How do we measure 'success' in pioneer ministry? (Annie Kirke)

Monday, 14 January, 2013

Annie Kirke asks how we measure 'success' in pioneer ministry.

I was one of the first group of Ordained Pioneer Ministers to train in London as part of a former partnership between Westminster Theological Centre, St Mellitus and Ridley Hall.

Advisers at my Bishops' Advisory Panel have since told me that they weren't sure if I had what it would take to pioneer.

They've also confessed that they weren't sure what it would take at all as they didn't then have the selection criteria for Ordained Pioneer Ministry that Graham Cray and others have since developed in relationship with Ministry Division of the Church of England. They only had criteria to select parish priests. They had to take a risk, a step of faith.

I was ordained priest in the diocese of London four years ago and, as I continue to follow the missionary spirit, I have been thinking about the three main things that I have learnt from my pioneering experience so far – things that I most want to take with me into the future:

  1. incarnational mission is rooted in practicing the Presence of God and being led by him;
  2. disciple-making involves practical, missional orthopraxy;
  3. incarnational mission involves the support of people of peace at the core of the established church.

Practicing the presence of God

In the first year of my pioneer post as I looked to develop missional communities in London, I faced so many questions, expectations, challenges and negative reactions from people - usually church leaders - as to what I was beginning to do. In comparison, most non-Christians were really excited by the prospect of missional communities!

When you stripped away the initial interest most church leaders had two questions:

  • how was what I hoped to do 'church?'
  • what were my metrics for measuring success?

In response to the first question, I find Jesus' Commission in Matthew 28 to his earliest followers to be a compelling argument for our focus as clergy today to be on disciple making that leads to church forming rather than planting churches to then make disciples.

Beneath the second question, it was clear that - to some - clergy success could be measured according to money, size of congregation or building. As a result, some clergy were burnt out and exhausted from literally competing - or being compared - with large, lively, urban, network churches which could be perceived to be the benchmark of success.

But I believe that when we measure 'success' in this way, we're leading and discipling poorly. Incarnational ministry requires a daily choice to lay down our lust for personal success and positional power for a relationship with the Son rooted in his example of complete humility and obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit.

Does this mean we jettison the notion of evaluating our fruitfulness as God's missional people? Not at all! In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch rightly points out that the church that Jesus intended

...was specifically designed with built-in, self-generative capacities and was made for nothing less than world-transforming, lasting, and, yes, revolutionary impact.

World transforming and revolutionary impact - now those are new measurables worth considering! What about if we measure disciple-making and maturation and its transformational impact in the world not just amongst ourselves?

As new measurables for professed and unprofessed disciples I would suggest that we look for signs of a growing, mature faith in God, leading to a tangible Christ-likeness in attitude and behaviour. Further commitments would be to:

  • discovering how God has uniquely made and called each disciple to partner in his redeeming and renewing Kingdom work and obedience to pursuing this with the support of the body of Christ;
  • exercising faith in everyday life, making Christ known through words, works and wonders to demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom in homes, work places and community spaces;
  • practicing hospitality and table fellowship with neighbours, colleagues and local community - not just other Christians;
  • sharing possessions and money with those in need in both the body of Christ and the wider community
  • care of creation.

Practical missional orthopraxy

There is a generation of church-crawlers out there who may not be committed to any one Christian community but consuming at several. We can blame our consumer culture and mindset but as leaders we have to hold up the mirror to ourselves and ask, 'Have we created a consumer model in our church congregations?'

Many of us are working really hard at making our worship and teaching each Sunday as attractive and relevant as we possibly can without considering if this is exacerbating the consumer mentality of disciples.

The problem seems to be that biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy have been divorced by our model of church. Jesus taught his disciples around a table, on mission, on the road or the hillside. In other words, mission accompanied teaching and vice versa.

As well as supporting pioneers of missional communities in London, I coordinate Westminster Churches Winter Shelter (WCWS) with six churches and the West London Day Centre. What happens in the shelter is what I've seen in missional communities when people's faith is lived out in community and service of other. As disciples model the servant-leadership and love of Christ, the guests imitate.

People of peace at the core of the established church

I think the 'new wine' that's emerging requires a new wineskin or an apostolic environment in which to thrive.

Therefore, pioneers need people of peace within the institutional corpus of the Church of England who understand and support what is required for this to develop and mature. I have been extremely fortunate over the last three years in the support that I have received from the Diocese of London. However as missional communities and new expressions of church emerge, I see the need for practical and financial support for sustainable incomes, affordable housing, social entrepreneurship and community focused initiatives which will build the apostolic environment necessary to continue.

Rowan Williams has said that God is renewing His church from the edges. I pray that, as he does, he will raise up men and women at the centre of the established church with the courage and imagination to pursue the resources needed to lay the pipelines for resources to flow from the centre to the edges and vice versa.

In turn, those of us on the edges have a responsibility to communicate and - at times – challenge the established church to release what is needed for the Kingdom to grow and to partner with the people of peace within it to see it accomplished.

About the author: 

Annie Kirke is Pioneer for Missional Communities in the Diocese of London.


I'm just wondering what Ordained Pioneer Minister might have been initially expected to accomplish and how that could be measured. From what I read in this article, there seems very little actual pioneering and more a sense of what needs to change in the established church. Table fellowship, generosity, intentional discipleship, etc., is happening in so many established free and denominational churches in the UK that to speak of these practices as pioneering is both a little bit naive and perhaps even a little bit arrogant. Maybe it seems that the ordination should have simply been as Priest, rather than Pioneer Minister, as I am aware of many Ministers (and lay leaders) who are pioneering in a real, innovative and yet biblically-faithful way. Pioneers? They would simply say they were being faithful to the missionary mandate of the great commission. They are seeing communities actually changed, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in changing lives and church gatherings alive with a vibrant and genuine group of Christians. But it's nothing that is really 'new'. In fact, it's incredibly 'old', when you think about it. But it still works.
Are you successful? It depends how you measure success. If you're actually 'doing' the great commission, then I would say yes, for then you are being faithful to the real pioneer Spirit of God. But if you get overly concerned about postmodern context, journey over prophetic witness and redeeming creation over the redemption of hearts, then success may come in the form of a missional pat on the back, but not according to the biblical mandate of what missional really means, don't you think?

You do say at the beginning of you piece Annie that:

"I faced so many ... negative reactions from people - usually church leaders - as to what I was beginning to do. In comparison, most non-Christians were really excited by the prospect of missional communities!"

I fear William may be a church leader. Interesting observation you make Annie.

Ah, Michael, unfortunate and perhaps ungracious comment you make here. I'm not having a negative go at Annie, just reaffirming the point that pioneer ministry is echoed all over the UK by sincere ministers who wouldn't necessarily suggest they were in any way being new, fresh or pioneering. Regarding 'success', my observation still stands. What do you think?

Hi Annie,

I think, if Alan Hirsch is right, it should be possible for a new wineskin to emerge that is self-sustaining as well as self-generative.

I'm not convinced of the genuine, long-term workability of a model that will be demanding an ever-increasing flow of money from the centre. But I've probably missed the point there, I don't quite know what you mean by building an apostolic environment, which I probably should.

Thank you for this piece of writing though, I shall read it more than once for my own benefit.


Too often success is measured by attendance! Perhaps we should all shift our attentions to the growth we see (or not as the case may be) to whatever context we find ourselves in, whether it is a "pioneer" or established church instead of looking at it from a business and quantative angle. (How often is the question asked "How many do you get on a Sunday?"?!!)

I think part of the difference between pioneer and established church is maybe the people we engage with rather than just the values we encourage. William stated that "Table fellowship, generosity, intentional discipleship, etc.," is seen within the established church, but with whom?! is it with those who "fit" and are comfortable in our established church environments or is it the lost the last and the least? I would say that for a significant proportion of churches it would be with those who "fit" into our churches.

In my opinion we need the term "pioneer" to encourage us to think outside the box; as most of us humans naturally want comfort and predictability, too often sticking to what we know, leaving those who don't fit into this mould out in the cold. Perhaps if every church had someone with the title "pioneer" a great deal of our churches would impact a wider range of people and maybe cultivate more spiritual growth?

I do not think it is naive or arrogant to say that ministries who encourage the practices mentioned above are pioneering. It's a sign they are successful at making disciples. It's how they get people to that point that makes them pioneering.

Hi Ruth,

You ask concerning my observation of many already doing pioneer ministry in the established church, 'but with whom?' My experience and many of the established churches I have observed have been with, as you term it, the lost, the last and the least.

The term 'pioneer' could be used, but if someone is going to pioneer, then really pioneer. Really do something that actually impacts lives for the kingdom of God and results in a radical conversion experience. Unfortunately, much of what I see in what has been termed pioneer, fresh or emerging is little more than a new vocabulary or doctrinal slant.

You suggest that ministries who encourage the practices Annie mentions translates into being a sign of success at making disciples. Could you explain how?

Why are so many in the established church so threatened by pioneers? Today's reading about stumbling blocks to children, let those that have ears hear.

Are they? What makes you ask that?

I agree William, my experience is that the established church has been exceptionally supportive. We made a promise at the beginning not to take away resources, and not to take away their people, (promises which we have largely kept over eight years), and the result has been almost continuous support from the established churches. I think when they felt "safe" and realised we were not undermining them, and they saw the struggles we were facing then they cheered us on. Very occasionally there are misunderstandings but usually always these have been resolved through conversation. Our experience is that the established churches realise only too well that new initiatives simply must be taken.

Hi Annie, I think you have identified the key issues very well. Having had the privilege of pioneering a new fresh expression in Bristol for the past 8 years I recognise clearly the key matters that you list. Through the grace of God our little community has negotiated the storms and difficulties of the very different strategy for extending the Kingdom and we are now, through God's grace and despite our many mistakes, financially self-supporting. The focus is on discipleship. And in a way that is so very different from what we envisaged when we first set out, progress is being made in different ways and on different fronts of the fringe of the church. For me the chapter that says it all is 2 Corinthians 4. - Nick

Pioneering sounds very effective. Something to consider in the States. Matthew 28 beckons us to invite people into the body of Christ.

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