My thoughts on pioneers

Another blog post that has attracted my attention this week has been the admission by Mark Berry that he is struggling with the conflict between his natural gifting in being a pioneer, and the kind of requirement upon him to take on the role of pastor in his current context.

I commented on this that I think oe of the important things of pioneers (I would class myself as a pioneer of sorts) is that they understand the missionary imperative to find others to take on the leadership/maintenance of what they begin. In some cases the pioneer themself takes on that role, and successfully transitions into a maintenance role, but in others they are simply forced into it, for lack of a structure which allows them to do otherwise.

Even if, as Mark is, the pioneer individual or team wishes to stay in the place they are working, it is part and parcel of their task to find others to take on the leadership of a growing work. Pioneers often dont make good leaders, they are too driven when what is needed is stability, they are unable to pastor as sensitively as someone whose calling is to pastor. That doesnt mean however that we should duck out of service because something isnt our calling, we do need to do the hard boring stuff too, in that case its about finding a way of life which works as Steve Taylor points out.

I would go further and suggest that we need to learn a few old lessons again about ways to keep ourselves rooted and productive.

1) Manual work. I firmly believe that we should all engage in manual work, of one sort or another, every week. I think as we become more and more alienated from the world around us, we need to be more inisistent in our demand to engage with the world in this way. For me the natural outlet has become growing/digging/planting stuff. Not all of this is enjoyable, some of it is boring, some is hard, and sometimes its just downright miserable, but its a job, and needs to be done.

2) Study. We all need to re-engage with study, even those of us who arent in a role which requires it of us. For me that has become a setting apart of time in the week to read stuff like Bonhoeffer or whoever, to try and understand something of what God was teaching them.

3) Prayer. As christians, this has to be our cornerstone, the pillar of our day/week/year. We need special time set aside for prayer, the rule of life adopted by monastic communities was not a vain bit of phariseeism, but a recongnition that without that commitment to the discipline of prayer, the monastic would not pray enough. This should form a part of our personal rule or rhythm of life.

4) Rest. We absolutely must have rest, including a sabbath, on which nothing should intrude.

5) Time away from screens. Life seems to be mediated through screens now, everywhere, we’ve even got them in our pockets, its only one step away from a virtual world. We need time away from screens in order to reconnect with, and draw energy from the reality of our surroundings.

6) Vulnerability to community. Given that most of us dont live in close community these days, its all the more important that we have others around us who can help us through these kind of situations, ironically the pioneer may be almost completely alone for the first part of his or her ministry, and only need the support of a community once the ministry has become established. But certainly we as a movement will only send people in teams now, we think there is an importance in recognising that community itself is both a check and a strength to the pioneer.

How does this all relate to the pioneer situation? Well really these are just broad thoughts about rhythms or rules of life, which apply to everyone. But pioneers tend to burn a lot of creative energy, and in doing so, need to be careful to build up plenty of new stocks of such energy. To put on one side the tasks which face us, and accept these limitations, means we can live more sustainably.

Pioneers generally need to create ways of living which enable them to be productive, focussed and creative, then when they succeed in pioneering they need to identify whether they should now transition to a management way of life, or whether to find a new way of pioneering. Often the answer is already within them, and usually it involves pain.


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