ROS – Faith in Action not Rene Girard – Part 3 (Peter)

Faith in Action not Rene Girard  (Recapturing Our Soul Conference – Part 3 of 3)

In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about the way in which the Uniting Church has been dealing with challenging issues and a changing environment.  I am concerned about the way there has been a gradual breakdown of the culture and administration of the Uniting Church.  Here are four concerns about the Uniting Church as a whole.  I can think of examples from near each state and the national level for each of the following;

  • Concerns that inter-conciliar councils may be unable to meet good governance standards.
  • Falling levels of trust between leaders and organisational decisions.
  • Deteriorating financial position.
  • Rise in actions which reflect institutional survival

In the past I have put some energy in trying to address some of these issues in the courts of the church.  The administrative centre had a course it wanted to pursue and those who dissented from this were tolerated.  What I couldn’t see at the time was that putting my point of view in this environment was damaging.  It took me a little time to realise that I needed an alternative.


Closing service Maughan Church 2016

Maughan Church and Rene Girard

At the recent closing of Maughan Church I spoke about the experience of observing well meaning clergy and lay people making best efforts at keeping Maughan open, but finding themselves on the end of scapegoating.  Cultural anthropologist and theological Rene Girard was right when he observed that religious organisations have scape goating narratives which place the sacred and violence inside our culture.  Many of us, myself included, have been guilty of this.  For surely someone is to blame for the demise of the Maughan congregation! So I spoke about this at the closing of Maughan – click here to read whole address.

Faith in Action

When pulling together my first Assets Based Community Development workshop a colleague recommended I contact Joanna Hubbard as an engaging speaker.  Joanna is an ordained Church of Christ minister who is currently working for BaptistCare SA.  Click here for Joanna’s story. The workshop went well and we got good positive feedback from participants.  And for me I forged a professional relationship with Joanna such that we have been cooperating around this work ever since.  Here is how we describe ourselves from our website;

Faith in Action is a group of people from churches and community organisations who explore ways of improving ministry by closely connecting to their local community using Assets Based Community Development Principles (ABCD).

What is Asset Based Community Development?
ABCD is an approach which focuses on discovering and developing the strengths and assets of everyone in the community.  This is different from other models which focus on what people need.  Patrons of a soup kitchen will help prepare and serve the meal rather than just receive it.

Who may attend the Faith in Action events?
Anyone from a church or community organisation who has an interest in learning about the ABCD approach is most welcome to attend.

Faith in Action is one way that Uniting Communities cooperates with congregations to make a positive difference to the communities in which they are located.

I’ve come to realise that I have a ability to foster creativity, inquiry and appreciation.  To approach things I don’t understand with an attitude of wonder.  For this I had seen before in the way Les Underwood (Part 2) approached his colleagues and their ministry.  So surely I too could practice skills which seek to deepen understanding between disparate groups.

Faith in Action project is my practical and positive response to my concerns regarding the Uniting Church.  Its an expression of ministry which comes out of an agency and is directed towards those congregations who will find it helpful.

The Practice of Powerful Questions

Joanna and I have done a lot of work on what makes for a powerful question.  The most useful resource we have found on this topic is : The Art of Powerful Questions – Catalizing insight, innovation and action by Eric E Vogt, Junita Brown and David Isaccs

The opening of the paper offers this metaphor

“Questions can be like a lever you use to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can….If we have a short lever, we can only just crack open the lid on the can. But if we have a longer lever, or a more dynamic question, we can open that can up much wider and really stir things up. . . . If the right question is applied, and it digs deep enough, then we can stir up all the creative solutions.”   Fran Peavey

Powerful questions open up topics for discussion and helps participants to dig deep into a topic.  Here is how Joanna describes her early insights into the type of questions she was asking of her people.  Click here for  The Art of Powerful Questions, by Joanna Hubbard from her blog site and for my insights click here.

We are looking of our questions to;

  • generate curiosity in the listener
  • stimulate reflective conversation
  • invites creativity and new possibilities
  • generate energy and forward movement
  • touch a deep meaning
  • evokes more questions

There are opening up questions which involve you as a participant like;

Western Link Event-12

  • What is it about this topic that calls you here today?
  • Why do you care so much about this?
  • What question, if answered, could make the most difference to this situation?

There are questions which flush out assumptions like;

  • What does the elephant in the room look like?
  • What questions are taboo in this topic?

There are questions which provoke decision making like;

  • What would it take to create change on this issue?
  • To which of these options are you willing to give some of your own time and effort?
  • What seed might we plant today that could make the most difference to the future of your place?

And then there are drawing to a close questions which require the participant to make a contribution.

  •  What is the one thing you might do in response to our conversation today?
  • What have you learnt today?

In Part 1 of this blog I offered a critique of the recapturing our soul metaphor by claiming that it is difficult to build mutual relationships when you don’t have respect and understanding for another.   In Part 2 I lamented poor leadership that uses historical / theological metaphors like the Four Marks of the Church to define who is in and out rather than build understanding.  What I am doing in Part 3 is building a case for an alternative way of having the difficult conversations about the relationships between agencies and Congregations / Synods / Assembly.  But by doing this such that the questions are building relationships and understanding at the same time.

So I propose we work from a stand point which sets out to 1) deepen our understanding of us; 2) build stronger relationships between the various parts of our organisations.  If you demonstrate that you are committed to 1) and 2) then you can 3) challenge, criticise or ask the difficult questions of one another, as long as you are also committed to explore a common future.

Along with many of my colleagues we are striving for group conversations* which expect deeper understanding, stronger relationships and difficult questions with a view to the future.   We can do this in a way which brings an attitude of discernment to God’s call on our lives.

So let me offer the following questions for a group conversation at the conference;

  • What is the most important part of your role?  (deepen our understanding of you)
  • If you could put two or three things together who or what would it be? (build stronger relationships)
  • What is actually going on here? (opening up difficult / challenging questions)
  • What is the elephant in the room? (opening up difficult / challenging questions)
  • Imagine a time where these matters were resolved.  What would it look like?  (view to future)
  • What is God calling us to put aside that we might become?  (view to future)

In the first of three blogs I took a part the questions we have been offered by the conference Rescuing Our Soul, then in the second part I reflected on the importance of bringing together the diverse bunch of people in the Uniting Mission and Ministry network to build respect and understanding amongst ourselves.  Then in this last blog I’ve argued for questions which will deepen our understanding of one another and invite us to creatively think about God’s call into the future.


*  This has little to do with whether you are on church committees or not.  Many of the examples I’ve offered are outside the formal decision making processes of the church, because we need to all  our internal conversations, not just our decision making.  Regardless of whether you are on a formal church committee or not.  I hope you will join us in this enterprise.



Peavey, Fran. “Strategic Questioning” in By Life’s Grace: Musings on the Essence of Social Change (New Society Publishers, 1994; more information is available at

The Art of Powerful Questions – Catalizing insight, innovation and action by Eric E Vogt, Junita Brown and David Isaccs

Rev Peter McDonald
is the Executive of Advocacy and Community Relations at Uniting Communities as well as the Minister in placement.  His profile is here and he will be attending the Friday and Saturday of the ROS conference.

<End Part 3>


Catalogue of work prepared for “Recapturing our Soul”  Melbourne 2-4th Sept 2016

Beginners Guides – Background information written with our visiting German scholars in mind.
After reading Parts 1-3 Dr John Flett asked me to prepare a brief description of 1) the Australian social service sector, 2) Uniting Church agencies, 3) Uniting Church governance, and 4) The relationships between the three.

Hence my “Incomplete Guides” written for beginners. The guides are ‘incomplete’ as they do not describe the whole system.  Rather they pick one or two issues as an example of what can be found within it.

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