A little background: as a church we are connected and relate to a group of churches called 'OzReach'. This was a network led by Kevin Wilcock, who originally planted our church (along with many other churches). Kev has a wonderful heart for churches, ministers and seeing people come to Christ, he would travel all over connecting with people and encouraging them, and OzReach was birthed many years ago out of all the people he encountered who shared a similar heart in ministry and a desire to be in relationship with other like-minded churches. A few years ago, Kev connected with Billy Kennedy - the head of Pioneer in the UK. Pioneer shares a similar heart to OzReach, but is a larger network and a little more developed and better organised. Billy has visited Australia a few times over the past few years and has been inputting into our group of churches. I have been quite impressed with the stuff that Billy has shared, he has encouraged me greatly in my leadership and thinks we have a really special thing going on at Central. About two years ago Kev announced that he felt it right for our OzReach group of churches to connect more formally with Pioneer UK, and become an Aussie branch of it (so to speak). Then around the middle of last year, Kevin stepped out of ministry for personal reasons, and Rick Prosser took on the leadership of Kev's church in Newcastle. Since then, Rick, myself and Howard Hadley have been meeting together to pray and seek God about the future of OzReach/Pioneer, and my trip to England was a part of all that. One of the things we felt was important was for us to go and check out some of the churches in the Pioneer network and also attend their annual leadership conference and get a good feel for who they are, and whether or not we felt we should move forward with the connection. So Rick and I headed off to England, he visited some churches, I visited others and we went to the conference in Southhampton. In short, I really liked what I saw. Apart from the fact that I met some really great people, had a lot of fun, got really encouraged, and heard some great leadership talks, here are some of the things that I really liked:
- They are very non-tribal/brand-focused. What I mean by that is that they don't seem ego-driven or in any way trying to build a big empire. They openly recognise that they are just one part of the bigger picture and they champion unity across churches...and they don't just talk about it, they do it! This was so refreshing, because I often feel like in Aussie churches there's still very much 'us' and 'them' when it comes to different Christian churches, and like it really matters what denomination you're in (what brand you are). I saw churches sharing buildings with other churches, churches doing mission together, really moving beyond church styles for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
- They have a real diversity of expression among the churches who belong to Pioneer, yet they all hold on to core values. For example: I met church leaders who are really doing missional style church in unique ways, I saw family-based churches, at the conference there were flag-waving-stick-wielding spiritual dancers, it didn't seem to matter what your style was, you were embraced as part of the whole. Sometimes I've been to other church conferences here in Australia and everybody just looks the same...so it was so great to see such diversity.
- They are pro-women. It may seem normal for you to have a woman who leads you...but it's actually not normal at all in Aussie church culture to have women leading churches...so it was incredibly encouraging for me to be among a group of people who champion women in leadership. And also to spend time with other women who juggle ministry and motherhood and know what it feels like to work in an 'industry' completely dominated my men (especially when a chunk of those men are Biblically opposed to you even doing what you do).
- They are Holy Spirit people. They pray, they prophesy, believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and really desire to see those gifts in operation in the church. They seemed to exhibit a leadership that was based on hearing God's voice, and less on the latest management and marketing principles.
So what does all this mean?
Well...our network of churches is moving forward with becoming Pioneer Network Australia. Will that change anything at Central? Nope. As it develops more and grows, it will just mean that we are connected to something that is bigger than us. A network that encourages me in my leadership, gives me people to connect with and share vision and struggles with. It might mean that occasionally I'm away from our church visiting other churches and connecting with them and encouraging them.
Spending time away from Central and visiting other churches always leaves me with this sense: we are a flipping brilliant church. What God has done and what God is building among us is really unique and special and I believe that we will be an encouragement for many other churches in time to come.
Below I've got Pioneer UK's vision and strategy. If you want any more info or want to have a chat at any time about this 'bigger picture' stuff, just let me know, I'd be happy to share more with you or answer any questions.
Pioneer UK's vision and strategy
"Alongside others, we are committed to the re-evangelisation of our nation and to see the Kingdom of God expressed in every sphere of society and culture. We believe that the church is the primary, though not exclusive, agent of the Kingdom of God and our vision is to see strong, diverse and healthy churches planted and existing churches resourced and growing. We acknowledge that Pioneer is a ‘small cog in a much bigger wheel’ but we want to play our part strongly, securely and humbly."
"Our strategy is to build strong and healthy churches that are served by ‘apostolic resource communities’ that will support these individual church communities as they reach out beyond themselves into their towns, cities and regions. We believe that the release and development of the five-fold ministries seen in Ephesians 4 :11-13, reflecting the ministry of Jesus, are key to this process. In this respect we are seeking to re-contextualise the role of the Ephesians 4 ministry in contemporary culture. We recognise the breadth, richness and diversity that exists within the Body of Christ and welcome connection with and input from other ministries and networks."
For more info check our Pioneer UK