Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Imagining a New Normal

During lockdown one of the projects and communities, I’ve been involved in is Imagining a New Normal.

Within each Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand there are Mission Catalysts. Some are employed, some volunteer with a passion for God’s mission. During lockdown, these Mission Catalysts have gathered online, brought together by PressGo. The group is becoming a learning community, providing support, encouragement and sharing resources and ideas. As long-held assumptions about church services have been confronted and challenged, there are opportunities to talk about the possibilities of igniting a missional imagination, asking “what if?” questions and taking some risks.

Generally, the future unfolds in small steps. Change involves experiments, from which learnings are gleaned. This enables discernment toward the future. Mission Catalysts know the power of the story. Stories can ignite the imagination, evoke curiosity and help people to think differently.

SO … the Mission Catalysts set themselves the task of telling “what if” stories. We started from “what is” and then told forward where that might lead. Each story was then submitted to peer review. What are the mission practices embedded in each “imagining”. The stories have been collated and a first edition is here. I’ve got one, imagining local church wanting to simplify and seek to stay online. I also did some work, peer reviewing some of the peer reviewing, a way of me offering my missiology skills to the ongoing life of this important learning community.


The aim is to give permission, offer grounded mission and so to spark more stories – for local communities to “out tell” us with their real life “what if” …

The next stories are yours. We want to hear from parishes, faith communities and small groups about the things that God has been stirring up. About the things you have tried that worked and the ones that didn’t. Stories that start with the seed of an idea, ask “what if” and then, with a playful demeanour, give it a go.

Posted by steve at 03:24 PM

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

After the Christchurch mosque attacks, there were many, many ways that people responded. One of them was to research, as part of action-reflection capacity building. So (the remarkable) Lynne Taylor and I initiated the following.

tear on cheek

Email to Presbyterian and Baptist Churched — Research for an investigation on how churches responded to the Christchurch mosque terror attacks

The research explores how churches responded in their worship services to the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch. How do churches talk about tragic events? What do they do in response to such events in their worship services? For example, what and how do they pray? What resources do those leading the services draw on in deciding how to respond?

In doing so, the research explores best practice in this area of church pastoral ministry. It provides insight on church practice, as a resource for training of future leaders in theological reflection, congregational leading and worship leading and to assist with professional development of ministers and worship leaders.

All ministers and worship leaders are invited to participate. Depending on your responses, the questionnaire should take 5-10 minutes to complete.

It is a followup to work we did in November 2015 – Praying after Paris – which resulted in a presentation to Presbyterian ministers and another to chaplains at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand conference.

Using the same questions, but with new data from a differently tragic situation – will provide further action-reflection insights. Hence a joint paper proposal submitted last week for ANZATS 2019.

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived practical theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy.  Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, along with bombings in Beirut and Baghdad) and in March 2019 (following the shootings at the Christchurch mosques). In the midst of trauma, how had churches prayed? Pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations (Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ and Baptist Churches of NZ) were invited via email to participate in both phases of the research. General invitations to participate were also posted on social media.

In this paper, we consider the resources used by local churches and the theologies evident in their worship responses.  The data will be read through the lens of Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming). How might these theologies interpret the data? Are different understandings of God present when events are local in contrast to events that are global?  What of human responses to trauma of earth-making/holding; pain-bearing/suffering; and life-giving/transforming? The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM

Thursday, March 22, 2018

preaching to a burgled church

Last weekend I was preaching at a local church. I arrived in the morning to the news that the church auditorium had been burgled overnight. The sound system and data projector were gone. With the Police on the way to dust for fingerprints, there was no way the auditorium could be used.

broken-window-1501606 (not an actual picture of the actual burglary)

The church had a hall and with 15 minutes to go, I suddenly not only had a whole group of strangers to meet and greet for the first time. I also had a church service to re-jig. My preparation had included a number of creative moments that relied on the now absent sound system and data projector:

  • the use of three art images to illuminate the Lectionary text, to be shown via the data projector
  • a digital file of a song for during the offering
  • a digital file of a song for the end of the service
  • a responsive contemporary Immigrants Creed

In addition, there was a hall to set up, along with the range of emotions that would be present. Which meant some rapid mental reshuffling and some interesting learnings.

First, at the beginning, the value of humour and a settling prayer.  As we began, I introduced myself, noted the burglary and that as a result, this would be a service I would never forget. So could we pause and in this new and unsettling space, take a moment to gather ourselves.  I then named some of the emotions running through me and invited God to be present. Doing this provided some instant connection and a sense of solidarity.

Second, at the end, as a key leader in the church stood to thank me for the worship and sermon, the comment was made “It is good to be reminded we don’t need a building in order to worship.”   In other words, the enforced shift provided an experience in which the shared realisation could emerge – that worship does not rely on bricks and mortar.

Third, thank goodness for hymn books. Yes, all the words for sung worship had been carefully loaded ready for data projection and these could no longer be used. But a stack of hymn books meant that we soon had something to sing. More importantly, everyone had something to hold, something familiar. This gave a sense of comfort. It also meant that the absence of the digital songs I had planned for the offering and the end of the service could be quietly dropped.

Fourth, the enforced shift made it easy to implement immediate change.  I was suddenly no longer the visiting speaker but the leader in an unfamiliar space. “How do you want the chairs?” was the first question. “Ah, circle please” I said, not sure if this was allowed. But in a new space, with no tradition, the churches were quickly arranged in a lovely relational, intimate arc. They say you need to build relationship in order to implement change. Well not in a burglary. So never waste a good crisis. Use it to enact different patterns of connecting.

Fifth, the value of being up close.  When it came time for the worship by considering three art images that illuminated the lectionary text, I announced that because of plan B – B for burglary, I would show three art images by walking around with my laptop.  I asked that a hymn be played quietly, and invited people waiting for the images to enjoy the music.  As I walked among the chairs, I noticed people leaning forward to look at my laptop. There was body movement, in a different way than if the images had been on a big screen. There was also often spontaneous comments, like “that’s the best one” or “is that a baby?”  When I mentioned the art images later in my sermon, I included these spontaneous comments, pointing to people and saying “you were right, it was a baby.”  Being up close invited a different type of bodily engagement in the act of seeing and contemplating, along with a set of interactions between myself and those present. All of this enhanced the sense of connection.

There was certainly truth in my observation that this would be a service I would never forget. It was a great morning. The burglary enabled a very different sort of worship experience, one which might in fact be remarkably useful for a church needing to continue to change.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Abstract acceptance. Delighted to be presenting with my partner, Lynne Taylor, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand: Telling Our Stories conference, December 2-3. It will be a public outing from empirical research we did into how local churches respond in worship to global events.

tear on cheek

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Friday, November 20, 2015

How do local churches respond to global events? research project

(Please share. The more responses the richer the results)

This is a short survey that asks a set of questions regarding how the local church you attended responded to the Paris attacks of Saturday 14 November, 2015 (NZT). It should take around 5-10 minutes to complete.

The survey is also being undertaken in two NZ denominations, to provide a geographic contrast alongside the networks of social media. The more people that participate that better, so do please share the link. (If you’ve also received a link via email, please use that one rather than this social media one: it’ll make analysis easier)

The research will be used in ongoing resourcing of church and worship leaders. Participation is completely voluntary. Unless you give specific permission to be contacted, all responses are anonymous.

Please click on the following link. If that does not work then copy and paste the FULL URL into your web browser: (It will NOT work to put the URL into a search engine). If you have any trouble email

Thank you (in hope) for participating in this research in understanding how local churches respond to global events.

Steve Taylor (Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand) and Lynne Taylor (Researcher, Baptist Churches of New Zealand)

Posted by steve at 01:44 PM

Sunday, March 06, 2011

mission in a quakezone

My current vocation in life is to reflect on the shape and nature of the church’s mission. I primarily do that in South Australia, which involves a lot of thinking about appropriate mission in the suburbs of ease and affluence which dot Adelaide.

But my heart remains firmly in Christchurch, in which suburbs that were formerly affluent now lie broken and twisted by nature’s force. What might be the shape and nature of the church’s mission in that city?

The dilemna is that I am now an outsider. I think from afar. So I risk being like the two old men in the Muppet Show, nothing more than a empty voice.

But I also have some space and distance and so perhaps one of the few things I can do is think. So when we discovered that the church we turned up to visit today, which according to their website was open, was actually meeting at another time and somewhere else, I tried to capture some thoughts. (more…)

Posted by steve at 04:45 PM

Thursday, March 26, 2009

preaching Christ in a credit crunch

Blog question: If you had the opportunity to teach a four-week sermon series to a congregation that would help them sift through some of the current economic issues, what would your topics be? (And just to be clear, I’m not talking about a giving or money management series, but something that reflects a biblical mindset towards economics in general).

My response: Hi, I’m working on this very question, down here in New Zealand, as my seminary has called a conversation (tonight) between business and community leaders and theologians (and I’ll be preaching on Christ and the credit crunch this Sunday at our Harvest Festival). Here’s my suggestion:
Week 1 – creativity – co-creators with God in 21st century – Genesis 1, Psalm 8, Parable of sower, parable of talents
Week 2 – justice – distribution of resources – Old Testament, host in Luke 14, Zaccheus, Joseph of Arimathea
Week 3 – sustainability – how to live within ourselves individually, communally, nationally
Week 4 – how then should we live – stories of how Kingdom is being earthed in local communities in response to credit crunch.

thoughts? comments?

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

will someone please charge the father too!

Rant begins.

So a few days ago, this really sad things happens – a newborn baby is found alive, in a rubbish bin, on an airplane. As events unfold, it is revealed that the plane has flown from Samoa to New Zealand and during the flight, a woman has given birth, and has then tried to abandon the baby. Today comes the news that she is now being charged, first with abandoning the baby girl and second, with assaulting her.

So what about the father? It takes two parties to conceive. If the mother is to be charged with abandonment, then surely the father must be as well. He has abandoned this baby just as much as the mother has. Where is he when the going gets tough? Cowardly males, taking the easy option, getting off scott-free!

Rant over.

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Friday, October 10, 2008

needing an economic saint. but who?

This post, by friend Andrew Menzies got me leafing through my deck of economic “saints”. I offered these economic “saints” at Opawa last year, as part of a series on money. At the door, everyone was given a 5 cm by 7 cm cardboard card. There were 7 different cards in total; four Biblical characters – Micah, Joseph of Arimathea, Zaccheus, the sower of seed in Matthew 13; and three historical figures – William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa and our church treasurer. On each card was a bit of information about the person. (So, here for example is Zacchues (click to enlarge): zacchaeus.jpg).

For that service, we explored a contemporisation of the Parable of the Talents – 3 people who used their talents differently; one who used their talents to trade sweat shopped goods, one who used their talents but lost them when the share market collapsed, and one who invested their talents in retirement (full story here).

And together, as part of the sermon, we wondered what Jesus, and what these economic “saints” would say to these contemporary usages of talents.

(Updated): That was a year ago, but the scenarios all seem quite deja vu today. And got me wondering, which “saint” do we most need to guide us now:
Denounce injustice with Micah who denounced injustice, and probably would do so again on Wall Street
Restore confidence by investing now, like Joseph of Arimathea who carefully kept assets (a tomb) and used them to care for another in crisis,
Refuse to seek profit from other’s demise, like Zaccheus who repaid ill-gotten gain,
Take risks, like the sower of seed in Matthew 13 who cast seeds (credit?) wholesale and willynilly
Pray for politicians, like William Wilberforce, salt and light, in corridors of power in difficult times
Live more simply with less clutter, like Mother Teresa, living simply and in piety
Encourage church treasurer’s, seeking to balance budgets as investments returns fall?
What wisdom might any of these ancient characters offer us in these troubled times?

Posted by steve at 02:41 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2008

where was God in the Mangatepopo River tragedy?

Church services today gave time for people to process the Mangatepopo River tragedy. One of our artists offered a painting, titled “What becomes of the brokenhearted?” People were invited to write a one word response on a bandaid and place it on the artpiece, and/or to sign a card. Sermonically, I wrestled with the topic of Where was God in the Mangatepopo River tragedy? I got lots, and lots, of grateful comments. So I place my thoughts here, in case others find it useful.

For those who like the highlights, I point out that we are not the first people to face grief. I worked through Psalm 69. Where is God?
– in the love of the community
– in honesty
– in those who honestly examine their own lives
– in the gift of free will
– in our willingness to take action

And I conclude that God acts not by stopping suffering … but by stepping into our suffering.


Posted by steve at 11:59 PM

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sunday services as New Zealand mourns

This week has been an incredibly sad week for all New Zealanders. We have been saddened by the loss of 7 lives at the Mangatepopo River. This includes Tony McClean, son of one of our Baptist pastor’s, John and Jeanette McClean. We have been saddened and angered by the discovery of the body of teenager Marie Davis here in Christchurch.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” 1 Corinthians 11:26

Our Sunday morning service will allow time for us to pray together in the light of the events of this week. We will explore the question that must be on many lips – “where is God?” by using the Psalms of the Bible. We will have two large cards, for any who want to sign, and to send to John and Jeanette McClean and to Elim Christian School.

On Sunday evening, when more of our teenagers are present, we will allow time to pray together for the family of Marie Davis. Similarly, we will have a large card for any who want to sign, and to send to her family.

Steve Taylor, for Opawa Pastoral team

Posted by steve at 03:31 PM

Thursday, November 29, 2007

where is God today? reading everyday culture

I have on my desk 3 post-graduate assessments. One is titled “Theology of Desperate Housewives.” Another is exploring the extent of Incarnation and community in Second Life. A third is exploring re-enchantment in contemporary film. All are from Universities and are demanding my marking attention. All are part of a new discipline, that of the relationship between theology and popular culture.

All this is important given the discussion going on in the comments in relation to my post on the theology of U2/Bono, questioning both the validity and how one might go about reading popular culture. I have found three resources useful in my thinking.

Understanding theology and popular culture, by Gordon Lynch, suggests three potential approaches to reading Bono or TV or a film. One is to focus on the author, much as I have done with Bono, using his explanation of the song Waves of Sorrow. Another is text-based and this would involve exploring the lyrics and words. Another is an ethnographic approach, to ask people what they are hearing as they listen and engage.

Everyday theology, by Kevin Vanhoozer, has chapters with titles like The Gospel according to Safeway, A theological account of Eminem, The Business of Busyness, Welcome to the Blogosphere, Weddings for Everyday theologians. It has an excellent introduction and then 10 examples. Quite practical and accessible.

Thirdly, there is an excellent article by Gordon H. Matties titled “On Movies as a Spiritual Discipline,” which offers five sets of questions, which can help structure the way we engage with popular culture. These are:

1) Where are we? What kind of world does the movie depict and do I identify with it?

2) Who are we? What does it mean to be human and in relationship?

3) What is wrong? How does the movie portray the human condition?

4) Is there a remedy? Is there hope, a better future? Can problems be solved? By whom?

5) What time is it? How are we to read the times? Is it like our past, present, future? Are we running out of time, or gaining on it?

I am constantly using these three resources, whether in Gospel and film classes, or when exploring how emerging church is engaging gospel and culture issues, or when helping leaders become listeners (good exegetes of culture). They give me frameworks to think by.

Posted by steve at 10:00 PM

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

guiding boy racers or How Would Jesus Drive

Following yet another high profile road death over the weekend here in New Zealand, and yet another “boy racer” headline, I got to wondering: If you were doing a Bible study for boy racers, what Bible stories might be a helpful guide?

And HWJD? Not What Would Jesus Do, but How Would Jesus Drive? What would your print on the HWJD bracelet that you could give to a young male when they got their license? Here’s my first draft:
1. drive as if your father in heaven owned the car
2. drive as if your mother Mary was sitting beside you
3. drive as if your kid brother James was in the car seat
4. drive as if the Spirit was always clocking your km’s.

What about you? Does the Bible have any resources that might shape the way young people drive?

Posted by steve at 07:03 PM

Thursday, September 07, 2006

a PR day

Today has become a PR day; 2 media agencies rang requesting interviews. One was interested in the place of religion and spirituality; the other in the emerging church.

And then the phone call from a government social service agency. Ringing to compliment Opawa on the way it cares for one of it’s parishioners. “It must be great to be part of a church like your’s”. Well. Thankyou!

You can’t timetable media and PR work. You just have to push aside your appointments and your lecture prep. You just have to pray that soundbites will indeed become a “true and accurate record.”

Posted by steve at 02:34 PM