Tuesday, 2 March 2010

What is Pioneer Ministry?

I have been drawn into various conversations this past month about pioneer ministry. I want precision about what it is, because otherwise it just becomes a sexy moniker for anything creative, alternative and generally involving young people. Someone's suggested to me, for example, that helping set up a monthly service in a village hall is “pioneer ministry,” or running a youth group, or recruiting a new missional community of 20-somethings and resourcing them for ministry. That last one obviously is — but what about the others? What is pioneer ministry?

Inspired by Vincent Donovan’s book Christianity Rediscovered, I’ve had an idea. Fr Donovan was a 1960’s RC missionary in Kenya who went out to sell the locals his faith, and experienced some degree of honest frustration and discomfort before he realised he could more fruitfully work from the other end. In other words if he got under the skin of Masai Culture, taking its sociology and culture as a gift of God not an obstruction to the gospel, people would find their own way of being authentically Masai Catholic Christians instead of copies of Liverpuddlian RC’s. The result of this was to fulfil his original mission brief, but from the other end to the one he had anticipted, and to produce a new and authentic strand in Catholic faith, to enrich it from a new culture.

So, the essential distinctive for a pioneer minister, I reckon, is:

a willingness and ability to go live in another sociology, listen to it and struggle to understand what it is about and how Christ is reflected in it, then work from within it to develop a community of discipleship that is authentic to it, but also to the Way of Christ.

Imagine I was 95, and discovered that the other residents of my sheltered housing scheme were brought up in a pattern of Christendom Christiantiy which had not worked for them and rendered them deeply unable to access what was good in it because they were so blocked by what had broken down and changes int he context. I work out what, positively their culture is, and what it tells me of Christ who is greater than any culture but reflected in all. I then work out a way of life that does justice to both historic Christianity, as an authentic development, and also their culture. I’m 95, but I’m a pioneer...

So the qualities required of a pioneer minisuter would be profound rootedness in the substance but not necessarily the form of historic Christianity, plus a willingness and activity to live within another sociology, plus discernment, plus the willingness to build community, plus an ability to articulate what has been learnt and interpret it back tot he rest of the Church. It’s a tall order — very much more than just being a real trendy geezer. The joy and strength of Christianity has been its capacity to enculturate and adapt whilst retaining its golden heart. “Stop the World I want to get off” is an expression of fear not faith. We need more than that. As cultures interface, develop and fracture only to re-form, the Church needs real pioneers!


Ann said...

Sort of an unfortunate name in this part of the world (US) as is has echoes of the people who took over other people's lands == not the kind of idea that seems to be put forth in your blog. I like the plan of going and listening and making connections between the faith of those I am visiting and my faith, rather than assuming I am somehow bringing God to them.

JohnG said...

I think we need to address the much maligned trendy geezers.. we need to distinguish between contextual ministry and cross cultural apostolic ministry. The Vincent Donovan book was a great case in point as a casestudy of cross cultural communication which says as much about Catholicism as Masai culture. His follow up in US culture book was a great disappointment by comparison). Donovan was working across cultures and some of his Masai colleagues had to work out the implications for their culture contextually. So I would distinguish between the 95 year old working contextually in Sheltered housing scheme and the 15 year old teenager who is working apostolically?! and cross culturally with them. Or to flip again Paul cross culturally and Apollos inside the culture. I believe we need both perspectives because they usually need to work in partnership and can't work without the other. As for nomenclature I leave it to you which one is the pioneer. I think you need names for them both and a name for the category in which both find themselves. We could of course turn to the resource of Christology but then my head explodes..

Erika Baker said...

And I see myself surrounded by Christians who are tearing themselves and our church apart in an increasingly bitter row essentially over defining what is form and what is substance.
We have bitter arguments about the role of women, about gay people about Mission about Islam, about what kind of atonement theory to believe in - you name it, if we discuss it long enough we start tearing ourselves up about it.

My word verification for this post is "haiting". How fitting. And I wonder how, unless we relax and learn to feel genuinely confident in our faith without needing to put others down in theirs to shore up or own self esteem, we can even hope to be pioneers of anything genuine.

I sometimes wonder if we actually understand for ourselves what it is we're trying to show others.

Philip Ritchie said...

I'm encouraged by how important Donovan's book remains. The other day I interviewed an ordinand who was at his most animated when talking about Christianity Rediscovered and I still remember its impact on me when I first read it some 25 years ago at theological college. There are some books which have a profound prophetic significance and I rank this one as such a book.
After Easter I'm running a course on Gospel and Culture and there's a session your posted has prompted me to rewrite.
Thanks for the reminder; I'm off to dig out my copy.

Steve Hayes said...

At the risk of being trite and stating the obvious, an apostle. As some TV series put it, "to boldly go..."

In the Orthodox Church such people are called "isapostolos" -- "equal to the apostles", and sometimes "Enlishtener of (insert place name here)". "Enlightener of the Youth Group" somehow doesn't seem to cut it.

There was St Nina, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia, for example. She was taken there as a slave, witnessed to the royal family, and common or garden missionaries followed, but she was the pioneer.

And then, of course, there was St Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dan Brown.

PS: Apropos of nothing in this post, how did you like Cape Town? If your media are to be believed, you're lucky you weren't there on "Kill a tourist day" (see Notes from underground: Legends from a small country: 'Kill a Tourist Day' if you're not sure what that's about).

acetate monkey said...

Interesting thoughts. The idea of coming from the other end has no doubt been written about in many books. I read Jim Peterson's books a while ago ("church without walls" being the first- I can't remember the rests' titles), and that pioneer idea was in that. I think he talks about establishing beachheads as the meaning of 'apostle'. Pioneering is such an American concept (as Davy Crocket embodies). Are we Brits pioneers in the same way?

Re: strapping down the meaning of 'pioneer ministry', I'm not sure you can do it. As a sociologisty type person this phrase seems to be a classic 'boundary object/concept': something with a definite description but internal plasticity in interpretation which can either be a bridge or a roadblock to development depending on it's ability to translate participants' interests. The trouble with them is that they work/fall not on themselves but on the hidden loaded meaning they have for the users. Something you can't easily predict/negate.

Sinful Theology said...

i think the donovan definition is a very good one. Donavon's book is one of the most challanging i have read. I find it particually encouraging when i see things like 'godly play' taking route and being set up as an ideal in so many place. The ability and confidence to ask questions and to let people develop there own answers and ways of being is vital. So often christian education seems to be about teaching the right answers as opposed to the ability to think and the confidence to live out the results of that thinking.

Andrew said...

I think your definition is a very helpful contribution to encouraging those who are doing this to recognise what was a key theme in the original Mission Shaped Church report that gave birth to so much of this thinking – namely contextualise and listen to the culture – though I think the seond half of your definition takes that an important step further. The thing that I like about the name Fresh Expressions which was that it captured that sense of doing soemthing new, something different that we are not doing at the moment in term sof engaging with the cultures that are all about us but where the traditinoal forms of church have often not been present. The big challenge as FXC (Fresh Expressions) themselves I am sure acknowledge is the potential devaluing of the brand along the lines that you highlight in your opening paragraph. So this side of the Irish sea I veer away from this kind of terminolgy and choose something looser such as “New Church Developments” so that it does not get caught up in this kind of difficulty and can bring a wider range of ecclesiologcal and theological streams with us on the journey.
Love the Blog
Andrew McNeile
PS Love the Hallelujah song by Jocelyn Pook you came up with from that Radio 4 special – have you come across any other song/worship/music specials along those lines?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for some really interesting thoughts. Ann, I agree the Davy Crickett pix were definitely ironic in intent — exactly what this isn't.

John, many thanks for the apostolic (Appollos) perspective. I'm ashamed to say I don't know Vincent Donovan's US culture book. Will ivestigate, but fact I'd not heard of it may imply you're right!

Erika, I agree that the wrangling you mentin is a missional no brainer, as one Evangelical colleague described it; in other words whatever the real wingnuts gain by being right they have already thrown away by being vituperative.

Phil, I hope the sssion goes well. Between John V. Taylor and Vincent Dnovan, that's the 20th century covered for me...

Steve, the orthodox concept you mentin struck me as really creative. The pattern of being taken as a slave and then subverting your captors for Christ is well attested in Anglo-Saxon hagiography, I think, as well. This goes well for me with johnG's very helpful distinction above.

a/m, pretty sure we Brits are not as instinctively pioneering; but then,a s noted above, some coonskin cap pioneers ere also dodgy imperialists and conquistadors. I'd ike to think the conept can be bigger than that, though.

S/Theol I sometimes puzzle over the way Jesus used childen to show adults how to follow him, and we try to get adults to show children how to folow him, and it isn't always a winner...

Andrew, as you can tell, I m beginning to think the jargon terms are wearing rather thin. I like new church developments, which seems to take in the theological concept of development that I think we could all do with working out a bit more.

I'm afraid Jocelyn Pook's wonderful programme seems to have been a one-off. I hope lots of people wrote to the BBC and praised it, and they come up with something else. I found the way it went with the cantor really haunting nd beautiful and have used it on a couple of quiet days (having got it off iTunes)

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