The Role of Local Pioneer Advocates

Greg Baker

Local pioneer advocates [1]  are ‘key people for the future of the church’.[2]  This is a significant affirmation for those of us who labour within parochial settings.  In undertaking the role of pioneer advocacy, parish priests have a huge part to play in shaping the future of Christian mission.

What does local pioneer advocacy look like in practice? Pioneer advocacy is by nature second chair leadership[3].  In this case, parish priests seek to support and resource pioneer ministers through the influencing of parochial and diocesan structures.

Pioneer advocates are committed to equality between the established and new expressions of church.  While there has been much talk about the mixed economy since the release of the Mission Shaped Church report, the weight of privilege, status, and resources is still heavily tipped in favour of the inherited structures.

In her book, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of her experience of Leaving Church:

“If I developed a complaint during my time in the wilderness, it was that mother Church lavished much more attention on those at the centre than those on the edge.”[4]

The inherited church often pulls inordinate amounts of energy, talent, and finances to the centre in order to meet its own internal needs.  Even when parish churches start supporting fresh expressions, there can sometimes be the underlying assumption that pioneers will fill the pews for us again.  How often, for example, do we hear people in parish churches ask of those attending fresh expressions, ‘When are those people going to start coming to our Sunday services?’  It is difficult for those in the centre to conceive that the parochial organisation may not directly benefit from any pioneer project.

Pioneer advocates seek to rebalance the level of attention given to those on the inside of a church community.  They take up the challenge by redirecting people and financial resource towards the engagement of people on the margins.   They are robust in the asserting that pioneering projects and fresh expressions are not extensions of the parish church nor for its benefit.  Pioneer advocates insist that fresh expressions have a ‘legitimacy of existence’ in their own right, regardless of their stage of development.[5]

Invariably, giving greater attention to those on the edge will make some at the centre deeply uncomfortable, perhaps even leaving them with a sense that they are no longer important.  To adapt an old adage, ‘When you’re accustomed to all the attention, equality feels like oppression.’[6]  Pioneer advocates ultimately employ multiple strategies when championing the rebalancing required to reach a greater parity within the mixed economy: gentle reassurance, patient listening, recognising ordinary problems as amazing opportunities, relentlessly inviting parish churches to look outward, and shaping a new consensus[7].

 

[1] An alternative suggestion to Dave Male’s term ‘Sustainer Enablers’.

[2] Dave Male, ‘Pioneer Ministry: Proposal for a working definition of pioneer’ p.4.

[3] Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, ‘Leading from the second chair’.

[4] Barbara Taylor Brown, ‘Leaving Church’, p.175

[5] My colleague, Jon Oliver, often uses this phrase in conversations with those working in the established structures.

[6] Based on unattributed quotation.

See Chris Boeskoll, ‘When your accustomed to privilege’, Huffington Post,

[7] Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Leaders don’t look for consensus; they shape it.’

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