What do pioneers do?
Pioneering is about firsts. Being the first to lead ministry into new places for and with others. Pioneers must be able to see a new future, and have the skills and gifts needed to make it a reality now.
Pioneers connect with people outside of Church, creating new ways of doing Church together in their community.
Pioneers are leaders of innovation, with a gift for seeing what God is doing and responding creatively to it.
Fresh Start Pioneers
Classic pioneering types who start new things, love firsts, and enjoy the blank canvas.
Released from the expectations of classic parish roles, they are able to minister in places where the Church is not present.
Parish Based Pioneers
Pioneers who work from a parish base but from there develop new ways of doing things, expanding the growth and reach of the local Church.
Pioneering is the main focus of their ministry and most of their time is spent with people outside the Church.
Pioneering is a big part of the Church's mission to be a growing church for all people in all places. Many dioceses have dedicated pioneer projects, some of which are supported by strategic development funding as part of Renewal and Reform.
Testimony: Lindsay Smith
You are reading my story properly for the first time. I am living my story and constantly asking myself is this really me!!
God opens and closes doors for all of us. The doors that God has opened for me I never even knew existed.
The vocations process is an emotional, personal, challenging journey. I am still on this journey having just been affirmed by the pioneer selection panel, and working towards being recommended to train for ordination later this year. My journey has seen a fairly new shy dyslexic Christian with no formal theological background gain confidence to meet the challenges of this process.
I have never questioned “Am I a pioneer?“. I have asked myself over and over again why not the traditional route? Why don't you think God is calling you into the inherited church?
During prayer I try to visualise myself following the traditional pathway, but these thoughts never last. I'm so quickly pulled by a heart felt deep calling to be myself. To stay focused on my journey. It's a confirming deep rooted call pioneer ministry.
Pioneer ministry is not a choice it's who I am (I don't struggle with this) I see this as my only route to ordination. I don't ever question this calling because it's the way God created me, “to live life muddy”. I am a horticulturalist. Its part of my DNA to get muddy, to live with a natural earthy connection to creation. It's a passion that's so deep rooted inside me it can only grow. Its this passion that fuels and ignites me to grow faith in others. It's a strong calling to plant, planting in the hearts of the unchurched.
I just don’t fit neatly into life. I’m often the odd one out, doing my own thing. I’m not trying to be awkward or prove a point, I’m not wired. I am just being true to myself and true to my calling. This also applies to my future ministry. It would need to be a different shape out of the confines of what some may consider normal or different. It’s a shape open to ideas. It’s a shape that fits in with the people.
My ministry would include all those that don’t fit into boxes. It would be for those whose boxes are crumpled; whose boxes are broken and those whose boxes have been flattened by society.
I am hearing a calling that’s rooted and grounded in God’s love. Taking that love to the unchurched in a context they understand. It’s learning their language and seeing the world that they live in through their eyes.
Lindsay Smith, Pioneer Minister
I was baptised aged sixteen. Not having a church background, I found it difficult to understand the different traditions.
For a long time God has been speaking to me about the need to engage with people outside of church settings. Not just to tell them the Good News about Jesus, but also to walk alongside them. For the practical support to be more than an add on. Part of loving someone fully is to stand with them in their joy and in their mess.
Some friends of ours had similar feelings of wanting to do church differently. Church where people were. Specifically with a heart for the poor and the broken. As we started to meet together, there was a sense of wondering what it would look like to build church where people are at, rather than expecting them to fit into a model we have created.
Together we set out to pioneer a new way of making disciples within community, which became known as Barnwell Oaks. Located in one of the poorest areas in Cambridge, it was an entirely lay led community. None of us were ordained.
In the early days we didn’t really know what we were doing. There was a lot of praying and walking around and asking God what he was up to, and then gradually structures and rhythms began to form. Rhythms of meeting local families for Sunday lunch, which then became a kind of church space, and bigger gatherings of families together, which looked more like a congregation, and then in amongst that, mentoring and hanging out with individual young people and youth groups.
We did a lot of trying and experimenting. It didn’t always work out well, but we were always moving forward. It was really hard, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. We have since moved on to pioneer new ways of making disciples in Liverpool. It’s tough going back to square one but we are confident for what the future holds!
Nic Findlay, Pioneer Minister
I don’t think anyone was more surprised than me that God called me to ministry in the Church of England. I’d felt something of a tug to vague ministry for a number of years. I’d tried on lots of ‘ministry hats’ through an internship with a church, a theology degree and working with numerous Christian charities to try and work out what it might be. None of them, though all great in their different ways, seemed to be ’the thing’ God was calling me to long term.
I started to feel a tug towards ordination in the Church of England. It didn’t make much sense to me as I didn’t (and still don’t) think God was calling me to be a vicar in a typical parish. I have had a heart for the marginalised and excluded since conversion but this hadn’t matured into any clear vision for a future ministry at that point. I had a good track record of as an entrepreneur, starting things and experience working in the creative arts and media. None of this seemed to fit with my picture of being a priest. Looking at the ordained vocation process, it seemed I didn’t really fit the standard boxes. Perhaps, I thought, I had got things wrong. Perhaps ordained ministry wasn’t what God was calling me to.
I did some freelance video work for the charity Fresh Expressions and for a couple of books related to pioneering. I started reading and researching the amazing variety and creativity of these communities. Something within me clicked. This sounded like somewhere I could fit. When I started the official discernment process with my diocese I was honest that I didn’t feel called to typical parish ministry and. I was pretty certain my creative background and skills are supposed to interact with whatever ministry looks like and the pioneer track allows me to explore what this could look like. My diocese had never put forward a pioneer ordinand, so it was a pretty new experience all round!
I’m now an ordinand in full time residential training at Trinity College, Bristol and have been through a pioneer panel, giving me the ‘pioneer’ designation. I have been continuing to discern what pioneer ministry might look like for me with the help of pioneer focused studies and placements. I have been encouraged in continuing my creative ministry, writing children’s fantasy adventure novels (my books, The Mirror and the Mountain and The Forgotten Palace unpack christian themes and values through accessible fiction and also allow me great opportunities to work in schools). I’m currently exploring how new monasticism might work alongside parish ministry, thinking creatively about the role of community living and nurturing vocations in pioneering, and about to start the process of planting a fresh expression of Church in Bristol with a local Pioneer curate.
Luke Aylen, Pioneer Ordinand
Do you believe God is calling you to serve as a pioneer minister?
Your starting point is to meet with your own vicar or chaplain to talk with them about your sense of calling. They can help you with prayerful discernment.
Some pioneers are ordained but most are lay. All have a track record of innovation.
Arrange to meet with the vocations team in your diocese about selection and training using the contact form below. Some dioceses have a dedicated Fresh Expressions Officer.
What skills do I need?
Pioneers should be able to respond to opportunities for mission around them, with a track record of having set up a form of Christian ministry in a new context.
Pioneers are characterised by a courageous faith and a willingness to take risks.
Pioneers must be able to communicate Christian faith effectively to people outside the Church, helping them grow in faith and become missional disciples.
Pioneers need to work collaboratively in creating and working with a team, equipping others and sharing responsibility.
Leading by example
Pioneers have to handle complexity and initiate change, they must be able to live with uncertainty and deal well with conflict.
Understanding of the Church of England
Pioneers should have a clear vision of the place of their envisaged ministry within the wider Church of England’s response to God's mission to the world.
Pioneers require the maturity and robustness to face the demands of pioneering mission and ministry. They should be able to live sacrificially and keep their eye on the long term.
Pioneers should rely upon a mature and well developed devotional life, with a robust, discipline of personal prayer, worship and study which can sustain them in pioneering situations. They should be able to help new disciples grow in faith.
Pioneers can learn and reflect theologically, interpreting the Bible in the midst of contextual mission. They should understand the practice of starting a new form of church.
To be designated as a pioneer you will need to attend a pioneer selection panel. Ordained pioneers also go through the Church’s selection process for ordained ministry.
Lay pioneers are usually trained by their dioceses, whilst ordained pioneers are trained nationally. Both ordained and lay pioneers are licensed by their Bishop.
It is important you continually pray about your vocation through the whole discernment process.