What is a pioneer? (Dave Male)

Monday, 11 March, 2013

Dave Male asks how we define what a pioneer is - given that Jesus is the only person described as a pioneer in the bible, how does that impact the way we understand pioneering?

Duration: 6:29   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Dave Male: I think as I've reflected over the last year or so on this I think one of the issues that I'm seeing more and more is how do we define what a pioneer is? Often in our literature we use this word pioneer but we don't really define it very clearly - what it is. One of the things that fascinates me is that the only person in the New Testament who is described as a pioneer is Jesus and it's made me reflect on what is it about the nature of Jesus that is pioneering and how might that impact the way that we do pioneering and the conventions and the boundaries that Jesus broke. But also how we work within a kind of mixed economy as well - as someone who came to fulfil the law - and how as pioneers do we do that.

But I do think that we need to take seriously that kind of that nature of the New Testament view of pioneers: of being the first and of breaking boundaries - and we really need to be sure that we free our pioneers to do that. I think one of the dangers is, as Jonny Baker's called it, we end up with this kind of priest-plus model where they have to do all the other things that everyone else does and with the small amount of time left they can do pioneering. And what I would love to see is more and more the Church setting people free, lay and ordained, to fulfil their pioneering, as part of teams - not just on their own as mavericks, but giving them that permission and that ability and the resources to do that fully and that we almost end up with a kind of pioneering ministry alongside a mixed economy ministry. But we really do free pioneers to pioneer and not to give them other things to do alongside that.

I think it's interesting here with the students who are ordained pioneer trainees and one of their comments often to me is that they would like to spend more time doing the pioneering part of their training and I think that is just symptomatic of the need to set free pioneers to do pioneering and not to leave them to do lots of other things but recognising these specific gifts and saying to people actually, here is the space and the time and the resources  to do that. And I think linked to that is we're going to have to be more creative about the resources that we create to enable people to do this. I think we need to think probably a lot more about how we specifically do that to free up pioneers to truly pioneer and to fulfil their calling.

I think the denominations probably need to be clearer about exactly what a pioneer is and I think secondly they need to set free pioneers to be pioneering and to give them that responsibility to do pioneering things unencumbered by all the other parts that often pioneers are given, so that often they end up with a kind of shared role. And I think for many pioneers they just need to be set free, with encouragement, with support, with accountability, as part of a team. But they must be set free to do what God is calling them to do, with the support and encouragement, hopefully, of our denominations.

I think that if you're breaking boundaries, if you're going into new areas, whatever that might mean, I think there is going to be part of that that is isolating. And I think that's the really important thing of being part of a team and that's why so often pioneers don't want to just do this on their own but one of their most important things is building a team round them. Because the work by its very nature can be isolating. I think where it does differ is that often pioneers feel within the system, whatever that might be in their denomination, misunderstood and they almost feel that they're having to explain themselves. And I think that can often add to that sense of isolation. And that's why often they enjoy coming together because as they classically would say to me, Oh I can come to this place and we don't need to explain ourselves. So I think there is a right sense of isolation which is part of being a pioneer and that's why teams are important, but also there is that sense of how do we support and encourage them in a place where at times they don't feel very much at home.

I think Break out, which is a kind of national pioneers conference, arose really from that whole thing - that I kept meeting pioneers who felt very isolated and they may be their only... the only pioneer in their circuit or their area or their diocese and they didn't even know if there were other pioneers around. And so we began this yearly conference to bring these people together to a place where they didn't have to explain themselves, where they could find support and encouragement and resources and learn from other people and learn from each other. We call it a gathering actually, we don't call it a conference, because it has very much that sense of gathering together to be encouraged and fed and developed, to then go back out to the work that pioneers are called to do.

I think one of the natures of pioneers is that they are really good relational networkers so I see suddenly lots of things happening and I think we just need to make sure that all areas are covered. It is interesting that in some ways there are lots of things going on and then I spoke the other day to some pioneers in Newcastle who didn't know anyone else or anything else about pioneering and were amazed to discover there was a national conference and there was such a thing as msm [mission shaped ministry course] and all that kind of thing. So I think it's easy sometimes to think that oh, everyone's networked and everyone knows people and knows resources and I think we just need to make sure that we've got good coverage and that we are providing across the country really good support and resourcing and encouraging for pioneers.


Yes! Thank you Dave for this sensible analysis. If only our Diocesan structures would recognise this. As someone trying to make our Pioneer call work in a traditional Parish I cannot agree more. Food for thought.

I am sorry but I have never heard pf Pioneers in the church and after listening to your video I am none the wiser about what is a Pioneer.

Dear Ella, you might find our page on pioneer ministry helpful:

Thanks Dave. Your clarity of concept and practical explanations helped me to introduce the concept of 'pioneers' to others, especially the concept of an 'order of Pioneers'. Having read your book addressing pionner ministry and heard you present to seminars on this topic, I can understand your comments in the video more readily, too. It's great to have access to your thinking and experimentation via this video. Thanks again for the encourging and guiding comments.
I have suggested others in our Theological College (Melbourne, Australia) and Uniting Church in Australia (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania) Presbytery Ministers engage the video and page on the website as noted above. During 2013 we are gradually introducing more Vision Days and msi events as we head towards an initial msm pilot event later this year. Interest is certainly growing. Now we are starting to work out what we can do to identify and support pioneers -both those already active and unrecognised, and those ready and rearing to go.

Thanks for your comments everyone. I have been thinking today about Jesus is the archetypal pioneer. In the New testament the word pioneer is used 4 times and each time it referes to Jesus.

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