How to supervise a pioneer curate/assistant pioneer minister

Flock of birdsWe asked a training minister and his trainee pioneer to pass on their experience of working together. What advice would they give to others? Paul Finch is a training incumbent in the Church of England and Steve Martin is a curate, who for the previous 31 years had been a Church Army Evangelist and Diocesan Youth Officer.

We would love others who have been supervising trainee pioneers or are trainees themselves to share their wisdom on, so that the page can evolve into a robust statement of good practice.

What qualities does a training minister need?

  • Being able to think out of the box when the pioneer comes up with ideas, and as the new community emerges.
  • A good understanding of the notion of 'pioneer ministry' and what it might entail. This should include understanding the basic theology and methodologies of fresh expressions.
  • A readiness to learn with the pioneer minister whatever the cost, to become a real partner in the journey, and to have one's views and ministry challenged. This may involve handling difficult questions raised by the pioneer.
  • A willingness to champion the pioneer in the local and wider church. This will include an ability to field questions from church members who don't understand what the pioneer is doing, and to work effectively with the denomination/diocese (for example, over requirements for training).
  • An ability to challenge in a supportive way both the pioneer minister and the congregation.

How can the training minister best offer support?

  • Reading a mapBy listening carefully to the pioneer as the latter seeks to establish their role, thinks through the expectations of the local church and the denomination/diocese, and develops the venture. Empathising with the dilemmas faced by the pioneer is vital.
  • By giving the pioneer their blessing and 100% support - both publicly and in private. This will be especially important when the pioneer faces setbacks and disappointments, or feels under pressure to produce quick results.
  • By acting as a critical friend - asking the awkward questions, warning of possible difficulties and sharing one's own experience.
  • By making sure that there are clear lines of accountability. This will include negotiating a work contract with the pioneer, reviewing it at least annually (and perhaps every six months) and updating it if necessary on an agreed basis.

What support should the denomination/diocese provide?

  • A clear picture of what's involved in supervising and training a pioneer. This should include expectations as to what training ministers should understand about the nature of pioneer ministry, and suggestions about how this understanding can be obtained (eg. by consulting the Guide).
  • Guidance on how the pioneer's time should be split between inherited church and fresh expressions of church. Learning the competencies required for both is a vital part of training to serve a mixed economy church.
  • Guidance on the training to be provided by the diocese or denomination. In the Church of England, this means clarity on how post-ordination training for all curates will be supplemented (and paid for) by training that is specific to pioneers.
  • A realistic approach to funding. Where the denomination/diocese pays a salary/stipend, thought should be given as to how long the pioneer will need to establish a new venture. One diocese assured a pioneer curate that they could be in post for up to seven years (instead of the normal four).
  • A link person in the denomination/bishop's team to champion pioneer ministry.

What other forms of support might trainee pioneers need?

Holding handsPioneers may find it helpful to put into place the following:

  • Prayer support. In addition to the prayers of their local church, some trainee pioneers have benefited from a smaller group of prayer partners who commit specifically to pray for the pioneer regularly.
  • Learning support. Experience is showing the wisdom of belonging to a learning community and of using a coach or mentor. Ideally, the latter should have skills in coaching/mentoring and some knowledge of the theology and practice of fresh expressions. In today's 'knowledge society', learning should be ongoing.
  • Management support. In addition to the training minister, in some contexts the pioneer may find it helpful to gather a management group that contains financial and legal skills, knowledge of the area and representatives of the local church. The group can supplement the pioneer's skills, be a source of advice and strengthen ties with the home church.
  • Personal support. The pioneer would be advised to have a spiritual director or 'soul friend', or the equivalent.

Some helpful resources

Guidelines on Deployment to title post and IME 4-7 for Ordained Pioneer Ministers97.13 KB