I recently read an article about pioneers and settlers in a church setting. There are those who come looking for a good, strong existing children’s/youth/music/mission ministry… and those who are willing to do the work of starting new ministry.
The article hearkened back to Laura Ingalls Wilder and those pioneers who went to new places and did the hard work of tilling new land and making it a home. Settlers who came in later found homes already in place and they just had to settle in.
As citizens of a consumer culture, we are steeped in ready-made options for us to consume. We don’t like to be inconvenienced… and get restless when we get stuck in line behind someone at the grocery store or have a hiccup in our streaming media. Just give us an exciting church program or worship experience that is seamlessly produced by others that we can settle into.
But what if being a pioneer is actually the adventure that can foster even deeper spiritual growth? What if starting something that blesses others winds up being the very thing God uses to bless us?
I grew up in an existing Presbyterian church that once had a youth program, but for a variety of reasons it had gone fallow. I will confess now that I loved the Little House on the Prairie books, which may give you a hint on where I’m going with this.
Looking back, there are many reasons why I could have jumped ship and found a wonderful youth program at another local church. But that’s not what I did. I joined with 2 other middle schoolers in our church, and we decided that we were going to be part of starting up a new youth group. We advocated for a gathering place, and we poured ourselves into cleaning it, painting it, furnishing it and making it a place perfect for young people to hang out. An associate pastor discipled us as we planned the activities we felt called to do, the mission we wanted to accomplish, and ways we wanted to pursue spiritual growth. We invited friends, and we committed to be there ourselves. It was a pivotal experience in my life.
We are surrounded in this day and age by countless ready-made products. I can go to the grocery store and buy a microwavable meal that is ready in a snap. But that experience is entirely different than the experience of cooking up a homemade meal alongside friends or family.
What if instead of waiting for someone else to create the mission or ministry we are hoping for, we became willing to be a pioneer? And what if we discover that, along the journey of starting something new, we find ourselves growing and maturing far more deeply than any ready-made program could have dished out for us?
As the 1001 New Worshiping Community movement continues to grow, I’m praying for God to raise up more and more pioneers who are willing to move out of the church walls and into communities and neighborhoods to gather new communities of disciples that didn’t exist before.
“Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the PIONEER and perfecter of our faith…”
Shannon Kiser is the director of the East Coast Presbyterian Center of New Church Innovation based out of northern Virginia. She is field staff for the Office of Church Growth, and parish associate at Riverside Presbyterian Church, a church planting church in Sterling, VA. She is involved in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, and works with presbyteries, existing churches, and potential planters to fan the flames of new, creative ministries. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband and two daughters.