A Manifesto for Scottish Pioneer Church-Plant Leaders and Sending Organisations

Paul Ede

Greater Glasgow January 05, 2017

As we share Christ’s burden for pioneer mission, what expectations can and should we have of pioneers and the organisations that deploy them?

Sharing the burden

Whenever potential pioneers and church planters come to me for advice about their plans and ideas, one of the first questions I ask is the ‘who’ question, rather than ‘how’ or ‘what’ or ‘why.’ The ‘who’ question covers two topics: the question of who will join you in the task (the core team) and the question of who will be supporting the initiative - anchoring and resourcing it. Mike Breen frames questions about the shape of church in terms of “IN, OUT and UP.” The question of support suggests a fourth question: “WITH.” In theological terms “WITH” is a category of the discipline of ‘catholicity’ (as in the famous creedal idea of the church as ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’). Catholic here speaks of ‘universal’, meaning ‘interconnected with itself through time and space’. Different traditions have different notions of how we can conceive of a local church being interconnected with the church universal. Sacramentally, structurally, or through the adherence in obedience are just some examples. But all understand, as Miroslav Volf affirms in After Our Likeness, that a church cannot consider itself a church if it does not consciously express its essential catholicity. For him a church is not a church if it does not consciously work to be interconnected with other ecclesial expressions.

What has this to do with pioneering? I would argue, everything. An authentic new expression of church must express catholicity in embryo for it to even attempt to become a church. The wider church universal must meanwhile act accordingly to connect itself to a nascent church, if it recognises the legitimacy of the call of the church planting agent and the constituting presence of the Holy Spirit. If intentionality is missing in either direction, the emerging fresh expression is hamstrung, even delegitimised, from the word go.

A case study

For Clay Community Church the issue was complex, but fascinating for all that. Especially in the days of what missiologist David Bosch has called the ‘emerging protestant ecumenical missionary paradigm’. A loose partnership of the Baptist Union and the Church of Scotland recruited a married pioneer couple (my wife Esther and I), with roots in Anglicanism and the British House Church movement respectively. We were invited to embrace an approach whereby all the necessary resources were generated within a self-funding team. After five years we connected with a relational network of churches in the British House Church tradition. On reflection, I look back and ask myself whether it might not also have been beneficial to join the Baptist Union, with its established history and at least minimal structural/economic inter-relatedness. More importantly, perhaps, I look back and ask questions of how catholicity was concretely expressed by the founding denominational partners and UE. In particular, I now ask questions about the extent to which these groups did or didn’t take on the appropriate practical and structural share of the burden of church planting. Church planters must of course carry their own load. But sending organisations and partnerships must also carry their share of the burden. For example, is relying solely on a self-funding team model appropriate or even biblical? How ethical is such an approach in light of both scripture and the vast resources still commanded by denominations and their constituent churches? I have discovered that structural questions like these are not unique among those of my peers who have given themselves over to the risky process of exploring new patterns of church.

And so I have been of a mind for some time, reflecting on this journey of pioneering a church, to collaborate with other pioneers and agencies to create a baseline standard of mutual support and expectations. A template, aimed at being useful ecumenically (whatever the sending tribe or denomination or partnership), able to express the essentiality of catholicity that should be in place from a structural angle. What does best practice say when the question of ‘WITH’ and its practical implications are asked?

This would be of use to pioneers in evaluating opportunities on offer, and sending organisations in testing to see whether they can appropriately support a mooted initiative.

The table-in-outline that I offer below is a very humble first draft of what could form the starting point of a collaborative effort by Scottish pioneers to create a set of ‘sector-wide’ guidelines for the contemporary pioneering context. Guidelines for planters and sending organisation to share the burden but also carry the load appropriately. Ultimately, it may be that a variety of charts need to be created to contextualise these concerns adequately within each denomination or sending organisation. But exploring the commonality that might need to be in place is an intriguing place to start. I offer it here to start a discussion, engage in critique and comment (especially ecumenically), and perhaps even stimulate a small working group of pioneers and permission givers to take this project to a far deeper and better end product.

A Manifesto for Scottish Pioneer Church-Plant Leaders and Sending Organisations

Christ

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Root every encouragement below in Christ as the guarantor and rock of our security. Root every encouragement below in Christ as the guarantor and rock of our security.

Trust

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Appropriately resource and appropriately trust pioneers to do their work, and work to establish mutual accountability to enable this to happen. Expect to be both appropriately resourced and appropriately trusted to do your work, and work to establish mutual accountability to enable this to happen.

Connectivity

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Create space for pioneers to find a home with your denomination from day one and treat them the same as other leaders even before they have a core team. Start with a denominational connection or agreement to own proactive care of the church-plant from day one (even if you are also connected to a sodality).

Oversight and care

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Commit organisation and partners to offer proactive and consistent oversight for the core team – including review and evaluation, and pastoral care. Commit to creating a culture of care of a high standard among your planting team.

Accountability and accreditation

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Commit organisation and partners to offering meaningful accreditation/ordination for pioneer leaders. Commit to sending organisation’s accountability structures with integrity.

Resourcing

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Commit organisation to sharing the burden of resourcing the pioneer initiative financially and in terms of people. Resist the temptation to expect pioneers to provide all the resources themselves. Proactively and regularly connect to ascertain how the burden of pioneering can be shared creatively and appropriately with the wider church. Resist the temptation to carry the whole burden of responsibility for resourcing the initiative. But carry the appropriate load recognising the responsibility of the pioneer leader to advocate for and enable resource distribution. Don’t rob the wider church of the covenant gift of sharing the burden for mission, or undermine the likelihood of the wider church not taking appropriate ownership.

Finances

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Commit the organisation and partners to offer a minimum p/t salary from day one. Commit to implementing the Church of Scotland baseline salary scale. Commit to these principles because Christ seeks just employment for the pioneer that equals or surpasses the righteousness of the non-Christian employment world. Expect a p/t salary from your sending organisation. Commit to part-fundraise, go bi-vocational, or redistribute among your core team for the remainder of your income. Assume that these principles should be in place because Christ seeks just employment for you that equals or surpasses the righteousness of the non-Christian employment world.

Job conditions

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Commit the organisation to cover expenses, training, holidays, salary and member-care costs (counselling etc.) for the pioneer leader. Prayerfully question the urge to take a full-time pioneer post even if offered. It’s not necessarily sustainable for the new church or helpful for mission. Consider using excess funds to create a similar p/t post for someone else on your team.

Cross-cultural mission

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Actively support pioneers to engage the unchurched cross-culturally. Remove internal barriers or predispositions that prevent this emphasis from being pursued in favour of reaching ‘easier’ people groups. Actively critique cultural and denominational assumptions about where who you should plant and who you should plant among. Prioritise unchurched marginalised groups far from the church rather than merely de-churched groups with the same cultural background as yourself.

Incarnational/Contextual

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Actively support pioneers to take an incarnational approach. Remove internal barriers that prevent this emphasis from being pursued. Carefully consider the benefits of relocating to the heart of the community you are trying to reach, whatever form that might take.

Partnership

Sending Organisation’s commitment Pioneer Leader’s commitment
Be flexible to enable partnerships with capacity-building and specialist organisations that will help the team in their cross-cultural and missional efforts. Empower pioneer leaders to take appropriate ownership of partnership formation, but also offer support to help them achieve this without adding unnecessary burden to their workload. Create additional partnerships with specialist mission entities to help with training, recruitment and delivery of missional outcomes. Be confident in your spiritual authority to manage any partnerships for the ultimate benefit of the local church and local leaders that you are planting.

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Paul Ede

Paul Ede

Paul and his wife Esther pioneered Clay Community Church in Possilpark. He has taught Christian Mission at the Scottish Baptist College and now mentors men with a vision for pioneering.