Friday, July 13, 2012

churches that connect

I’m currently spending three days at Ministry Education Commission. It meets annually and involves around 20 people, Principals from Uniting Church Theological Colleges (there are Colleges in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin) and key leaders in education from the various Synods/States. Being here is a “perk” of being Principal, representing Uniting College, and continues my long list of firsts. (It’s been a HUGE first 2 weeks in the role).

Being new, it strikes me as a very obvious window into the Uniting church. Each College presents an annual report. Each College gets peer reviewed every 5 to 7 years by the other Colleges. These reviews get tabled and discussed before all the other Colleges. Issues in education and formation are discussed. For example, yesterday we discussed a recent report on Youth and families and brainstormed ways to ensure the formation of leaders includes training in working with all generations.

It’s hard work. It takes time. It demands considerable maturity, a way of being that is neither defensive nor big noting.

And it says something about being church, about being the body of Christ.

Some church denominations operate mainly as local churches. Each local church sees itself as an entity by itself and chooses what levels of relationship it will have with other churches.

Some church denominations operate in a more top down approach, with an overall leader (a Bishop or a Pope), who provides a sense of continuity and connection.

Some church denominations operate in a more inter-connected, connectional manner. They recognise a shared life, that alone they are not complete, that parts of the life of another body are embedded in each other.

Which seems to me to be what is being expressed at MEC. Uniting College is not an entity by itself, choosing what relationships it will have with other colleges. Rather it exists in web of relationships. How it acts shapes others and it needs this mirror, for accountability and feedback. How it acts is also shaped by others, other groups and Colleges.

It’s not individualism. Nor is it communism. It’s connectionism (is that a new word?), a shared life.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM


  1. I myself am a free church guy (and I’m not sure you’ve really described that fairly) but my United Methodist friends here in the US refer to themselves as “connectional”.

    Comment by Travis Greene — July 13, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

  2. Steve, Thank you for the word ‘connectionism’. I am also fascinated by the word ‘connectivism’, a learning approach for the digital age – learning through knowledge networks,as developed by S Downes and G Siemans and used in the 2011 ACER lecture in Adelaide on ICT Research in Education by Gerry White. Connectivism – collaborative elearning – Another ‘connect….’ word. Best wishes, John.

    Comment by John Littleton — July 13, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

  3. Travis,

    I would love to hear where you think I might be unfair to the free church (but just so you know, I have spent 15 years as a Baptist pastor)


    Comment by steve — July 13, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  4. Hi Steve – I’d be really interested if you could point me to some reading/reflecting/reserach on connectionism and leadership. I am finding that as I slowly get more involved in councils of the church that leadership as a dynamic changes. The question of “Who decides what?” and “Who has the critical conversations?” are reasonably clear at a congregational level, but seem to get vaguer in other councils of the church. I think this may be because of the constant changes in people in the councils (e.g. Moderators and Presidents 3 years / Presbytery Chairs and Presbytery Ministers not much longer, etc) One recent conversation I had with someone was around how transformative leadership can’t happen because of the inter-councillor structure and behaviours of the connectional church. Does transformation happen by intention in a political sense – i.e. gather a crowd (faction) and influence the councils (in the Tony Blair fashion with the NEW LABOUR from a decade ago)? I remember someone once suggesting that a faction may be the best way to bring about change in a Presbytery or a Synod? (I’m not very comfortable with that thought) Or does it happen in a non-political way…like a movement for common good that is not ‘controlled’? And further, has the UCA developed in its leadership? Not, have issues or individuals changed, but rather, has the institution learned anything about itself and the way we do or don’t operate? Can you point me to any reading/conversations/research on these questions? If not, there’s another job for you to add to the list (smile)


    Comment by Peter Armstrong — July 13, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  5. Peter,

    Great question. Would make a great research project for a thesis wouldn’t it? Change processes and innovation in inter-conciliar structures. Wonder what methodology would be useful? Ask a range of folk to nominate effective changes they’ve seen – then take the top 5 most nominated and do case studies?


    Comment by steve — July 14, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

  6. It’s on my one day list…

    Comment by peter — July 16, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

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