Who Exactly Are Pioneers?
“Pioneers wear cowboy hats” came the answer from the bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, to the question that I am not alone in being weary of. He was joking of course, but that joke held a truth that is both destructive and limiting to the ministry of pioneers, lay or ordained: there is a lack of clarity from the church about the term Pioneer minister.
Seven years on from my training and I am still being asked to explain what I am and what I do. Hmmm…sound familiar? Dave Male was my tutor in Pioneer Studies at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He writes of the noun ‘pioneer’ that: “the roots of the word are exclusively Christocentric. The term pioneer is used four times in the New Testament and each time applied to Jesus only. It also has a cruciform dimension which relates the term to victory through suffering and endurance. The Greek word archegos, translated as ‘pioneer’, primarily signifies someone who takes a lead in, provides the first occasion of anything or leads into a new space.
As the Bishop of Coventry commented to me, “So the New Testament reveals Jesus as not only prophet, priest and King but pioneer also. It reminds us that our pioneering is derived from the true pioneer who leads us into a new space through his death and resurrection.” (1) The term describes a person who leads the way into a new space or opportunity, just as Jesus led us into a new understanding of death and resurrection.
I know, I know! I hear you saying, “that’s nothing new!”
Oh, but there is if it is done in a new context or situation. Pioneers are adept at spotting opportunities to grow the Kingdom, and we have a discerned prophetic ministry that sees a new future where others may not. And we are extremely creative as we respond to our calling from God to GO!
Pioneers restore the deepest traditions from long forgotten religious practices and bring them back into a modern setting. Pioneers see ordinary space in extra ordinary ways; pubs become chapels, forests become cathedrals, streets become Emmaus roads, shopping centres become meeting places for the glory of the gospel and the life of the community. Parish boundaries (if that is the tradition) cease to exist as pioneers lead the way from an ancient political and agricultural way of life, into the technological age where information, homes, jobs and leisure activities are spread across villages, towns and cities, the nation or the world. A pioneers’ ability to see the connectivity between God’s children and His ‘bigger picture’ has no limits.
Well, maybe a few! Mostly around funding.
Pioneers are entrepreneurs who have the discerned gifts and skills to make God’s vision accessible to every person here and now. They combine well the ability to see a new future but also the skills and gifts to make the future accessible now. There is a danger of making a too tight and simplistic definition of pioneers but our present situation requires a clear sense of what we mean by this word.
The working definition for pioneers recently agreed by Ministry Council is therefore: “Pioneers are people called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish new contextual Christian community.”
So now you know the answer, what is the challenge?
In my pioneer opinion, until the fear of anything new or the suspicions of anyone who is outside of the ‘formula’ of church leadership is dispelled, there will be a conflict of interests in the very place that ought to show grace and generosity; the church. We are asked to model justice and truth, be missional to the ends of the earth, and I can’t find a passage in the book of Acts - which is where we find the ‘application’ of the great commission - that says God’s vision must be built this way or dressed that way, or speak this way or behave, believe, belong like this.
Pioneers must continue to pioneer a language bridge between the inherited church and whatever it is we are now calling ‘Fresh’. Babies are not being thrown out with the font water, and most pioneers feel that tradition is beautiful. Pioneers are not the only fruit – reader understand.
To quote Dave Male again as I finish: “There is confusion and lack of clarity concerning the term ‘Pioneer’. The present confusion is inhibiting the role and ministry of pioneers and therefore the growth of the Church. In light of this, it is not surprising that many people are still unsure about the whole pioneer endeavour. This lack of conviction severely hampers the selection and effective deployment of Pioneers at diocesan level, both lay and ordained.” (2)
(1) Dave Male – National Advisor for Pioneer Ministry: Getting started with FX
(2) Dave Male
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