Dreamers who do (Jonny Baker)

Jonny BakerJonny Baker looks for the dreamers who do.

I am really looking forward to being at the Break Out Pioneer Gathering in September. I confess I missed it last year because my life was in chaos getting ready to start our brand new CMS pioneer training course. And, as ever with these things, I was chasing my tail.

But, 12 months down the line, we have had a fantastic first year with pioneers, learning loads about how to support them and develop training that is really equipping them for practical pioneer ministry in a variety of contexts. I have personally been challenged and inspired myself in all sorts of ways; it's been a mutual learning.

One of the many things that has been exciting with our community of students – and something about which I hadn't expected to find quite such an emphasis – is the amount we have talked about imagination and I would say prophetic imagination. This has been so strong that I have started to think what we might have on our hands is a community of prophets.

In saying that, I am hesitant to use the word prophet as – depending on the circles you move in – it can have some ‘baggage’ and would you take anyone seriously who said they were a prophet?! But at CMS we have been really thinking hard about Jesus the prophet and prophetic mission – in fact this whole notion is stirring us up quite considerably.

We need people who operate out of a prophetic imagination to call us into an alternative future

At a time when there is so much challenge and change in the church and culture, we most definitely need people who see and call us to live differently, who operate out of a prophetic imagination to call us into an alternative future. So, as a speaker at Break Out, expect me to be musing on imagination and prophets. And try not to think too hard about what tends to happen to prophets.

John Taylor calls mission 'an adventure of the imagination', which I absolutely love as everything that exists that is new must have been imagined first. It seems such an underrated gift. One of the phrases I came across recently for those who bring newness in this way was 'Dreamers who do', which I love as well. And if I'm going to talk about this, I guess I'd better have some poems, movies, ritual, music and photography to connect beyond just the rational or logical parts of our souls and minds and hearts.

There have been a couple of pieces of research recently into the experience of pioneers and pioneers in training. One from the Church of England’s Ministry Division and one by Beth Keith on behalf of Fresh Expressions. Both are excellent and sobering at the same time. Beth's was conducted through a series of small group gatherings of pioneers round the country. The information has then been collated into a series of themes raising a number of points and offering some recommendations.

So I'll also try and connect into some of those challenges and themes – though in many ways I suspect they are telling us what we already know! But it's nice to have some research to confirm your hunches. See you in September?

A way forward for selecting and training pioneers (Jonny Baker)

Jonny BakerJonny Baker seeks a way forward for selecting and training pioneers in an extract from his blog.

as a result of the recommendations of the church of england report mission-shaped church two changes were introduced around leadership. one was that a new criteria for selection around mission was introduced (phew – how was that not there before?!). and secondly a new designation for ordination was introduced – ordained pioneer ministry. this was to recognise that the current challenges in the church and encouragement for newness would require different kinds of leadership. the pastor/teacher sort of leader is probably the one that has been recognised the most with people trained to lead parish churches. but starting something from nothing, reaching new communities, developing new projects, working beyond the edges of the church and so on is something that requires a different kind of person and gift/skill set. pioneer is the term that has been settled on. it's been in place 3 or 4 years now and colleges and regional courses have got in the mix to varying degrees offering training to ordained pioneers. there is currently a review of how that is going. i think it's not news to say that it has been mixed – institutions that have been geared to training parish priests for years and years have not found it easy to rethink how training might work for pioneers. and there is also a challenge around recruiting and recognising this sort of a person/potential. it's early days of course and it's amazing that an institution that has as much history and weight as the church of england has adapted so quickly.

i guess you can see where i am leading with all this. cms has been involved for 200 years or so training pioneers in mission (who in years gone by have helped birth two thirds of what is now the anglican communion! and in recent years are connected with lots of indigenous mission movements round the world). so we have been speaking with ministry division of the church of england about the possibility of getting involved in the mix of training pioneers. this has been met with great enthusiasm – so much so that i confess i have been completely amazed. they are now working with us to help us become a normative pathway for training ordained pioneers along with other colleges and courses. and yes yours truly has the lead at the cms end on this. it's a big task ahead and i am both daunted and excited at the prospect.

the training for pioneers will actually not be solely focused on ordained pioneers which i personally think is really healthy. we train people in mission anyway and have pieces like resource in place that we will use as modules of the training. so ordained pioneers will be in the mix with other mission leaders.

the training we do will be totally geared to pioneering in mission with creativity and imagination and will be shaped with and by pioneers rather than pioneering as an add on to existing training for being a parish priest

the other piece that is pretty interesting is selection. again we are working with ministry division to see how we can work with them to develop processes of selection. we already have good and thorough processes for selecting people in mission so adding the pioneer selection in the mix is part of the new challenge and then integrating how that works with the church of england. because we are an ecclesial community with a visiting bishop it means we can engage in this in new ways we think/hope/expect!

lots to be worked out, huge challenges ahead, plenty of change and opportunity. i can't give you the exact shape of the training, a curriculum, a prospectus or even a full process yet. i don't want to nail it down too quickly as i think we need to be as creative and imaginative as possible at this stage. but i can promise that the training we do will be totally geared to pioneering in mission with creativity and imagination and will be shaped with and by pioneers rather than pioneering as an add on to existing training for being a parish priest (priest plus as it's been called in certain circles). if you have thoughts, ideas, interest, wisdom, connections let me know. if you are a pioneer or thinking of doing that be a guinea pig with us!

An encouraging blog (Jonny Baker)

Jonny Baker concludes a recent blog with this heartwarming sentence: 'it's very encouraging'. What is he encouraged by?

Jonny BakerJonny writes: 'i sometimes get asked about the relationship between fresh expressions and emerging church. it's all part of the wider change in response to mission in postmodern cultures. fresh expressions is the anglican/methodist initiative. emerging church was the name given to the earlier experiments at the edges that was not denominational that inspired the c of e to write mission shaped church. the edges are blurred and it's not really that important. i know of very few other mainline denominations around the world that have been so prepared to pave the way for newness in response to the changing mission context. it's very encouraging.'

Jonny's blog is in response to the announcement that the Fresh Expressions initiative is to continue for a further period of five years. The Rt Revd Graham Cray, currently the Bishop of Maidstone, is to be the next Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team. The Methodist Connexional Missioner for Fresh Expressions is to be the Revd Stephen Lindridge, currently Evangelism Enabler in the Newcastle District.

Jesus my bulldozer! (Jonny Baker)

Jonny Baker explores what Missio Africanus has to say to Fresh Expressions.

Ever since reading Vincent Donovan's Christianity Rediscovered in the late 1970s I have been fascinated by the challenge of mission across cultures. The book tells of mission amongst the Masai in Africa and the quest to share Jesus in such a way as to grow a Masai expression of Christianity rather than impose a Western one.

It is a book which has inspired many, myself included, to address the same challenge to reach people in our own communities. Thirty years ago, a group of my then fellow youthworkers looked at how we could we share Jesus in a way that would lead to expressions of church, what we now call fresh expressions, in those cultures – rather than expecting people to 'buy into' the imposed church culture.

Three decades on and I continue in the quest; the latest iteration being the training of pioneers at CMS. After all this time, two things never cease to amaze me:

  • the inspiring and creative things pioneers are doing;
  • the difficulty the church still seems to have with things that are different.

Since Donovan's work, African Christianity has seen an explosion of growth, with the heartlands of the Christian faith now most definitely located in Africa (and China and Latin America) rather than Europe. That growth has been accompanied by the development of African contextual theologies and spiritualities as they have sought to find their own voice and shake off the Western clothes that Jesus was initially wrapped in.

There has also been considerable migration in the last 20 years so that, in Britain, there are now many fast growing and replicating African churches that are part of the blessed reflex – i.e. a mission movement back in the direction of Europe. At CMS in Oxford, we recently heard more of what is happening from a gathering of African leaders working under the umbrella of the innovative Missio Africanus mission movement.

It was an absolute treat to hear respected African theologian John Mbiti who has sought to connect faith with indigenous African spirituality and religion. He told how he has been exploring African answers to the question 'Who is Jesus?'. Developing an African Christology is an exciting process of the naming of Jesus in people's own languages as related to their lives and communities. They locate Jesus in the African setting; he is at home with them rather than sounding like he belongs elsewhere. Together they exude a deep love for who Jesus is and he is at the heart of their Christianity, present with – and in – them.

Mbiti says,

This is not an ecclesiastically formulated Christology of any institutional church. It is a spontaneous Christology, a collective Christology, a mass Christology, a lay persons' Christology, a Christology in the fields, in the streets, in the villages, in the Christian homes, in the shops and schools… It is a lived and living Christology of African Christianity. It is literally infectious and self-propagating!

Some of the names of Jesus are ones we would recognise – 'door', 'king', 'path', 'hiding place'. Others come as more of a surprise, such as a name that translates as 'put down your load and have something to eat' and one that Mbiti expanded upon, Jesus the Bulldozer. This came from a group of charismatic Catholic Christians in a prison in Benin who had an intriguing song that included the lines 'bulldoze the lawyer, bulldoze the judge, Jesus is my bulldozer!'

Harvey Kwiyani is the man behind Missio Africanus and he is generating a conversation about African Christianity in the West. Unusually in my experience, he is at home both in the Western missional conversation and in the African diaspora churches. His recent book Sent Forth explores this challenge of African mission in the West. The questions of culture and translation and migration in mission are huge. Many African churches initially recreate the culture of Ghana or Nigeria in the churches in the UK and rapidly attract those like them but struggle to reach their Western neighbours. Missio Africanus is helping them read British culture and reflect on cross-cultural mission from Africa to Britain.

I hope and pray we will be seeing fresh expressions of African churches as they seek to follow the beckoning of the Spirit into the future. I suspect they will also be reading Christianity Rediscovered to help them share Jesus in a way that connects with the contexts they are in rather than imposing African cultures!

Having been encouraged in my initial ventures into mission by Donovan's story, I find I am now being inspired and challenged in new ways by:

  • stories of mission and African Christianity. The thought that our faith is essentially a migrant faith has blown me away and made me reimagine who I am, who God is and what mission is. I think the challenge to do local theology that expresses questions such as 'who is Jesus?' is exciting and one that we in the West – and in fresh expressions – have not engaged with in anything like the depth we could. Our inherited and systematic theologies with the 'right answers' weigh us down more than we know. Is it time for some more risky theologising, for a lay persons' Christology, a Christology in our communities?
  • the love for Jesus that is at the heart of African Christianity – where he is at home with them and among them.
  • the call to join in the mission challenge that Missio Africanus is exploring together rather than apart so that we build communities of faith that are missional and multi-cultural. The mission challenges of our times never stay still!

Jonny Baker is mission education director for Church Mission Society and heads up the pioneer mission leadership training programme. See also www.missionafricanus.org.

Five things I’ve learned (Jonny Baker)

Jonny BakerJonny Baker shares five things he's learned from the first couple of years of developing Pioneer Mission Leadership Training.

It's been an absolute blast – exhausting, exciting and challenging in equal measure. CMS asked me to develop Pioneer Mission Leadership Training as a pathway for equipping both lay and ordained pioneers and we have now just begun the third year – which means all our modules will be up and running. That has included starting an MA and the first intake of those training for ordained pioneer ministry. Here are five things I've learned since it all got off the ground.

1. 'Not fitting in' is a wonderful gift

People who come as pioneers bring an amazing gift. I have come to call it 'the gift of not fitting in'. It's not that people are awkward; it's just that they see something beyond the status quo or business as usual in the church. Every culture or organisation or church needs this if it is to have a future and not get stuck. And every church needs this if it is to be missional and move out of its comfort zone. We have discovered that the gift is multifaceted and each pioneer has a unique shape and calling. Things go best when they develop some self awareness and minister out of who they are rather than someone else's expectation of what a pioneer might be. The gift comes in some combination or remix of apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic in the Ephesians list of ministries. We have also discovered it's not age or gender or culture specific, exclusively lay or ordained – it's simply given and received.

2. 'Why not?' and 'what if?' are at the heart of pioneering

Imagination is essential if we want to discover genuine newness and move in mission to places beyond where we currently are. When we set out I didn't expect that we would talk so much about seeing and about imagination. This seeing involves grief over the way things are and where we have got stuck, and dreaming of new worlds and communities that are possible. It says 'why not?' and 'what if?' rather than 'why?' and 'what for?'.

We have also discovered that seeing differently has a cost. What seems visible and obvious to pioneers is often seen as irritating, troublesome, a pain and something to be resisted by those with vested interests in the way things are. For this reason, pioneering ministry tends to flourish when there is somebody within the structures and systems of the diocese or equivalent who is also able to imagine things differently – who 'gets it'. They are then able to create the space for the new to flourish and interpret it back to others.

3. The church says it wants pioneers but…

This has been the hardest thing to bear. In many places the church is saying loud and clear that we need pioneers, which is great and true and I'm sure it is genuine. Pioneers then respond and often take risks in the process. But it sometimes turns out that perhaps the church didn't quite mean what it said, or there are some big 'buts'. In other places it is clear she's not interested in pioneers at all –  some dioceses still don't recognise pioneer ministry or they suggest that everyone is a pioneer and allocate no resources while their DDOs do their best to steer people away from pioneer ministry as a vocation. We have shed tears, expressed frustration, prayed a lot, and reflected that every journey to the new in the bible – and probably elsewhere – involves going through darkness, letting go, or experiencing wilderness on the way. It's unavoidable.

It seems that the kind of pioneering understood most readily by the wider church involves an outcome that looks something like what we have already; namely a community of disciples with worship, singing, preaching and money being paid back into the centre – preferably all happening within a very short space of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with that as an outcome but there are two things to say about it:

  • it takes time – five to seven years seems to be the experienced wisdom on this;
  • part of the challenge the church faces is that the forms of church, or the way we do church is cultural so to pioneer in a new space and community will require an imaginative approach that is able to let go some of the old shape, structure and culture in order to allow something new and indigenous to be born. Outcomes will be important but often this journey in mission involves quite a period of discernment of where God is at work, exploration on the way to the new and surprises. Fruit sometimes comes in places you didn't begin to look.

The pressure that is brought to bear in measurement and counting what's happening too early creates undue and unfair pressure. I genuinely don't know what to do about this challenge. I have wished on many occasions I could fix things for pioneers in incredibly difficult scenarios but I can't – we don't have the power, or the resources. I can't see this going away any time soon and if anyone can offer us wisdom here I would welcome it. There are exceptions to this but the difficult scenarios still far outweigh the good ones. A major part of the issue is resources and I think there's much more thinking and work to be done on how we might resource pioneering mission.

At CMS, we are training pioneers in contextual mission and contextual church. It is how those in mission have thought about this for decades and why the CofE originally asked CMS to get involved – due to our experience in cross cultural mission. It's also become the paradigm within which Fresh Expressions articulates what is going on and what is needed and it was the recommendation for the lens required in Mission-shaped Church.

4. Pioneers thrive in community

The magic in what we have been doing is generated by the people in the room – the learning community of pioneers. It's so fantastic to get people who are pioneering sharing together what they are doing and learning and thinking. I have learned so much from them and been so challenged myself in terms of my own faith and life of mission. We are in a very unique position in this in that our pioneers are not an isolated one or two in a wider community of learners which seems to be the case in many other places. We are all about pioneering mission. The second thing about community that I have become much more strongly convinced of than ever before is that pioneers should connect into a mission community on a long term basis, (a sodality if you like mission jargon).

Mission communities or 'spread out' religious communities such as CMS, the Franciscans, Jesuits, Church Army, the Incarnate Network, etc are those whose charism is prophetic mission. There's a recovery of some old wisdom here in that it's been this structure within the church that has best nurtured and helped this gift of pioneering mission flourish down the centuries.

I honestly think that if I was leading a diocese (don't worry, it's not going to happen!) I would invite the likes of CMS to connect with pioneers in the diocese and link them into a mission community and make a CMS appointment to lead it rather than go for a straight diocesan appointment. This requires a bit of a mind shift – probably in the relationship between sodal and modal (modal is the mission jargon for the local gathered structure like a diocese) and how they could work well together. Amazingly this is exactly the mind shift that our local RTP (Regional Training Partnership) has had in appointing a regional hub co-ordinator for pioneers to be located with us at CMS – and so create a pioneering hub in the region. This has been both a surprise and a great gift in the wider area.

5. We're still only at the start of something

It has been remarkable this year to have three year groups simultaneously filling the CMS café area at lunch time on Tuesdays. There's a real buzz. But we haven't even had a group of students go through the course fully yet so it's very early days for us still. We have a growing sense of excitement that, as we hoped would happen, locating pioneer ministry training within CMS as a mission community will really produce some great fruit: genuine new mission endeavours, contextual Christian churches and communities, and a really supportive context for pioneers in the long term. We shall see!

But I sense that this statement is also true for the wider church – it's early days and we need courage to hold on to the vision of pioneer ministry and to talk and think together creatively and honestly about this gift within the ministries of the church – how we discern, encourage, release, resource and support it into the future. Visit the CMS pioneer website or read the CMS annual report to find out more.