Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Lily Allen on the shape of missional pastor care

Hooray for local ministers who care not just for their own, but for any, who extend pastoral care to any in the community, who don’t wait for folk to come to them, but make the effort to connect beyond the walls of their church.

Such simple acts, might one day be shouted by rockstars in fame mags that ripple though the internet.

“People wouldn’t have thought I’d have a church wedding, but since I had the really traumatic experience last year, our local community all pitched in … Our vicar said a similar thing had happened to his family, so he would come over and sit with me. It feels really nice. We feel protected.” Lily Allen, here.

Posted by steve at 09:18 AM

Monday, July 04, 2011

resourcing mission: challenge or opportunity?

Two different moments today that got me thinking about resourcing mission.

First, a student assignment. It described a standard local Uniting Church. Aging, struggling. It is resourced by a supply minister, who focuses on Sunday preaching and pastoral care. Toward the end of the assignment, almost as an afterthought, there was mention of events this church puts on for the local community – Anzac Day and Carols – and how 400 people turn up.

So my resourcing question. Why, on why, resource Sunday, when you have a booming community event? If church is about worship, then of course, focus on Sunday. But if church is about mission, why not focus on better resourcing the community events?

Second, a post by Scott Guyatt, Mission Planner in Tasmania. Titled birth and death, he noted the struggles around buildings, money, age, numbers. Then the following:

All over Tasmania, wherever I go, I am encountering stories in the Uniting Church of people trying new things, re-thinking what it means to live together in faith community, worship together, engage in community, participate in God’s mission. I hear the hope in a Friday night praise and worship gathering in the rural village … a lounge-room gathering … a wild and powerful vision of residential community … the quiet contemplation of a new garden … the burgeoning community meals … the dreams of a first-ever website … the endless stories of community service … the stories of a cape york visit by students.

Again the resourcing question. If your resources are limited, as most churches are, as all businesses are, where do you put them? Into what is, the existing? Which has tradition and heritage? And voice?

Or into what might be? Which is a huge risk. They might not work. (Not that what is, is).

The two examples got me thinking over what church is about. And this growing concern, that we have tied our resources and our imaginations into self-care. We pay people to sustain Sunday. We have buildings based to seat folk for worship. We have budgets that mostly serve those who contribute financially.

So often the resourcing questions seem to get defined by Christendom paradigms. Apparently we need enough people to sustain a sole-charge minister. Well, who says ministers should be sole-charge, or should serve the gathered church? We have a budget with a bit left for mission. Well why shouldn’t the whole budget be for mission, with a bit left to sustain some regular smaller groups?

If church is about participation in the missio Dei, then doesn’t that mean we need to ask our pastors to be missionaries, train our candidates for mission and convert our buildings into serving our mission. That our resources exist for others, not us?

Or am I missing something?

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Thursday, June 23, 2011

a crash course in fleeing Western captivity. part 1 culture

According to Wilbert Shenk (“Recasting Theology of Mission. Impulses from the Non-Western World”, in Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Western theology has pursued an inward-focused, intellectual, and pastoral agenda rather than outward-looking evangelistic and missional agenda … As Western theology moved into the university and was professionalized, it became increasingly detached from ecclesial reality and cultural context. (117, 8).


This means that all talk about being Christian, about church, about mission, in the West, runs the risk of being corrupted by the scripts of Western theology, of being overly inward, intellectual and detached.

For Shenk, the way forward is to learn from the global (non-Western) church. He suggests wisdom from the global church has come in four areas -culture, Spirit, Jesus and church.

Let’s start with the first. With regard to culture, we need to learn skills to look for God in culture. Shenk  draws on the work of Andrew Walls (“The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture” Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Christianity Today has called Andrew Walls “the most important person you don’t know.” Walls argues that while mission needs to hold in tension both the Indigenizing principle (God starts where we are at) and the Pilgrim principle (God invites us to change), that mission must begin with the first, with indigenization, with starting where people are.

  • Indigenizing – only way we can understand Christ is “in our own language” – in our context, our culture, our concepts. In other words, God starts despite our prejudices, suspicions, our hostilities.
  • Pilgrim – God takes us in order to transform us. That faith will put us out of step with culture and invites us to link with our past, with the church through history, with another’s sets of ideas, concepts, assumptions.

For discussion.

1. What would it mean in your community if you started with “indigenizing”?

2. What examples of “pilgrim” have you seen in your own experience?

Posted by steve at 09:16 PM

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

leading and fresh expressions

I’m back from a rich and thought-provoking time with the Anglican clergy of South Australia. Throat a bit sore and grateful for all those who prayed. One of their requests – to reflect on leadership and fresh expressions – involved me reworking some previous work, plus developing some entirely new material. Time consuming, but quite rich personally. It involved reflecting on the leaders who had helped shape my understandings of leadership in fresh expression

I explored the postures toward culture and the habits at work. This included some contemporary leadership and change insights, including appreciative inquiry and Roxburgh’s three zone model. Plus some stories, via God Next door and my Opawa experiences.

We ended by praying for each other (the person next to us), aware that we are all uniquely gifted, we are all uniquely called to keep growing as disciples and thus (for this group) as leaders and ministers.

It seemed to be helpful – as someone commented “You took what was beyond us and made us feel like we could be part of it.”

Posted by steve at 11:04 AM

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Womadelaide: reviewing a slice of heaven

On Sunday my youngest and I experienced Womad. In so doing, I encountered a part of Australia I’ve not yet seen – an Australia deeply respectful of indigenous voices, curious about migrant cultures, eager to experience the unfamiliar and celebrate diversity.

“I thought I’d died and gone to music heaven.” That was Tim Finn’s comment on Womad and at times it did feel like heaven – a world set apart, that for a period of time emitted ways of being human that were deeply spiritual, deeply appealing – generations together, loads of kids, enjoying engaging with adults; participative creativity, the sheer enjoyment of humans being at play.

In my Missional church leadership teaching, I suggest that one of the ways to listen to the world around us is through observation of festivals. Large scale events can tell us something about the wider narratives of our culture.

The narratives of Womad include an affirmations of being human, celebration of creativity and culture, respect for diversity and care for earth. To quote another Kiwi musician, “a slice of heaven.”


  • Yabu band, indigenous voices singing of the importance of heritage, history and relationships.
  • Lying on the Botanic Garden grass, gazing at tall trees, head to head with my youngest, listening to Archie Roach.  “The trees are smiling,” the youngest announced.
  • Les Gumes, installation storytelling. Random groups stepping into a world made alternative by the skillful change of space and the power of storytelling. Hard to explain, wonderful to experience.
  • Leigh Warren and dancers, an hour of contemporary dance, supported by live guitar, voice and didgeridoo.
  • Afrocelt Soundsystem. Over 15 years ago I stumbled upon their music in the leftover bin of a music shop. (Remember those – that historic artifact called music shops!) I loved the drum and bass loops, overlaid with Irish pipes and African beats. Seeing them live was simply superb.

So what did the youngest Taylor think at the end? Next year, she announced, we are all going. And for all four days!

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

a little pause to celebrate: the missional masters begins

Yesterday was for me a bit of milestone, which at the risk of being self-indulgent, I am pausing to mark.

Yesterday the Missional Masters cohort began and for 2.5 hours, I sat with a group of church leaders. Together we wrestled with Luke 10 and found ourselves both encouraged and challenged by the expression of mission. We began a conversation with Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice searching for theological themes that might make sense of our passion – to be change agents, fueled by a Kingdom vision, in and amongst ordinary churches around Australasia. We agreed on a common practice, to spend the next weeks collecting stories of the Kingdom being near in the lives of ordinary folk.

In August last year I was flying to Tasmania to work with their Synod. At 30,000 feet my brain started to do some free wheeling. For a number of years, Uniting College has been offering a Masters in Ministry. It is an exceptionally well-designed course, offering collegiality, flexibility and a practical theology focus.

At the same time, I have, for the past five years, taught a one-year course on Missional Leadership. Generally by the end, students feel like they are just starting. I don’t think this is because I am a poor teacher. Rather, I think it is a reflection on the long haul nature of being missional in leadership. The course needed more time, more years – not so much in lecturing from the expert, but more in accountable, collegial relationships.

At 30,000 feet I began to wonder what it would look like to apply this existing degree to the challenge of developing missional leaders in context.

  • To shape the existing thesis into an action/research journal documenting missional innovation
  • To shape the existing entry level papers on research design into a focus on action research
  • To shape the existing theological reflection paper into a leadership evaluation process
  • To shape the existing colloquim into a cohort specifically focusing on supporting each other in missional change
  • To shape the existing Guided readings into a shared experience of reading mission texts together.

The last five months have involved moving this through academic processes, writing some thought pieces on the methodology (here and here and here and here), recruiting participants, seeking inputers.

Yesterday the work became a reality. I had hoped for 5 to 8 (adventurous) participants in first year, and then to add 4 to 5 each year after, which over a part-time 4 year degree, builds nicely toward a cohort of around 15 to 20.

Well, we began yesterday with 4 folk and expect another 3 more joining mid year, so looking on track.  (This should include 1 in NZ, 2 in Queensland, 2 in rural South Australia, so certainly the distance thing seeming to be helpful.)

At the same time, numbers in our existing Masters/Doctor of Ministry have increased, an overall doubling of our enrolments, with over 30 folk involved in study. (That still leaves the PhD programme, of which we at Uniting College are involved in supervision of more than 10 candidates). The existing part of the programme began last week, and also started exceptionally well, a group of students reflecting on images of God in relation to disability and depression. Grounded, thoughtful and honest.

Hence the little, slightly self-indulgent, pause. Yesterday was a moment to celebrate.

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM

Friday, March 04, 2011

missional church. what are you reading?

I’m in the process of putting together some books for a course on mission and leadership for a group of ministers. They are in context, they have some exposure to the missional conversation, they live in Australia and they are keen to actually put some legs on their passion. Here are the six books I’ve selected. A mix of voices was important, as was the sense of being both theological and yet grounded in existing congregational ministry.

What do you think? What have I missed?

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People, Zondervan, 2010.

Helen Lee, The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World, Moody Press: Chicago, 2011.

Alan Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Baker Books, 2011.

John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, Morehouse, 2007.

Paul Kelly, How to make gravy, Hamish Hamilton, 2010.

Ann Morisy, Journeying Out: A New Approach to Christian Mission, Continuum, 2004.

Posted by steve at 06:36 PM

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

when meals become mission: learning from 9/11

A recent post at prodigal Kiwi is asking for resources to help churches think through their response to the February 22 Christchurch earthquake.

It caused me to recall the research done by John Koenig on how the church in New York responded after 9/11, which is written up in Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. The book begins by interviewing Lyndon Harris, the priest at St Paul’s chapel. Manhattan’s oldest public building, the church closest to twin towers. Lyndon recalls how in the chaos after 9/11, the “many New Testament stories of Jesus’ words and actions at table came quickly to mind.”

So the church simply began serving food. First with volunteers running a street barbeque to feed the clean up crews. Once the church was deemed safe, they turned to serving meals in the shelter of the church.

They made a conscious decision to be a generous host. For them, this involved forming a partnership with a local restaurant to serve food and drink of the highest possible quality.

Some ten days after 9/11, they served communion. They offered this as an option, the liturgy up at the altar table but in a church filled with tables, heaped with food, around which everyday conversation continued. This moment, of food mixed with faith, proved an important and transformative moment of healing for numbers present that day.

Koenig concluded that one of the most healing thing done by churches through out New York in response to 9/11 was the decision to simply eat together. He wrote

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

Another chapter in the book offers an interesting checklist on what it might means for meals to become mission. It suggests a new set of habits will be required. Mission meals is no slapping of food on a cold tin plate in a chilly church hall.


  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

So, for those wandering about how to be church in Christchurch, how to deal with so much physical loss, so much psychological trauma, so much grief and fear – start by simply eating together.

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Friday, January 28, 2011

a missional prayer emerging from a missional moment

So I am working with a group, planning a mission-shaped experience across the denominations in Adelaide in the second half of 2011. Today the planning group was meeting for a second time.

Three of the four arrived to find the venue locked. A church. And a sign “Alarm on.”

As they stood outside a cellphone rang. The mix-up was untangled, with the fourth person, who was meant to be hosting, finding themselves at the wrong venue.

Thankfully a cafe was close by. A drink as we gather. Hospitality being received. Time to catch up on Christmas comings and goings. A space shared with others. Time to pray, eyes open, in a public place. A group now gathering not only around strength, but also around human mistake.

May this experience be our mission-shaped experience
May we gather for your world rather than your church
May our ministry be from frailty as well as gift and passion
May we experience the hospitality of our culture
May our planning and our prayer be lived in and for the places in which our communities gather

Posted by steve at 04:53 PM

Friday, January 14, 2011

the unbiblical banality that is mission-shaped church/fresh expressions

For the Parish, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so over the next weeks, I’ll be engaging the book, chapter by chapter.

The Introduction wastes little time; Mission-shaped church and fresh expressions are defective in methodology, inadequate in theology, and a capitulation to market values (page vii)! Fresh expressions are defined as “independent entities without any relation to the parish in which they operate … special interest groups … that defines the consumerist criterion of membership.” (vii) The book promises a critique on theological, philosophical and Biblical grounds. Fresh expressions is “unbiblical” (viii), a flight toward “segregation” (ix).

The abandonment of stability for novelty and given liturgy for ‘choice’, results in banality and pastiche, as well as a frail and atomized subjectivity. (ix)

Looking forward to chapter one arn’t we! Well, let’s all enjoy the weekend first :)

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Thursday, January 13, 2011

believing without belonging: the author retracts

Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives is an important book. It’s a collection of chapters that focus on the way ordinary people, in their everyday lives, practice religion.

It includes a most intriguing chapter by UK sociologist, Grace Davie. Grace coined the phrase “believing without belonging” to describe the idea that people can maintain faith and values, but not attend church. It’s a phrase used often in emerging church/Fresh expressions circles. But in her chapter “Vicarious Religion: A Methodological Challenge, Grace decides she wants to retract “believing without belonging” and replace it with “vicarious religion.”

the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who not only understand, but quite clearly approve of what the minority are doing (22)

She suggests that vicarious religion can operate in a number of ways. For example, church leaders can perform ritual, enact belief, embody moral codes and offer space for debate, all on behalf of wider society. More specifically, society expects churches to help them mourn in times of tragedy. Or church leaders to act in ways that the public never do. Or church buildings to stay open in a community, as “special places”, even as declining attendance makes them unviable.

Her examples are all drawn from modern Europe. She stresses how different and unique a case is the practice of religion and spirituality in the United States. She wonders if her notion of “vicarious religion” might work in the Southern Hemisphere?

It made sense for me of a number of moments in recent New Zealand history – the (Anglican) church involvement in the Pike River Tragedy or the funeral for Edmund Hillary. Or the outcry from a local (Mt Eden) community when a Methodist church decided to close it’s doors.

Theologically, what also intrigued me was when Grace suggested that the phrase “vicarious” was linked to “vicar” who does something on behalf of someone else. A way of being church based on a person doing religious activity for someone else! Is that really why people train to be vicars? How helpful is it as a notion of church-paid-staff today?

I remember a few years into paid ministry filling out a government census form. It included asking what I did for a job. After much pondering I wrote that I helped create community and resourced people’s spirituality. I didn’t consider this doing something on behalf of someone else, but rather of inviting people to participate for themselves in the Kingdom purposes of God.

Yet looking back now, I know there have been times when I have done something on behalf of someone else. For example, at a funeral, when the family are too shocked to bury their loved one.

A thought provoking read. Now I’m off to check how many emerging church/Fresh expressions books actually have used “believing without belonging” ! Not mine, (The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change) I employed the notion of spiritual tourism!

Posted by steve at 01:20 PM

Saturday, December 11, 2010

the art and craft of missional leadership: masters year one

Further to my post on the art and craft of missional leadership, in which I suggest that leadership is a craft. By craft I mean that leadership is not a bunch of techniques. Rather it is a craft in that it is concerned about the cultures in which we flourish. Nor is it a program. Rather it is a craft in that it is a unique and individual blend of skill, commitment and judgment. Nor is it head knowledge. Rather it is a craft in the aligning of head and heart, intuition and intelligence, history and innovation.

So the application becomes: How do you develop leaders in their craft?

Which is what I’ve been working on through recent months – first a Masters in Missional Leadership.

And then more specifically, the shape of Year One

It’s for current ministers who want to grow in their leadership. Mention Masters ie post-graduate education and people tend to think of an individual pursuit in a library which involves lots of footnotes and even more words. Which seems opposite to this notion of the “craft of leadership”. Glancing back over the one page information blurb about Year One, using the lens of “craft” I note

1. It’s part-time, because leaders get better at their craft by practising their craft
2. The major thesis project expects participants to focus their craft in their own culture. It’s not a theoretical thesis, but a documenting over 4 years of an ongoing process of action/reflection (practising your craft). (This then raises a whole lot of theoretical and ethical questions, answered by the field of action research.
3. Program Seminars provides ways to embrace the strength and critique that comes from a community of crafters.
4. Leadership 360 creates a space space for people to gain a snapshot, shine on mirror on the practise of their craft and how they might improve.
5. Reading is assessed on integration, the implications for one’s own context.

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Friday, December 10, 2010

the art and craft of missional leadership

I sat with a group of church leaders during the week. They were concerned about their local mission. Could a lecturer with the title “missiologist” help them? During the week I continued to read Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.

The book argues that the notion of craftsmanship, the desire to do a job well, for it’s own sake, should be the way we approach not just work, but life. In Chapter One, Sennett explores the arrival of Computer Aided Design. He notes how architects used to draw by hand, yet how with the advent of CAD, it posed new problems for thinking about buildings. A loss became possible, a detachment from the actual local site, a removal from the materials by which buildings are made. Sennett notes

“architectural sketches are often pictures of possibility; the the process of crystallising and refining them by hand, the designer proceeds just as a tennis player or musician does, gets deeply involved in it, matures thinking about it.” (40)

I would replace “tennis player and musician” with writer, worship curator, preacher, leader. There is “a kind of circularity between drawing and making and then back again” (40). Week by week worship is crafted, ideas are pondered, project are imagined, people are engaged, groups are formed.

As I read, I thought back to those church leaders. How much of the missional conversation might actually be CAD? When we look at other churches, when we seek consultants, when we read books, we are in danger of becoming detached from our own local site, our own local context? The reality is that the person who knows the most about the church are likely to be its leaders and the people who know most about their community are likely to be those who attend church and live local.

So the mission challenge becomes the passing on of a craft. It is to help these leaders and this church become better – more focused, more insightful, more reflective, more strategic, more deeply involved in – their thinking and acting in mission. The key to mission are these leaders, not the imported missiology expert or those books. Or to quote Alan Roxburgh, the future of God might really be among the people of God!

I will probably return to these leaders. I want to offer them some tools that could help them become more skilled mission crafters-in-mission. I’m wondering also how all this applies to the launch of the Missional masters next year. And how The Craftsman might actually be an important text for the first reading course. It might provide a way to understand leadership – as craft – that will encourage leaders in their growth and development.

Posted by steve at 08:41 AM

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a public theology: mission, leadership and reconciliation

It was no ordinary “theology” class. First, we were outside. Second, we had smoke from an open fire drifting across our seats. Third, the venue was Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park.

In 1952, the Uniting Aboriginal Mission opened up a home for Aborginal children. It became part of the sad saga that is the stolen generation, in which state and mission colluded in removing Aboriginal children from their homes. The home closed in 1973, but the memories linger and lives remain damaged.

In 1994, a community group began to meet. Stories were told. Relationships formed. Education began. A memorial was created. The group continues today.

I teach a course on Missional Leadership, in which participants at the beginning of the course choose a “table.” It can be inside or outside the church. At this table they have to relate and listen. They have two major projects during the class. The first is to name what they are hearing as they listen. The second is to envision a mission action project, what might happen in response to their listening and in light of an appropriate Kingdom imagination. The hope is that through this process they develop as change agent leaders, for the sake of the world.

With the year ending, it seemed appropriate to meet not in a lecture room, but at a “table.” One of the class had chosen Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park, because they are part of the community group.

And so no ordinary “theology” class began. Outside. Smoke drifting across. Cradling cups of tea. And a fantastic conversation – about what is mission, about the place of truth-telling, with stories of healing, about public theology as local action, about mission today as sitting with the mission mistakes of the past, of an appreciation of mission-as-reconciliation, which is central to the Uniting Church Basis of Union. About Luke 10:1-12 and how it continues to live in everyday practice.

It is amazing how far a group can travel in a year. It is so richly accessible when theology emerges in and around local practice and not simply from text books.

Posted by steve at 08:17 AM