My husband and I often find ourselves trying to figure why it is that we think so differently from everyone else around us. We feel that we are not really like most Christians whom we mix with, at our current church or in other churches we have been a part of. As we speak passionately to people about our desires and thoughts, we can see their eyes glazing over. Our thoughts are often not the same as other peoples.
We have a deep conviction that things are simply not as they were intended to be, and a longing to see the church become all that it can be. When I write about church here I am referring to Christian community, not just a building or even any one congregation. We long for people to see Christians living a wonderful, beautiful life that gives hope and is full of meaning. We long for this to be our own experience of our walk with Christ, and we have set out on a journey to discover this life and to share this life with others. Yet, when we speak of these things, although people don’t verbalize it, it is easy to tell that they are thinking “but church is fine how it is.” Sound familiar?
One element of our journey is that we home educate our children. This probably isn’t too different for those of you who live in North America; however, in the UK there are over 12 million children, yet only 13,000 home educating families. The numbers are on the increase, but most still think you are “weird” if you home educate. We don’t actually do this for religious reasons, like some. We basically saw a wonderful life experience we could have with our children, learning and growing together. We also realised that if discipling our children was an important part of our Christian walk, then we wanted to integrate this into our whole family life. Likewise, they get to witness and experience our God journey in a way which maybe they would not have done otherwise.
Other elements of our journey will have included a family advent devotion, a serious attempt at de-commercialising our Christmas, and even composting our waste as a means of taking steps towards being responsible for our environment. I am not trying to hold us up as some great example; we’re just trying to feel our way forward. You might ask what any of this has to do with church; a good question. All we know is that as we have been trying to seek God for what it means to follow him, these are some of the things we’ve felt ‘led’ into.
In gifting tests, my husband always comes out top with Apostolic. He is a visionary, and sometimes he runs too far ahead of me once convinced of something. I am the one who pulls him back, and says “hang on, let’s hear more from God about this.” I always come out high with the prophetic gifting. We strongly believe, and have had it prophesised over us many times, that God has given us a pioneering spirit. More than anything in life we want God to guide us, we want to be in and to follow his will.
As I look at Christians as a group of people today, I see that there is a group being raised up by God. Some of this group of people fit under the umbrella label of the emerging church (without entering into debates about definitions, inclusions and exclusion which are best left for elsewhere!). We are really interested to see what God raises up through this group, and have valued the different relationships we have made with lots of different kinds of people. The thing we often find in common is a pioneering spirit.
A pioneering spirit often means that you don’t know what you are going to before you get there. You are dependent on God to trust and see what he is doing. You are often entrepreneurial and have a strong sense of journey in your theology. Often people with a pioneering spirit have a strong sense of investing the people in a community. Relationships are important, allowing people to experience and share real life together. It is an adventurous, exciting, yet scary and lonesome journey. Therefore, I think, a pioneering spirit also has moments of complete doubt in themselves. They question what they are doing. Are they insane? Have they really heard from God? Why doesn’t anyone seem to “get it”? The journey can be incredibly painful at times, and you just want to bang your head against a brick wall and give up. At other times something so incredibly rewarding comes along that you realize it was all worth it.
Do you think the emerging church is full of pioneer spirits? I do. The pioneers of the American west were brave men and women who went out to discover new frontiers. They left behind what they knew and travelled into unknown territory, on what was often a dangerous journey. Once at their destination though, the pioneers became settlers and enjoyed comfortable life. We have a story about the pioneers at home. On the back the description states that the American pioneers helped to tame the American West.
As pioneering spirits we know we will, and have experienced a dangerous journey at times. Making mistakes. Shedding tears. Moving the church forward is an unknown territory. Some people may not make the journey; others may become settled along the way. One thing we should make sure we do not do is put Jesus into a box. Jesus is not, and should not be tamed. He pushes us on; He pushes the boundaries. We should always focus on moving ahead, moving in God’s will, not becoming settled and comfortable with where we are.
What would you say are the characteristics of the pioneering spirit? In what ways has the pioneering spirit worked itself out in your life? Has this expressed itself in ways beyond different styles of church gathering? What is the ‘wild west’ that we are trying to tame?