There have been countless times in the last four years that I have thought, “I’m crazy! This is crazy! Why are we doing this?”
I don’t feel that way anymore—and it’s because of my experience it in a Pioneer Learning Community!
“These Are My People”
Have you ever been in the middle of something, for example a crowd or a classroom, and you look around and think, “these are my people”? That’s what I experienced as I participated in a Pioneer Learning Community. Having attended my fair share of church planting conferences and seminars, I always walked away excited, but still felt like an outsider, like I didn’t quite belong. More than anything else, as I heard the stories of successes and struggles in fresh expressions of the Church, I felt at home.
It is impossible to write all that I experienced in the Pioneer Learning Community in a single blog post (or it would be so ridiculously long that your eyes would glaze over and you would be inclined to never click on a post of mine again.) However, there are five main things that affirmed what God has been doing in and through the ministry we (my family and I) have been entrusted to lead for the last four years, which we discovered, is a fresh expression of the Church!
Five Lessons God Taught Us Through a Pioneer Learning Community
I’m not crazy alone.
I used to feel crazy. Yet God continues to strengthen and encourage us as we seek to point people to our King and Savior.
We have had struggles, been shocked and hurt, overwhelmed, felt unprepared, and have realized that half the time we feel like we are figuring it out as we go. It was such a joy to hear similar stories from other participants and from those who were teaching and training us. As I shared with JR Briggs that I didn’t feel crazy anymore, he said, “well, you are, but that’s ok.” The reassuring thing is, now I know we’re not alone.
The neighborhood you are in as you read this is most likely markedly different from the one in which I am writing. It may even be different than the one in which you grew up. The workplace I spend my time at is completely different in expectations and etiquette than my wife’s workplace.
The great thing about fresh expressions of the Church is that they can respond and bring the Good News of the Gospel to a particular context, people group, sub group, neighborhood, or workplace with an agility that the long-standing, “Tall Steeple Church” (as Travis Collins calls it,) does not possess. This is not a knock on the Tall Steeple Churches, just an acknowledgment of the reality of the situation. Fresh expressions of the Church need the long-standing church, which brings me to my next thing.
If you have spent any time reading about fresh expressions, or have been to a Vision Day, you most likely have heard the term “Mixed Economy” used frequently. Bishop Graham Cray has used the illustration of the two wings of a bird needed for it to fly. This is referring to fresh expressions of the Church, and long-standing expressions of the Church. A world that is dying for hope needs both. Each expression needs the other. Far from a threat or burden to one another, there is the opportunity to mutually resource, bless, and inform each other. Several stories, including our own, were shared that highlighted this important aspect of the Fresh Expressions movement.
Failure is OK
Really!?! I mean, really!?! Is that really true? So often we balk at something risky for fear of failure, or something has failed and the weight of that is a burden we unnecessarily carry. JR Briggs, author Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, shared several ideas regarding struggles, setbacks, and failure.
The main thing is that it is OK. It means you tried something!
Additionally, often times we are working within a definition of success and failure that is not appropriate for our time and context. As JR says, “how we define success will define us,” and alternately, “how we define failure will define us.” We have had things fail in our context. While it hurts, and we learn from it, we move on free from the label of “failure”.
This really should have been first, in the middle, and at the end. As Travis Collins asked us, “are we well connected to the Holy Spirit?”
In addition to being a member of a Pioneer Learning Community, I also had the opportunity to attend the Fresh Expressions US National Gathering in Alexandria, Virginia. As my team and I travelled back to Kentucky, what we reflected on more than anything else was the evidence of Holy Spirit moving. We heard this from other members of our Pioneer Learning Community as well.
Fresh expressions isn’t the brainchild of some denominational group trying to think of new ways to stave of decline. It is the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts and minds of God’s people, pushing us out the doors, into the neighborhoods and workplaces, no longer satisfied with simply existing, but desiring to be ambassadors of the Kingdom wherever we are!
Try Something Different
I highly encourage you to consider signing yourself and your team to be part of a future Pioneer Learning Community. If you have ever felt that nudge from the Holy Spirit to try something different, something new in your context, you will be blessed beyond measure to find others with a similar heart and passion. You will find your people. You will feel at home. Grace and Peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Upcoming Pioneer Learning Communities
Pioneer Learning Community—Northern Virginia
October 28 @ 12:00 am – October 29 @ 4:00 pm
Pioneer Learning Community – Kentucky Kickoff
November 4 @ 9:00 am – November 5 @ 5:30 pm
Shawn Mickschl is intentionally bivocational, serving as Pastor of House Church Ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church, and as a Server at Copper River Grill. Shawn and his wife Tammy have two girls, and they all love to help people know that God loves them.