Research

A Case Study Approach to Cityside Baptist Church as Christian Faith “making do” in a Postmodern World

Ian Mobsby interviews Steve Taylor:

Title of Research:
A New Way of Being Church: A Case Study Approach to Cityside Baptist Church as Christian Faith “making do” in a Postmodern World, PhD thesis, University of  Otago, New Zealand, 2004.

Resultant Book:
The Out of Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. Zondervan, 2005. [link to Amazon]

Bio on Steve Taylor:
Steve Taylor is a drinker of coffee, appreciator of humanity and husband to Lynne and father to Shannon and Kayli Anne. Steve teaches at the Bible College of New Zealand (Christchurch) in areas including Emerging and Missional Church.  His interest lies in the interface between church and society and his PhD study explored how churches are responding to cultural change.  

Following the planting of an emerging church called Graceway in Auckland New Zealand, Steve became a ‘change agent’ pastor at Opawa Baptist Church. He works with an established congregation with a long history and together exploring what it means to be the church in our world today. He leads a team of seven, all part-time, which keeps them focused on life outside the church. As a church they have placed Christmas presents as interactive art in the centre of Christchurch city, planted a cafe congregation and a hymn congregation and taught ‘spiritual journaling’ in a local cafe.

If you want to know still more about Steve, you could check out his book, The Out Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Zondervan, 2005). He also keeps an on on-line journal or blog at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Questions

What was the question in your mind that made you conduct this research about the emerging church?
Well, firstly, for all the froth and creative bubble, what was actually happening to people and communities in terms of faith and formation. Secondly, I was tired of reading abstract surveys of cultural change followed by a few generalised comments. I wanted to explore what was actually happening on the ground, with people.

What interested you in the particular emerging church community that you chose?
Practically, since my research involved being part of the worship, it had to be close by and at a time different to the church, (Graceway Baptist) where I was pastor. Thankfully Cityside met in the morning, and Graceway in the evening. But I started by surveying a range of communities in New Zealand and felt that Cityside were the most interesting. As part of my research I also visited and interviewed about twelve alt.worship communities in the UK, including the ‘Late Late’ Service. But the thesis blew out in length and I never got around to integrating all the research. Maybe I should do another PhD!

What for you were the headlines of your journey through the research – which I understand to be highly qualitative?That in a time of cultural change, emerging churches are “making do” in three ways: creativity, community and DJing gospel and culture. (“Making do”) is a term used by Michel de Certeau to name the innovative and transformative ways by which everyday people innovate. So emerging churches were finding ways to engage the whole person, to find God in relational ways and to find God in contemporary culture.

What do you think you learnt at the time?
The importance of theologies of life. So much of the emerging church scene back in early 2000’s was post and deconstructive. That was needed, but never at the neglect of theologies of creation and life. Who wants to join groups that are stuck in a post-evangelical, post-charismatic moment they can’t get out of?

So do you perceive emerging churches as being good about exploring ‘theologies of life’? In what way does your research show how they do this ‘make do’ theology?
Deconstruction is needed to strip away the corrosion of Christendom and the emerging church has done that. But there’s a cynicism and a suspicion, a dark side to deconstruction that is not lifegiving in itself. So I wonder if deconstruction needs to be followed by reconstruction, and that for me is about a “theologies of life”. Easter Friday needs to be followed by Easter Sunday.

Looking back – what do you think are the key points of the research thinking about the wider emerging church in the 21st century?
Michel de Certeau explored how communities respond to change and argued that marginal communities on the edge of movements are the best places to find adaptive energy to face new features. So we need to celebrate and champion what is edgy and marginal, and never to stop pushing the boat out. Risk needs to be an essential value of the church’s DNA.

Michel de Certeau has obviously made an impression on you.  I am interested in the fact that you have drawn on the writings of the mystics of the premodern period, or the shift from the period of the premodern to modern, for inspiration in the modern to the postmodern – was that deliberate?

Certeau started with the mystics and explored how they responded to cultural change from a marginal location within religious life. He then, as a lecturer, saw his students caught up the 1968 French riots. So he then applied his  mind to our cultural shift. So he is a fascinating interdisciplinary mix.

How has the research changed you – how is affected you as an academic and practitioner?  
It has given me a sense of confidence in what I am doing. My journey into the emerging church was highly intuitive, and the research gave me some tools, some Biblical resources, to describe what I was part of.

Has your views towards the emerging church changed since undertaking the research?
Here in New Zealand we have a poet called James K Baxter who described the Spirit as blowing inside and outside the fences. A change I have seen is historic denominations becoming key mission players. I think here of Fresh Expressions and the fact that I am working with five Anglican dioceses here in New Zealand around mission and church issues. And my own move to explore the emerging church in an established Baptist church. So God is blowing both inside and outside the walls of the church.