What makes a good pioneer?

Monday, 20 May, 2013

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

The word 'pioneer' appears regularly in discussions of fresh expressions but it is worth remembering that it is only in the last few years it has become so commonplace.

Fresh expressions have been planted all over the country because the Holy Spirit has been stirring up new imagination for mission in place after place. At its simplest, those who have had the courage to respond to the Holy Spirit's initiatives are the pioneers. There are pioneers because the Holy Spirit is calling them. There have, of course, always been missionary pioneers, but something which was rare is becoming more common, and something which was often 'exotic' – someone doing totally unexpected things far away – is becoming local. This is all because the Holy Spirit has been on the move, taking the church by surprise again.

Some are called to be full-time, ordained or licensed lay pioneers, but they are only the institutional tip of the iceberg. The great majority are not ordained: doing their pioneering as part of already full lives, reaching to people who are otherwise beyond the reach of the local church, as they set out to plant a fresh expression of church. There are thousands of them and we need thousands more.

So what makes a good pioneer? If pioneering is rooted in the initiative of the Holy Spirit, then obedience to the Spirit of Jesus is at the heart of pioneering.

We obey a call. It may come in many different ways, but in the end we need to be convinced that we are being called. Pioneering can be costly and isolating because we are doing something new that many of our fellow churchgoers may not understand. We need the assurance that God has called us. Ego-driven people, contrasted with obedient people, may try this - but not for long. They will burn out either themselves or others.

Risk taking also lies at the heart of pioneering, because obedience to the Holy Spirit takes the form of risk taking faith. Almost certainly we will not know the final shape of our fresh expression when we take the first obedient steps. A bit like Abraham we set out in faith, not knowing where we are going to end up, because God saw no need to tell us! By definition, pioneers enter uncharted territory and, by definition, they risk failure - but set out anyway.

Discernment is another key characteristic. We set out in obedience to the call of the Spirit but also in the conviction that the Spirit has gone ahead of us. If mission is 'seeing what God is doing and joining in', then discernment lies at its heart. The problem is that discernment is not a gift given fully formed to pioneers as they set out. It is a spiritual capacity, which includes a gift of the Spirit, but which only develops as it is used, and often only develops to maturity through the mistakes we make as we use it. Discernment grows with the journey.

Another essential is love for people. Love for God and love for the people God loves is the core motivation. Pioneers who are going to lead a new initiative - and it is perfectly possible to be part of a pioneering team without being the leader - need to be self-motivated but they are not rugged individualists - whatever Hollywood movies may imply to the contrary! They are community builders at heart. Their skills are in creating contextual community through mission. Their instincts, from the beginning, are for a team, not a solo effort and their aim is to be part of a new community of faith in which many others play a part. 

Much more could be said, but these essentials lie at the heart of a true pioneer.

+Graham Cray


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.