Editorial: Pioneer ministry and innovation | ANVIL vol 34 issue 3

Welcome to this edition of Anvil, which has as its theme pioneer ministry and innovation. You could argue that innovation and pioneer ministry are, at least in the context of the church, two ways of saying essentially the same thing. Pioneer ministry is the term we use for ministry that is innovative, breaks new ground and challenges the status quo. Perhaps. But for many involved in pioneering, innovation is not so much an objective as a product or consequence of a response to the deeper motivation of a call to mission.

The language and science of innovation is much more deliberate and developed in other fields, such as business and organisational studies. In these fields much is being learned, not just on how to innovate but also how to foster and embed innovation into the culture of any organisation. The church has had a rather difficult relationship with innovation.

Historically it has been suspicious, even violently opposed to innovations that threaten orthodox belief and practice. Innovation has come from the margins, initially discredited or rejected, before finding space to flourish and embed within the wider economy of the church. In a post-Christendom context of dizzyingly rapid change, perhaps we are moving towards a place where dialogue between innovators and those responsible for the traditions of the church is more welcome. In this context, exploring the study of innovation from other fields and asking how they can inform the ministry of the church is important.

This is precisely what Michael Moynagh has turned his attention to recently. His article presents a framework for innovation drawn from the insights of this field of study and explores how this maps on to some examples of pioneer ministry in today’s church.

Innovation of course happens at various levels: at the local but also the organisational. And these two are connected. Often it is the locally generated innovation whose new answer to a question others are asking invokes a wider movement.

In her article Lucy Moore reflects on the incredible story of Messy Church, from its beginnings as a response to issues in her local parish church to the global movement it is today.

Similarly, Katrina Moss tells the story of two innovative ideas that have amplified from dreams to reality, and questions whether we are really embracing the degree of creative and innovative talent latent in the church. Richard Passmore reflects from his experience as a fresh expressions adviser in the Diocese of Carlisle. He explores how space can be given for innovation within an institution of the church, while at the same time enabling that innovation to have a renewing impact on the traditional. And Greg Bakker writes on a vocation within this dynamic that seems increasingly important: pioneer advocacy, the ministry of those called to enable innovation by championing the pioneer in the local and wider institution.

Finally, with reflections from wider society, and from practice, it seemed important to root innovation somehow in the narrative of Scripture. So as something of an innovation for Anvil, I have contributed a reflection on a vision from Ezekiel as a biblical framework for innovation. Our growing emphasis on innovation as a church, of which the growth and development of pioneer ministry is one expression, is a response to a sense of urgency and even crisis. The people of God have been there before – not least in the exile, when the traditional ways of expressing life and faith had to be reinvented.

In this context Ezekiel emerges as a model for innovative leadership, holding together in fiercely realistic hope a vision for the future alongside a responsibility for the tradition. It is from that same place that these articles emerge too, seeking to bring encouragement, insight and energy to the ongoing process of faithful innovation in the life of the church. 

Paul Bradbury is an ordained pioneer minister in the Church of England, based in Poole. He is the leader of Poole Missional Communities which hosts and supports a number of pioneer initiatives and fresh expressions of church. He also works as the South Central RTP pioneer hub coordinator, supporting and advocating for pioneers across the south. His publications included Stepping into Grace (BRF 2016) and Home by Another Route to be published in February 2019.

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