Pioneering cant just be the youthworker/minister, it needs to be a whole church approach.

One of the my most read articles this year was based on Brian Mclarens research and highly circulated piece on why pastors leave the church, building on this, i put together this piece on ‘why do youth workers leave the church’ – a link to this piece is here:   Brians piece recounts how a Pastor meets head on the culture and organisational structure of a church, and finds it wanting when it comes to mission. Some of the story is below:

As a leader in the church I feel I am expected to be silent and non-opinionated on these issues.  Ironic.  When I look to the life of Jesus religion seems to have been low on his list of cares other than to challenge the religious elite of the day.  Jesus cared about people who were on the margins, He cared about the list of things that I feel I cannot talk about as a leader of the church. So how do I passionately follow Jesus and ignore the very work that defined his ministry?

McClaren says; Clarke, and many like her, are being drained of passion by the relentless focus on religious trivia and the relentless avoidance of issues that matter morally – and in terms of human survival.

When I watch the news, I feel passion.  When I hang out with kids who are struggling with great questions for which I have no great answers, I feel passion.  When I see someone searching to find their place in the world, I feel deep passion, when I see people trying to understand one another despite their differences, I feel deep passion.  When I see young people starting a recycling campaign or a stop bullying campaign, I feel deep passion.  I went to school to become a leader in the church because I somehow believed the church would be the platform from which I could work alongside a community of people to engage these areas of passion. I think I was naive. 

For, there is no doubt whatsoever, none at all, that the desperate passion that a youth worker feels for young people spurs them on within ministry. There is often no doubt that it is one of the key reasons for them being a youthworker in the first place, That same passion of the hurting, passion to help those with questions, passion to help them find place in the world, and to challenge the status quo’s that are barriers to young people being included, accepted and thriving.  McClaren contrasts the danger of Mission and the Safety within church saying: “Worship is safe, service projects are safe, Bible study is safe, talking about bulletin size is safe.  I don’t think passion is ever found in the safe and I don’t think important change comes from there either and so we have become passionless and barren.”

It has become popular to employ the dynamic , pioneering Minister, or youthworker. The above example is ‘just a pastor’ let alone a pioneer. It has become equally as popular to hope that they might be able to work alone. That the church who employs them might not change its ways. Often this complete change of working ways becomes too much of a challenge, becoming frustration on both sides. The pioneer finds a home in the margins. Finds God in the margins. The church often prides itself as the epicentre of God, and the destination of mission. The pioneer might contest this. The pioneer goes and finds, the church can often wait.

A suggestion might be that the pioneer goes off and begins faith communities outside of the church. For that is where they might feel at home, and also where the people they do faith with also do.  Unsurprisingly. And developing pioneering churches from scratch is popular. It is also fraught with challenges (often from the inherited church about their validity).  But for many it feels the only option. And there are some excellent projects, communities across the UK doing this. They are inspirational.

But I also love the church, i think, and there are some good people in the church, and there might be many who, with some training, thought and renewing of the mind, might actually find adopting pioneering a refreshing and positive one.

So the question remains – what happens to the ‘existing church’ – is its only destination a gradual decline – (outside of the university city) when it might only rely on its own families to stick around – can a whole church become a pioneering one? – and what might that look like?  Even the churches who employ or have pioneer youth/ministers – does that lead to ‘whole church’ pioneering? Though it is unlikely an existing church is going to undergo a pioneering process without one- or a pioneering spirit within it. I wonder might it be possible for the inherited church – ‘the old dog’ to learn – new tricks? 

Because, in the main – if a church was even inclined to employ a pioneer worker – would they be open that this became a whole church approach to faith, to discipleship, to community, to ‘the margins and the centre’ – to an understanding of faith as mission, and also what inclusivity, love and worship might be – in a pioneering way. And – if a local church is unable to conceive of being pioneering alone – then maybe it has to be adopted as a process across whole denominations, affiliations and diocese. So that it is not an alone task – but brought about through cultural change. If Youth Ministry and its worship orientated ecclesiology can change the church in 40-50 years, and it has,  – then a pioneering approach- to potentially save the church – needs to be implemented alot sooner.

Instead churches, it feels, have become about efficiency. Efficiency isnt about Goodness, Mission and Risk taking. Its consolidation and value for money. There’s no point employing one person to be the sole risk taker in a local church – though by all means give it a try. Whole churches, that’s entire congregations, need to begin a task of pioneering. Churches already sign up to a number of ‘certifications’ whether its hygiene, or health and safety – but what might a certification of pioneering look like? – and how might pioneering, birthing ‘new’  life/faith/community – be facilitated in a church that is an existing church so that it has a pioneering mission ongoing intention in its way of being. Can that happen when a church has got set in its ways?

Can pioneers find a ‘home’ for pioneering in an existing church that also embraces pioneering?  probably. Until then, the pioneer might find be ploughing alone in a church – or finding the fertile soil in the community having to do this at a churches arms length. This isnt sustainable. Whole churches and denominations are as tasked with mission, risk taking and developing faith in communities as the pioneer is.

FYT are offering to be a home for Pioneer Youthworkers. And that is great, because often pioneers dont fit in other places, in the church or in structures. Helping to guide churches to stop, think and do different things to focus solely on the mission that might be required in every local context. Pioneering Mission needs to be rooted in the systems, cultures and practices of the existing churches. Its not quite as brutal as pioneer or die, but a form of death to the old may be required.



Moynagh, M Church for every context, 2010

Passmore, R Here be Dragons, 2013

To discover more about Frontier Youth Trust, especially if you’d consider yourself a pioneer and need a home, for support, learning and community – see 

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