The Pioneer Gift: Explorations in mission
Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross, editors
Canterbury Press £22.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £19.99
THE PIONEER GIFT presents a spiritually potent and
tough-minded approach to mission in contemporary UK and European
society. Twelve contributors write from a variety of theological
commitments and give honest accounts of their local experiences.
They offer no single formula or technique for the flourishing and
mission of churches.
Eschewing a capitalist and consumerist church culture, Cathy
Ross recalls Jesus's own pathway of emptiness and vulnerability.
Karlie Allaway's poem "Cold loneliness" succinctly articulates
Christian life as being crocheted "back into the larger warmth of
beautiful unfinished communion". In his commendation, the Bishop of
Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, summarises: "these are
missionaries on the move, thinking, praying and working hard to
discern the way of Christ and walk in it."
Each chapter offers a different facet of the
cross-denominational and creative discovery by pioneering ministers
of authentic responses to God's mission in the world. The densely
packed book is threaded with reflection on scripture. For example,
how does the account of Gamaliel in Acts 5 help us to accept that
established churches take time to appraise emerging newness? And
when does Gamaliel himself need to move on from waiting, challenged
urgently to recognise the Spirit at work? Or how far does the
"plucking up and pulling down" of Jeremiah challenge churches
today, beset by disheartening narratives, to recognise signs of
prophetic reimagination and renewal?
The breathtaking pace of the writing often just hints at the
theological, philosophical, and anthropological work of thinkers
and practitioners across a wide spectrum. There is a deep wisdom
throughout the book in seeking to hold together inherited patterns
of church practice with innova- tion. I was particularly struck by
Gerald Arbuckle's essay exploring "myth" as the crucial stories for
which people will give their lives. Notable, too, is the final
piece, by Kim Hartshorne, which embeds this vital strand of
prophetic writ-ing in the sacramental, liturgical, and
Kingdom-focused nature of the Church. "I speak out and fight about
the drains because I believe in the Incarnation" (Robert
One of the underlying questions is "What narratives are the
churches telling about God and about themselves today?" Grief for
what seems to be lost walks alongside slow, patient experiment in
being church rooted in honest relationships and in seeking
liberation for the poorest.
I thoroughly commend these accessible and vital chapters for
study by all kinds of leadership teams and groups. The editors
promise that more will be forthcoming.
I am, however, left with a nagging question about the
relationship between leaders and led. How will passionate pioneers,
like passionate clergy before them, avoid the trap of being so far
ahead that others are left behind? Some committed believers today
say that they have no problem believing in God, but have given up
on the way they are invited to be church.
The so-called "de-churched", previously dedicated and active
leaders in their congregations, have done with passivity and
listening to celebrity pastors. When faithful Christians are
fatigued by being stifled rather than invited to playful
participation, an urgent question emerges for missionaries. How can
pioneer ministers give full attention to fostering pioneer
Canon Robin Greenwood is William Leech Research Fellow at St
John's College, Durham.