What’s so special about pioneering?

Last week my wife and I were guests of a new pioneering team in Victoria, Canada, where we have been privileged to enjoy some team building together. We are reminded of the joy we’ve have had over the last 40+ years when we experienced many adventures in starting new ministries, establishing churches and developing dozens of teams and bases. So, to watch this small team of five staff plant a YWAM presence in Victoria fills us with great pleasure. The team has just bought a house for 1.2 million dollars. Yet to share that in only a few words doesn’t give it justice. There have been many miracles but also many challenges. The couple leading the team have three boys and have lived in an RV for the last 18 months, persevering through it all with joy and optimism. This two-year process culminated last weekend with a dedication of the new property with invited guests rejoicing alongside. We are trusting God together to birth a whole bunch of new ministries in the coming months and years.

Pioneering: a DTS for leaders: The DTS is an amazing foundation for discipleship and starting out in YWAM. We learn the important principles of following Jesus, living in community as well as understanding our YWAM values. We have a shared experience with other YWAMers around the world and get an immediate connection with one another. Pioneering is like a DTS for leaders. It is this opportunity of creating with God and discovering the stepping stones of bringing a ministry to birth. We can have a plan but the journey in pioneering often veers away from the original plan as we seek to discern the priorities, trust God for miracles of people, finances and open doors. There is something special about the whole adventure of pioneering. If you have ever been a part of a team that is doing ‘new things in new ways,’ you know the feeling of excitement from creating something out of nothing.

My first experience in pioneering: YWAM is known around the world for its ‘get up and go’ mentality, for its ‘doing new things in new ways,’ for its stepping out in faith and trusting God to supply the needs. I look back to my first pioneering effort back in 1981; we had recently joined the staff of YWAM Scotland and finished our first staffing of a DTS together. Nothing was planned after the course, so we put our heads together and came up with the idea of using the church building that had become available to us to open a cafe. It was quite simple back then, but it became a meeting place for people from the town and we enjoyed the process of starting something new.

The next adventure began as we began thinking about establishing a mobile team that would travel around Scotland serving churches in evangelism. We took an exploratory trip, just Rite and I, visiting churches from the borders, where we were based, right up to Thurso at the top of Scotland. Churches were positive and welcomed us to come back with our team to help them with their youth groups, evangelism and general outreach programmes. We recruited three staff over the next few months and began our travelling mobile team which we called a ‘Life Team.’ We preached, sang, performed drama, went from door to door, served and supported the vision of every church we went to. We had fun, making lots of friends throughout the nation. That ministry continued with other leaders for many years afterwards.

Different kinds of pioneering:  Starting a new department in an established base is still pioneering but it is pioneering from a secure position where you have your accommodation, community and support systems all in place. Those of us who have been in YWAM for any length of time, have often joined a team which has enjoyed this kind of pioneering experience.

After starting our Life Team and handing it on to new leaders, the national leader was moving the DTS to a new, larger location and asked us to pioneer a ministry in the old property. We had been thinking of reaching out to single mothers and young people who were struggling with various addictions that we encountered on the streets. Moving into a ready-made building with a team of people was fun for us. Within a few weeks we were up and running and inundated with troubled young people who we sought to encourage and disciple. We learned many lessons and, as the vision for single mothers unfortunately didn’t get off the ground, we realised that often the pioneering experience doesn’t always turn out the way we initially thought it would.

The most challenging kind of pioneering is when we seek to start a completely new ministry in a new place where we aren’t adopting a ready-made program of DTS or multiplying a ministry that is functioning elsewhere. In this scenario, everything is possible, but nothing is in place; it takes faith, creativity and a breadth of gifts to make a go of it. Everything must be formulated including casting the vision, recruiting the team, finding accommodation, organising transport, developing a network of relationships, building the team and so much more. Not for the faint-hearted!

Because pioneering is such a value and focus in YWAM, it’s hard to step into an overseeing role in the mission if you have not had the opportunity of pioneering something. It’s like receiving a stripe on your arm, an honour that you have gone through the experience and come out the other side with a whole lot of learning and fresh spiritual muscle. Pioneering is a wonderful way to see transformation and growth in our lives.

Pioneering in a new location with new ministry: Pioneering is seldom easy and not always successful. There are several dynamics that need to be in place for a pioneer team to flourish and then move into a place of becoming established.

Having the right gifts. I don’t believe everyone can be at peace in pioneering. Some of you will be reading this and under your breath saying – ‘yeah, that’s not for me!’ Others get excited by the sound of the word – you love the idea of change, of doing something new, of stepping out of the boat into the unknown, of trusting God for something way beyond you. Some people have a gift of seeing the future, spiritual optimism, creative thinking and apostolic gifting – being able to take the ideas of a vision and to begin to make them happen and turn into reality.

Casting a vision that people can catch. Don’t you love it when you hear someone speaking and their words paint a picture of what the future holds. You become drawn to the ideas being shared and want to be a part of the ‘new thing’ on offer. We come into YWAM with the desire of ‘wanting to make a difference.’ The leader casting a vision is being specific about how that difference can be made.

Initial commitment to work together. Before individual team members get a chance to follow their own dreams, it’s important to serve together in the initial focus. We had a team in Paisley Scotland who bonded as they renovated a property together. When the work was done, the team had got to know one another and ministries began to emerge in preschool, coffee bar evangelism, discipleship and office functions.

Early on the team experiences some kind of breakthrough. It’s like passing a test, or going through an initiation, where there is evidence that this was the right thing to do – it has somehow worked out and there has been the release of resources that encourage everyone involved.

The team begins to bond deeply. There’s nothing like a pioneer situation where it is all hands-on-deck, where everyone is needed to pull out the stops and work like crazy to see something emerge. Our character is challenged and developed, our gifts and creativity are brought into the open, our hearts are brought close as we pray and work and share our lives together.

Experiencing God in the midst. When you have a blank slate, somehow it is easier to hear God write something on it. Our spirits are ready to hear and respond, plus there is a spiritual dynamic in pioneering that it is easy to lose as we move on to develop an established community. During the pioneering we are aware more acutely of how much we depend on God.

Living together. In the initial phase, being together enables lots of conversation with sharing dreams and ideas as you eat meals and touch base with one another daily. It is so easy to miss out on conversation and developments when you are not living together or being in close proximity – especially in those early days of the adventure.

You only need to be in YWAM for a brief time to recognise that pioneering is a part of YWAM’s DNA. So, I want to encourage you in all your pioneering efforts to see the Kingdom come wherever you are through all your dreams and visions coming into reality. Pioneering can bring out the best in people. My hope is that it will bring out the best in you.

Until next month,


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