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THMM509 Theology for Mission and Ministry and THMM500 Contemporary Approaches to Pastoral Practice, Communication and Group Processes


THCP513 Exploring Parish Culture

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Successfully reading of parish culture is essential in order for pastoral ministers to respond most fully to the call of God’s mission. By equipping students to undertake a collaborative observational study and values analysis of a parish, students learn how to access and understand the specific cultural dynamics that shape the life of their local congregation. This unit seeks to intentionally ground an academic approach to theology, with a strong focus on the nexus of theory and practice. Similarly, this unit is directed towards the student’s development of a confident and respectful enquiring stance towards parish life, its history and its future.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Articulate frameworks for exploring a parish or organization’s culture, including underlying history, norms and values (observational study); GA3; GA5; GA7;

LO2 - Integrate theological, ecclesial, and psycho-social understandings of human   communities, with frameworks for interpreting cultures, in order to analyse complex pastoral scenarios effectively (GA5);

LO3 - Appraise a parish culture in light of the Missio Dei in order to identify and assess needs and potential openings for ministry (GA4).

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 


Topics will include:

  • Interpretive and Interdisciplinary frameworks for exploring the multiple layers of parish culture (literary, organisational, theological and ecclesial)
  • Theological anthropology and psycho-social considerations in exploring parish culture
  • Ethical requirements related to fieldwork and the conduct of social research.
  • Theoretical approaches to fieldwork in a ministry setting (methods, planning & practice)
  • Missiological analyses: identifying opportunities for mission and ministry in a parish setting
  • Theological reflection and integration of adult learning practices 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

 Adult learning theory frames this unit’s exploration of the collaborative ministry between pastoral ministers, members of particular faith communities and clergy in the exploration of their placement cultures. In particular, transformative learning theory informs the units’ approach to learning about ecclesial cultures as an attitude or orientation to ministry, as well while guiding the development of appropriate pastoral ministry tools for pastoral planning.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. Such procedures may include, but are not limited to: essays, reports, examinations, student presentations, case studies and online interactive student performance tasks.

 Assessment Task 1 is a short preparatory task that prepares the student to focus on the particularity of the parish culture they will be studying.

 Assessment Task 2 enables students to prepare a collaborative study and analysis of parish culture, including source documents and criteria to frame the study, and demonstrate an applied appreciation of the ethical dimensions of social research.

 Assessment Task 3 enables students to employ and apply theoretical analysis to demonstrate their knowledge of theoretical and practical issues and develop appropriately evidenced organisational solutions. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1: Short Written Paper

Eg.: Students will present a brief observational study of the parish they are going to work in and with. 



GA3, GA5, GA7

Assessment Task 2: Oral or written Project

Eg. Project Proposal: Parish Culture Observational Study and Values Analysis

Students are to prepare a project proposal for their anticipated parish culture observational study. The proposal should: outline the students’ own learning goals, the goals of the study scope and methods of the analysis, key texts and resources for the shaping of the project, including its criteria for evaluation, as well as and time frame for conducting the audit.


LO1, LO2

GA3; GA5; GA7;

Assessment Task 3: Written task

Eg. Missiological Reflection: Pastoral Planning in Response to Study and Analysis Findings:

In this task students will articulate a contextual theology of the mission based on the findings of their field work (Task 2). The missiological reflection should offer evidence-based identification of possible openings for ministry, as well as suggesting a corresponding pastoral plan which emerges in light of the theology of the Missio Dei



GA4; GA5

Representative texts and references

Avery, W. Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organisational Tools for Leaders. Bethesda, MD: The Alban Institute, 2003.

Branson, M. Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2004.

Carroll, J. God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Frank, T. The Soul of the Congregation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Galindo, I. The Hidden Lives of Congregations: Understanding Church Dynamics. Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2004.

Kroth M., Cranton P. Stories of Transformative Learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. 2014.

Mezirow, J. Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. First ed. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 2000.

Robinson, A. Transforming Congregational Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Saarinen, M. The Lifecycle of a Congregation. Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2004.

Thompson, G. How to Get Along with Your Church. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.

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