I have spent the past few days with a great bunch of people the church calls pioneers- these are men and women who take risks for the gospel in challenging situations. They spend their time both paid and unpaid in planting churches or establishing fledgling Christian community where the church fears to tread. They get their hands dirty with real people in new or difficult situations, and they are called pioneers because there is no route map or spiritual sat nav to guide them. They may well be inspired by the creed or Christian liturgy but they may not strictly follow it in traditional church terms – instead the focus is on helping people to discover something of the love and grace of Christ where they are, usually outside church walls. This is church that does what is says on the tin- it loves, it shares, it helps and it makes connections. Above all, these fresh expressions of church are relevant.
It has been an exciting, challenging, inspiring and humbling experience as these pioneers shared their stories, laughed together, dreamed dreams together, cried together, prayed together, worshipped together and supported each other. The event was a great success and credit goes to Dave Male and the team for having to courage to step out and organise this inaugural event even when, in his own words, it seemed too difficult and he felt like “bottling it.” In reflecting on the event, these words from Brian D McLaren from his excellent book A New Kind of Christian came to me:
“Now the real issue isn’t an emotional crisis or the stereotypical experience of being saved or born again or of crossing a line and then stopping there. The issue isn’t signing on to a new set of beliefs alone. The issue is following Jesus, joining him in his adventure and mission of saving the world and expressing God’s love. If a person isn’t moving ahead on that journey, then no matter how many aisles he walks down and cards he fills out or sinners prayers he says, whether or not he is going to heaven…there is still no way we can say in any meaningful sense that he is experiencing salvation.”