Towards a fully pioneering church

Pioneering - like a plant on a trellis - needs a playful, open structure that offers freedom for within a flexible, nurturing system. Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tina Hodgett

Tina Hodgett joined the pioneer team at CMS as RTP Hub coordinator in September. Tina is well known in the pioneer network as to co-creator of the Pioneer Spectrum and Holy Rumpus! the pioneer training hub in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. She has been both student and teacher on the pioneer course at CMS and of course a pioneer herself. Here she sets out how she believes the church can move from spasmodic growth to “a rich and visible gospel harvest”…

Pioneering is not a strategy; it is a widespread dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. It is enacted amongst individuals and groups who become aware of the gulf between the church and the culture and begin to try in a variety of imaginative ways to bridge the gap.

In the privileged position I’ve had over the past four years as leader of the Pioneer Project in the Diocese of Bath and Wells I’ve seen how many people – often alone and unencouraged – have started up experiments in mission in the grip of some hidden compulsion without a template or a precedent or a clear destination in mind. Sometimes people haven’t even had the backing of a permission-giver. This kind of behaviour is less a strategy, more like a scene from fantasy or science fiction: particular characters hear a song that is largely inaudible to others, and act together under its spell.

In my previous role one of the candidates for a full-time paid pioneer post told me he’d read the pioneer role description on a recruitment website. He’d never heard the term ‘pioneer’ but the role description described him – vision, vocation and all – to perfection. He had found the name for his calling. Earlier this year a woman who’s spent the past seven to eight years developing skills and resources to share the hope of Jesus through meditation online and yoga heard about the pioneer network for the first time. She had persisted in her pioneer vocation in spite of lack of interest or understanding from her large and active church family. When she fell into ‘pioneer world’ she was like a child who’d stumbled into Narnia.

These stories and others like them have supplied the joy of my previous post. And while I love the haphazard organic ‘grassrootsness’ of pioneer stuff – its hiddenness, wildness and independence – I know the time has come for a more hands-on strategic direction for all this spontaneous energy and hidden creativity. If the pioneer movement is to attain maturity of fruitfulness – and if the church is to be refreshed, extended and reframed through it – pioneering has to be thoroughly integrated into the existing systems.

I am categorically not a gardener, but I inherited with my rented house a young vine and a passionflower plant. After three years of allowing them to grow along the ground, intertwining, trailing flowers and fruit – often facedown in the gravel and soil – last year I improvised a rough trellis for both. This year I have been the blessed recipient of copious bunches of sweet purple grapes and a glorious display of passionflowers and fruit – without doing a thing apart from give them the opportunity to grow upwards as well as outwards.

As I was preparing to step down from my role in the Diocese of Bath and Wells I wrote a document entitled ‘Towards a fully pioneering diocese’. In it I offer a proposal for a kind of comprehensive trellis for the pioneer growth that is currently winding its way along the ground and at risk of intertwining in on itself and losing fruitfulness through lack of space, resources, sunlight and opportunities to grow in fresh directions. The pioneer plant needs structure – the kind of playful, open structure a well-designed trellis can give that offers freedom for growth and extension within a flexible, nurturing system.

The document ‘Towards a fully pioneering diocese’ contains 16 recommendations to move the diocese from a place of allowing spasmodic, ground-level growth of stems and leaves with occasional flowers, fruit and seeds to a state that would generate a rich and visible gospel harvest.

The full version of the document can be downloaded below but the summary of recommendations is here:

  1. All leaders are trained as pioneer advocates: people who can hold a space for pioneers, experimentation and innovation.
  2. All church leaders have training in the processes of collective spiritual discernment, contextual mission and growing a new worshipping community.
  3. A senior leader – archdeacon or bishop – has responsibility for diocesan-wide pioneer ministry and training. Support can be offered by others – DBF staff and/or grassroots pioneers.
  4. There are diocesan enablers for all four types of pioneers on the pioneer spectrum (church planters, adaptors, innovators and activists) either through support staff roles or voluntary ‘champion’ type roles.
  5. In advance of any parish-based postholder leaving their post, the PCC is encouraged to explore the options for a new postholder with a pioneer brief or other contextually appropriate creative options for the parish.
  6. Full- and part-time paid roles are available to lay pioneers.
  7. At least one full-time lay or ordained pioneer post is established in each deanery with designated time in their role description to foster pioneering in the deanery. Every deanery has a lay pioneer champion.
  8. Full-time stipended ordained pioneers are expected to foster pioneering in their locality and may have oversight of lay pioneers.
  9. Investment is continued in training and developing lay pioneers from all backgrounds.
  10. Informal networks of support for lay and ordained pioneer leaders are maintained and developed.
  11. Pioneers have the opportunity to be authorised or commissioned at local, deanery and diocesan level in parallel with other vocational routes.
  12. A diocesan post is created to foster mission entrepreneurship.
  13. A spirit of innovation is actively promoted; innovation is celebrated, even when it fails.
  14. An accepted pathway for training is established for ordinands, readers and nationally recognised pioneers where the medium and content of the learning aligns with the anticipated mode of ministry and mission in a post-Christendom church.
  15. All members of the vocations team are trained in all aspects of pioneer vocations.
  16. An extensive and varied modular training offer in all aspects of pioneer mission and ministry is developed to go alongside the offer for the wide diversity of other vocations.

Obviously all these recommendations can’t be implemented at once. One or two done well could significantly change the landscape. A plan to effect all the recommendations gradually over a three- to five-year period would bear much fruit.

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