Pioneer Practice - tactics, ideas and approaches

The Pioneer Practice webinar series was a joint Church Mission Society and HeartEdge initiative, based on the book of the same name by Jonny Baker.

Recordings of the four sessions are now available on the HeartEdge YouTube and Facebook page.

Each week Jonny was joined by guests working in pioneering ways across the HeartEdge four Cs: congregations, compassion, commerce and culture. Some were in recognised pioneer roles (paid or unpaid), others weren’t. Each week focused on one of the four building blocks of pioneer practice Jonny explores in the book: Be you, See, Build and Change.

Session 1: Be You highlighted how pioneering initiatives begin with the gifts and interests of individuals or a small team. Guests described how a gift for music and an obsession with cars had been the starting point for new types of gatherings. While the word “pioneer” might be associated with rugged resilience, we were reminded how frailty and vulnerability are just as much a part of our unique offering. Participants loved that pioneering often begins with “low level innovation”.

See - session 2 - explored how pioneers see possibilities and new ways of doing things, highlighting the importance of imagination and creativity. While some are particularly gifted in these ways, we can all take steps to see differently, such as taking time to notice, or being around people who challenge our habitual ways of seeing. Jonny introduced the Whack Pack as a way of jolting us into creative thinking.  With a focus on compassion, Anna Hembury, a pioneer in Hull, flagged up the tension between seeing the needs in a neighbourhood and focusing on the treasure and gifts which are also there. She described a shift from “feeling with” (compassion) to “celebrating with” people. And she mentioned the importance of seeing power dynamics and recognising our blindspots in this area.

Build - session 3 - focused on how ideas are turned into reality. This might include gathering technical knowledge, building a team, raising funds, navigating structures or many other things depending on the project. We heard from guests who had built businesses (large and small) and multi-cultural/faith community gathered around hospitality.  This touched on questions of ownership and managing church expectations.  

The final webinar focused on Change and culture (with its different meanings). We heard about an arts project which is engaging with culture in the public space. While trying to make a change in the world, pioneers often find themselves up against the “the powers that be”. Tina Hodgett addressed the challenge of changing the culture in the church, speaking about positive disruption and resisting expectations.

The webinar series introduced us to people doing pioneering in many different ways. The message was never “go and do likewise”. Pioneering focuses on what is going on beyond the church so it is always about local culture and always contextual. Other people’s projects can inspire but are not for replication. Rather by being yourself, seeing what is relevant in your context, and building on that with whatever your project needs, you can be a catalyst for change in your context.

Pioneers are to be welcomed and encouraged as people who can challenge and change church culture. By moving into new spaces outside the church and resisting the pull to the centre they develop things on the edge- working with new people, building new connections and partnerships. They challenge the church to open its doors and step outside into spaces it doesn’t control, to receive the gifts of others, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.