Home > Lessons in School, Theological Reflections > Biblical and Theological Rationale for Pioneer Ministry

Biblical and Theological Rationale for Pioneer Ministry

This is one of my assignments but it explains much of my thinking around pioneer ministries. I thought I’d share it as it gives people in my life a little understanding of what I’m up to and why. The more I learn and involve myself in pioneer ministries, the more I realize that this is who I am. The other day, I mentioned to one of my professors that throughout my entire life I’ve been told that I am great at starting things, but not so good with finishing them. Her response was that that is common with church planters. We get bored easily and need to do new things. That is how we work. I feel like my entire life has been redeemed!

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Introduction

The Christian church is no longer the centre of society. Formerly churched people seem only tangentially connected with the Christian tradition if at all. People increasingly describe themselves as ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ Toronto boasts of multiculturalism which allows its inhabitants to keep their culture and religions and so there are increasing groups of people for whom the Christian story has never been a part of their lives. Many people would not consider walking into the doors of a church, let alone see a need for salvation and following Christ. Consequently, churches of all denominations face potential closure if they continue to be church in the way they always have been. Churches need to ask what God is doing in their neighbourhoods and cultural context and how He might be calling them to participate in what He is doing. They will need to ask themselves if God is calling them to do something different, or to do church in a new way. These are not new questions. Christians in every culture throughout history have discerned what it means to follow God in their lives and to be His representatives in the world.

Still, these questions tend to make many people nervous that we are diluting or changing the message of the Gospel by appealing to consumeristic whims instead preserving costly faithfulness. We do not need to look far to provide examples of where this has occurred. However, costly faithfulness might require the church to consider how they can live the Gospel in the world. Moreover, we may need to step outside of our comfort zone to follow a God who is constantly meeting people where they are at to love, heal and redeem them.

In this paper, I will provide a biblical and theological justification for pioneer ministries which seek to partner with God in the work that He is already doing in our midst. Pioneer ministries are an extension of the work of the Triune God throughout Scripture, the history of the Christian church and what God seems to be doing today.

What are Pioneer Ministries?

Pioneer ministries take seriously the call to spread the Gospel with people who do not know God’s love or their own need for God. As the name suggests, they often carry the risks and uncertainty that accompanies the journey to a new land, with new people, climates, and situations. Yet, these ministries recognize that the foreign lands are in our own backyards, starting with our neighbours. They require listening to the needs and culture of the people around us and to what God is already doing. They take seriously the understanding that many of these people will not attend the church as we know it. Moreover, they take seriously the importance of building relationships in which the love of Christ can be modelled and shared.

Pioneer ministries are often experiments that enable us to meet our neighbours and get to know them. As church attendance dwindles, this step becomes even more important in sharing the Gospel. We need to “come alongside our neighbours – we pay attention, we work, we eat, we converse, we cry, we laugh, we hope.” Pioneer ministries will strive to meet in and/or create ‘third spaces’ – spaces in which people gather that are not where they work/study and, in many cases, are not people’s homes. Therefore, these ministries may meet in cafes, or host a youth or family event. Vipperman writes:

Christ-centered community for the unchurched is built on genuine love and care for one another. Our prayer and faithful hope is that the friendships that are forged are intentional and we learn what care might mean for each individual who visit […] We won’t have the opportunity to care for our neighbours unless we know them.

Pioneer ministries provide the context in which the love of God can be experienced and discussed, thus distinguishing them from secular social clubs.Moreover, they seek to provide for emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs in the neighbourhood, thus providing a more holistic and distinctly Christian approach to social justice.

Pioneer Ministries are Rooted in the Triune God

Pioneer ministries must be  rooted in the Triune God throughout Scripture and the history of the Christian Church. Branson writes, “If God is living and active, then church life, including church planting, should attend to discerning God’s initiatives and context […]it requires that we engage the living Trinity now, on the ground, in the mission that is around us and ahead of us.” It is therefore important to begin with the character of this triune God.

Triune God as Love

The Triune God is a God of Love. This love is unconditional, all-encompassing and eternal. This love is embodied in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. God’s love is present throughout the whole Biblical story. Some examples include: He carefully designs and delights in His creation; God leads His people out of Egypt, comforts the downtrodden and cares for the vulnerable; and continuously interacts with humanity despite our waywardness.

Bowen claims that God’s Kingdom is “the state of affairs where the Creator’s love is expressed in everything, overcoming evil and creating wholeness.” Pioneer ministries are an extension of God’s love as they seek to care and love for the people whom God has placed around us. They seek to be the arms and feet of God’s love in the world by finding opportunities to meet and bless others who do not already know God’s.  Again, Bowen writes, “God has a heart for those who do not know the Gospel in the cities across our land. God longs for us to have the same heart.” If we are to be messengers of God’s love, we must strive to demonstrate God’s love in all that we say and do.

Triune God as Missionary

The Triune God is the Great Missionary whose heart is moved and directed by His great love to save His people and to heal their brokenness and waywardness. Throughout Scripture, we see God making the first move to meet people where they are at and draw them back to Him. God is very much concerned with redeeming all the nations from the time of Abraham to the present. Bowen draws on this aspect of God to root pioneer ministries: “in one sense, the job of the church is always the same: to follow the lead of our missionary God and to put our energies into the things that God cares about,”

Pioneer ministries are tasked with discerning God’s missionary heart for the people in our midst. Bowen writes, “God does not send us into areas where he is not already present and at work. our task is simply to recognize God’s presence and to join with him in that work.” This might lead us to care for populations whom we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. We need to ask ourselves who are in the margins of society and learn to care for the people whom Christ cares about.

Triune God as Innovator

Some people are uncomfortable with ‘newness’ and doing church in a ‘new way.’ Pioneer ministry are inherently risky as we venture to meet people who are different from us and who may not think, act or believe as we do. Yet, God has begun new and risky ventures throughout history. Bowen is worth quoting at length:

The God of Christian tradition is the God of new things: a new covenant, a new birth, a new commandment, new wine in new wineskins, and ultimately a new creation. Of course, this is not newness for the sake of novelty: this is newness in the supreme cause of God’s mission in Jesus Christ to renew “All things”. Undoing the effects of sin and evil inevitably means change and newness. The mission of God is never static, always moving forward.

While God is the great innovator who seeks to bring each person throughout cultures and history into His Kingdom, His new actions will be “recognizable as the authentic work of God because it resonates with what God has done in the past.” The call to follow Christ was radically different than the pharisaic preservation of holiness could even begin to imagine; Christ ate and drank with sinners while claiming to have the authority and identity of God Almighty. Yet, Christ’s coming was foretold by the prophets and was consistent with God’s character.

Triune God as Commissioner

Quite amazingly, God continues to use humanity – and in particular, His people – to be the vehicle in which the Gospel is spread. Branson writes, “biblical narratives repeatedly tell of the risk God takes in not shaping humans like robots, and even though we are often wayward, God refuses to reduce us to commodities or targets.” He is the great Commissioner who sends His people into the lands to embody and share the reconciling love of God. Christ prepares and teaches His disciples for carrying out His mission after His death and resurrection. The Spirit equips people with gifts that are needed for the building up of the Kingdom.

Following God’s Call

Pioneer ministries are one way in which the church can follow this Triune God in the world today. The church looks for new opportunities to partner with God to love and share the Gospel with a broken and hurting world. Moynagh summarizes this call:

The church is called through the Spirit to live the story of Jesus, at the centre of which is his death and resurrection. It does this whenever it takes up the cross in evangelism, sacrificial service and in its corporate life. The church is to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom in its Jesus-centred life […] As a foretaste, the church mediates the future to the world.

Evangelism in pioneer ministries is as simple as sharing what is important to us. We share our encounters with God with friends, just as we might share what we did on the weekend.

Yes – But are pioneer ministries ‘church’?

Very few dedicated Christians would venture to claim that pioneer ministries are not good in and of themselves. That is, Christians should care for their neighbours, provide for their needs and be witnesses of God’s love in the world. The question that seems to be on people’s minds, however, is whether we can call these ministries ‘church.’ This is an important question and needs to be a part of visioning throughout the birth and life of a new ministry. In this section, I will argue that pioneer ministries are infact ‘church’ if they seek to foster relationship in the following way: relationship with God, with the world around us, with each other, and with the whole Church of God. Bowen rightly claims: “The church itself is people, the congregation, the community – people who are committed to the Gospel of who God is, and to the mission of God’s love in the world.”

Relationship with the Triune God

Pioneer ministries must be primarily concerned with their relationship with the Triune God. As members are rooted in the character of God, they will respond to God’s love through prayer, reading Scripture and surrendering their lives to this Triune God. At the beginning stages of pioneer ministries, this will likely be seen in the lives of the core members who have already committed themselves to God. As the ministries enfold, others will be drawn to the love of God and will begin to seek how they too can love God and live according to His ways in the context of their own lives and their commitment to the ministry of the Church.

Relationship with the World

Pioneer ministries will embody God’s love for the world through meeting social, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of those around them. Bowen claims, “unless the church is the servant of God’s work, it has little reason to exist.” As our culture moves further away from Christianity, we will need to start with the social, emotional and physical needs. This might take the form of a community meal that shows radical hospitality to people who cannot afford good healthy food, or it might provide a conversational drop-in for people who are new to the English language. The focus will be on building relationships out of which the opportunity might arise to speak of God’s love. Moynagh writes, “being a fellowship of love, the church commends the purpose for which it exists.”

Relationship with other Christians

Pioneer ministries will provide opportunities for regular gathering of Christians to be fed by God’s word, to pray together and to be encouraged by one another. Pioneer ministries have the potential to build deeper relationships because they begin out of a desire to have close enough relationships in which God’s love can be transformative and healing. As the ministry matures, it will need to balance the opportunities to connect with discipleship.

Relationship with the Whole Church

Pioneer ministries will be connected to the “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” throughout the world and history. Its practices will be consistent with and shaped by those which Christians have carried out throughout time. This is key as it provides accountability that independent communities lack. Moreover, these practices will be reminders that this new and risky venture is surrounded and supported by the communion of saints, both present and past.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Church must continually discern what God is already doing in our midst and partner with Him. This might require us to start a pioneer ministry which seeks to meet our neighbours and build relationships through which Christ’s love can be experienced. Pioneer ministries are rooted in the character of the Triune God who is a loving missionary who meets them where they are at and commissions His people to do the same. Pioneer ministries are churches in themselves as they embody relationships with God, the world, other Christians and to the Church proper.

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