Lay Pioneering and Thriving in Mission – a New Grove Book

Book covers: Lay pioneering and thriving in mission
James Butler

We need to listen more carefully to the experience and gifts of informal, grassroots pioneers, says James Butler, introducing his new Grove book on lay pioneers.

So much of pioneering that is taking place in the UK is grassroots. Individuals and groups who sense a call from God to do something a bit different in response to things going on around them. Many have a desire to use their gifts and skills in the midst of everyday life in service of what God is doing in the world. Research into pioneering has tended to focus on more formal roles, such as ordained pioneers. So I carried out some research focused on hearing the voices of the grassroots, lay pioneers getting on with this in their local neighbourhoods. The phrase ‘lay pioneer’ perhaps feels a bit cumbersome, but in using lay I wanted to really draw out the ordinary and everyday experience of people often not in formal or paid roles within their churches or denominations.

Out of this research I have written a Grove Book, Lay Pioneering and Thriving in Mission, which listens carefully to this lay pioneer voice: the stories of how they sense a call to pioneering, discovering networks of people doing similar things, the struggles of being misunderstood, and the joys of seeing God at work around them. Each chapter begins with the story of a lay pioneer, using their own words as much as possible, and explores the insights which emerge from their stories and experience.

One of the common accusations put to pioneering in general is that it is not interested in the historical and theological accounts of church. But in these stories of pioneering what we actually see is a faithful reimagining. Lay pioneers join and help build neighbourhood networks, which could be seen as a faithful reimaging of parish. Lay pioneers bring a prophetic voice, challenging Christians and churches to listen more carefully to their communities and to build relationships across difference. It shows how lay pioneers are happy to step across boundaries and in the process begin to bring those artificial and unhelpful boundaries down. The struggles and challenges of lay pioneering are present too, raising the question of how lay pioneers can find space for their pioneering. Taking some of the examples of good practice and the learning which has come from their lay pioneering, some suggestions are made to enable lay pioneers to thrive.

While the book is intentionally written to address lay pioneers and to tell the stories of the lay pioneers involved in the research, it also addresses those who work with and support lay pioneers, discussing ways that we can all make space for lay pioneers to thrive in their calling and mission. Finally, it draws out the insights from lay pioneers to ask how churches can thrive in mission. The suggestion is that the lay nature of mission needs much more careful attention and we would all benefit from the kind of careful listening and grassroots attention which is so much part of lay pioneering and lay mission.

The book is available from Grove Books for just £3.95 including postage. I would love to hear your reflections.

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