Pioneers, entrepreneurs and anyone who will have a go?

Monday, 19 March, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Bill Shankly, legendary manager of Liverpool, once said that:

some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
Liverpool FC

The same might be said of pioneering fresh expressions of church, and of the pioneers and entrepreneurial Christians who plant them.

Not that the church will die if it ignores this opportunity and the people God is calling - our God is more gracious than that - but it will be in real difficulty. The growing proportion of people who have never had any contact with the church, the much older age profile in the churches and a pluralist consumer culture, all warn of the danger of limiting our fishing to a shrinking pool. Archbishop Geoff of Adelaide tells his people

more of the same just means less of the same.

So the churches' greatest resource, at this time, is the people who can do something different, pioneers who can imagine and establish something new. We need them at every level, local and national: helping their local church to establish a new congregation or missional community, pioneering in the circumstances of their work and everyday life, or deployed and supported full or part time by a group of churches, a mission agency or a denomination. It's not quite about 'anyone who will have a go'. Not everyone has the gifts for this. But at every level we need to keep an eye out for the ones God might be calling. We need to be prepared to release people from other roles, even when that causes difficulty for our existing programs (better new fishing grounds than a shrinking pool!) and to look out for those who have never volunteered before, because they were never energised by what was on offer.

One of the most significant features of the fresh expressions movement has been its capacity to

join the centre to the edge

as Steven Croft has said. It is the responsibility of the centre to recognise the calling and gifts of pioneers, whether that is the local centre: ministers, councils or leadership teams, or at a more senior regional or national level, to support new ventures and the people who can lead them. Either way we need to make it easy to offer. Pioneering may feel like going on Dragon's Den but exploring a call from God in a local church should not!

It is the responsibility of pioneers and entrepreneurial types to offer themselves and to be patient with proper processes of discernment and accountability, rather than falling victim to impatience and leaving to start something with no connection to any other part of the Church. We need people who are sent, not who send themselves.

Pioneers also need appropriate networks of prayerful support and supervision from those to whom they are accountable and peer support if their work is to be sustainable. Ideally everyone planting something new should be in a learning network of others who are doing the same. We can support one another, learn from one another and gather learning for the wider church. My hope is that each FEAST will become a hub of these learning networks.

Finally we need as much entrepreneurial thinking, as much creative imagination, about ways to support and sustain pioneer ministry as we do for the ministry itself. The planting of a new fresh expression by a local church can usually be done in volunteer time and need not be resource-heavy. But the planting of something more substantial, or deeper into never-churched territory, will often require more time than volunteers with full-time jobs can give. A fresh expression of this sort, planted by a pioneer who has had to earn their living at the same time, is much more likely to fail when the pioneer moves on than one where the pioneer has had the necessary time freed to do the work. Very properly, there are a limited number of centrally funded jobs in the church, so encourage local entrepreneurial imagination to create portfolios of support for local pioneers.

+Graham Cray


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