Home Equipping Leaders Fresh Expressions UM Adventuring into New Language and Adventual Expressions of Church

Adventuring into New Language and Adventual Expressions of Church

By Michael Adam Beck with Leonard Sweet

Article Lay Planting Todays World

In the United Kingdom, fresh expression leaders reorganized the ecclesial system to make room for what they termed pioneer ministry. The Church of England defines pioneers as “people called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish a new contextual Christian community."[1]

I first noted the problematic nature of the term “pioneer” in my doctoral dissertation, “Contextual Intelligence: One Intelligence to Serve Them All.” In that research, we studied emerging pioneers in the United States and the different kinds of thinking they employed that allowed them to be more fruitful than their peers while facing similar challenges. In Contextual Intelligence: Unlocking the Ancient Secret to Mission on the Front Lines, Len Sweet and I expanded the learnings from that research and suggested a framework for growing in our ability to “understand the signs of the times and know what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

While originally Middle French in origin (pionnier: a foot soldier, or trench digger), from the same root as peon or pawn, the word “pioneer” for indigenous people connotes the violence, manipulation, and oppression of early European settlers. I have employed the term in my own writings (see A Field Guide to Methodist Fresh Expressions for an extensive exploration of pioneer ministry) as it is the primary language of the Church of England and the Fresh Expressions movement literature.

Some have made strong arguments for the use of the term by basing its theological underpinnings on the Trinity. God is a pioneering God; thus, there are pioneers. The church is to be one and diverse; in the same way, the Trinity is one and diverse—distinct persons, living relationally in a mysterious interdependence, full of creative diversity. The relational interpenetration of the Trinity, always making room for the other, is the embodiment of sending, seeking love.

Each person of the Trinity is a “pioneer.” As David Goodhew writes in Fresh!, God the Father is pioneer, “God, by the creation of the cosmos, pioneers a new form of reality."[2] God the Spirit is pioneer; Spirit breathes forth all life. Freshness is the hallmark of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the “foundation for fresh expressions, pioneer ministry, and church planting.” The Holy Spirit is “God as Pioneer Minister—through whom all pioneer ministry finds its authentication and strength.” The Spirit “creates community.” Thus, the church herself is a pioneer community of the Spirit.[3]

God the Son is pioneer. He is the author and instigator of our faith, the one “innovating by who he is (incarnation) what he does (ministry) and by how he dies (cross) and rises again (resurrection)."[4]

Perhaps the most compelling case for the term “pioneer” is drawn from the pioneering of Jesus himself. From Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (italics mine). Jesus is identified here as the ἀρχηγός (pronounced är-khā-gos), which means “pioneer” or “author” and conversely “instigator.” This term is the closest we get in koiné Greek to “innovator” or “entrepreneur.” God bestows the pioneer upon the church for its nurture, upbuilding, and expansion. Paul the apostle is perhaps a textbook example of a pioneer. Pioneers seek to embody this initiator, starter, and ministry of Jesus in the world in the same way that we embody the ministry roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher (Eph 4: 11).

Another case comes from the popular use of the term “pioneer” in business and technology fields. There is a clear correlation observed between pioneer ministers and business or social entrepreneurs. They share essential characteristics. In Entrepreneurs: Talent, Temperament and Opportunity, Bill Bolton and John Thompson define an entrepreneur as “a person who habitually creates and innovates to build something of recognized value around perceived opportunities."[5]

Pioneers share many of these traits: they start new initiatives, organize relational networks, innovate, and create fresh things out of existing pieces, doing so in the power of the Spirit.

In a peer-reviewed article, “Problems with ‘Pioneering’ Mission,” Aldous, Larner, Schleifenbaum, and Sidhu offer an extensive critique of the term “pioneer.” They note how “pioneering” has difficult engagements with mission, imperialism, and domination of culture. The colonial and expansionist connotations of the term are too great to be overcome. The authors sought to offer language and terminology that rejects a narrative around territory, exploitation, power, and subjugation. They propose the metaphor of pilgrim over pioneer.

They write, “Jesus’ actions at the heart of the gospel, in the last supper, are a pilgrim presence: that sees and acknowledges and loves the other without question. It is a love that breaks bread and shares with Judas. It is a love that defies death, breaks through all social boundaries, and brings heaven and earth together. Such love does not need sales agents; just witnesses–pilgrim witnesses of God’s love.”[6]

I find the language of pilgrim much more suitable to that of pioneer, but it is still inappropriate in the North American context. The authors concede, “We acknowledge that ‘Pilgrim’ is itself not without problems and was also used in the context of North American occupation of indigenous lands.”[7]

Leonard Sweet was the first to suggest a different metaphor with global application. It draws on many of the biblical themes used to support the term “pioneer” thus far but brings it into conversation with a depth of liturgical tradition and church history. We suggest the key ideas that pioneer ministry is seeking to make accessible to the twenty-first century scenario can be found in the season of Advent.

We suggest a shift in the metaphor from pioneer to adventurer. We elaborate on this in a forthcoming follow-up to Contextual Intelligence, a companion workbook, which we call an “easel and toolkit.”

Undoubtedly, “pioneer” has a whiff of staleness to it, as well as a lingering stench of “colonialism.”

The word “adventurer” is rooted in the word “advent,” which means “the coming” or “the arrival” of something fresh and new. This is exactly who Jesus’ followers are—advent makers, advent markers, advent risers, advent storytellers of adventure.

The Latin word adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, Advent is less a season of the year than an adventitious mindset and an “adventual” lifestyle.

Jesus as pioneer is Jesus as adventeer. It is the “appearing” of Jesus that advents a new form of reality. Most importantly, when Jesus invites us to follow him, he is inviting us into the most exciting, adventurous life we can imagine. When the main “adventures” in our lives are the programs we watch, the sports teams we follow, or the food we eat, something is awry.

A millennium ago, Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) reminded us of the three comings of Christ. The first coming was in flesh and weakness, the middle coming is in spirit and power, and the final coming will be in glory and majesty.[8] Thus, Jesus “appears” in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time.

The essence of what it means to be an “adventurer” is expressed in the Aramaic word: Maranatha. The word is used only one time as if it is an exclamatory reminder of the adventure of living and being. The Third Testament has just begun; “Maranatha” means the three-fold advent of Christ, who has come, is come now, and will come again. The life of a Jesus adventurer is to live in the light of his ancient comings, to be alert for his arrivals in the present, and to long for his final coming to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth.

Creativity is the Maker’s Mark on us. But creativity is adventus, not inventus. Only God truly “creates” or “invents.” We continue God’s creativity and discover the “advents” that surround us. Creativity is a different way of arranging the resources that we already have been given. Human creativity is advention. Divine creativity is invention. Only the Spirit enjoys the divine prerogative of making something out of nothing (Gen. 1:2). The rest of us make everything out of something and some things. Everything “new” is the “old” made “new.” To go back to the beginning, to the original, is to go forward to the future, to true originality.

In its purest sense, ‘invention” is the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. “Innovation,” on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process, or service. Innovation is the “adventual” assemblage of what has already appeared or is now appearing. Innovation is less breaking new ground than returning to ground already broken but left untended and in need of cultivating and harvesting. This is the true work of what has been defined as “pioneer ministry” but more appropriately should be called “adventurer ministry.”

All our adventuring is always in pursuit of the ἀρχηγός (archēgos), the first one, the author, the adventurer of all adventurers. We are a community of followership, following relentlessly after Jesus. We are always following in his slipstream, working in the wake of the new creation trails he has already blazed.

Len Sweet is known for his many litanies. This is one he wrote for us to imprint the advent adventurers in the mind and heart:

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to live every day as an advent, to live life “adventually.”

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to live as if advent were less a noun than a verb or adverb.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to live advent, not so much a specific time of year than as a way of living a life—a lifestyle sought, a mental model followed.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is not so much to “celebrate Advent” than to do advent and live advented lives.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is not to make a splash but to make a wave and leave a wake, to ride the waves up and down, and not be carried by the waves in and out.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to live in a God-breaking-into, God-breaking-apart sense of time.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to worship a God of adventing presence, a God who goes beyond chronos to the kairos, beyond the time that plods on to the time that manifests the mystery of the God-with-us Emmanuel.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to understand “advent” as something we DO daily, not a doing we observe on the calendar.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to “see and hear” the messianic age that is upon us—to note and follow the “adventual” actions that reveal that God has been among us, is now among us, and will be among us.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to believe that every activity, every interaction, is laden with adventitious possibilities.

To live as a Jesus adventurer is to advent your way forward through life.

“Fresh Expressions of Church” are the “Adventual Church” or “Innovative Church” that is forming on the horizon and reaches and serves people currently outside existing congregations. Fresh Expressions of church are typically shaped from a relational interaction between people, cultures, and the gospel. They are fresh embodiments, fresh adventations, of the Jesus who is made flesh in us each day.

In the Fresh Expressions UM movement, we have begun to employ this language in the training of clergy and laity (see Adventurers Leadership Academy) and some of the most exciting, diverse, and fruitful forms of church are adventing everywhere!

Let’s combine and collaborate, celebrate and support these adventures in adventing fresh forms of church for a new age.

[1] Church of England, “Vocations to Pioneer Ministry” https://www.churchofengland.org/life-events/vocations/vocations-pioneer-ministry.

[2] Goodhew, David, Andrew Roberts, and Michael Volland. Fresh!: An Introduction to Fresh Expressions of Church and Pioneer Ministry (London: SCM Press, 2012), 25.

[3] Goodhew, Roberts, and Volland, 24-31.

[4] Goodhew, Roberts, and Volland, 24-31.

[5] Bill Bolton and John Thompson. Entrepreneurs: Talent, Temperament and Opportunity. (London New York, NY: Routledge, 2013), 72.

[6] Ben Aldous, Luke Larner, Adrian Schleifenbaum, and Rajiv Sidhu. 2022. “Problems with ‘Pioneering’ Mission: Reflections on the Term ‘Pioneer’ from Germany, South Africa and the Uk.” Ecclesial Futures 3 (1): 5–22; 19. doi:10.54195/ef12155.

[7] Aldous, Larner, Schleifenbaum, Sidhu, 20.

[8] This famous excerpt on the three (3) comings of the Lord Jesus Christ is taken from a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 {1966}, 188-190.

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