My thought for the week follows on from last week’s but it needs to be repeated: pioneers need extra resources.
Example: Graham Tomlin, who heads up St Milletus’ College (an offshoot of Holy Trinity, Brompton, home of Alpha, and a fully-accredited seminary, specialising in pioneer training) said to me, “Pioneers need more theology, not less, than regular pastors.” (I told him, “That will make my boss very happy.”)
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? If you go into an existing congregation, however dispirited or dysfunctional, there is some theological tradition present: people who know the prayer book and the hymn book, and have at least heard much of the Bible over the years. Theology (even bad theology) is impregnated deep in the woodwork, however unconsciously. And, as pastor, you can draw on that, expand it, deepen it, even (where necessary) correct it.
But in a pioneering situation—perhaps doing missional discernment for a year, perhaps serving needs or building relationships with folk unconnected with a church—you are IT. You are (forgive the pomposity of the phrase) the Sole Bearer of Theological Tradition. You had better know your theology because no-one else will (expect perhaps—hopefully—your team). There is no woodwork for the theology to be deeply impregnated in. Actually, there is no woodwork. So the theology needs to be deeply impregnated somewhere else—to be precise, in your mind and heart.
Well, you get the point.
This post is really about another resource pioneers need, however, though it relates to the first: and that is the resource of spiritual direction. Hopefully in your pioneering situation you will have a coach—a buddy who can walk alongside you, advise you, laugh and cry with you, help you troubleshoot, tell you when you’re doing well and when you’ve blown it. (That’s a subject for another week.) But you also need someone whose concern for you is primarily your relationship with God: a spiritual director.
I have been seeing the same spiritual director for ten years, roughly every five weeks, and it has become an anchor of my spiritual life. Jack does not advise me about my ministry or my relationships, although we talk about those things. What I go to him for is to talk about my relationship with God—where I am seeing God at work, where I wish I were seeing God at work, and how I am responding (or not) to God.
Personally, I think most Christians could use spiritual direction, but pioneers need it more than many—and the reason is the same as the need for strong theology. In a regular parish placement, there are things in the culture that will (hopefully) sustain and nourish your relationship with God—daily and weekly worship in community, the fellowship of at least few mature Christians, perhaps a pastors’ fellowship group, and so on.
But in a pioneering situation, those may be few and far between. And having a reliable spiritual director whose wisdom and insight you trust, can keep you growing in your relationship with God when the actual pioneering situation is tough and not particularly nourishing, when it takes more than it gives.
My suggestion is that you try spiritual direction now, while you are a student, rather than waiting till you graduate and have more time. (A commonly held myth.) Annette has a list of spiritual directors who make themselves available to Wycliffe students, and she would be happy to advise you.