Your Baptist church was probably planted by a pioneer! Whether its story stretches over decades or centuries, an individual or a team with a vision and a calling to take the gospel into a new context was likely to have been used by God in giving birth to the worshipping community to which you now belong. Your church, at some point in its history, may also have sent out pioneers to start something new (perhaps in a new housing development, for example) and church planting is a vital part of our Baptist heritage.
Over the last couple of decades God has been renewing this pioneering spirit – not only in our own family of churches, but ecumenically too. Our society is changing fast, and in a post-Christendom culture some people are struggling to connect with the existing patterns of church. God is raising up a new generation of pioneers who are passionate about the missional challenge of going beyond the fringe of the church and taking the risk of doing something different.
These pioneers are women and men, young and old – but what unites them is a desire to go to where the church isn’t, do what Jesus does, and see what happens. Some of them might not identify themselves as ‘pioneers’, but this word has been used to describe their particular shape of ministry. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he outlines what some have called the five-fold ministry:
'And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ'. Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV).
In our Baptist churches we have been good at recognising those who are gifted and called as shepherds and teachers in our midst as well as those with the particular vocation of the evangelist. But what is pioneering?
Pioneering is about risk-taking, about being willing to be sent (the meaning of ‘apostle’) beyond the fringe of the church to advance the Kingdom in new and creative ways. It’s about following the incarnational example of Jesus and sometimes literally ‘moving into the neighbourhood’ in order to sow the seeds of the gospel (‘prophetic’ words and actions) in that place. It’s about being willing to lovingly give time and energy and to nurture the Christian community that emerges there as lives are transformed by the living God.
Often these new communities of faith can look quite different to existing patterns of church as they seek to make discipleship and worship contextually relevant to those they are reaching with the gospel. Sometimes these ‘fresh expressions’ become autonomous churches in their own right, others may become distinct congregations in relationship with existing church communities.
The heart of pioneering is the willingness to ‘go and stay’ with a community and ‘doing church’ there. This can sometimes be misunderstood because in a context of decline the common desire is that new believers would ‘come’ and join in and keep what already exists going. That said, sometimes pioneering is about being catalysts of change, and about helping to transition a church into new things, bringing new life and growth through a more missional approach.
Click here for a poem by Jonny Baker which captures a sense of God's calling to us to engage in pioneering ministry.
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