Blog

This is a spot where I share some thoughts about life, spirituality, mission and ministry. Thanks for stopping by!

My neglected blog is up and running again, in perfect time to update you on research I am doing on contemporary faith formation! Last year, I was accepted as a Fellow on the University of Birmingham “New Perspectives on Social Psychology and Religious Cognition for Theologians” Fellowship. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but essentially the Fellowship is training theologians in psychological research methods and theories in relation to how God is seen and understood by people. Exciting, right?

I’ve been to Birmingham for two residentials with my fellow Fellows(!), where we all received loads of input and insights. I was also awarded funding and my fabulous research assistant (Dr Jessica Bent) and I embarked on an exciting new project…

In our research, we want to better understand the relationship between people’s perceptions of God and their aspirations towards living well. Many of you will already know about my doctoral research on why previously unchurched become Christians today. One of the interesting things that came up in the PhD was the match between what the new Christians I interviewed told me they appreciated about God’s character; and things that they aspired to be more like themselves. They told me that they saw God as loving, patient, accepting and forgiving. They also told me they wanted to be more loving, patient, accepting and forgiving themselves! Fascinating, right? Our current project extends that research (in exciting ways, we think!). In our current project, we ask if God representations of recently baptised adult Christians correlate with the attributes they aspire to live out themselves.

We hope that this research will not only contribute to theological and psychological theory, but also help churches and Christians understand how they can best support people towards flourishing.

At the moment, we are at the exciting stage of recruiting participants from NZ Baptist churches for the project. Through an online questionnaire, participants will share about their faith journey, their experiences of other Christians and of God, and their reflections on a series of virtues/characteristics. (We will also be running focus groups later on this topic.)

If you would like to partner with us in the work we are doing, please pass on the link below to anyone over the age of 18 who has been baptised in the last five years. (We’re keen to hear from both those who are active and regular members of their worshipping communities as well as people who have changed churches or denominations or even stopped attending. The stories and reflections of all our participants are needed!)

Here’s the link to the Information Sheet about the project: https://tinyurl.com/baptism2024info

Contact lynne(dot)taylor(at)otago(dot)ac(dot)nz if you have any questions!

Chaplaincy and dementia care

Here’s the final catch up post!

This article is a particular joy as it came out of research one of my students, Annabel Hawkes did on dementia care chaplaincy. Annie is a social worker, who volunteers as a chaplain and is passionate about dementia care. I supervised her research dissertation on the work of two Anglican chaplains who work in residential dementia care homes. Once the dissertation was completed, I spent a couple of days turning it into a journal article and we found a home for it in Religions. The article explores the idea of personhood and the work of these chaplains as they offered a ministry of personal and sacramental presence to the residents.

You can read it here: https://www.mdpi.com/2819768

Hawkes, Annabel, and Lynne Taylor (2024). “Presence and Personhood: Investigating Christian Chaplaincy Care in Two Residential Dementia Units.” Religions 15 (2): 704 (12 pages).

And carrying on the catch up: my excellent research assistant, Jessica Bent and I published an article last year on preaching during the early days of covid-19. We had analysed the online worship services of three NZ churches, from March 2020 and brought the data into conversation with Neil Pembroke’s work on therapeutic and theocentric preaching. Each of the churches studied balanced the theocentric and therapeutic in helpful and interesting ways.

As we note, “The theocentric related to God’s character and attributes (particularly God’s love, attentive presence and faithfulness), and activity and power. The therapeutic was expressed by lamenting and acknowledging pain, offering words of comfort, and inviting response, including in care for others. For each church, the goal was towards human flourishing: shalom, or well-being even amid difficult circumstances.”

You can read it here: http://ehomiletics.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/JEHS_23-2_2023_updated.pdf

Taylor, Lynne and Jessica Bent (2023). “Theocentric Therapeutic Preaching: Good News During the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 23 (2): 70-97.

Writing on writing

I’m doing a bit of a catch up here! Here’s an article I co-wrote, on writing. Back in June 2021, Steve Taylor, Elaine Heath, Nigel Rooms and I each gave a ten-minute presentation on missional writing at the Ecclesial Futures International Missional Research Workshops. Following that, I suggested we co-author an article on writing and we worked on it together over several weeks. The article was peer reviewed and published in the international journal Ecclesial Futures. (It’s a great journal – diamond open access, so free to publish and free to read.)

The article is a practical piece that talks about various stages of the writing and editing process. It draws on Helen Sword’s BASE habits of writing (behavioural, artisanal, social, and emotional), outlines two different approaches to writing, gives some practical insights on how to deal with the dreaded stuck-ness that can occur in writing, and then provides a step-by-step guide to responding to peer review comments.

You can read it here: https://ecclesialfutures.org/article/download/11879/13417/24330

Taylor, Lynne, Elaine Heath, Nigel Rooms, and Steve Taylor (2021). “Courageous, Purposeful and Reflexive: Writing as a Missional and Emergent Task.” Ecclesial Futures 2 (2):  99-119.

Computer showing online meeting and coffee cup
Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

I’ve recently had a new article published in Witness (a USA-based journal). At the moment, it’s only available to members and subscribers, but I am permitted to provide a copy of it here on my blog. I’ve also included the abstract below.

I didn’t expect to go there, but analysing the data from the case study church took me back to my PhD research on contemporary conversion.

ABSTRACT:

The covid-19 global pandemic radically interrupted all areas of life, including forcing churches to adapt their worship, mission, and pastoral care within new constraints of physical distancing. This article explores a case study of how one church communicated the message of faith; connected with, and cared for attenders, the wider community, and others; and experimented with different forms of worship and ministry during covid-19. Drawing on data from a questionnaire, focus groups, interviews, content analysis and participant observation, the article demonstrates the importance of amplifying a message consistent with one’s values, providing opportunities for warm connection, and continuing to make iterative change to ministry practices.  Considering this alongside recent research on contemporary conversion, the paper affirms the significance of relational authenticity in engaging in Christian witness, including when the church is forced into unfamiliar and undesired realities. Churches can be encouraged by the potential fruitfulness of multiple voices communicating the significance and meaning of their faith; being honest about life’s challenges; and encouraging and resourcing engagement in spiritual practices as means of Christian witness, including in challenging times.

Taylor, L. M. (2021). “Reaching Out Online: Learning From One Church’s Embrace Of Digital Worship, Ministry And Witness.” Witness: The Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, 35, 1-14.

10 T4ML #10 Dream a little

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

(10 Things For Ministers in Another Lockdown)

I don’t know if you experienced and remember the sense of hope that perhaps the world and the church might be different in the future, because of the pandemic. Maybe we’ll discover ways to live without trashing the planet. Maybe we’ll find new ways of being the church in our local communities. Maybe we’ll live into new ways of caring for one another. Maybe there are things that we learn and do that might become part of our future, rather than just being stopgap measures.

One person I interviewed described it like this: “What might be normal going forward might be different, but we get to build that. We get to decide what that is.” There was a sense of determined anticipation that the future could be different, and we could be involved in shaping that.

At the same time, there was some resignation by then (March 2021) that much had returned to an old normal. That many church members simply wanted a return to what was, rather than a turn to what could be. That’s not surprising: a return to familiarity can be comfortable and comforting.

But let’s be honest. The Church is in decline and the things that have been done over past generations are not all that will be required into the future. So dream a little dream! (Or a big dream, even.) Imagine what could be. Look back in your journal on your computer and see what new and fresh things sparked a sense of joy and anticipation. What old or ancient practices were reinstated? What new things grew? As I write this, we’re still in Alert Level 4, here in Aotearoa New Zealand. None of us want to be here. So read this in the light of the previous nine things I also wanted to say.

Look back and draw on past strength; and live into and out of your values. Those things will help sustain you. Lean into God, in whom our hope and strength are found. Name the challenge: it’s hard, right? Prioritise connection and invite participation. Be “good enough”: perfection not required; perfection not possible. Invite people (online) into your place, even if it’s a bit messy or muddly. Keep an eye out for God at work. Get people involved, reaching out to others. And, strengthened and empowered by all that, dream a little dream of what might be.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

(10 Things For Ministers in Another Lockdown)

There are many things that are crucial to our wellbeing as humans. In addition to our more obvious physical needs, some scholars talk in terms of three inherent needs: autonomy, belonging and competency. Needless to say, pandemics impact negatively on all three! Competency relates to a sense of purpose and mastery – having something important to do and knowing that you do it well. Belonging relates to a sense of connection and attachment to others: more difficult to achieve when physical distancing is mandated, and travel restricted or prohibited. Autonomy relates to a sense of being in control, which is obviously diminished by uncertainty around lockdowns and the wider ongoing pandemic context.

One way that all three can be enhanced in covid times is through the simple act of reaching out to others. In the context of the church, this can be approached informally as everyone is encouraged to care for their friends and whanau. It can be approached formally through creating pastoral care structures that ensure each person is linked to others in the church; each caring and being cared for. Or there might be an approach somewhere in the middle, where informal care is encouraged, and those with particular needs matched with someone who can check in on them. However it happens, it’s good to celebrate its significance!

Autonomy is enhanced as the caregiver makes the effort to offer care: as they decide for themselves to act in a way that is caring towards another. This can give them some sense of having control over their actions. Belonging is enhanced as relationships deepen, and the caregiver sees what they are doing as making an important contribution to the church community. Competency is enhanced as the carer regains a sense of purpose: they are doing something that is important and is valued.

We often see such actions in terms of the benefits for the recipients of that care, but in reality, they also benefit the one doing the caring. There’s reciprocity here – the benefits go both ways.  

Therefore, ministers can be encouraged to name and celebrate the importance and significance of caring beyond one’s own bubble. Of taking the time and making the effort to reach out to others. Sounds like a win-win to me!

(Of course, we need to ensure that there are clear ways that people can escalate any concerns that they may have about those they are reaching out to. In this way, appropriate pastoral, spiritual and practical care can be offered to those who need it.)

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

(10 Things For Ministers in Another Lockdown)

As I interviewed church leaders and attenders, I heard some wonderful stories of how God had been at work in their churches. And I heard delight in the telling of those stories. For instance, there was a sense of wonder at the appropriateness of the texts pre-selected for the first Sunday service in Lockdown 2020. The Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament text, used by many churches, was about God breathing life into dry bones: a message of hope that even in the midst of their worst moment, God was at work, bringing the transformation of new life. Another church (that had selected their service theme and texts late in 2019) focused on Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes offered by one boy. They noted the relevance of this text for a time when they desperately needed God to multiply what God had given them. For this church, they saw and celebrated God’s hand at work in preparing them to be able to support others during covid. For each church, the naming and celebrating of this helped strengthen faith expectancy, and hope.

One woman recounted how a newcomer to church just before Lockdown had provided their email address, but she wasn’t able to read it and so couldn’t contact the person. She was delighted to encounter the newcomer on a Lockdown walk and was able to get their contact details and stay in contact.

These stories and others were told to me with a sense of wonder and celebration. God is at work in our world! God’s activity can be recognised, named and celebrated, building faith and courage among people who find themselves in uncertain and difficult circumstances. So keep an eye out for God! And don’t be afraid to name and celebrate what might just be the work of God in our midst.

Stellar-Boo is pleased to be photographed (not). Photo by Lynne

(10 Things For Ministers in Another Lockdown)

Of course, one of the things that we miss in Lockdown is person to person interaction that occurs when we get together in the same physical space. During Lockdown, we don’t get to see each other in three dimensions, to share food and drink together, etc.  That’s certainly a loss.

What Lockdown offers in exchange, however, is a different sort of intimacy – one that is from my home to your home. People value such interaction. They like seeing the minister speaking to them from their home office, or kitchen table, or garden or deck.

They also like seeing each other and other congregation members in such settings.

During Lockdown, we have an opportunity to get into the homes of several people at once, and to invite them into our homes, without needing to do any dishes! As we do, we open ourselves to them and them to us in new ways.

So, invite people to share pictures of their home office and school set ups. Share your own. It’s good if it’s not pristine – perhaps it is even a little chaotic.  Talk about where you are and why. As I type this, I’m blessed to have space to work in our older daughter’s room. She’s studying in the UK, and so I used her room for my Research Leave, and come back up here (from Steve’s and my shared office) when I have a meeting. I’ve had meetings on and off all day, so it wasn’t worth moving back downstairs. Stellar-Boo the cat often comes to visit.

Open up your home to others, and get others talking about their own space. It is a gift to encounter one another in such ways, and it is missed when it is lost through staged settings.

10 T4ML #6 Be “good enough”

Photo by Lynne

(10 Things For Ministers in Another Lockdown)

Ironically, I’d already chosen this heading for today. Be good enough. Donald Winnicott wrote decades ago about the “good enough” mother. Look it up. It’s an encouragement to not stress about our imperfection.  

I’m a perfectionist. One of the things I am learning, is to be “good enough”. To not be paralysed, or overworked, by the desire to be perfect.

Therefore, because it is already after 6pm (6.17pm now) and I (literally) have cold feet, have worked plenty of hours already today, and would like to do some exercise before dinner, I am going to write a “good enough” blog post and leave it there.

Be good enough. Create online worship that is good enough. Care for people in ways that are good enough. Perfection is unattainable.

One of the pastors I interviewed was guided by the question: “How much is enough?” It’s a great question.

This. This is enough.

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