Pioneer Ministry – a new buzz word or something more meaningful?

October 27, 2022

By Jac Smith

Pioneer ministry, mission and ministers. Whatever the iteration, it’s in the church zeitgeist. There’s even some eye-rolling at the mention of it. Is it just a repackaging of the same, or is it something genuinely radical? What is it? And what does it look like in Cornwall?

So what is it?

The dictionary defines a pioneer as someone breaking new ground. In folklore it’s usually a man with a large staff, forging ahead against odds. Within a Christian context, the definition is rather more gentle and discerning, but no less innovative. The Church of England says, “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.”

Lindsey Morgan-Lundie

Lindsey Morgan-Lundie, Pioneer Network Facilitator at Truro Diocese, puts it more simply. “For me, it’s about taking time to find out what’s already going on outside of the church. Discerning what doors the Holy Spirit is opening and joining in with that. Even more simply, it isn’t about doing, but joining in with what’s already going on. Or as the theologian Revd Dr Sam Wells says, ‘being with’ rather than ‘being for’ people.” He has produced a really helpful film that perfectly illustrates the value of ‘being with,’ how it was at the heart of everything Jesus did, and what it looks like in todays’ context. You can see the film below:

https://youtu.be/w2Zci7KBXms

How can people people become involved?

Lindsey has taken on the role of supporting pioneers in Truro Diocese to encourage people to undertake the Pioneer Ministry Training Certificate with Church Missionary Service (CMS). “It’s a course I did a couple of years ago and for me, it was like I’d come home. I’d been struggling to find my place in regular churches, but I knew that somehow, somewhere, God was calling me to find it.

“I’m grateful to Bishop Philip for prompting me to look at the course, even though I wasn’t convinced. But as soon as I started, I just knew I was where I should be.” Lindsey is the first to admit that she doesn’t fit a mould. Despite loving the church, she feels its restraints.

As an artist, she has often looked for ways for people to encounter Jesus beyond church walls and through her work. In 2015/16 she curated Diskudha, outdoor art events that celebrated the beauty of the landscape through trails around Old Kea. It was impossible not to feel something spiritual when sitting in that ancient, prayer filled church, listening to Spiegel im Spiegel on the cello and harp. And, in its way, it was pioneering before pioneering was a thing. People came, they joined in and were moved, even if they weren’t sure why.

Pioneer Ministry isn’t a quick fix

Pioneer Ministry brings God into the everyday in a way that churches perhaps cannot, by joining in with, and being with, people involved in community activities already happening. Or helping to establish new activities that have the qualities of church within them. And it takes time. Pioneering isn’t a quick fix. In fact, it isn’t a fix at all. It’s simply giving people the time and space to listen to where the Holy Spirit is already working in the community, discerning need and establishing ways in which to accompany, or be with, people. Slowly, but surely the Kingdom of God grows.

Finding potential pioneers

“My job is to locate those people who are pioneers but haven’t perhaps realised it. Often, and I’m not excluding myself in this, pioneers are usually a little bit annoying! They are the people in church who won’t let go of an idea, who ask awkward questions and don’t conform with the status quo. They tend not to cleave to the church community, feeling more at home with people outside of traditional church.” As Lindsey explains, this is their gift. Their acceptance in the non-church community, but commitment to show God’s love. “Every church community needs a pioneer. It’s what Jesus did. He confounded the religious people with the company he kept – but look how they were transformed.”

So how does pioneering work, day to day? What does it look like in Cornwall? “Truro Diocese is committed to growing a pioneering ministry, so much so its set as a priority in the Saints Way. They want to identify people who are not ordained and would flourish on the CMS Pioneer Ministry Certificate course, and will support them through their training.”

How having a lateral approach to life is helpful to pioneering

The Pioneer Ministry course, administered by the CMS South West Hub, including Bath and Wells, Salisbury and Truro Diocese, is completely accessible. It particularly encourages people who are dyslexic or in some way neuro diverse, as often they view the world in an outside the box, creative way. Having this kind of lateral approach to life is helpful in pioneering. So, certification isn’t achieved through a traditional academic route of marked essay writing but leans into people’s innate creativity. Attendees are encouraged to evidence their learning through, for example, poetry, painting or filmmaking.

There are six modules: What is Pioneer Mission; Reading the Bible for context; Doing Theology; Mission Spirituality; Mission Ecclesiology; Pioneering in the Rural context. If these sound standard, this comment from a student is reassuringly not: “There’s probably one stand-out phrase which drew me to the course: ‘The gift of not fitting in.’ This describes me pretty well! It was so important to find a course that wouldn’t churn me out in a ‘cookie-cutter’ process but would empower and equip me to grow into who I am. The tutors and leaders are brave enough to give us freedom to cut our own trails of development and discovery.”

Equipping and empowering people to be who God intended them to be – through Pilates…

The course is designed equip people to be who God has called them to be. Rachel Harpur, Pilates instructor and recent participant on the course says, “I feel God plans to use the investment I have made in the relationships I have built with my clients over the last 10 years. And sure enough, since doing the course I suddenly find myself having more conversations with people. How to turn Pilates classes or indeed any social enterprise or community group into ‘church’ I’m not yet sure. It’s probably made me ask more questions than answer the questions I had!”

As Rachel demonstrates, pioneering could mean delivering the Pilates classes that you love. Not suddenly rounding off a class with a pep-talk about how Jesus loves you, but being with people, continuing to enrich them with nourishing teaching and care for their wellbeing. Showing God’s love through the Holy Spirit just by being who He wants you to be and trusting that he is doing the work in the people you encounter.

Art…

Or, as Caroline Marwood, artist, says, “I like to think of myself as creative and that God is enabling me to use this creativity. Developing my skills and spirituality to connect with both church and non-church people, in particular using my garden and its location on the St Michael’s Way as a focus.”

Or even football

Pioneering ministry could be through building up and playing with a local football team of young men who don’t have anywhere to play. Who feel disenfranchised, left behind at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is so utterly disempowering. Or volunteering in a foodbank, or group providing hot meals or warm space to people in crisis, chatting with customers, loving and accepting, helping them feel valued and not ashamed. Or, as the video by Revd Dr Sam Wells says, handing a cup of tea to someone asking for money on the street, sitting alongside them and chatting about the premier league.

Pioneering is about being with people, giving them the space to flourish. It isn’t just a buzz word, it’s genuinely supporting people to be released into whatever it is that they feel called to do. And it’s about educating churches to support people in that.

If any of this has resonance with you, or might do with someone you know, please get in contact with Lindsey. You can find more information on her Facebook page or though the Church Mission Society, Pioneer Mission Training.

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