There have been a couple of pieces of research recently into the experience of pioneers and pioneers in training.
One isn’t yet in the public domain so I’ll come back to it when it does appear. But this piece of research by Beth Keith on behalf of Fresh Expressions is excellent. It was conducted through a series of small group gatherings of pioneers round the country. The information has then been collated into a series of themes raising a number of points and offering some recommendations. You can download the report from here on the Fresh Expressions web site. Scroll down the page and the link is at the bottom of the page.
We pulled out some of the insights from this report in the last newsletter but in case you didn’t catch that here they are again (but read the whole thing as there are a lot more):
On mixed economy:
Those pioneers released to work among non church goers engaged well with their context and were more positive about the wider Church. By contrast the pioneers sent to work within existing church structures struggled to engage with the non-churched and vocalised more frustration. Their concerns need taking seriously.
Developing a core group of members or a leadership team significantly determines the church’s ability to be sustainable and fruitful. Developing the vision, commitment and skills required for this can be a lengthy task. Some practitioners noted the growth towards a maturing community as the move from consumers, to community, to mission.
Financial expectations should be clear and planned from the outset. Realistic expectations are needed on time spans necessary for a fresh expression of church to become financially viable. Training in financial sustainability is necessary and yet notably absent in current provision.
On Ordained Pioneer Ministry:
OPM training should allow leaders to stay within the context of their fresh expression of church. Encouraging indigenous leaders to leave their fresh expressions to gain more experience of the wider church as part of the selection process often has a detrimental effect on the sustainability of the local fresh expression of church. It often blunts the missional edge of prospective pioneers and hinders their ability to re-enter their host culture.
On Lay Pioneer Ministry:
More recognition and support is needed for training, supervising and supporting lay and spare time leaders which are appropriate to their competency, experience and time.
I get rung up or e-mailed quite a lot by people either thinking about training or wondering about taking up a post. I often end up saying to people to lose their romantic notions of pioneering and go in with their eyes wide open. I am amazed how optimistic and naive pioneers can be when starting out. This report is oozing with practical wisdom from often difficult experience. Whilst the church likes the idea of pioneering in theory the gravitational pull back into ‘normal church’ is still strong so if you are taking a role that involves a mix of regular church leadership with some pioneering take a long hard look at the details and get them written in stone – 70% pioneering to be guarded or something. Or if a course says it will train you for pioneering look hard at the curriculum and get below the surface. Seek out pioneers who have done the training and ask them for insights. I certainly hope you would do that before training with CMS! What is the financial plan for the future of a project you are taking on? Is there one? If not who’s going to work it out? If you are a lay pioneer have you thought about training and seeking out a budget from a diocese, charity, friends, church trust? Are you in a learning network or equivalent to support you for the journey? Anyway hopefully you get the point. Read and digest and learn…!