One of the current buzz words in the Church of England is “pioneer” ministry. The idea of being a pioneer minister is to create new ways of doing church which meets the needs of “unchurched” people and so to create new church cultures, whilst aiming to stick to the truth of the word of the Lord. One local example of a pioneer ministry was the church which Evan Cockshaw started, called the West Bromwich Network Church, which Andy Morgan also led before being called to ordained ministry. The idea of pioneer ministry has really captured the imagination of our Church of England’s leadership. There is now a special selection stream for pioneer ordinands and new college courses which separate out the pioneers and offer different training from ordinary vicars.
This distinction between pioneer and ordinary ministers is both helpful and unhelpful. It is helpful because it recognises the need for us to keep making the gospel and church meaningful to a new generation. It is unhelpful because it stops ordinary ministers in ordinary churches thinking that they are pioneers. In our secular culture, where Christianity has been almost completely whitewashed from recent history, all ministers today must be pioneers. God has brought us, quite suddenly, to a place where it is not enough to stick to old patterns and ways of doing church.
This is why I have found the sermon series in the book of Acts so helpful. Acts is so relevant to us as a church today. Before he ascended to the throne of God, Jesus commissioned his disciples to become apostles, which means they stopped being Jesus’ learners and started taking the word of the Lord to the ends of the earth. We’ve seen that the word of the Lord is unstoppable. In Acts 6:7 Luke tells us that “The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” In Acts 11:1 we are told that “the apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had received the word of God.” Acts 12:24 “The word of God continued to spread.” and so it goes on. Jesus has always challenged his people to do pioneer ministry, making disciples who will then make other disciples until the gospel has reached the ends of the earth.
The church in the UK was once a great mission focused church. There was an emphasis on church planting as well as taking the gospel overseas. The amazing result of that work is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is flourishing overseas today. Amanda and I were really encouraged by a chat she had on the phone this month. The phone line into the vicarage died after breakfast one morning and so Amanda called British Telecom from her mobile to investigate. At the end of the call, the customer service bloke in India asked, “is there anything else I can do to help you today?” Amanda said “I have a bible study to prepare for tomorrow, do you think you could do that for me?” The man said “New Testament or Old Testament? I am a new Christian, baptised 6 years ago, in the Punjab, I was at a gospel concert last night, I read Psalm 26 in my bible time this morning and I will be going to a bible study tomorrow night.” The word of the Lord is unstoppable.
That word of the Lord will continue to spread around the world, God has promised that it will. We can and should pray for that spread, but we must also continue to pioneer gospel ministry in West Bromwich. As we prepare for A Passion for Life, we must keep the vision statement in mind, to see bible study leaders trained and equipped to run small groups and a group on every street in the parish. It will be by pioneering bible study and prayer all over the parish that the word of the Lord will continue it’s unstoppable progress. And what about the old model of church? What about Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings? We should focus on them as we always have. The Word of the Lord says “do not stop meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Hebrews 10:25. Sunday services are the place where those who love Christ can gather once a week to praise God and to hear his word. This style of meeting might seem ordinary to pioneers, but it is a vital part of the rhythm of Christian life.
With love, Neil