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British Baptists Train “Pioneers” to Rethink Church

Last month, the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) launched “Equipped to Pioneer,” a new training pathway for Baptists exploring different ways of doing church.
It has been created in response to a growing need for Christians of all denominations to imaginatively re-engage with mission in the U.K. and start fresh expressions of church, which more authentically reflect our radically changing culture.

A partner in providing modules on the new course is the Church Mission Society (CMS), which set up its own training program for pioneers three years ago. Since then, more than 60 students have engaged with the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course in some way.

It is incredibly flexible so it fits around and complements ministerial responsibilities.

Participants can choose modules that cover traditional components of theological study, such as the Old and New Testaments, church history and doctrine as well as specialist options, such as missional entrepreneurship and mission in contemporary society.

However, all subjects are taught by experienced practitioners through the lens of cross-cultural mission.

The course leader is Jonny Baker. “It has been a real privilege to teach and encourage those with the gift of pioneering,” he says. “It is often an uncomfortable gift and one that the church doesn’t always recognize, yet if we are to re-articulate the gospel in ways that resonate in our post-modern context we have to empower and release them.”

Students from Regent’s Park College in Oxford have been the first to access selected modules on the CMS course.

Emma Nash, designated an evangelist and, until recently, working with Church from Scratch in Southend, said of her experience of the pioneer training offered by CMS, “The pioneer course has been fantastic for me. … I have struggled for a long time to understand whether or not I am called to be a pioneer, and what that means.”

“Coming to CMS and studying alongside other pioneers has really clarified things for me,” she said. “Now I understand why I am so often the awkward one, the pain in the rear – God made me that way. He has called me to be a pain in the rear for Him!”

This seems to be a common experience for pioneers. They can be identified by a discontentment with the way things are and will not be afraid to ask the difficult questions that those in authority would rather they didn’t. However, all organizations must adapt to new circumstances or die.

Gerald Arbuckle in his book “Refounding the Church” describes pioneers or dissenters as “dreamers who do.”

“Pioneers don’t just criticize from the sidelines,” Baker said. “They are activists who see exciting and creative possibilities in God. Yet they need the right support and direction to harness their potential so they can be relevant in reframing the gospel and faithful in re-imagining the traditions of the church.”

Sue Steer is another Baptist training with CMS. Based in Hinckley, Leicestershire, she is an example of just such a dissenter.

She says of her pioneering, “It used to drive me bonkers that the church premises sat mostly empty during the day; it seemed such a terrible waste of the buildings God entrusted us with.

“So I did some research into community needs, came to the conclusion we needed to refurbish the rooms, raised loads of money and then opened as a community center,” Steer said.

“Now we are there being the hands and feet of Jesus, which can mean anything from letting someone have a shower and giving them a food parcel to providing a place to play for kids, cleaning someone’s house as well as teaching a granddad how to use Skype so he can speak to his granddaughter in Australia.

“Lately, I’ve come to believe that we just have to do ‘God in the moment,” she said, “taking the opportunity to share whatever you have with the person in front of you. I suppose if I defined my mission, it would be ‘love thy neighbor.’

“The course has given me so much confidence in what I’m doing … being exposed to a wide variety of ways of doing mission has been a great resource to draw from,” she said. “Finally getting to know so many great people and hearing about the way they work out their faith has been pretty marvelous, too.”

It is exciting that the Baptist Union of Great Britain is now recognizing the unique gift that pioneers like Sue and Emma are to the denomination and has created the means for equipping and releasing them to share God’s love and hope in the community’s where they serve.

If you would like to find out more, contact the Incarnate Network or visit the BUGB website. You, too, could redirect your holy discontentment into a God inspired vision for the future.

Andrea Campanale is a mission partner with CMS. A version of this column first appeared in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.