What’s a pioneer anyway?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)
These verses illuminate what we mean when we talk about pioneering leaders, pioneering ministry and pioneer communities. A pioneer is the first person to try or start something new. They’re an explorer, an innovator, a creator. Often, a person of this sort is termed ‘entrepreneurial’. But that sort of business jargon is too limiting.
Dave Male directs the Center for Pioneer Learning at Ridley Hall Theological College in Cambridge, England where he trains pioneering seminarians who aspire to make the development and leadership of fresh expressions of church their primary ministry focus. He also recruits and trains pioneering Christian leaders both lay and ordained across the UK.
He notes that pioneering Christian leaders have a heart for those who are outside the church. They—like Jesus—are willing to break the boundaries that keep people far from God.
Pioneers are initiators. They have a natural gifting for starting things. As a child, they started a toy drive. As a youth, they started a new club at school. In adulthood, they always have several new projects going on top of their paying jobs. They’re always inviting others to join in the fun. If others don’t join, that’s okay. The pioneering leader has more ideas before breakfast than most people have all day—and they’re willing to keep taking risks to implement their ideas.
Never satisfied with the way things are, pioneers are constantly pushing into new territory. They’re willing to ask why. Unless properly directed, they can be a thorn in the side of a pastor or an institutional chief. When properly released, they can offer the creative initiative necessary to renew institutions and tap into new places and people the pastor or institutional chief has never thought of before.
The Fresh Expressions Pioneer Learning Community offers training and guidance for people with the gift of pioneering who want to start fresh expressions of church. The format is flexible and tailored to the needs and the context of the leaders in the group.
Our latest learning community brings together a theologically diverse group of pioneering leaders from from Alabama, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia who share a common mission, “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.