do this by using our discussion time not to ask specific questions of each paper, but rather construct a mind map, asking what are issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology.

My hope is that this helps us focus on the realities of research and perhaps set a future research agenda.

Posted by steve at 11:39 PM

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology

I’m crossing the ditch this week. First stop is Melbourne, where I am part of ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Second stop is holidays (more on that later).

In Melbourne at ANZATS I’m doing a number of things. These include leading a Forum that I have initiated: Fieldwork in Theology: learnings down-under.

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under
This forum will focus on the place of qualitative research in theology. The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend, as evident in the new Ecclesial Practices journal, the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK and sessions at AAR since 2012. This forum will provide space to share fieldwork notes, including experiences of using qualitative research in theology, issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology and ways to network.”

This involves a panel of four (Dr Cronshaw, Dr Taylor, Lynne Taylor, Dr Ward). Each will address the question: first, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology; second the most complex issue generated by their use of fieldwork in theology. The aim is to allow discussion of the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology, in order to engage the topic focus: the place of qualitative research in theology.

Third, I am presenting a conference paper. It emerges from my experiences on Walking on Country last year and ongoing conversation, digitally and by long-distance telephone call, with Denise Champion.



Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Here is the introduction …

Wanangha nai. Which means in Adnyamathanha, Where am I going? In this paper, where I am going is to share the story of Great Uncle Alf, honoured by the South Australian Police in 2004, who, I will argue embodies atonement: a knowledge of “this place” so deep that the lost are found and returned to home and community.

To do that I need to provide a methodology, which I do through James McClendon’s notion of biography as theology: that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology).

And a Biblical conversation, which I do in conversation with Kenneth Bailey, who argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament).

Wanangha nai: Where am I going in post-colonial missiology?

First, Missio Dei – God is active in the world. Hence in cultures there are God-bearers, in whom God is Incarnate. Not fully. But enough that God is revealed and cultures and communities are dignified as God-bearers.

Second, paying attention to “ordinary readers.” Gerard West, in the context of South Africa, argued that it was well past time for the academy to read Scripture not by educating the non-scholarly to read the Bible like the academy (Reading Other-wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with Their Local Communities). Rather by nurturing communities of “intuitive and critical interpreters …[who].. come to the biblical texts from different perspectives that are equally valid.” I will explore what that means among an indigenous community in South Australia.

After 9 months immersed in Aotearoa New Zealand and the role at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, I am really looking forward to stepping off the dance floor/crossing the ditch, to see friends, to say hello to Melbourne and to pick up some research threads that remain important to me and my mission journey while in Australia.

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Being a birthing Church: litany in times of change

God in stories of change was the devotional theme for our winter block course. Where is God in change? Who are humans in change? How then might we respond, as humans, as interns? Every morning we gathered around these questions, with interns being invited to engage a set of Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 2:6b-12
Genesis 18:1-14 (Sarah)
Genesis 16: 1-14 (Hagar)
Genesis 18:1-14 (Abraham)
1 Samuel 1:1-20 (Hannah)
Luke 1:39-45 (Elizabeth)
Luke 1:39-45 (Mary)

A key resource in the choice of Scriptures was Margaret Hammer, Giving Birth: Reclaiming the Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice. It explores ministry through the lens of birthing narratives in the Christian tradition and offers a rich set of resources.

pregnant-1435168-1279x964 The link between change and birthing made sense first, of the fact that a third of our interns are experiencing changes with birth. A very healthy happening! Second, the call to be the people of God in this season, of which change is normal.

After devotions ended today, I wrote a Litany (a series of petitions, usually recited with call and response in a recurring formula). I wanted to capture key themes gifted to us by each intern in their devotion and provide some sort of thread to bind the days together.

In Paul, Silas, Timothy
The nursing mother cares
The father encourages
ALL: We might suffer (as church)
Yet the mission gives birth

In three strangers
The door of hope opens
As Abraham looks up
ALL: We might laugh (with Sarah)
Yet the barren give birth

In domestic discord
God sees:
Speaks, protects
ALL: We might despair (with Hagar)
Yet the vulnerable give birth

In Eli’s challenge
Amid despairing prayer
And heartfelt honesty
ALL: We might weep (with Hannah)
Yet the faithful give birth

In adolescent haste
Christ dwells
Spirit fills
ALL: We might hurry (with Mary)
Yet young and old give birth

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Friday, June 24, 2016

Being a guest, hosting a host: KCML in Wellington

It is always fun when you find yourself as guest hosting a host. It was a joy on Tuesday night for KCML to host the Wellington Forum of Central Presbytery. The place was packed. Extra chairs were needed with locals suggesting it was the largest ever gathering of the Wellington Forum.

When we as KCML began planning to move our winter blockcourse from Dunedin to Wellington, one of our hopes was that we would find ways to connect locally, both with place and with the Presbytery.

When we emailed the Presbytery, we discovered that the Wellington Forum, which meets every few months, was meeting on the Tuesday of our arrival. Great timing.

After a number of conversations, the Forum kindly agreed to meet at Silverstream Retreat, where KCML is staying. We agree to share a meal, for those able to come at 6 pm. Which meant that as newly arrived guest, I got to welcome Presbytery members to dinner.


It was great to look around and see a room with interns at every table, eating with Presbytery members from across the Wellington region.

When the Forum began officially after dinner, KMCL was given 40 minutes. First, we invited two of our interns to share about their experience as interns. Second, we launched two hot off the press KCML resources. KCML is committed to resourcing the local church and in the last month, we have released a CD and a book.


Songs for the saints is a musical resource for small churches by Malcolm Gordon. Built for Change is my new book, which reflects – practically, theologically – on innovation and change. I had hoped to have actual copies. However stocks are already low in Australia. Good news for the book on one side of the Tasman, bad news for it on this side. I mocked up a copy, which meant that both resources could be physically blessed by Kevin Ward, Senior Lecturer at KCML.


Third, the KCML strategic plan was shared, followed by questions. The plan was recently endorsed by Council of Assembly and this was the first time it was shared publicly. It was great to talk about Presbytery partnerships, New Mission Seedlings, National Learning Diploma and to sense the interest and enthusiasm from those present. “Can I have a copy of your powerpoint for my church?” was a great question to be asked.

All in all, a great evening for KCML and for our interns, as together we experienced being Presbyterian, being part of the wider church.

Posted by steve at 03:36 PM

Monday, June 20, 2016

KCML in Wellington: Winter 2016 blockcourse

KCML is in Wellington for the 9 days of our Winter 2016 blockcourse. This is new territory for us. It is the first time a KCML blockcourse has been held outside Dunedin (apart from occasional visits to Auckland and Ohope). We are staying in Silverstream, a retreat centre in the Hutt Valley.


The possibility emerged after discussions with the Synod of Otago and Southland, during meetings in February and again in March. This included conversation about the geographic location of intern block courses. The Synod noted their commitment to theological education both locally and nationally and hence the logic of block courses being held both locally and nationally.

The pragmatics emerged in April. With the 3rd All Black v Wales test in Dunedin in June, weekend accommodation was becoming both difficult to find and expensive.

The Presbytery connections emerged in May. The response from local churches has been fantastic. There are rumours of homebaking arriving on Tuesday. We are hosting the Presbytery on Tuesday evening. They will hear from interns and we will launch two new resources – one book and one CD – we at KCML have published in the last month. We will make site visits, to a local innovation site as we reflect on “the Church is led by Christ to do new things” (Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, D-4) and to the Assembly Office, as part of building our patterns and connections with the wider church.

Being first time there will undoubtedly be some glitches. All part of “the task of initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness” (Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, D-4)!

Posted by steve at 02:21 PM

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Urban farming

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)


Plant this movie: the International Urban Farming Documentary was on at the Rialto this Sunday morning. It was an inspirational watch. A few scenes moved me to tears, in particular the vision for culture change possible in decaying urban environments.

Movies like this make sense of my first degree, Bachelor of Horticulture, my love for gardens and some of my research and writing into community gardens – like Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant


Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Friday, June 17, 2016

KCML strategic plan “enthusiastically endorsed”

On Saturday, I was in Auckland presenting the KCML strategic plan to Council of Assembly. It is something I have been working away on for the first 8 months of the job, through team retreats, listening and engaging across the church, seeking feedback on drafts from key stakeholders and testing pieces in a range of contexts. I presented to Council of Assembly for around 20 minutes, then took questions for a further hour.

While this is much more now to do in terms of communication, the Council of Assembly report out today is some indication of our direction as KCML. Key phrases worth underlining include:

adaptability to change
training for lay people
innovative training outside traditional congregation contexts
enthusiastically endorsed

The Leadership Sub-committee report was one of the highlights of this Council meeting. Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) principal, the Rev Dr Steve Taylor was welcomed to the meeting. Steve made a presentation on the KCML strategic plan. He outlined the key factors KCML believed it needed to concentrate on, and the consultation process engaged in so far. He noted that we live in a changing world, that the Church is changing and that KCML also needs to foster adaptability to change.

Steve explained the five core areas of KCML’s strategic focus, and elaborated on presbytery partnerships, new mission seedlings, a national learning diploma, post-graduate mission and ministry practice. He indicated that KCML aimed to provide Presbyterian-centred, life-long learning. It was recognised that the specific cultural contexts of Te Aka Puaho, Pacific Island and Asian congregations would be included within the strategic planning. The plan identified training for lay people as particularly important for the future of Presbyterianism. There was discussion about how the Council could best resource, within the Church’s strategic goals, support of KCML’s programmes. The Council enthusiastically endorsed the KCML strategic plan and agreed that KCML would work with the Leadership Sub-committee, Resource Sub-committee and others to investigate options for funding and implementing its strategic plan.

Council endorsed a proposal from Rev Diane Gilliam-Weeks, convener of the Leadership Sub-committee, that LSC, Press Go and KCML appoint a task group to work strategically together to develop and have oversight of local learning entities for innovative training outside traditional congregation contexts. This would provide the ability to oversee the range of partnerships and ensure the learnings/benefits from these local learning entities are effectively communicated to the rest of the Church for the benefit of God’s mission.

Posted by steve at 03:29 PM

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The potential of micro-ecclesiologies: Or Who else, beside historians, should visit archives?

I delivered the Presbyterian Research Centre Network winter lecture tonight. It was my 4th talk, on my 4th different topic, in my 4th city, in the last 8 days. Tonight was a chance to try out something I’ve been thinking about for a while, to run a “research query” on the possibilities of what I defined as “micro-ecclesiologies” for practical theology.


Here’s my conclusion

In the first half of this talk, I embarked on an “inquisitive and chaotic … [journey] guided by … curiousity.” (quoting Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading). I described visits to the Presbyterian Research Centre, Alexander Turnbull, Hocken and Auckland Research Centre. I described their taonga – the richness possible from lectures on explosions, Parihaka ploughs and historic photos – and the value for childrens’ workers, Biblical scholars, those interested in indigenous use of Scripture, peace activists and those desiring to locate any local church within an ecology.

In the second half of the paper, I defined and described micro-histories. I coined a term which I think is unique – micro-ecclesiologies – and then examined it in light of the Creedal affirmation of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I argued that “micro-ecclesiologies” allow us to understand the church as particular (one), participating in God’s life of justice (holy), partnering (catholic) and pioneering (apostolic) – 4 P’s in a Presbyterian context, complete with engagement with the theology of the Presbyterian Book of Order.

In other words, while there is a physical, there need be no intellectual gap between KMCL (or the Department of Theology) and Presbyterian Research Archives. Such are the partnerships offered through the study of micro-ecclesiologies.

I really appreciated the opportunity. It was great to hole up in the library this morning and have a few hours of solitude to pursue a “research query” and see where it went.

Definition of query: A query is an inquiry into the database … [It] is used to extract data from the database in a readable format according to the user’s request. (Definition from here).

booksresearch Some of the books I had not picked up for quite a few years – Miroslav Volf After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity since my PhD; Graham Ward Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice since 2007 – and it felt like I was meeting old friends again. It was wonderful to then be able to test the “research query” with a group of thinking people at the lecture and sense the energy in the room. The result is a 5,100 word paper, pulled together yesterday afternoon and this morning, half of which is new words, taking forward some thinking I’ve wanted to do in relation to practical theology and ecclesiology and ethnography. It could well be either a journal article or the draft of a methodology section for a book project. We will see. For today, it was simply wonderful to be able to think, with friends both old (the books) and new (the Presbyterian Research Network).

Posted by steve at 08:08 PM

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

I’m delivering the NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK Winter Lecture Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

Who else, beside historians, should visit archives? In the first part of this talk Steve Taylor will share some examples of how he has used archives in indigenous study, children’s talks, practical theology and missiology. The logic behind Parihaka ploughs, explosive lectures, building plans for A-frame churches and archival accounts of hitching lifts on passing boats demonstrate the value of archival research across a wide variety of ministerial and scholarly disciplines.


The second part of the talk will offer a frame by which to integrate these disparate archival examples into being church today. Micro-histories draw on a range of diverse research tools, including observation, interview, survey and archival research, to provide insight. What then, are the possibilities and limits when archives are understand as resourcing and illuminating micro-ecclesiologies? How might micro-ecclesiologies as a “theology of the unique” enrich the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic?

Winter Lecture, Thursday, 16 June 2016
5.30 to 6.45pm, Knox Centre

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.

I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.

I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.

90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!

Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.

Some papers write quicker than others. Why?

Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.

Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.

Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.

Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.

Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.

Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.

sandpit A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.

Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.

What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM