Some fresh expressions thinking from 1957

This is from The Unfinished Task, by Anglican Bishop in Southern India in the 1950s, Stephen Neill.

Speaking Southern Indian villages where traditional forms of the church have failed to make headway and proved to be inadequate, and seeking of the larger cities where the church is on the fringes of the society:

“It has become increasingly recognised that it is useless to talk about bringing these people back to the Church. They have moved away form the Church, or perhaps have never been seriously conscious of its existence. It is for the Church to follow them, and to make their acquaintance in the places where they live and work” (p65)

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Pioneer Ministry in New Housing Areas: Grove Booklet

Pioneer Ministry Grove coverThis succinct new Grove booklet offers a helpful introduction to pioneering on new build developments for practitioners and permission-givers. Penny Marsh and Alison Boulton look at how this has become a contemporary issue, give practical suggestions for pioneers and for those who conceive the posts, and offer some helpful principles along the way. Both authors  are experienced pioneers who have established community activities and worshipping communities in Royal Docks, London, Kent, and Swindon, whilst Boulton has also had a role as a pioneer-mission enabler across the South West of England with the Baptist Church.

New housing developments (and particularly affordable housing) is at the centre of the government’s economic plan. Official figures show that house building is now at it’s highest level since 2009. Their booklet begins with the assertion that for this work there is no map (although there are an increasing number of practitioners with valuable wisdom to impart). Each housing development is different and the task of the pioneer is about creative, entrepreneurial community building in areas which had no previously existing community.

They quote some very positive findings from some research conducted on Boulton’s work by Angela Parfitt as part of her MA degree. This research concluded that in this instance, the church and the church leader were instrumental in creating community, enabling a feeling of security (the idea that people look out for each other), and in increasing neighbourhood trust. Half of the people involved in the church-led community activities knew many of their neighbours, compares to just 12% of those who didn’t. Three quarters of those who visit have been involved in other community initiatives or problem solving, compared to just over a quarter of those who are not involved with the project. From this we can conclude that in this case, the Christian-led community project made a tangible difference in creating community and in creating social capital within that community. This cannot be generalised without further research of other examples, however it is an encouraging statistic for those seeking to pioneer community and church in new communities. She (Angela) goes on to conclude that the role of the leader and project has been most influential in increasing social capital in the development, which helps reduce isolation and enables residents to access wider society.

All outreach into new developments must be underpinned with missional principles. Marsh and Boulton rightly choose the biblical principles of blessing and incarnation. Incarnation allows the pioneer to engage with the people as one of them, a resident, whilst blessing is an easy concept for Christians and non-Christians to see the value of. They adds to these the fresh-expressions principle of listening, acknowledging that the pioneer is involved in community formation, not transformation, as there was no community there to begin with. How the community develops is an excise in listening to the people and to God. Boulton describes how her theological thoughts of Jesus washing disciples feet on Maundy Thursday culminated in the establishment of monthly pamper evenings for the community.

Another key principle is that of whether to have an agenda. This is one of my five tips for pioneers starting out. It is important to have vision, but development of any pioneering venture is inevitable slower and more chaotic than expected. Have a vision but not having a concrete plan means that the pioneering will be open to the call of God and have the time to follow it through.

Practical suggestions

Their section on practical suggestions has an emphasis on welcome. A non-threatening church welcome as new residents move in is a tried and tested way of gently giving trust and establishing connections. In some ways, this is akin to the traditional clergy practice of parish visiting. Although most of the development I was working on was completed by the time I moved onto it in 2010, we did partner with local churches and businesses to welcome residents on a new section of the development from the end of 2013. The response, as someone not selling and not pushing anything, but simply as a way of saying ‘welcome’, was generally positive and it gave opportunities for publicise some of our activities and to begin to build relationships. Marsh and Boulton also highlight the benefits of organising community social events to enable people to get to know one another, and of hosting a Facebook page or Twitter stream for the whole community.

Overall this is a useful starter. Much of what Marsh and Boulton suggest is common sense to the thinking pioneer, although there are insights and suggestions that will be new to some. Particularly the section which is a guide for regional ministers who may be conceiving of a pioneer post would be particularly useful to someone coming to think about new housing developments for the first time. As with all Grove booklets, this does not offer a complete coverage of the subject, but is a valuable place to start.

Penny Marsh and Alison Boulton, Pioneer Ministry in New Housing Areas: Personal Reflections and a Practical Care, (Cambridge: Grove, 2016). Available from £3.95.


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The Church’s priestly charge

Picking up some thoughts on priesthood (from Sunday’s lectionary’s Hebrews passage), Graham Tomlin speaks about the priestly charge of the church, and of all Christian people:

“Christ’s priestly blessing is enacted through the church…..

Unlike most human communities, the church’s life focuses not on itself, but on those who do not belong. It is a community defined by its mission to be a means of blessing. A church that gets wrapped up in its own internal ordering is a church that has last its way. It has forgotten its identity as priestly people called the less the world. Instead, a healthy church is one that is constantly looking forward to blessing community around it…… [and] at the same time, the arena in which people grow up into Christ”

From The Widening Circle, p103-105

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Letting Go

Pioneers are not often surrounded by like-minded people. It requires a large amount of trust to let go and let others grow into leadership. For us, having to move on after five yeras is extremely painful, but we have to trust that God is at the heart of what is growing here.

These words, from Michelle and David Legumi (in Pioneers for Life, ed Dave Male, p65), sum up how we are feeling about leaving here. We are very excited about our next post, however, we have to step back and trust that, as God has called us on, he has a plan for what we leave behind here too.

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The most important step in missionary activity.

A slightly surprising one, according to Vincent Donovan (In Christianty Rediscovered) it is this:

The final missionary step as regards any nation or culture, and the most important lesson we will ever teach them – is to leave.

After all the work is done, the pioneer must move on and the gospel must be fully contextualised in the culture that the pioneering work is set. Succession needs to be planned, and local leadership must emerge. According to Goerge Lings (wiring in David Male’s edited book, Pioneers 4 Life):

It is the characteristic of pioneers that they are first in and also first out.

I can think of several notable examples where the removal of missionaries from an area, after they have sown the first seeds and established the first groups of disciples, has resulted in an unprecedented spread of the gospel after the missionaries have left. China from 1950-1990 springs mind. Perhaps God knows what he’s doing!

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Five Tips for pioneers 2: Hang Out.

friends sticomLast week I posted my five tips for new pioneers, which has come out of our first five years working here. Here they are in short:

  1. Pray a lot.
  2. Hang Out.
  3. Find a team and form alliances.
  4. Make a five year plan don’t expect to stick to it.
  5. Expect opposition.

2 Time hanging out with people (doing nothing in particular) is not time wasted. 

When we arrived here we didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t have anything in my diary apart from a few clergy meetings here and there. Where to start? The obvious thing we needed to do was to get to know some people. So we joined the groups and associations that were already running on the development, and we were intentional about getting to know others (for example, by hanging out in public spaces, and by following up initial meetings with an invitation to coffee or dinner or something), and we formed groups where people of like interests could join together.

During the first 12 months, we didn’t start anything ‘churchy’, but just sent time hanging out. I spent quite a lot of time playing at the playpark making conversation, or simply walking around or sitting in the coffee shop once it opened, getting to know people. What we found is that none of those relationships were wasted. When we did start groups, people came and we’re willing to join in, because they already knew us. And when we started worship, a few people joined us too. Others, who may not have joined us in anything, got back in touch when they wanted a wedding or baptism or something like that, and this gave us the opportunity to rekindle the relationship.

We’ve learnt that nothing happens without good relationships. Nothing was wasted and that time gave us a decent standing in the community and a good starting point with many.

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Five Tips for pioneers 1: Pray.


1. Pray a lot. We can’t do this in our own power 

Any sort of Church growth is by the Spirit of God. Using a gardening analogy, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow

Most of us, as Christians, know this, but when we get down to it we can find all sorts of excuses not to pray, thinking that if we just do the right things, growth with come. Every person who comes to faith does so by the power of God.

There is also a well-known saying in pioneering (which comes from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) that:

mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in.

God is already on the move as we’d do best to find out where. We can never hope to know where or how God is moving unless we pray, listen to God’s voice, and keep our eyes open looking for signs of his work.

So if you are just starting out in a pioneering situation, my advice to you is pray a lot. We prayed some, but I wish we’d prayed some more. Pray alone, pray with your team, pray at home, pray in different places!



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