Ordained Pioneer Ministry (Mark Broomhead)

Monday, 18 March, 2013

Mark Broomhead discusses Ordained Pioneer Ministry in the Church of England - selection, training, deployment, support and the future of pioneer ministry.

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Mark Broomhead: I think it's really important when selecting people for ordained pioneer ministry that people take time to recognise that they're pioneering already and to be able to build on that and to equip them with that rather than looking to train people to be a pioneer.

I think in some ways being a pioneer is something that's hard-wired into your brain and your personality so in a way it's just recognising who you are rather than trying to make you something you're not.

I think it can be quite difficult to recognise a pioneer in some ways. I think looking at somebody's history and what they've done before and the way they've acted in certain situations through conversation is probably a really good way of finding out. Maybe looking at different scenarios and how people would react in them could be something worth exploring.

I think one of the difficulties when looking for people to be selected for pioneer ministry is they may not be the sort of people who would necessarily put themselves forward for ordination, so actually they could be quite different in personality from what you'd expect. And I think you need to maybe rely on clergy who are already in post who are working alongside these people to actually help you with that a bit and to see what's going on already within the church and within the communities and in that way I think vocations teams are really important to encourage people to step forward. That maybe they need some training to help them recognise these skills and these types of personality which would lean really well into ordained pioneer ministry. And then it's for the Church to say look we really value what you're doing and we'd like to see that grow and to help that grow we'd like to better equip you and I think really that's what the training and selection is about.

I think maybe you need to think a bit differently on how initial contact is made with potential ordinands in that maybe it would be good to go and see what people are doing already, actually go out and visit them rather than expect them to come and visit you. To actually see them around the people they're working with, see how they react, rather than asking them questions about it to actually witness it yourselves. And to talk to people who are around these people because the people they're working with at the moment will be the people who recognise the pioneering spirit that's there. So I think that could be a more creative way of moving forward. Perhaps more time-consuming and a bit harder to write up but I think it's really important.

I think when it comes to training people quote often when they're talking about training for pioneer ministry - how to do you train someone to be a pioneer - I think sometimes that maybe is the wrong way of looking at it. I think the pioneering bit should already be there in the person. I think training should be there to equip people, to give them a toolkit I guess. And the stuff there already for conventional ministry, the training that's there and all the stuff that people have to go through, I think is valid and works, but I think the way it's delivered and the flexibility in how it's delivered is something that needs to be looked at to allow people to carry on with what they're doing at the same time, yet still be able to learn new stuff.

When I was selected for training I was already working in a fresh expression. The local church was prepared to put some money into me working full time on this for a while. And what was really good was, rather than being removed from the situation that I was working in, I was left there with the support and the people around me that I was working with but then I did what's called mixed mode training, where for five weeks twice a year I went to college  to learn theological principles and all the sort of things that you learn at college but the great thing about that was that  I could immediately apply it to my work in the fresh expression and I could reflect on that. I think there needs to be some more work done on how you reflect on these things and how you apply them and I guess how you assess it as well but I think the mixture of being able to carry on with practical work and learn theological education is a really good principle.

The sort of practical training that would be useful that I didn't get would be things like how to set up a business, how to do a payroll, how to manage things, apply for planning permission, real practical business skills really I guess are the sort of tools that would have been really useful to learn in training, which is probably not what you'd imagine to get in theological training. But if you've got ideas you need to the tools to be able to make them happen and sometimes finding out by trying and failing isn't... while being a learning process isn't the most creative way of spending time.

I think when deploying a pioneer it's important to look at their skills and the situations that are available to them. I think just dropping someone into a community that they know nothing about, have no background in, can be quite an isolating experience for someone. I know in my case I was allowed the time and the opportunity to look into a community I was quite familiar with and to come up with some ideas on perhaps how we could work missionally within that community. And then through a time of consultation we came up together with a job description and an opportunity and then looked for the funding for it, so that I kind of slowly and naturally grew into a role rather than being dropped from an ecclesiastical aeroplane with a  dodgy parachute as it were. So I think really we need to look a bit at what's going on and how we can support it and how we can grow people perhaps who are already working within a community rather than looking for people who have a pioneering spirit and then dropping them in a place where maybe we haven't found anything else has worked yet and we think well this is a last attempt to try and make this area survive. I think maybe that could be a recipe for disaster in some cases.

I think often people are put in positions where they're given two roles to help them with their training and formation, where sometimes they're put into a traditional type of church so that they can learn skills from there and asked to do some pioneer ministry at the same time. Now from my experience and what I've seen and experienced myself in some ways, working in parish ministry is more than a full-time job. Even if you're actually cutting down your hours in splitting them up, emotionally and spiritually and the things you carry in your mind it's a full-time thing you have to focus on completely. Also in the same way pioneer ministry takes the whole of you. Not talking about hours again, but spiritually and intellectually. If you're focusing on two full-time things it's... you end up doing neither properly I think.

I think we need to recognise that a pioneer is working... has to work in a distinct area in a distinctly different way to conventional ministry I suppose. But I think what's important that although it's different and distinctly different it shouldn't be isolated and not part of the church around.

For me I've had a really positive experience of being in a deanery and a diocese that value me as I value them and we are in good communication with one another and I feel quite supported in that way. My relationships are good with the clergy in the area and we all learn from one another. But we all recognise we're doing slightly different things. In some ways very similar, but culturally and in the way it's executed, quite different. So feeling supported by people around me and being able to support those around me as well in different ways is really important. But not expecting to be the same I think is equally as important.

I think in some ways it's quite difficult to put into words what support is. It can be very easy to make sure that a pioneer minister meets with a lot of people and they're very well monitored and everybody knows what's going on but really that feels more like being monitored than support. I think it's something I struggle with a little bit myself at the moment so it's... Because it's quite high-risk, pioneer ministry, and people are aware of that, I feel like I'm the best-monitored person in the diocese at the moment, which I'm sure, and I feel... yeah, I feel very sure that the diocese and all the people in it are trying to give me all the support they can and I have no question about that.

What I think is really important is that pioneer ministers are recognised as members of the clergy on equal terms as everybody else, not as special cases in some ways. I think that's a really good starting point. I think if people feel that they're accepted and valued and not seen as little special cases that are put in there just to tick a few boxes and they believe that their colleagues take them seriously then that is a really healthy place to start. Then I think natural relationships and support structures will grow. I think just putting together little support networks and groups where we all sit around and talk about being pioneer ministers, while useful for sharing ideas and gathering information, I don't think really give a huge amount of support. I think what's more important is good healthy honest relationships.

To me the future of pioneer ministry would be it not existing any more, and for fresh expressions to not be a term any more. What I think... what I'm trying to say there is that it would be great if the church just kind of locked together and that pioneer ministry and fresh expressions just became part of the DNA of the Church of England rather than something that feels a little bit like a project and an experiment. That actually we just are a bit more open with how we interact with our communities so that these things in some ways don't exist any more.

Because the church has been formed in a certain way for such a long time, the way that things are structured are based around parish models. And I think for the church to be more open to fresh expressions we need to be a bit more creative so that things such as fresh expressions that aren't parish-based, aren't connected to a church, can be part of a diocese, a deanery and work on equal terms and in the same way. And those equal terms will give a greater kind of accountability and responsibility to the fresh expression towards the wider church as well. So I think that will work in two directions, not just giving more freedom to the fresh expression but actually giving greater accountability and making the relationship work in two directions.


Hi Mark, you say it is hard to ballance being a parish priest and a pioneer minster. I am an evangelist/pioneer in the Church in Wales. at the moment there are no ordained pioneers, if and or when the Church in Wales do look into this area of ministry what would you suggest would be the best way forward? that will enable the pioneer to work most effectivly??

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