The Deep Waters of Pioneering


Water changes everything.

Aside from enjoying bicycle rides to find tacos with my husband, I am also a swimmer. I love the weightlessness found while gliding across the water. I’m an avid believer that water changes everything at so many levels of life! Anytime I have something I want to figure out, I spend time in the water with it. Some of my most creative work is thought through in the water. On the flip side, there are also times I hit the pool knowing that what I really need to do is put everything aside and focus on just being through each breath.

During a recent lap session, the water around me literally magnified something that my own pioneering soul needed to see. As I was going through the motions of each stroke up and down the lane, it occurred to me that the water was providing a perfect illustration for what this life of being a pioneer really feels like from time to time.

Where the Work Happens

As I moved up and down the lane, anyone watching could see I was moving, however, there would be no way for them to see the real work that was going on to make me move because the real work was happening below the surface of the water.

Just like swimming, when you’re pioneering a Fresh Expression of church, people can’t necessarily see what is happening just below the surface. You may get questions like, “What are you doing?” or “why don’t we see anything?” because what has to happen to start something new is not something that easily visible. There is deep inner work, to ensure you are following God’s will. There are countless prayers and relationships to build. Creating community takes a lot of under-the-water work.

When you’re pioneering a Fresh Expression of church, people can’t necessarily see what is happening just below the surface. Click To Tweet

Where Things are Clear

Another thing I noticed during my laps that day was that I was able to see much clearer under the water than above the water. Yes, I use goggles to protect my eyes. However, this observation reminded me that if I worry too much about trying to make sure everyone above the water sees everything, I’m going to miss what I need to do below the water. I’m going to miss the reward of knowing I reached the end of the lap. My goggles are going to get way too foggy and require me to stop swimming to clean them.

The same thing holds true for pioneering a Fresh Expression of church. If I spend too much time outside of where God is calling me to be or worried about trying to prove what I am doing, my vision gets cloudy, my direction becomes unclear and I can question if I’m really getting anywhere. Not to mention, I miss the opportunity to see all the good that God is doing!

Take a Deep Breath

The other thing I noticed was this: part of the work needed in order for me to get up and down the lane included taking a breath. If I was not intentional about timing my breaths, I would become winded and that does not make for a pleasant lap! Regardless of the stroke, regardless of the work under the water or the placement of my goggles, being able to breathe was crucial to completing the task.

The same thing holds true for those pioneering Fresh Expressions of church. It is really easy to get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we forget ourselves and the need to have space to breathe and just be. It is important to be intentional about setting time for you to do that. Without pausing to breathe and check your own spirit, your pioneering journey won’t last.

Without pausing to breathe and check your own spirit, your pioneering journey won’t last. Click To Tweet

Stay in the Pool

If you’re a fellow pioneer, remember- the work you’re doing matters! You may not feel like you’re getting anywhere, but just take another look just beneath the surface and you’ll see you are making progress. If you can’t see that, maybe it’s time to take a breath before diving back in, but don’t give up!

If you are thinking of testing the waters of starting something new, jump on in! The best way to see if something God has placed on your heart is going to work is to try.

The journey may not be easy, but know that this community is cheering you on!


Ann Marie Carley

As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.


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