What is a pioneer minister? (Hannah Smith)

Hannah Smith asks, what is a pioneer minister?

Hannah SmithIf I had a pound for every person who has asked me what a pioneer minister is, I'd be rich. If I had another pound for every different definition of a pioneer minister that I've heard, I'd probably have enough money to fund the 50 or so training for Ordained Pioneer Ministry in the Church of England.

So what is a pioneer? Well I got selected as one. I am training as an OPM (Ordained Pioneer Minister) at St Mellitus' College, the new college in London which has a particular stream aimed at training pioneers.

I chose the 'pioneer track' as it was suggested to me by my DDO, although I agonised about whether I was 'pioneering enough' or 'too pioneering' for the role, depending on who I spoke to. The selectors at my BAP had some awareness of what being a pioneer might entail, but to be honest, I do not think that they had a clearer idea than I did.

Since starting training, I have been ruminating about the heady mix on the St Mellitus 'pioneer course'. It is a mixed mode course and we have a number of people who seem to have started fresh expressions of church without really knowing what that is; there are people who are interested in inherited church planting (planting traditional forms of church in new areas); and there are people who are off the map pioneers, with experience and theology to back them up. Thrown into the mix are a number of 'parish' ordinands who are sometimes more pioneering than the pioneers themselves.

The boundaries aren't clear and no one really knows what we will be asked to do when we leave.

A pioneer is: 'a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others'

There is recognition that different people who have different callings need different training, as, for example, there are different skills needed to plant an inherited church model in comparison with those who are starting a fresh expression with people struggling with addictions.

I think it is important for the first of the Ordained Pioneer Ministers ('pioneering pioneers'!) to remember that the definition of 'pioneer' is 'a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others'. This holds two connotations.

Firstly, that we are pioneering what pioneers are, and therefore we will have to take responsibility for the training and experience that we get; that the courses will be written as we do them.

Secondly, we are opening up new areas for the whole church to occupy and develop. This means that pioneers cannot disconnect themselves from the wider church and just 'do their own thing'. It is of vital importance for the pioneers to be constantly training others, lay and ordained people, in how to live lives of mission and reach out to communities of de-churched and non-churched people who need to see the kingdom in their lives.

Letters home

Letters Home

Letters Home is a new research bulletin produced by The Sheffield Centre and Fresh Expressions. It is a collection of pieces written by pioneers called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church. The first issue looks at the tensions experienced by pioneers as they go, including some discussion of sodal and modal forms of church.

To read the bulletin in full, please download it below.


In recent years we’ve seen various changes rocking the Church. The release of pioneer ministry and the development of fresh expression of Church have created an atmosphere of change and with that, excitement and struggle. For those called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church, to go and be the Church in new ways and…

Learning from Francis

By Hannah Smith. The monastics were the prime movers in mission for the church for its first 1500 years. From China to Asia to Europe, in the roots of the gospel in each geographical space, you find the marks of the monastics again and again. Their tight-knit, hardcore bands would incarnate themselves into a society…

Pioneer as Guest: the return of the Friar

By Simon Sutcliffe. Pioneer is a term which is being used very widely in the Church at present. In talking to various gifted pioneers I have come to see three kinds of pioneering ministries in the Church. Firstly, parish renewal is led by those who feel called to work within inherited modes of church. Secondly…

The parable of the Roving Rock

By Laurence Keith. This story is about a faithful Christian, Fidelis, and a difficult transition in his journey of faith as he takes the risk of stepping out into the ‘post’; into the unknown. There was once a man called Fidelis who built his house on the Rock, by the edge of the sea. Over…

Experiences of pioneers

By Beth Keith. During the last 4 years I have been listening to and collating the stories of pioneers. Whilst pioneering is often referred to as starting something new I have been struck by how common it is for pioneers to experience an initial period of dismantling before new growth occurs. This was evident in…

Remembering the song

By Karlie Allaway. Whilst I have loved reading and thinking about mission I found I got lost at times… Lost in concepts and descriptions of mission. Lost in thinking and reading about all the ways to pray and open ourselves to the grace that transforms us into a sent people, able to bring healing and…

To read these articles in full and comment on them, please download the bulletin below.