This is a response to the article by Tina Hodgett and Paul Bradbury concerning definitions of the types of ordained pioneer: a pioneer mission spectrum.  I think an idea I saw a little while ago by Dave Male (link below) which also suggested different pioneers. What I am drawing out is that since there are different pioneer styles, and a fresh expression of church goes through different stages to maturity, different pioneers will actually be needed. They will need to be chosen precisely, and affirmed for their individual gifts appropriate at that time, perhaps need different types of support. I’d already been thinking in this direction, so it’s been really useful to have Tina and Paul’s writing to bounce off.

Not all pioneers are created equal

So I’ve been thinking recently that I am not a pioneer for all the time. Not that I am not a pioneer all the time, I am. I mean that if we take the life course of a fresh expression of church then I am not the right pioneer for them right from the very start to the very end.

Here I am talking about Ordained Pioneer Ministers who lead fresh expressions of church by the way!

Also, me thinks, I am wrong to say that there is only the one way of being a pioneer. And that for me is to get a bit irritated when I see other people who are pioneers (in my view until recently I would add ‘so-called’ to that phrase).

So this was where I had gotten to.

There are some pioneers like me who are right on the edge full blown don’t like seeing the inside of a church and really want to go planting new stuff which cuts way beyond where the church is at currently. They want to see the communities themselves changed and to be frank, could care less if they look like they got all the hallmarks of the church of England.  (eeek….gonna get the sack, or at least a severe talking to now!).

But then for some unknown reason I can’t shake that if you cut me in half you would see ‘Church of England’ and ‘Anglican’ in every slice…. A tension to strike the note on a stringed instrument perhaps….  Still, if I can give the church a slap in the face with a wet kipper sometimes by what I am doing, all the better.

Whatever, my driving goal is to see people know Jesus, not add to the church of England’s electoral roll. Its just C of E seems to … kinda… fit …

I have this text on my desktop, ipad home screen, and wall all the time to remind me what I am at:

“…because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the living sacrifice offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit…by the powes of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ is already known, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 12:1-4; 15:15-20 – Good news translation and NRSV)

But…shouldn’t all pioneers be like me? (it seems not…)

So when I come across pioneers who say that they are in a regular church building/service on Sunday and then go out during the week….I break out in a cold sweat of frustration.

And that crosses over into the prevailing wind at the moment of ‘but aren’t we all called to be pioneers’ that is coming across the church at the moment. This I think causes much distress, and expects vicars who feel uncomfortable doing the kind of thing I do to do what I do…and implies that I should feel happy to be in a church building on a Sunday and still be a pioneer in the way I do it.

That nearly killed me; just saying….

Gifts differing

But then I started thinking. Actually there is something about the limits on what I can do. Thing is, I really can get things started. I am a planter. Innovator. Starter of things….and then I get bored. Dave Male says they are Fresh Star Pioneers; Tina and Paul use the word innovator.

Once things are started off I need other people to take them forwards. Actually that’s not that unusual because according to the Belbin team roles description that’s ok. Some are made for starting things off. Fastest way off killing a team of people is to have everyone involved at every stage in a project.

Only it doesn’t seem to be this way in the church. No, sadly, you have to be everything. A kind of distortion of ‘all things to all people’ perhaps. But maybe I am being a little harsh.

But with pioneers there seems to be the expectation that they will parachute into a place where church isn’t already, start things off, grow a congregation, bring people to faith, train up the disciples, establish something that will last for the next thousand years, then move on and do it again.

Preferably within the next three years, please. If not, then you have failed and perhaps you were not called to this role…. Oh, and you can run this traditional church over here at the same time, and help them to grow because they are dying…

And yet pioneers are called to experimentation. A friend who was a science teacher helpfully defined for me the other day that experiment is something you do to purposefully disprove your own theory.  Digression alert….

This means that as pioneers we are constantly called to attempt failure hahahahahaha!

The perfect pioneer (not a real thing…maybe a lab experiment gone wrong…)

In  this model of a start to end pioneer, it assumes a couple of things.

  • There is a definite time scale in which church grows. Actually the observation is that from start to maturity of a church (which here I suggest means self-sustaining and self-propagating) may well take around ten years. Grants last from 3-5 years, and expect that at the end of that period there will be enough people giving enough money to sustain ministry, or show signs that it will be self funding. (perhaps ignoring the fact that many pioneer situations are planted amongst the poor and needy who are on benefits, foodbank, and served by CAP…)
  • That the pioneer will be there for those ten years, and have all the skills and calling, and roles required to do that.

But lets think: if you have one particular team role type, then they aren’t going to be suitable at every stage in a maturation of a fresh expression of church. If you are a starter then ten years is a very, very long time. I’ve never lived in the same house/area and certainly not ministry for more than nine ever since I was born! Yep, that’s the kind of family I come from. (no wait…there was the 11 years during my schooling, until dad trained to be a vicar when I was 16…).

Stages to maturity of a fresh expression of church

It might be useful to describe the stages I roughly see in the maturation of a fresh expression.

Laying aside the fact that Fx may be a temporary community, which is perfectly valid, it hasn’t failed, and may even be a calling. Some clever people with theology have suggested that we are as a church currently wandering in the desert, and that temporary laying down of roots then uprooting again may be where we are at., but that will complicate the issue.

  • Stage 1: innovation. Looking at the needs of the community. Doing something which will meet those needs. Share inspirational Jesus stories. Build first level friendships.
  • Stage 2: Bring those people into some sort of gathering where they are exploring faith. Maybe starting to wonder what worship looks like. May be making a difference themselves in the local community. Forming a transformational community who looks inwards and outwards, but isn’t sure yet what upwards looks like
  • Stage 3: The penny drops. Some people start to profess words like worship, and reading the bible, and praying together. Their motivation changes from just being a nice person, to their personality becomes a light. Still not quite sure what worship looks like though, but getting some ideas. Beginning to innovate those ideas. Maybe adopt some traditional things as well, but using words of that community
  • Stage 4: Worship is happening regularly. It has clear features of prayer and hallmarks of inspirational services, with explanations and revelations and declarations of faith.
  • Stage 5: Members are motivated by faith to reach out to others and the original fresh expression either continues in a supportive role; or it grows and becomes the centre for those reached out to to attend and becomes an attractional model of church but incarnational and part of the community; or the centre dies and the lessons learned move out into new areas as each original member becomes a church pioneer in themselves.

Pioneer for the stages

So I started thinking that each of these stages requires something different of the pioneers. And as there is a great deal of building happening in my area of ministry with new estates, it makes a good analogy.

Stage 1: foundation builders. Includes survey work and measurement, and ground preparation. will need the ‘hey I’ve got a good idea’ people who see opportunity in everything.      Some of the stuff that they do will just be to find what good news for their community is. They will probably be more motivated about doing stuff they personally connect with and find exciting, just as an entrepreneur would.

They have  a weakness in action and a strength in creativity. But with gentleness they can be encouraged to have action for just long enough to see something that can be moved to next stage. In business we need the people who can be implementers, but we need also the creatives. Partner the two together and it’s potent, but it’s often a mistake to think that they are one in the same people.

So if you want to start a new church, find people to support them who will put the mad ideas into action. And don’t expect the pioneer to find those people themselves, they are more likely to choose people who are LIKE themselves. So you get endless good ideas. But these people are the platform builders.

They may, however, not produce anything like the fruit that the church would like to see, and that makes it hard for the bean counters to be able to know just what is going on. And if they try to measure by ‘fruit’ or by numbers and so on they are destined to fail if spiritual fruit is the marker. Better to say build something that we can build on later. Experiment and bring people together. Make sure that there is space to talk about faith. I prefer to measure by the action I am taking linking it to a theory of change I have to make sure I am applying action in the right places.

Stage 2: Put the walls up, get the roof on. You need someone to steady what has been planted. It’s more continuation work, and building on someone else’s platform. They have the skills to be able to talk gently about faith and people are interested. People who were connected at stage 1 actually would like to get together under the leadership of stage 2 and start to explore faith a bit more. Some pioneers (me…and it seems my wife) would object that that is hardly pioneering. But I am starting to recognise that to do this effectively in an existing pioneer setting, you need to be the Apollos, willing to water that which is already established and not into huge innovation, but also to keep the ethos of an incarnational pioneer fresh expression at the heart.  I am not that person…I am stage 1.

Stage 3: Lets get the power supply sorted! People who lead alpha courses, and so on are perfect at this point. Help people start building connections with one another. A pattern for living and sharing. Holy Spirit!!!

Stage 4: Decoration and inviting people into the show home. Legitimately you are able to put up signs inviting people to the church which meets at such and such a place. The pioneer is still culture based, but now they are ministering to the people who come, and helping them to connect with people beyond the margins and further out. The pioneer is a pastor teacher, but that teaching is to strengthen people to start to explore what pioneering is like in their own context. This is what the bean counters probably wanted all along, but you can’t decorate the walls without building them first, and you can’t build walls without a foundation and amenities. This is the decoration really….


Stage 5: Sell the building on… do it all again. We are returning to pioneers who are looking to innovate, but now the pioneer is enabling others to do it. They are asking them to look for opportunities in their own spaces. It might be that they are less skilled at pastoral, therefore the centre dies. It might be that they are great at building lively churches, so it becomes attractional. This pioneer has to be willing to see the ‘seed go into the ground and die’ so as to see growth everywhere else.

Different Pioneers

Each of these people will have to have a heart of pioneering and understand the non-negotiable nature of a church formed out of context – the incarnational ministry. BUT they all have different ways of pioneering appropriate to their context.

Secondly, and perhaps more crucially for the future of the church of England (Jesus-way will keep going, but as the paymasters for C of E, in my case, Methodists and URC  in others), they will need to recognise the type of pioneer needed in each situation, and be willing to move people on not because of failure but because they need someone with the next skill set.

It’s hard being an innovator without obvious fruit as seen by others

For the innovators like myself it is actually quite hard. We seem to have a knack for being able to build communities and bring people together for one reason or another.  But fruit takes time, and by the time it has grown we have lost our passion and enthusiasm and want a new thing. So we move before we have seen something really well established. But now after a good 25 years in this kind of ministry and the wonders of facebook bringing old friends back to me again, I see just what happens when we go away.

Hey…Jesus had that too…. (no, I am not Jesus…but he is my model!)

And there are plenty of international ministries that I am echoing in what I have seen, where it is years after something small has been established that others are able to build.

Ok, so I thought I was alone in this thinking. And then yesterday I saw a tweet

And if I have read this right, it seems I am not far off. And I was right, I am a pioneer innovator. Paul doesn’t go so far as to suggest that there are different pioneers for different times, but he does describe different sorts of pioneers. I think it is implied though.

On the www.cofepioneer.org/types/ page it describes three types of pioneer. But again, doesn’t really recognise that you need different pioneers for different stages of a fresh expression on the way to maturity.

Recommendations for gifts differing pioneers

My suggestion for the church is that they should be more precise and limited when looking for pioneers. Depending on the stage of the project, deliberately describe different styles of pioneer ministry appropriate to the scene, not asking every pioneer to have every skill and gift.

If you are bringing someone in to build on someone else’s work, then perhaps an adopter and adapter will be needed.

So what we need, I think, is this recognition of differing gifts for differing seasons.

A helpful way of measuring the seasons in a way appropriate to the season. You can’t measure the value of a house by the quality of the foundation whilst the foundation is being built…so how would you measure such a thing?

Different styles of pioneer will need different levels of support and oversight. I am a maverick, I enjoy experimenting and danger. I fail…a lot.  I aim to fail fast to find what works. I get depressed when things fail. Lick my wounds, do something more interesting. Then find myself back with a mad idea a month later. I lose interest if something isn’t doing what I want…then suddenly I discover something that catches light. It flies! I dig in… and then get bored but now its going, so want to give it to someone else.

We need an affirming  way of moving pioneers to new situations, acknowledging their successes and permitting failures. But valuing what they do and not trying to make them everything to everyone. There is, in fresh expressions, a phrase of ‘finishing well’, but how about ‘moving on well’. And recognising that the next person isn’t coming in to fix what has gone wrong, but to envision the next stage. And if it all suddenly goes wrong at that point… Ok, so I don’t have all the answers!

To use these measurements and descriptions for the appropriate advertising and appointments such that we don’t just see every pioneer role the same and expect the same results every time.  There needs more precision in what stage a ministry is at.