For the purposes of the Pioneer Collective we have defined a pioneer as:
‘A risk taking Baptist sent to advance the Kingdom beyond the fringe of church in new and creative ways.’
This definition encapsulates the three important traits of pioneers:
(1) Pioneers Go Beyond the Fringe
Pioneers ‘go where the church isn’t’ and (sometimes literally) ‘move into the neighbourhood,’ following the pattern of Jesus’ incarnation. There is nothing wrong with ‘attractional mission’ (Jesus himself, as an attractive personality, drew people to him from far and wide). The point is not to say ‘let’s all start doing incarnational, beyond the fringe mission and stop doing attractional mission.’ That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water and would have a deleterious effect on our mission. Rather, the point is that the pendulum has swung too far the ‘attractional’ way, and we need to equip and release pioneers to right the balance. We need a revival in incarnational practitioners who advance into a secular and multi-faith culture, sometimes going to the darkest places where the light of the local church doesn’t always reach, but certainly going beyond the fringe of an attractional church’s borders.
(2) Pioneers Do Something New
When the Alpha course first came on the scene, it was a pioneering initiative. It was new, it was fresh, and even though parts of it had been done before and done in different ways, the ‘package as a whole’ was distinct enough to be termed ‘new’ and even ‘pioneering’. But just because something was new and fresh once, does not mean that it always will be. This is not to disparage the Alpha course, which has done untold good for the cause of Jesus and the advance of the Kingdom, but in defining ‘pioneering’ I think we can safely say that for the most part it has moved out of that category. Even doing a different ‘process evangelism’ type of course, although ‘new’ in content, would not be pioneering, since it still fits the same pattern as what has already been done. We can understand how pioneers do ‘new’ things in three ways:
a) A completely new pattern or form of thing. Take a look at Chris Duffett’s blog for an example of creative street evangelism where he gives away free water/cake/fruit, sets up a sofa on the streets with the sign ‘I Will Listen’ next to it and offers prayer and ‘free hugs’ on the street as a visible pictures of God’s grace. Though still evangelism, this is different enough to be classed as a new and pioneering step beyond Alpha and other process evangelism courses.
b) An old thing in a new way. An example of this is the story of a group of Christians who started running an Alpha course on their train as they commuted to work – an old thing, but done in this way would still be classified as ‘pioneering’.
c) An old thing in a new place. For many of us Alpha is very familiar, even safe, now. But in a church that has never conceived of eating together or of inviting friends to explore the Christian faith, the Alpha course may appear to be a daring and ground-breaking initiative.
(3) Pioneers are Risk-Takers
Risk is normative for a pioneer’s life and ministry. This may not mean literally risking death – in the English context this is fairly unlikely. However it does mean taking the risk of stepping into the unknown, risking rejection from Christians who view you as a ‘crazy radical’, rejection from friends as you seek to share the gospel with them, risk of failing as an inevitable part of trying new things and so on. Taking risks doesn’t mean not feeling fear. We will only be completely fearless when love has been made perfect in us. But, it does mean facing fear and overcoming it step by step as we move outwards in obedience to Christ and his call, for the sake of God’s fame and the extension of His Kingdom’s reign.