Craig Williams

Identifying Pioneers in Your Midst

A few months ago we encouraged the members of our established congregation to not come to services on Sunday morning but instead to go into the community to listen and observe what others were doing on that day of the week. We encouraged them to engage in conversations, soliciting people’s opinions and observations about the community they live in.

One of our members was out getting his paper from the driveway on that day and because he didn’t have to be at church early his neighbor saw him and said, “So you’re not abandoning us this morning!”

Our member said, “What do you mean?” The neighbor replied, “Most of us in the neighborhood kind of hang out and share a cup of coffee and have a time to catch up. You and your family are always getting in your car and abandoning the neighborhood, choosing church instead. What’s different today?”

Are we extracting ourselves?

Very often and unwittingly we, as some have suggested, “extract” people from the world they live and work in to be involved in church. We ask them to shift allegiance from one community to the other. We assist them in replacing their friendships and social activities with people at church.

There are lots of reasons for this, few of them good. Mostly it’s because we feel better when people participate in what we’re doing – it validates our choices.

But what happens is we realize as leaders we don’t have people in our congregations sharing their joy with others outside the walls of church. Then we embark on a program to un-train those who have joined us, encouraging them to reach out beyond the church family and we discover they don’t have friendships “out there” any longer.

A fresh expression pioneer is someone who, despite our best efforts, maintains a balance of friendships both in and out of church. They exemplify what Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:18 “All this has been the work of God. He has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has enlisted us in this ministry of reconciliation.” We are not reconciled for our own sake, but for the sake of those around us.

A pioneer will live out these easily observable characteristics:

  • They develop and maintain friendships with those outside of church.
  • What does this look like? These people will often choose not to be at church functions in order to be with friends. Like the story above, maybe they are people who hang out with neighbors from time to time on a Sunday instead of driving off to church. Pioneers will have deep friendship with those who don’t believe as they do.
  • They have an ability to read the context of their life and community and find appropriate ways to communicate the gospel in those contexts.
  • Pioneers will have a natural tendency to listen first and speak later. Listening and observing what is really going on around them is critical for the pioneer. It’s only when they are informed that they will know how to approach others.
  • They have an ability to connect with those outside of the established church to seek the Shalom of the City for the greater good of their neighbors.
  • A good friend noticed that the neighborhood he had moved into was exceptionally “green” – seeking to be environmentally sensitive to issues of recycling and the like. He joined the “Green Team” of his community as a way to exercise his own beliefs of being a good steward of God’s earth as well as affirming the values in his neighbors.

If you are in leadership trying to identify pioneers you might be asking:

  • Who do I know that has solid and healthy friendships in and out of church life?
  • Who seems to be able to move freely between church culture and everything else?
  • Who do I know that shows a keen awareness of the community and its concerns?
  • Who do I know that has seen a need and decided to jump in, not just talk about it?
  • Who do I know who is making the world a better place by their actions?
  • Who do I know where the intersections of the world’s needs and God’s grace meet?

Remember, past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. Some of these things may not be fully realized in someone’s life, but you will see indicators of healthy missional behavior showing up, if even in small ways.



Craig Williams

Craig Williams

Craig has worked in the arena of fresh expressions of church for over 25 years. He was the organizing pastor of Trabuco Presbyterian Church of the PCUSA and pastored that congregation in Southern California for 19 years. Since, Craig has served the PCUSA both regionally (in the Pacific Northwest) and nationally (as Catalyst for 1001 New Worshiping Communities in the Western States). Craig developed a process for assessing potential church planting leadership, Discerning Missional Leadership and has assessed hundreds of individuals who have expressed interest in new expressions of church. He also helped develop the PCUSA’s national coaches network and was one of the authors of “Starting New Worshiping Communities: A Discernment Process”. Craig continues to coach and mentor those engaged in starting new work. Craig has recently accepted a new call as Pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Thousand Oaks, CA. He says it’s time to assist an inherited congregation with embracing a mixed economy of Church for a changing context. Craig has his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary.


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