I’ve also written an in-depth review of the book on this website (in the book review section). I think the book has been one of the better YS-Emergent released of the past two years. I may be a little biased here, but I think it’s exciting to see one of these books coming from the southern hemisphere, and that Steve’s put together a phenomenal text that not only shares stories from other communities around the world by also continues to do some theologizing about what on earth is going on in the weird missional fringes of the church.
I’d like to thank Steve for putting the time and energy into this interview, I’d thrown a lot of questions at him and he’s done well to answer many of them…
Umm, well, I started the interview a little lightly, I didn’t want to stress the NZer out with a heavy question straight off, and instead wanted to ease him into the harder questions…
So, Steve… what’s your favorite type of cheese?
- Camembert please.
I jokingly mentioned the beers that were “supporting” my review of your book, what takes your favour? Red wine, white wine or beer?
- It depends. New Zealand have these two great boutique beers called Blonde Mac and Summer Ale that I love. Then I am into red wine, pinot thanks.
Are you a mac or pc person?
Phew, Mac people are hard to talk with sometimes… What’s on your mousepad?
- I have a laptop, so its black trim.
I’m intrigued… What possessed you to write this book, what was your inspiration?
- I never thought I’d be a writer. But one day a visitor to my weblog told me they thought I should write a book. What’s more they had emailed a publishing company on my behalf and here was the contact email. True story honest! I was in the midst of PhD research on the emerging church and did want more people than my research supervisor and 3 examiners to read the fruit of 4 years work. So that was the motivation.
You included “postcards” that you’d written from faith communities all over the world to start each chapter in your book, where would you like to get postcards from now?
- Firstly Europe. I’d love to see the emerging church turn back the tide of secularity in Europe. Secondly, a mixed ethnic church plant in Serbia. I’d love to see the emerging church embrace mission in a country riven by religious and racial tensions, like Serbia.
Are there any communities that would you like to visit now and write postcards from?
- Three places. Pernell Goodyear’s café in Canada. Mark Berry is the first CMS missionary to the UK. I’d love to write from his lounge. And Cheryl Lawrie’s Advent womb in Melbourne sounds a wonderful space to write from. Does it have wifi?
You’ve been writing a number of movie reviews on your blog, what’s your favorite movie and why?
- The DVD of U2 Go home. I can watch that for hours. I love the spirituality and the interactivity.
I’ve just got tickets for the U2 tour in Australia, are you going to see U2 in Auckland?
- Too right. I stood in queues, while my partner got on broadband at the church and somehow in the internet crush we scored tickets. I’m actually dreaming of running a live “U2″ church service on the top of One Tree Hill the Sunday night after the two concerts, but I’m not sure I’ve got on the courage.
What’s your top 3 cds at this point in time?
- Fat Freddys Drop, Based on a True Story (NZ phat beats)
- Dub Conspiracy, (more NZ phat beats)
- U2, All that you can’t leave behind. (We played “Beautiful Day” straight after we got tickets).
What are you currently reading?
- I’ve nearly finished Merton’s Intimate Diaries and I’m trying to start Beldon’s Landscapes of the Sacred. Being in New Zealand, the whole issue of what following a God of reconciliation means for colonialism and land issues is stirring me. I’m watching movies like Whale Rider and In My Father’s Den and I’m feeling like Jacob, wandering through a strange land in which I find a “holy” place (Genesis 28:11 in the Good News). Since Jacob has never been there before, he’s possibly found a holy place from the religion of his day. So, what does it mean for me, like Jacob, to find a stairway to heaven in someone’s else’s land?
Some friends of mine have noticed that there seems to be an absence of interest in the Hebrew Scriptures in the conversations around missional churches. These conversations seem to speak about needing to start with Christology, with Jesus and in many cases the Old Testament seems to be missed out, to what extent can the Hebrew Scriptures offer new models to the Church that is emerging?
- Ahh, and I have just mentioned a Hebrew Scripture like Genesis!:) More seriously, it’s interesting that the mission-model of most of the Hebrew Bible was centripetal, going up to Jerusalem. Then in the New Testament it becomes more centrifugal, going out from Jerusalem. In the simple binary opposites of some of my modernist friends, this becomes attractional vs incarnational. But then you read someone like Brueggemann, who wrote this fantastic little essay about mission in the Old Testament. He delves into all these fascinating nooks and crannies; cities of refuge in Deuteronomy and taxation in Solomon’s time and hope in Hosea. And boom. Suddenly mission is vast and contextual and wholistic. You can spend a lot of missional time in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In what ways can the church may be able to support, tend to and provide a service to new forms of mission?
- I was amazed doing research as part of shaping the Out of Bounds Church? book, that the overwhelming answer to this was one word “relationships.” Young leaders and new “missionaries” wanted people who would listen, laugh, cry, encourage them. Sure money and space would be nice, but nothing seemed to beat a hug of encouragement.
You use the term “midwife” to describe the role that Gen Xers and the emerging forms of church are requesting from the church, why do you think this is the case?
- I love the image because it gives dignity to the emerging church, honour to the birthing Spirit of God, and a vital role for existing forms of church. The image keeps the focus on the health of the baby. It suggests that God might actually know what God is doing among new forms of church. It encourages relationship and reminds us that intervention can be required at times.
I had no issue with the conversations in your book, I heard the message loud and clear, but I wonder if that was/is because the book is written about me, about my friends and my peers, about my generation. I wonder what we can do with the generation beyond me, do you know of authors or people who are dealing with similar issues with Generation Y, and to what extent does the book speak about how we can minister with Gen Yers?
- I used to joke that the emerging church I planted, Graceway, was a bunch of U2 fans growing old together. We were, and so we all laughed. But I did it deliberately, because it reminded us that our kids might hate our music. So the true mission challenge for Graceway would be allowing the space for our kids to express faith in their language. So in terms of what Xers can do for Gen Yers; the challenge will be for the emerging church to not just be mid-wived, but to mid-wife.
I’m interested in the matriarchal language of birth, midwifery and creation, particularly that the language is coming out of a largely patriarchal system, men are coming up with the models and terms. To what extent do you find new forms of church addressing issues of gender balance? To what extent do you see female leaders being encouraged to explore similar issues to those written in your book?
- Oh, you have read the book closely. Well done. I prefer the term “feminine” to “matriarchal,” since I’m not sure replacing one model of “archy” with another model of “archy” is a step toward equality. Certainly the feminine images were deliberate. I believe one of the major challenges for the church is to re-balance and re-capture such dimensions and the feminine language was part of that process for me. It’s a huge mission issue, and all the time we hold a subversive set of Scriptures that speak of God as birthmother. But at times I wonder if the emerging church has made much progress. This year I’ve listened to women over coffee about 3/4s of the way through conferences and I got quite depressed. I am not sure I have many answers, but certainly the use of more feminine images was my attempt to speak to the issue and to encourage a more Biblical missiology.
Someone once said to me that “the only people that can minister to Xers are Xers.” If that’s really the case, then where midwifes come from might be as important, if not more important than offering the support to a community. In what ways do you think we can source, train and encourage people into midwife roles?
- I don’t agree that only like can minister to like. Yes, incarnational expressions of faith do emerge best from those within the culture. But the midwife image encourages anyone, no matter their age, to give love and time, with the goal of letting birth attain it’s full potential. Pete Ward, who writes about youth ministry in the UK, said something I found really helpful. “Don’t you dare learn the technology. Let your teenagers do that.” That’s midwifing. That’s being in ministry, but letting the Incarnational forms be shaped by the next generation.
You explore a number of images of God in the book, God as musician and composer, God as designer and dresser, God as architect and builder, and God as crafter and artesian. Since writing the book what image has become central to your ministry, and have there been any other images that have come to mind that could feed into the book’s imagery?
- We used all those images in worship a few weeks ago. We showed images of architectural work and crafts to Moby’s “God moved over the waters” and then invited people to express how their work that week might link with any of these images. We collected them up along with the offering. It was nice.
Your book suggests that the role of the church is therefore to act as guides, to act as resources for spiritual tourists, what difference do you think there is between seeing people as consumer or as tourist?
- It gives people dignity. “Consumer” is a dirty word in Christian circles, which is strange because we all consume. So rather than demonize consumption, we need to find ways to consume Christianly. I wish I’d had the space to write a chapter on this in the book. (But there is an edited book on youth ministry in New Zealand called “Culture – Yeah Right” coming out soon, in which I got a chance to write about this.) So for me, tourist offers another way of looking at people. It gives them space to move and grow. It challenges us to Incarnation, to cast our spirituality into the waters of our culture. It asks us to let go of the results.
Do you think that the role of DJ a missiological calling? If so, how does the church recognize people with the gift, encourage and train them?
- No, we all DJ. For example, most Christians have opinions on Harry Potter and Santa. That’s being a DJ. The question is, how good a DJ are we? So, the church trains by offering models. If you go into a church with blank white walls and you never hear talk about how the church or minister engages with a piece of culture, then congratulations. Your church has given you no insights into how to engage with culture. It is raising up untrained DJ’s. The trouble is, you then go home from the church service past bus shelters with advertising and to school to listen to your friends discuss TV programmes. Congratulations, your “white walled” church has given you no training to DJ. The church trains by modeling how to engage with the culture we live in, how to subvert and applaud and challenge. It provides examples of how to DJ in culture. It explores the variety of ways the Scriptures DJ. It shows movies and offers art and enhances people’s interpretive skills.
You have spoken about the problem with NZ “seeing a new generation of leaders emerge”. How would you work towards improving the situation?
- It was part of the reason I left Graceway, the church I planted. I wanted to offer young leaders opportunity. I was also offered a chance to work at the Bible College of New Zealand on training for the emerging church. Alongside that I became pastor of a 96 year old declining church (Opawa Baptist) and we are moving into mentoring and internship models. We have people from US and UK joining us and we have just called one of the interns, a young woman, into pastoral leadership in the church.
You write: “Rather than move from theory to practice, the emerging church has simply practiced, sometimes without much theory. The emerging church needs the space to keep practicing, yet it also needs to be theological about it’s practices. We need to move from emerging by being all about candles to emerging by being a truly new kind of life with God.” (pp161) What are some ways that the church that is emerging could be more centred on theological reflection? Are there people who have inspired you in this way?
- It’s strange, but I pick up a vibe of anti-intellectualism coming out of the emerging church in Australia. Maybe I’m wrong. I just think we called to love God with all ourselves, and that includes actions and minds. I’m not talking about the myths of theology as angels dancing on pin heads or cloistered in ivory towers. I’m talking about good rigorous examination of what we do, in light of other churches (tradition) and in light of the Scriptures. I’m talking about questioning ourselves in the presence of our friends. I’ve been inspired by Mike Riddell and encouraged by Olive and John Drane. I love the work of French mystic Michel de Certeau, and the way he explored how cultures respond to change.
Much of the book was taken from your phd studies, is it still possible to get a copy of your phd?
- Yes, just drop me a line.
Are you writing something else at the moment, is there another book in the works?
- As an author, I have this paranoid fear that my writing is a waste of trees and a readers time. But in my more confident moments I am working on a book on how the Bible is used in the emerging church. Many of us have seen it used badly, yet our cultural shift is giving us opportunity to embrace multi-sensory, subversive, interactive, communal ways of engagement. So I’m writing around that. And I am playing with a book on leadership. I am fascinated by the way Paul uses 7 images to describe his leadership in 1 Corinthians. That suggests huge diversity. I’d like to explore how they apply to all of life – in our homes and workplaces and schools. But I’m not sure I’m wise enough to write that particular book.
What, if any are some of the differences both theologically and missiologically do you see between the church that is emerging in Au, NZ, US and UK? and what opportunities might these differences present?
- Ah, the last question. How honest should I be or how far can I put my foot down my mouth? UK are strong in incarnational worship, but weak because they emerged from a resistance to evangelical charismatics. They are also coloured by the strength of Anglicanism in the UK. Being a state church, this is a structure that tends not to encourage innovation. It is also an ecclesiology focused on worship rather than community. US are loud in word (book and blog) and so have focused much attention on the missiological imperatives of our time. But they are weakened by the fact they live as a culture at the centre rather than the edge. Aussies are strong in can do and have taken missiology seriously, but are weakened by their cultural captivity to mateship, which breeds an insularity, a herd mentality and an anti-intellectualism. Kiwis have been innovative but have been damaged by some of their denominations and are weak in seeing a new generation of leaders emerge. There, I’ve probably put my foot too far down my throat. Overall, there’s too much swagger in the emerging church and not enough humble listening, to the culture, to the edges, to each other. There, have I swaggered enough?
Thanks for your thoughts and your time in putting this together…
Also after sending Steve the interview questions he’s started a series titled “emerging church postcards” where he’ll be receiving and posting images and stories from emerging faith communities from all over the world, except for the US…