Supporting 'the quiet revolution'

Monday, 16 November, 2015

Dave Male shares some of the issues he has come across in his new role supporting pioneers across the country.

It is very exciting that the Church of England has created this new role of National Advisor for Pioneer Development, based in Ministry Division. This illustrates how far fresh expressions and pioneering has developed over the last ten years. I planted the Net Church in Huddersfield in 1999, with a small team. Back then there was not even an agreed vocabulary for what we were doing let alone much support or any sign of a national organisation. It has been incredible how far things have come in a short time. But my appointment was also made because there is a wide recognition across the denominations that there is still much to be done in enabling pioneers and pioneers to fully infuse the life of the Church.

My appointment in that role earlier this year has already provided me with some food for thought:

We need pioneers

The good news is I have found very little dissension about this at a national level across the denominations and it is exciting and encouraging for me to be part of a Ministry Division which is seeking 'to reshape, re-energise and reimagine ministry, a ministry shaped by mission'. I hear lots of talk about the possibilities of innovative, creative and flexible ministries. If we want to connect every community in Britain with Jesus; pioneers and pioneering are going to be vital to the future of the Church in Britain.

But what do we mean by pioneer?

Now this is where it gets trickier. I often hear people saying at regional and local church level, 'Well of course we are all pioneers', or 'are pioneers not simply old-style evangelists?' The danger is we all use the same word but invest it with a myriad of meanings. Ultimately this ends up divesting the word of its integrity.

I would agree that pioneers come in many styles and shapes. But I want to argue pioneers have a distinct vocation and gifting which is the main focus of their ministry. Pioneers have the abilities to work primarily with those outside the church to form new ecclesial communities with these people. Often this is done in places where the Church has minimal presence. So therefore we have to enable and allow them to do what they do best. The Church of England's 2005 Guidelines for Ordained Pioneer Ministers states, 'It is important that they are not pressed into becoming ministers of existing churches but are deployed in pioneering contexts'.

We need to let pioneers 'pioneer'

There are good pioneers who want to pioneer from an established church but many pioneers want to work in, and from, the margins without all the encumbrance of running a traditional church. This is not a bad thing or 'pampering to their arrogance', but a recognition of their distinct vocation. We have to find ways to enable this to happen across the denominations; giving them effective and flexible support, networks and accountability which means they are both free but also rooted. We need to find creative ways of resourcing such posts. But many of these pioneers will to need to understand that their freedom to pioneer will mean they will have to find and develop their own financial resources as part of their pioneering practice.

We need thousands more pioneers

We have started but we are not finished. We need not just hundreds but thousands more pioneers. I would love to see 5,000-10,000 recognised pioneers in the Church of England by 2025 taking the gospel everywhere and letting the good news do its work of forming new contextual communities around Jesus. I know other denominations are forming plans to grow the number of pioneers. Most of these pioneers will be lay people, pioneering in their 'spare time' and we need to create flexible and supportive ways to help them develop their pioneer vocation. There is a quiet revolution happening in churches up and down the country which involves lay people saying, 'There must be another way to do this'. We have to find ways to catalyse this huge energy which is already transforming churches and communities. We have to support the quiet revolution.

About the author: 

Dave Male is National Advisor for Pioneer Development for the Church of England and Director of Pioneer Development for Fresh Expressions.


Love it Dave. Well said! I'm so excited by all these people up and down the country who are already getting on and doing it. Let's give them their head.

As someone who is pioneer but has to do 1/3 trad to make ends meet, I relate to this. (Also why having to stay anon.) I guess that's the self supporting bit in a way, though sometimes there are conflicts and it feels like trying to be two people sometimes. However, here's an idea. Pioneers are, I guess, mostly some form of entrepreneur (I know I am from track record). How about helping them to develop that gift as well during training so that they can be self supporting?

It's great to have Dave now as part of the team in Ministry Division where he's actively engaged in answering just those questions.

At last someone who both understands the issue and is aware of those lay people like myself who are fully commited to taking the Gospel to where the people are and not wait for the community to walk through the church doors. I am currently attending a msm course which I have found brings together like minded people, it is refreshing to see the odd clergy there also.
I can only hope that having recently finished a four year Reader training that the msm course becomes part of the Reader training. It is more relevant to a Readers role in being pioneers in their community rather than in a church building.

We need to recognize the breadth of understanding about the nature and purpose of pioneer ministry across the Church of England from diocese to diocese. And distinctly pioneer roles are thin on the ground. Often in advertisements I see the language of pioneer used in what appear to be inherited positions with a pioneering element bolted on. There needs to be a wider discussion about these elemental challenges facing pioneers. From a lack of permission and support to inter-diocesan discrepancies. Consultation would surely be a useful thing to do.

me again ;-) TBH its about finance, bottom line. I was at a meeting afew months ago for the northern see, and that was exactly the problem. here the rub: both for traditional and especially for pioneer, the role is incarnational. I read that as 'becoming part of the people' I think some clever person (Newbegin or someone) said that you needed to be able to express the values of the people in the words of the people. But how can you do that if you are needing to be incarnational in different places amongst different people groups? Its bad enough for ministers who now have multi-parishes to run around. But in our work that is essentially all about building relationships into which to develop Christ-talk, it screws with your brain.

So good to read something so encouraging! I am a Pioneer and although not labelled as such in church terms am doing pioneer ministry. Yet so often I've felt that people are dissuading me from this, trying to push me into into the trad model of Vicar, which is very frustrating!
Great to see this at the higher level but we need so much more at diocesan level stoo, o they can encourage those both lay and ordained (I currently work for a FxC and will be ordained next year) and help them discern what God is calling them to, rather than thinking 'what on earth can we do with this person!'

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