Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Some Thoughts On The Pioneer Spectrum


I’ve been reflecting on the Pioneer Spectrum for as long as it has been around. And I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about it for a good while. In fact I’ve written three separate 1000 word pieces about it. While it’s been on my mind for some time, there have been some prompts on social media that have got me thinking and wanting to write about the subject again. What follows is a half-hearted, ranty, mumbling bunch of words as I try to articulate something quite quickly.

Also, it’s worth noting that this post has lots of links to other things, if you click the links and your computer is eaten up by a virus, oops, don’t blame me, I can neither confirm nor deny the safety of links used below!

So firstly, what is the Pioneer Spectrum? You can read about it here:

It’s been formulated by two folk in the pioneering world whose work I have found really helpful, Tina Hodgett and Paul Bradbury. Basically, for me, the pioneer spectrum enables a deeper and more focused approach to defining what we mean when we say, ‘pioneer ministry’. The spectrum identifies / articulates the range of pioneering from pioneer replicators to pioneer activists. To find out more you should just read the article from CMS.

I really like the pioneer spectrum but I have one concern about it that articulates itself, as a pragmatic thing and a philosophical thing and both these aspects have bubbled up in social media lately which has prompted me to spend sixty minutes hashing out some thoughts here.



But first, what I really like about the pioneer spectrum, is that as a pioneer, who has worked in different pioneer contexts I have found the spectrum really helpful in enabling me to put a name to the type of pioneering or pioneer context I’ve been working in. I think the pioneer spectrum offers a solid foundation on which to build some really solid theological work and I look forward to seeing what responses emerge from it in the future.

In a previous pioneer post I was working in the fringier fringe of things and when held up against the pioneer spectrum I could see that my role was very firmly a pioneer innovator role / context and that my work was very much at the periphery and pushing further and further into the liminal. The idea of cultural distance used by Hodgett and Bradbury in this way was a lightning rod for me.

My current pioneer role, whilst still being a ‘pioneer innovator’ role is probably more connected to a ‘pioneer adaptor’ role/context.

I’ve rushed my explanation here, but basically, the previous pioneer role I mentioned would (on the diagram) firmly sit within the third and fourth (from left) circles. Whereas my current role sits more closely with the second and third circles (from left). Again, while to the observer (especially given the brevity of my explanation) that might not mean much, but to me, recognising this was a really helpful thing for me to work through some of the ways my two separate roles compared and to reflect on my own way of working.



Okay, so my question about the pioneer spectrum is the inclusion of the first circle on the left, church planting / church replicators. I see such differences between church planting and pioneering that I find them utterly other to each other. And I suppose this is where my current impetus for hurriedly writing this has come from. There has been a whole blog/twitter/facebook thing going on, prompted by some tweets and a Giles Fraser blog post: In response Paul Bradbury wrote a responding blog post

There have been some great facebook and twitter threads/what-nots about this, Pete Ward, Paul Bradbury, Heather Cracknell in particular.

The reason the Fraser piece has led me to finally put a blog post up about this is the way he very loosely holds pioneering, FX and church planting together as some kind of gluttonous blob of neo-liberalism where for me, his critique/diatribe stands up better in response to church planting and not well at all with contextual, grassroots, ground-up, fresh expressions and pioneering. On a facebook thread somewhere Rev Edward Green wrote something along the lines of his parish context having more in common and working with same principles as a grassroots fx very much unlike a finance heavy church plant.

So, to my two specific concerns about the pioneer spectrum containing churchplanting. As I’ve said, other versions of this blog, drafted however long ago mention a few more concerns, but over my extended reflections I’ve found that my two key concerns have risen up above the rest. And they were there long before the recent soc med blog hum-dingers but both concerns seem to have currency in the current conversation.



The first, the PRAGMATIC one: I have seen the pioneer spectrum weaponised to direct funding for pioneering into church planting. I won’t say more than that about it. Though Giles Fraser’s concerns about asset-stripping make an interesting companion piece to this concern.

But it’s not just the funding. I’ve seen the pioneer spectrum used to legitimise church planting as a form of pioneering. I’ve been in meetings with hierarchy where the pioneer spectrum has basically been used to justify a way of looking at church planting and pioneering as basically the same thing. And you might read this and say, “so what”? I’ve always held church planting and pioneering separately due to methodology etc.

Now, if you take a look the jobs section of the church Times it is always interesting. You sometimes see jobs for pioneer ministers that are actually more like jobs for associate ministers. Very rarely do you see jobs for “church planters”. Often it feels like the words get used interchangeably. The New Wine Network used to link church planting and pioneering, they may still do.

I’m conscious of the potential tensions for people working in these posts and the interchanging vocab being unhelpful. If you were a grassroots pioneer and you went for a pioneer role but that role turned out to be more of an associate minister role there may well be tensions. I’ve seen this played out with friends. If you went into a pioneer role but what the church really wanted was a church replicator there could be tensions if you came in with a contextual, ground-up methodology/approach.

In this rush my pragmatic concern is really a pragmatic concern about the methodologies of church planting and pioneering. For me, they are different, one is primarily shaped by the context and the outcome is not yet known, one is primarily shaped by an existing ecclesiology and while elements of the thing that emerges may look different to suit the context, the primary, central shape of it will hold to particular patterns of ecclesiology, working and methodology.

If I establish a grassroots, ground up, contextual, shaped by listening ecclesial community I won’t know what the thing will look like.

If I establish a top-down replicating church plant there are many things that will perhaps be a given, a style of worship shaped by the planting church/organisation, the use of particular Christian basics courses. While there may well be contextual responses that emerge to engage with local issues.

There could be all sorts to add about the driving mentality of both church planting and pioneering. We could talk about the idea of emerging, of organic, of slow, of neighbourhood, of colonialism, lots of stuff I’m not getting into here.

My hope is that what is clear is that I see them as different beings working in different ways. Now as it happens, I like the grass roots, ground up fx model more than the top-down church plant model (yes simplified). In fact I have some real concerns about the church planting model, but that’s not for here.



All this leads me to my second concern about the inclusion of church planting in the pioneer spectrum. This is more of a PHILOSOPHICAL concern and it resonates with the current soc-med blog post stuff. This concern is a teleological one so it has some overlap with what I’ve written in the bit up there, specifically with methodology. But it’s the crux of the matter.

Church planting and pioneering are teleologically different. Here’s a fun little video about teleology

Here’s what the google dictionary thingy (with definitions from Oxford Languages) says about teleology: ‘the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise.’

What is it for? What is its end? What is its finality?

Well, we could say that church planting and pioneering end with new churches. So, straight forward…

Yet the pioneer spectrum has as its fifth from the left circle, Pioneer activists might never start a church community, and yet their pioneering work is distinct and important. As the CMS article points out (and I think it’s Paul Bradbury writing):

‘There are also those we call ‘pioneer activists’, whose gift and vocation is to shape place in ways that seek to align a community, network or industry with the values of the Kingdom. Seeing themselves as missionaries, but without the express intention of planting a church, these pioneers are nevertheless creating highly innovative Kingdom responses to the pressing issues of our communities. Theirs is an important vocation which deserves recognition and support.’

I’ve added the bold type to the extract from

Pioneer activists might never have ‘the express intention of planting a church’, yet this work is pioneering. This might seem a pedantic point but I think teleology is a really important aspect of this. If there is a clear understanding of what is expected “it is known” (church planting) or “who knows” (pioneering) then at least there’s a working methodology and some expectations to hold on to.

Now, I recognise that if my concern is teleological I could have drawn a line here and said, church planting to pioneer innovators is one thing, pioneer activists is another.

But instead, if there is a line to be drawn, I’m splitting the first circle on the left - church replicators up from the rest.

And the reason I do, is teleological and methodological: if the questions are, What is it for? What is its end? What is its finality? With church replicators it feels like there is a clear answer.

Teleologically church planting is there to replicate churches (recognising different models do this differently and that each model may make space for contextual ministries within a wider replicated ecclesiology).

The rest of the pioneer spectrum, pioneer adaptors, pioneer innovators, pioneer activists, don’t (or at least shouldn’t) know what the outcome will be, what it will look like. Because what the thing will look like will be shaped by context, listening, the journey of formation, perhaps even the fresh expressions journey!

Now some ‘pioneer jobs’ do say what they think the thing will look like, though thankfully we see less of those.

What might be helpful to think about is the image of mineral formation stalactites and stalagmites (though there is a flaw in the analogy – but hey it’s my blog, so I’ll use it anyway)

Here’s a website that talks about stalactites and stalagmites.

According to Britannica, Stalactites hang down like icicles. Whereas stalagmites rise up from the floor.

The flaw in the analogy being that the drips all come from the top down no matter what forms, though perhaps the drips could represent the church resources / or inclination for something to happen.

I see church planting as the formation of stalactites, they are top down, shaped from above. Pioneering is more like stalagmites rising up from the ground.

Yes, as I’ve said, the analogy doesn’t really work. Maybe think of the drips as the agency of the Spirit?

Going back to teleology –  and the Google dictionary definition: ‘the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise.’

Church planting and pioneering may have drastically different purposes to serve and the finality may well be very different. Our understanding of the finality of each is interesting.

With a replicating church plant the end for which it exists is replication. Bradbury and Hodgett do recognise the risk of this:

“There are also contexts in which replication is applicable, where a context is seen to be sufficiently comparable so that a successful model of church can simply be repeated. There is a risk in replication without sufficient reflection on context, or openness to the innovative influence of local culture. Some models by their very nature leave little room for adaptation. They are freighted heavily with the culture of those leading it and may struggle to engage deeply in cultures disconnected from inherited forms of church. We term the leaders of such initiatives ‘church replicators’.”

It’s ‘end’ is to replicate what exists elsewhere.

Whereas with pioneering the ‘end’ will very much be shaped by the process of listening, discerning, of letting the context speak…

Going back to teleology –  and the Google dictionary definition: ‘the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise.’

The teleological ‘end’ of pioneering is unknowable by a clearly defined outcome. If there is to be a clearly identified teleological outcome for pioneering, perhaps it would be something more like this grab from the CMS post: ‘a broader range of ways of being church than those we have already imagined and begun to see emerging.’ Or a ground-up, grassroots movement.

Perhaps pioneering itself is more shaped by the (according to Google dictionary thing again) ‘the cause by which they arise’ rather than the, ‘purpose they serve.’ There is definitely more to explore here.

So, after 2000+ words of mumbly rants, in summary:

·         I find the pioneer spectrum helpful

·         I’m not sure of the inclusion of church planting in the pioneer spectrum for pragmatic reasons

·         I’m not sure of the inclusion of church planting in the pioneer spectrum for philosophical reasons.

·         The conversation feels current given Giles Fraser’s writings about a ‘Neo-Liberal Revolution’ in the Church

Friday, 17 April 2020

An Imagined Future

I've also been exploring a vision for 'An Imagined Future' and revisiting it every day to see how it might emerge and develop

Socially Distant

I should have updated my blog to say that I've got a new freely downloadable booklet of poems, prayers and postures available from Proost (CLICK HERE)

It's a set of tings to help in the mdist of these Covid times and was written over two days back in March.


In the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic I've been exploring design. Simple images that can be printed at home and have something to say. Something about recognising the darkness of these times and also holding to the truth the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Exhausted From Sorrow - A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Luke 22:45-46 (NIV)
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

The disciples are found sleeping. Jesus finds the disciples sleeping and I wonder what Jesus made of the situation. Was he disappointed or angry when he said, “Why are you sleeping?” Was he in disbelief, unable to comprehend how they could sleep in the midst of this horror? Was he aware of their frailty, their tendency to drift? Was that what prompted him to state, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”? And again, was he angry when he said it?

Or was Jesus aware of just how much this small group had already given? After all, they’d left families and jobs to follow him, and now they are here. They’ve journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem and they’ve witnessed so much. They’ve seen him teach and walk around the city. And this very evening they have eaten with Jesus as he has shared of himself, spoke again of a death to follow.

And now? Now they find themselves in a garden at night while their beloved friend and leader withdraws again to pray alone again. There role in the garden has been to watch, to hold back and to pray that they might not fall into temptation. And in this moment Jesus has found them, ‘exhausted from sorrow’.

These disciples, so utterly torn apart by sorrow that all they have left is sleep. For some, they have already seen their dreams die. The walk into Jerusalem and the days that have followed have shown to them that this Jesus that they serve is not the man who will overthrow the powers. There will be no worldly revolution.

For others, they have been tasked with keeping watch by their closest friend, a friend who has already informed them that he will die. Just what are they watching for? Why are they still here? What is the point of this show?

No wonder they are ‘exhausted from sorrow.’ What else could be expected? Here they are, making their last journey with a friend. If this was today, they might be preparing to see the life support machine turned off, to see the ventilator shut down, to watch the doctor’s scrubs be removed. They have been told to “keep watch” while the hospital bed is wheeled frantically into ICU, a scramble of doctors and nurses easing the passage of the bed into the crowded ward.

The unspoken pain of this scene is the journey of the days counted down to get to this point. To move from a cough and temperature, to the need to rest, to a call to the doctors, to a test, to a panic as it seems the disease is taking hold, to an ambulance journey perhaps, to a stay on a ward, to a movement to intensive care, to a point where it seems life is ebbing away.

To a realisation that the journey is coming to an end.

The disciples are, ‘exhausted from sorrow.’ Sorrow for what has been, sorrow for what is happening, and sorrow for what lies ahead.

The disciples’ lament is not verbalised, it is not a spoken prayer. Their lament is one which will lead to the drawing of swords, but one that ultimately finds its truest expression in a bodily collapse. In which the heart, soul, mind and strength have reached a uniformity of exhaustion and that all that remains is the quiet abyss of exhausted sleep.

As we journey through Holy Week each year, we journey with Jesus towards the cross. We witness the excitement of Palm Sunday, the fury of the temple and the terror of the cross. This year, in the heart of this pandemic, perhaps we are called to journey with those who accompany Jesus. To journey with and as the disciples as they walk from joy to terror and finally into exhaustion.

At my ordination as a priest the Bishop of Birkenhead gave all the assembled deacons a copy of some words from Richard Baxter. These words quietly sit in a black frame in my study: they are present as I try to live out my vocation.

They read,

“Keep me O Lord, while I tarry on this earth, in a serious seeking after you, and in an affectionate walking with you, every day of my life; that when you come, I may be found not hiding my talent, nor serving the flesh, nor yet asleep with my lamp unfurnished, but waiting and longing for you.”

Baxter writes of not wanting to be found asleep with his lamp unfurnished - clear references to the return of the bridegroom.  But while we are always waiting for the bridegroom to return, perhaps, in this moment, we should not worry too much about letting our talents be hidden if our well-being requires it of us. And perhaps at least a bit of, ‘serving the flesh’ might be okay in this moment?

While we may soon want to revisit Baxter’s words, perhaps in this moment, we too may lie down as the disciples did, ‘exhausted from sorrow.’

Monday, 30 March 2020

breathe - an experimental poetic reflection on Covid 19

your breath - the act of breathing. of inhaling life-giving air. the air that keeps the blood flowing heart pumping life living. the air you need to be you to be filled and fulfilled. the act of breathing - breathing life - corrupted contorted - virus soaking - droplets - particles - corrupting breathing in. virus breathing out carbon dioxide. virus. breathe breathing out carbon dioxide virus climate carbon change dioxide covid breathing breathe in. breathe out. breathe in. breath in. breath out. oxygen in. carbon dioxide out. oxygen in. carbon dioxide out. covid in. covid out. the fresh air. life. breath - breathe virus in and virus out. escape to nature. clean air. oxygen breathe in. breathe out. breath in. breath out - but covid - breathing - corrupting. portion of self. life-giving breath in. life-taking breath out. silent breath. silent breathe. breathing turns to silence. silence covid - whispers. breathing non-breathe. non-life. death. breath. no breathe. more death. no death. more breath. covid arts of breathing. simple act.
all the time. nothing to do. be self. dream. find inspiration. if inspiration can be. found - maybe not. too much. much of too much. this pain. breaking. pausing. too much time - or - not enough time. social isolation /socially distant / key-worker / vital part - necessity. too tired. hardly sleeping. pressure. worry. at home hardly sleeping. socially distant. isolated. no money. rent due. no food. no money to pay for no food. how to pause. how to rest - even what is rest - even know rest - even find rest - even be rest - even embody rest - pause / sabbath / breath. to Sabbath rest - is that - pause. lay down - take up. stuff down. rest up. how to rest. is rest pause - is pause rest - is pause breathing - is pause living - no pause no rest - no pause no breathing - no pause no rest - no pause no life / breathing - rest. same. breathing - pause. same. breathing pause - rest -rest sabbath. what even is sabbath. pause is sabbath. pause is rest. rest is breath. take breath in. breathe in covid. breathe out rest of the rest. of the rest - all rest all breathe in covid. covid not rest. rest no covid. pause covid. covid cause pause.
a gap. space to do - not ever - never - not never - usual / reflection - reflect on / what resting - reflection. reflection as rest. rest in reflection - work reflection - reflection work / act of thought - and pause - time / reflection requires time. pause. patience. breathe in. breathe out. breath in. pause. breath out. pause. hold it / take and decipher. pause. reflect. instinctive - learned - earned - assimilated - reflection. growing / moving / reflection. too reflective. too reflexive. onwards. never back - always onwards. new ways. old ways gone. new ways from old. reflection leading forward. to new things. old things - new ways - new old things. changes - disciplines / disciplined / patterned - shaped - shape-able / from what was - to - what will be. new thing from old. new learning - from - old learning. new listening - to context / content / each other / the silent ones - voicing silence - making silence heard. renewing. renewal. renewed. from what was. breathe in. breathe out. reflect. pause. hold breath. hold the breath. hold this breath. fill the lungs. covid in. covid out. hold covid. be covid. reflect. reject covid.
hear of covid. fear covid. read of covid. fear of covid. breathe in - aware of covid. breathe out - aware of covid. covid in the morning. covid in the night. covid on the screens. and covid on the screens. covid when the button is pressed. covid on the button. covid in thoughts. covid in eyes. covid in ears. covid in mouth. covid in memory. covid in mind. covid on hands. covid on hands on hands. covid corrupting. covid completing. no rest with covid - no rest from covid / no rest for covid. must rest. from this - must rest. from that - this/that / they / them. rest. rest. rest. take a breath - breathe in covid - breathe out covid. each breath covid. each rest covid. each moment covid. covid on the screen. covid on the screen. covid in the speakers. covid in the ears. not rest from covid. covid no rest / rest. no. covid. rest. read. hear. write. watch. think. feel. reflect. pause. breathe. covid - covid covid. how to rest / how rest from / how rest with / why rest from / when rest how / how rest why / why rest why / covid. this. covid. that. covid. rest from covid. rest in houses. houses in covid. covid in houses.
breathe in. breathe out. pause. rest. stop. breath in / breath out/ rest now. covid. strikes - dawns - whispers - speaks - scares - touches nerves / covid nerves. covid dreams. covid nerve dreams. dream covid nerves - to dream / to sleep. to sleep / to breathe. to breathe / to pause. pause - to dream. rest - to pause. breathe - to rest / sleep reflect / sleep covid free. rest free. covid free. free dream. dream covid free. free covid dream. eyes closing dream. eyes closed dream. eyes closed / mind wakes - mind awakes - mind awake. fear in mind. mind in fear. dream afraid. afraid to dream. afraid of dream. dream of covid. dream of family. covid family - family covid. dream of reflection. reflection of pause. no rest. no dream. no covid. no reflection. family / dream covid / then covid / now covid / when covid. dream covid. awake covid. over stimulate covid. covid over stimulate / over covid / covid over/ covid covers / covid blankets / covid entombs - entombed covid - entombed by covid - entombed with covid - just a dream covid. just a covid dream. covid dream. dream without rest covid - without peace covid. dream become nightmare - become reality - become dream - become covid. covid.
awake covid. awake from covid. cease from sleep ceasing sleep - sleep / ceasing sleep / sleep ceasing / all of everything / ceasing / all of everything / covid / breathe in. breathe out. hold breath. hold covid. covid holds breathe - in - out - covid. hold breath covid. covid holds breath. covid ceasing breath. covid ceasing rest. covid ceasing dreams. dreams of ceasing covid - covid ceasing - dreams of covid ceasing / ceased / to be ceased / to cease -covid unwinding. resting. spooling. breath - spooling. rest -spooling. breath - spooling. breathe in spooling / no rest / spooling / spooling no rest - ceasing rest - covid / breathe in / breathe out - breathed in - breathed out / flow in covid - flow out covid. covid in heart. covid in mind. covid in mouth. covid on hand. covid on mind. heart on covid. covid in dreams. dreams of covid rest. covid. rest from dreams covid. reflect on ceasing covid. ceased covid. no covid. cease covid - your - my - our covid. no ones covid / whose covid - their covid - cease covid. sleep covid. sleep. sleep - dream. sleep cease covid. sleep ceases. ceases sleep / covid. cease all things - covid. covid ceasing things. resting / things / dreaming / things - ceasing covid. covid cease. everything cease.
stay with me. breathe in. covid. breathe out. covid. collective breath / in covid / out covid. hold breath. hold breathe. no cease. stay breath. breath stay. stay to breathe covid. stay to rest. rest to stay. reflect to rest. stay to reflect. stay to breathe. breathe in / breathe out - breath in / breath out - covid no stay - rest from covid / covid no stay. we stay. free from covid. safe from covid. apart from covid. apart from others. covid with others. others with covid. covid from a distance. stay a distance. distance stayed. stay distant. distant stay / social stay / distant socially - socially distant / from covid / from others covid / from others. rest from covid. pause from covid. breathe in not covid. breathe out not covid. not - covid / not covid / no covid. free breath / from covid / free from covid. stay away covid. covid stay away - from people - covid / stay away from people. stay away from covid. stay away from covid people. stay away from you. you stay away from you. you and you - stay free from you and you - you and stay free from covid / and you stay / together - apart covid. stay away covid. stay away social. stay away. stay away / cease - away / away cease from others / away stay / away - stay.
alone covid. breathe in. breathe out. breath in. pause. rest. breath out rest. breathe in - rest. pause. reflect. breath out - pause - reflect. alone from covid. hope free of covid. hope of no covid. hope of breath free from covid. covid free from hopes. covid - covid hopes for breath / covid longs for breath / covid seeking breath covid - viral covid covid viral hopes. your viral hopes. your covid hopes. free of covid - hope / hope of free of covid. covid hopes - free of covid - hopeless covid hopes. no hopes with covid. covid has no hope - covid no hope. reflect on hope. rest in hope. sleep in hope. dream of hope. hope for dream. dream of hope breath. breathe in hope - dream. breathe out hope - dream. no covid no covid. dream of hope. dream of no covid. hope of no covid. covid no hope. hope knows no covid - covid has no hope. does covid hope. hopes of covid - what - why - virus - grow virus . hope virus - mutate virus. no covid hope. hope no covid - breathe in - no covid / breathe out no covid - breath in - hope - hold hope - breath out - hope. covid no hope / hope no covid. covid no rest. no hope in rest covid. no covid / dream of hope / pause rest / breathe in pause / rest hope / breathe out pause / rest / hope.
hope with covid. hope from covid. free from covid. free from covid. hope to be free from covid / hope and dream / free from covid / reflect on hope of free from covid - calm - breathe in - calm - breathe out - calm. calm. breathe in. breathe out. pause. rest. reflect. hope. dream. covid hope. free of covid dream. calm covid. calm breath. breathe in calm. breathe out calm. breathe in calm / breathe out calm. breathe in rest / breathe out rest. breathe in hope / breathe out hope. breathe out rest. rest from covid. rest from reflection/ reflection of rest. rest from ears / rest from eyes /rest from mind / rest from heart / calm mind - calm head - calm mind - calm mind calm mind calm heart calm heart - calm / calm / calm / calm. breathe in. pause. breathe out pause. pause / pause / pause - from pause - for rest / calm. calm. calm. be calm / be free. free of covid. be calm. be free. free of covid. free to dream. dream free. dream rest. dream pause. dream of. dream of /dream of - calm. calm rest pause. breathe in calm rest pause. dream out calm rest pause. breathe out - breathe in - breathe out - calm pause breathe in breathe out hope calm - calm peace hope for peace. calm from hope. calm. breathe in. calm. breathe out. calm.