Five things I've learned (Jonny Baker)

Monday, 19 November, 2012

Jonny BakerJonny Baker shares five things he's learned from the first couple of years of developing Pioneer Mission Leadership Training.

It's been an absolute blast - exhausting, exciting and challenging in equal measure. CMS asked me to develop Pioneer Mission Leadership Training as a pathway for equipping both lay and ordained pioneers and we have now just begun the third year - which means all our modules will be up and running. That has included starting an MA and the first intake of those training for ordained pioneer ministry. Here are five things I've learned since it all got off the ground.

1. 'Not fitting in' is a wonderful gift

People who come as pioneers bring an amazing gift. I have come to call it 'the gift of not fitting in'. It's not that people are awkward; it's just that they see something beyond the status quo or business as usual in the church. Every culture or organisation or church needs this if it is to have a future and not get stuck. And every church needs this if it is to be missional and move out of its comfort zone. We have discovered that the gift is multifaceted and each pioneer has a unique shape and calling. Things go best when they develop some self awareness and minister out of who they are rather than someone else's expectation of what a pioneer might be. The gift comes in some combination or remix of apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic in the Ephesians list of ministries. We have also discovered it's not age or gender or culture specific, exclusively lay or ordained - it's simply given and received.

2. 'Why not?' and 'what if?' are at the heart of pioneering

Imagination is essential if we want to discover genuine newness and move in mission to places beyond where we currently are. When we set out I didn't expect that we would talk so much about seeing and about imagination. This seeing involves grief over the way things are and where we have got stuck, and dreaming of new worlds and communities that are possible. It says 'why not?' and 'what if?' rather than 'why?' and 'what for?'.

We have also discovered that seeing differently has a cost. What seems visible and obvious to pioneers is often seen as irritating, troublesome, a pain and something to be resisted by those with vested interests in the way things are. For this reason, pioneering ministry tends to flourish when there is somebody within the structures and systems of the diocese or equivalent who is also able to imagine things differently - who 'gets it'. They are then able to create the space for the new to flourish and interpret it back to others.

3. The church says it wants pioneers but...

This has been the hardest thing to bear. In many places the church is saying loud and clear that we need pioneers, which is great and true and I'm sure it is genuine. Pioneers then respond and often take risks in the process. But it sometimes turns out that perhaps the church didn't quite mean what it said, or there are some big 'buts'. In other places it is clear she's not interested in pioneers at all -  some dioceses still don't recognise pioneer ministry or they suggest that everyone is a pioneer and allocate no resources while their DDOs do their best to steer people away from pioneer ministry as a vocation. We have shed tears, expressed frustration, prayed a lot, and reflected that every journey to the new in the bible - and probably elsewhere - involves going through darkness, letting go, or experiencing wilderness on the way. It's unavoidable.

It seems that the kind of pioneering understood most readily by the wider church involves an outcome that looks something like what we have already; namely a community of disciples with worship, singing, preaching and money being paid back into the centre - preferably all happening within a very short space of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with that as an outcome but there are two things to say about it:

  • it takes time - five to seven years seems to be the experienced wisdom on this;
  • part of the challenge the church faces is that the forms of church, or the way we do church is cultural so to pioneer in a new space and community will require an imaginative approach that is able to let go some of the old shape, structure and culture in order to allow something new and indigenous to be born. Outcomes will be important but often this journey in mission involves quite a period of discernment of where God is at work, exploration on the way to the new and surprises. Fruit sometimes comes in places you didn't begin to look.

The pressure that is brought to bear in measurement and counting what's happening too early creates undue and unfair pressure. I genuinely don't know what to do about this challenge. I have wished on many occasions I could fix things for pioneers in incredibly difficult scenarios but I can't - we don't have the power, or the resources. I can't see this going away any time soon and if anyone can offer us wisdom here I would welcome it. There are exceptions to this but the difficult scenarios still far outweigh the good ones. A major part of the issue is resources and I think there's much more thinking and work to be done on how we might resource pioneering mission.

At CMS, we are training pioneers in contextual mission and contextual church. It is how those in mission have thought about this for decades and why the CofE originally asked CMS to get involved - due to our experience in cross cultural mission. It's also become the paradigm within which Fresh Expressions articulates what is going on and what is needed and it was the recommendation for the lens required in Mission-shaped Church.

4. Pioneers thrive in community

The magic in what we have been doing is generated by the people in the room - the learning community of pioneers. It's so fantastic to get people who are pioneering sharing together what they are doing and learning and thinking. I have learned so much from them and been so challenged myself in terms of my own faith and life of mission. We are in a very unique position in this in that our pioneers are not an isolated one or two in a wider community of learners which seems to be the case in many other places. We are all about pioneering mission. The second thing about community that I have become much more strongly convinced of than ever before is that pioneers should connect into a mission community on a long term basis, (a sodality if you like mission jargon).

Mission communities or 'spread out' religious communities such as CMS, the Franciscans, Jesuits, Church Army, the Incarnate Network, etc are those whose charism is prophetic mission. There's a recovery of some old wisdom here in that it's been this structure within the church that has best nurtured and helped this gift of pioneering mission flourish down the centuries.

I honestly think that if I was leading a diocese (don't worry, it's not going to happen!) I would invite the likes of CMS to connect with pioneers in the diocese and link them into a mission community and make a CMS appointment to lead it rather than go for a straight diocesan appointment. This requires a bit of a mind shift - probably in the relationship between sodal and modal (modal is the mission jargon for the local gathered structure like a diocese) and how they could work well together. Amazingly this is exactly the mind shift that our local RTP (Regional Training Partnership) has had in appointing a regional hub co-ordinator for pioneers to be located with us at CMS – and so create a pioneering hub in the region. This has been both a surprise and a great gift in the wider area.

5. We're still only at the start of something

It has been remarkable this year to have three year groups simultaneously filling the CMS café area at lunch time on Tuesdays. There's a real buzz. But we haven't even had a group of students go through the course fully yet so it's very early days for us still. We have a growing sense of excitement that, as we hoped would happen, locating pioneer ministry training within CMS as a mission community will really produce some great fruit: genuine new mission endeavours, contextual Christian churches and communities, and a really supportive context for pioneers in the long term. We shall see!

But I sense that this statement is also true for the wider church - it's early days and we need courage to hold on to the vision of pioneer ministry and to talk and think together creatively and honestly about this gift within the ministries of the church - how we discern, encourage, release, resource and support it into the future. Visit the CMS pioneer website or read the CMS annual report to find out more.

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thank you thank you thank you Jonny this is the exact thing I needed to read this morning and though it doesn't solve many frustrations it is reassuring to know others are experiencing and in the similar mind set...I would totally vote for you to run a diocese ;-)

You've just described my entire life and ministry here - which is both encouraging (because other people do actually 'get it') and depressing (because it means nothing much has changed in the last twenty years). But at least it seems we can name it now without automatically getting into hot water.

Good stuff Jonny, and thanks for writing it down. It strikes me that maybe there is a bit more of the pioneer about me now - Johns comment above applies to me; also that every generation spawns pioneers and that sometimes those same pioneers re-invent themselves over several generations. It also strikes me that pioneer stuff is sometimes born out of a developing, expanding theology, and sometimes the theology follows and is shaped by the pioneering experience! I have no intention of 'going quietly' into that last goodnight, but I'm not quite so sure in which context I will do my shouting/whispering for such years as remain. But you - keep at it!

What does it say about our Dioceses that Jonny doesn't want to run one? Really helpful, I know of a pioneer curate where hardly anyone else in their training context (incumbent included) really understands what 'pioneer' means. So much depends on the bishop of a Diocese, here in Bath and Wells people are allowed to get on with Fresh Expressions, but it's never mentioned, or led, from the top. So much still comes back to paying the bills, rather than making disciples.

Wonderful stuff Jonny. Simply wonderful. I am going to send this to as many people I can think of. It needs to be read and digested. What a visionary you are. Fantastic.

More power to yer elbow!!!

Jonny, great article, thanks for the reflections.

In answer to 3, I wonder if perhaps a small part of the problem is the definition of success?

A pioneer work might last 5 years and arrive at the stage where it has 10 people regularly connecting and committed to whatever shape of church has emerged in that space. To many in pioneer ministry that might be a great success, and something they'd want to celebrate.

The problem then comes when looked in the wider perspective. The church down the road may have opened up 3 new housegroups in the same time period, each of them the same size. And that's just business as usual, it's expected, it's worked towards.

When the pioneer is then being held up as a great example and a victory, others are looking on saying "What? 5 years full time and all you have is that?"

It makes the need to work on definitions of success, expectations and outcomes all the more important.

A big thank you Jonny for putting into words much of what I (and many others) have been thinking and feeling out here on the edge. In the difficult times, which include being misunderstood and overlooked, as well as 'un'-successful and even a bit mad, remembering our sense of the rightness of this venture/ our vocation and calling is vital. I think we can also fall into the trap of 'success-driven-mission', which is Onwards and Upwards shaped (this reflects some aspects of the wider Church & some theologies, as well as western society). Much more to say about all this, but another time and place perhaps.

One major encouragement is that there are people we are working amongst (and who this is for) who do NOT think we're mad (well - perhaps 'God-mad'!) and do understand, and are thankful - Thanks again.

It occurs to me that these 'five things' are closely related to Jesus' ministry. It might fairly be said that Jesus did not have the encouragement of a like-minded community (apart from that fascinating 'team meeting' on the Mount of Transfiguration) - but the deficiencies of the Twelve were perhaps balanced by his profound sense of working with his Father. Thank you for sharing this Jonny. Church growth that excites the statisticians is not to be despised; but church growth of the kind you describe sounds like a radical and organic work of the Spirit that will produce lasting fruit.

Thank you Jonny, this has really cheered me up. I'm not a Pioneer in the normal sense (if there is one!) but a distinctly peculiar ordinand (Franciscan, and discerning a call to solitude alongside ordained ministry) struggling sometimes while training in a theological college which is very much geared to producing stipendiary parochial clergy. I'm enjoying coming to the Pioneer Witness sessions, both for the content, but also just for realising that there are other people out there who don't fit in,and that perhaps this is OK after all.
Please keep up the good work, and share what you're learning, so all of us with non standard callings can be encouraged and support one another.

So up until now i have always felt that being the hand-grenade in a room was always down to my slightly awkward personality and my unusually questioning mind....but now i am going to call myself a PIONEER and stand up and be PROUD (in a humble-christian-sort-of-way!)

Thanks Jonny x

Interesting to compare with Tim Chester's missional community planting (and book-publishing) approach from my own tradition, as per Tim's recent post with his own five points -

Planting Biblically-Rooted Churches
Posted: 12 Nov 2012 09:50 PM PST

I recently spoke on ‘Planting Biblically-Rooted Churches’ at an East of Scotland Gospel Partnership conference on church planting in Edinburgh entitled In This City. I thought I would share some extracts from that talk on contextualization over the coming weeks.

I remember my first experience of church planting. We met in the village hall on Sunday mornings for a 45-minute sermon and in the evenings in a home to pray together and encourage one another. And then the ‘plant’ became a ‘church’ and that meant two ‘services’ in the hall. Out went the corporate prayer and mutual encouragement. In came another 45-minute sermon. Everyone said how they missed the evening meeting in a home, but no-one thought for a moment that it might be possible to continue it. A church – a proper church – has two services on a Sunday.

Here are some dangers when planting a church:

to replicate your sending church or your past experience of church (a replica church)
to plant a church defined by what it is not (a reactionary church)
to plant the church you and friends always wanted to be part of (ideally suited to Christians, but not missional)
to attempt to reproduce exactly what went on in the first century apostolic churches (restorationist church which tend to be inward-looking)
to plant a church which is so ‘incarnational’ or ‘missional’ or ‘contextualized’ that it assimilates to the wider culture (and so in the end has nothing to offer)

This means we need what John Stott called ‘double listening’ – listening to the world and listening to the word. We need to understand the world we’re trying to reach and we need to understand the word we proclaim so that we bring them together. And by understanding the world I mean the specific context in which you’re working.

It also means that contextualization is not simply about adapting to the culture. More importantly it is about understanding the culture so that you can identify the ‘bite point’ – the moments were the gospel challenges the culture, offering good news and calling for repentance. Contextualization is not just about how we can be like the culture. It is also about identifying where the gospel is different from the culture.

Wonderful article. Sadly, in the US Episcopal Church the role of "pioneers" seems to be primarily focused on ways to make the current institution feel relevant. I wish that we had a true vehicle to support "pioneer" work. They seem to get highjacked as a brand or an agenda of an institution. Great work Jonny! Your ministry is encouraging.

As with your Greenbelt talk this year I find your words encouraging and helpful, thanks Jonny. In recent years I have realised that my role as 'loyal sceptic', (i.e. being somewhat critical of the status quo and its existing authorities but loyal enough to continue to seek connections and to work with rather than against) can be understood in terms of my personality type - type no. 6 according to the Enneagram. It makes me wonder how many pioneers share the same type? Does Myers-Briggs typology also inform our undertanding (I'm ISFJ). I expect more pioneers would be EN rather than IS, but hey, I've learnt how to put myself out there and follow my instincts!

Keep ringing the bells and eventually the penny will drop.
I am busy training as an ordinand and feel like a square peg in a round hole. Most of the round holes want to cut off my sharp edges to make me fit the hole. Square pegs are happier with other square pegs. After all we stack much easier and can build higher.

Could not agree more with what you have written.

I would add: add in to all of the above, being a woman and it's even harder, unfairly so.....

Thank you so much for your article. Your experience and and the issues resonate with the experience of many of us in the United Church of Canada, especially on the west Coast (Vancouver). Those of us experiencing a call to pioneering ministry and wanting experiment with new & alternative forms of church and mission feel scattered, unsupported and unresourced by the wider church. I agree that bringing us like-minded and called folks together is a key first step. Thanks again.

am also in OPM training and a woman - some challenges and some wonderful hope as I am getting to know the other amazing folk training alongside me as future parish incumbents. Am glad for the opportunity to train with them and explore the tensions in a gentle environment. So good to hear encouragement to keep being who I am - thankyou.

Hi Jonny,

Everything your in your article resonates with my own personal, and at times, painful experience as a pioneer of a Fresh Expressions community and several alternative community ministries. I have done a lot of thinking about this topic in recent days. It would be great to speak about it one day.


thanks everyone for all the comments so far - this clearly resonates.
sue thanks for your vote :)
john, stuart, colin - thank you for the gift you have carried! keep on... i am quite chuffed to have described your life john!
david - i have so many stories like this
annie and steve i assume you are related?! have we met? love to - you sound like you should join CMS (everyone else is welcome to as well of course)!!!
jonathan - what you measure measures you so yes evaluation and 'success' are key issues, but the bigger issue in my experience is sight - some people can't even see what people are doing let alone measure it.
helen - i'd love to chat about formation for fransiscans and what that looks like and how it relates to the training you are experiencing and what we are trying to do. maybe we could do lunch? i think you'd love gerald arbuckle who we have coming to speak to us the morning of 27 nov if you can get let out of whatever else you have on! i can't tell you how excited i am about that btw - a personal hero...
susie yay - go girl!!!
noel - contextualisation, double listening all sounds good though i like john taylor's notion that sin is the last truth to be told.
lisa lovely to hear from you, sandra - hang in there - gather with like minded souls - will pray for the USA and Canada (yes i know they are not the same!)
mandy - i don't know - good question!?
anon, MJB - yes i hear you, and the challenge for women is doubly hard at times i agree. i have really loved that there are as many women as men pioneers who connect and train with us at CMS. there are so many brilliant women pioneers!!!
anon - it's both/and but keep remembering who you are...
ian - love to chat - we've only ever said a quick hello at greenbelt. loved chasing francis btw which some of our students have also loved.

Hi Jonny

I sensed a flood of delight about the community of missioners at CMS as well as a reflection of their frustrattions as they take their pioneering balloon hits the ceiling of reality. A wonderful description of the joy and realism of mission.
Just one point concerned me a little with me. "...a community of disciples with worship, singing, preaching and money being paid back into the centre ... there is nothing wrong with that as an outcome..." Should our pioneering merely lead to a replication of what has gone before? Shouldn't our outcomes be measured by the change we see in the lives of people and the communities with whom we interact rather than being measured by internal actvity and money? Are the new ideas being shink wrapped by the structures of the old? (Matt 9:16-17)


I found this article encouraging too especially the bit about ministering out of who you are. My big question relates to the comment by Andie Frost. Where does Pioneering lead to? On one level it seems this is impossible to answer as it's places we've never been to before as church. But on another level there must be some kind of common 'body of Christ DNA' we are looking to see diverse expression of...

Cheers Jonny - resounding applause from this misfit - summed it up brilliantly - wholeheartedly echo John Drane's comments also. Best regards.

So much of the process of Gospel (God's good news being received by everybody at their point of need) seems to happen at liminal places and times — in the Bible and since. Our institutions need to learn better how to support and enable that process, rather than getting dragged into the game of conspiring to prevent anything liminal happening. The process of Jesus and the 70/72 was led by their experience of getting out there and doing it, not sitting at home railing against a "secular" world. If people don't want to know, you go somewhere else they may; but you don't let it get you down, or distort your basic perceptions of what God's calling you to be. And as soon as anyone actually gets out there and does it, everyone's bluff is called if all they we4re doing in the first place was trying to cheer themselves up that there might be possibilities by talking dirty. Thanks so much for not sitting on the fence wringing your hands...

Great to hear the reformation is gathering momentum Jonny!
From a revolutionary (who loves the church)

Short and sweet Jonny.

I'm thinking about the unhelpful pressure of short-term targets and contracts. In 'my own' diocese (I'm not an Anglican) the first wave of funding was put into chaplaincy-type roles in our city centre, in which there was no particular expectation of long term community-building. This also seems a strange way to go, and at least one of clergy employed clearly agrees, having planted a church 'on the side.'

Those of us outside the Church of England rarely have access to long-term funding; the fact that you still have the resources to commit to something for 5, 7 or even 10 years could be your gift to the future of the church in the UK. I hope people can see that and commit wholeheartedly to this 'experiment.'

And I think we need to have much more relaxed attitude to failure, something like Thomas Edison's. Let's face it, most traditional forms of church are failing, so it should be fine for most fresh expressions to fail too; we don't even know yet what 'success' is going to look like.

Thanks a lot, Jonny. This was a real encouragement to read & explains a lot about why I feel like a square peg in a round hole. We really need people who can "get it" around us, to lift off some of the pain and the frustration and disappointment that comes with seeing things the way they are, and yearning for the way they could be.

God bless, mate.

Thanks Jonny. Great article - I'm going to send the link round the guys here at Cranmer and in the Diocese. Exciting times!

Thanks for sharing this Jonny. I resonate with it all and am pleased to be on a part of the journey with you bro.

An interesting and helpful article. Thanks. For me it sparked a few thoughts.
1. Despite the difficulties you name (and there are many) we are the inheritors of a moment in church life that has decided to start embracing what was always an 'outside' activity in the past. Desperation may led our churches to this point but thank God there have been those with the courage to name the desperation and allow the change. The road is bumpy - but there is now a road. As pioneers, part of our work is to improve it for those who follow. Something that you, Jonny, appear to be doing well.
2. Your point about the necessity for community is so important. Finding friends remakes us as people on a daily basis. It also raises the issue of personality type. Many pioneers are not easy to fit into any community, being - by nature - people who gravitate to the edge in many ways. Work and thought needs to go into the type, nurture and structure of community that can work for a 'new breed'. It won't be what has been before. Maybe this work has been done in the UK?
3. "Not fitting in" is a gift that also requires examining. Some of us won't fit in anywhere much - but - many of us actually fit in extremely well to the cultures we truly live in. There is a massive difference between 'not fitting in' to a church culture which has ossified and which, despite a stated desire to change, is turning towards the world with deep suspicion and regret. Many pioneers need to remember that they do actually fit into the heartbeat and language of the people they love and serve and it is important that, as a group, we claim that 'fitting in' as one of the keys to the genuine cross-cultural ministry we pursue. Simply put, it may not be the pioneers that 'don't fit in'.
4. Resourcing - or the lack of it - will kill many great ideas. On December the first I will be ordained as a Pioneer Priest in my diocese. Our first 'official' one. After 25 years of ministry on the 'outside' I am taking the risk of diving in - and the diocese has taken the risk with me. Our leadership has allocated some resources towards pioneer ministry and I'm very grateful. Already - on the journey - there have been unexpected changes, compromises, disappointments and some genuine vision, courage and kindness. My intention is to treat the resourcing of my pioneering ministry as a business venture of sorts, trying to generate income alongside 'missional' activity. In Australia (especially in here) there are almost no reserves that can fund long-term experimentation. But each of our parishes is in the same position. If they can't make the mission pay in some way then they have to shut their doors. That being said, even a struggling parish usually starts with a building, some people and a modicum of financial viability. It seems pioneers often have part-time income and have to beg, borrow or provide for themselves with little thought being given to costs beyond wages.
5. I have been thinking about the difference between 'acceptable failure' and 'embraced failure'. FE talks quite a bit about high-percentage failure as part of the journey towards a new paradigm. I'm not entirely sure this language is helpful all the time. Some failures are real and acceptable. Others are the result of poor planning, leadership or a simple loss of nerve. As a group we will have to become discerning about the difference if we don't want to fall into the same trap that the 'traditional' church has fallen into, the one in which failure to face the truth has often led to debilitating, demoralising and heartbreaking decline.

Anyway, far too long and probably wandering far from the point! :)
It's wonderful that you and many other experienced mentors are leading the movement in the UK. Hopefully we will see a growing movement here in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.

Steve Daughtry, God bless you hugely, mate! You've always been a pioneer, driving around Australia in company with sinners. Praying for that movement in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit!

Wow! Dave! So good to hear from you. And wonderful to know that you're still out there in the middle of things. Pray for me on Saturday as I take another leap of faith.

Awesome article Jonny. I think that you've nailed some of the major issues we have all been bumping up against for a number of years, certainly in the CofE.

A lack of joint-up thinking is still undermines many new FX initiatives and pioneer ministriess, both lay & ordained. There is too much box ticking going on when pioneers are appointed and too many pioneering posts that are set up as modified curacies for ordinands who DDO's don't quite know what to do with (there have always been such people). As a result a pioneering post gets treated as a short term church plant or community chaplaincy. These are then reviewed or dismantled after 3 years, at which point the pioneer is expected to progress to a 'real job' - i.e. parish ministry. A cursary read of many pioneer job desciptions reveals the way that many of these posts are regarded.

Wonderful news Steve, hope it's going well. Jonny is a great spokesperson for those of us who won't take 'no' for an answer (to the questions 'what if?' and 'why not?') As the first person to try being ordained in a UK (non-RC) mission community, I am living the reality of these insights, and after nearly seven years on the journey, I know myself to be a mission priest. Just now, it feels like there is no better way of being misunderstood in Christendom, unless you are a Catholic, and I have had huge encouragement from RC mission priests who recognise the calling, regardless of marital status or gender. Thank God that the church is much bigger than we think and thank God for Jonny!

I did not learn what CMS stands for! For those of us 'not in the know', it is useful to know what the letters stand for. Curiosity begins with clarity...

That's okay, don't worry about replying - although I have to say, not replying tells me all I need to know about Fresh Expressions, which is frankly, nothing new! Anyhow, I found out for myself. Clearly clarity belongs with curiousity.

Dear Caroline, you'll see that following your first comment we amended the article to link the word 'CMS' to the CMS website. We do always try and explain the terms we use in our articles but our 'views' pieces are written by other people and we don't always pick up on every reference - apologies for that.

that was nice that you replied, thank you! :-)

Sorry I'm late to this conversation.

This is great stuff Jonny, thank you so much!

John D.: story of my life too.

An awkward question (it's what us apostles do best...):

What is the fundamental difference in strategy / mindset / practice which enables Paul to rock up to a city and plant 2 or 3 new churches within a few weeks which then are self-supporting and reproducing when he sails off to the horizon, while we're talking about (and doing) 5-10 years of hard labour with very mixed results?

On the plus side I now know 2 CofE vicars who understand the apostolic gifting. This wasn't the case a year ago.

I recently had lunch with a friend at a vicar factory, a quite progresive one too (vicar factory I mean, friend is progressive too though), at least as far as these things go. A notice was given after lunch about a weekly meeting for prophets. Numbers had been falling off in recent weeks, the week before there had only been 5 people turn up and all of hem were independent students. Anecdotal and unscientific, but rather telling I thought. Shows how weighted towards shepherds and teachers "the system" is...and we're told not to let there be too many teachers among us... :-/

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