Gordon Cheung, part of a church plant team on Glasgow’s southside encourages us to overcome our isolation by leaning into the help of others.
If I’m honest I’ve found pioneering to be an emotional experience. I’ve found it hard at times to take the risks that come with starting new things. To take opportunity my wife and I have had to surrender some of the security we’ve come to enjoy. In leading others, we’ve had to invite them into something new. That has made us feel vulnerable, because there was always the chance that when we asked people to join us they might not have come. I wonder now my anxiety and vulnerability is associated with a calling that is seeing us move away from the settled patterns of church life and into the unknowns of mission. In other words, am I feeling like this because I’m scared that we will be on our own? Am I worried that I will encounter a situation I won’t know how to deal with, make a mistake, and find myself in a hole that I cannot get out of?
In academia, some Christian writers such as Volland[i] are starting to use the language of entrepreneurship studies to describe and explain ministry activity – including pioneering. In this realm academics are keen to find out how entrepreneurs grow as leaders. Kempster and Cope contrast entrepreneurs in small organisations to managers in larger ones. Often the managers are exposed to a multiplicity of learning environments and have mentors to guide their progress. On the other hand, entrepreneurs likely have no guides and only experience what is happening in their firm. Isolation limits their growth as leaders: “It is the absence of variety in relation to leadership practices, particularly the observation of successful leaders in other contexts, which remains significant.”[ii] Entrepreneurial activity, like pioneering, is one fraught with the dangers of being isolated on the periphery of geographic, economic and social activity – an area described by the writer David Rae as “…a zone of disadvantage, hazard and vulnerability…”[iii] Kempster and Cope’s advice for entrepreneurs who want to grow is to avoid isolation and to participate in social and professional networks: “… an entrepreneur’s success at managing a growing business is dependent on the nature and extent of their (particularly external) participative activities.”[iv]
Lean on me…
So, as fearful as I have sometimes been at taking risks, and as vulnerable as I’ve often felt about leading others, I am grateful for the support networks that I am part of. Here’s a truth – no one makes me participate in them. I’m not compelled to as a condition of employment somewhere. I’m not obliged to out of guilt or duty to someone else. Often, they’re on at inconvenient times. Frequently I must travel to get there. But I have found people who understand the journey I’m on, who share my heart and speak my vocabulary. I’ve found others who have taken risks and learned how to manage those risks so that what seems terrifying starts to look exciting. I’ve shared with others who know the vulnerability of asking people to come with them, who have helped me to invite sojourners and not browbeat others. If there are no maps where we are going then I’ve met people who have helped me to draw ones for those who follow after. So even when I’ve been emotionally drained I have found sisters and brothers that I can lean into when I need them.
That’s why Forge is committed to creating networks where pioneers can connect with each other. That’s why we run our year-long spare time pioneer course, because it builds friendships that support. That’s why we are starting to create a network of hubs where those involved in the first few years of pioneering can meet and share with peers. That’s why in partnership with Cairn we run our twice yearly pioneering community of practice where those a few steps ahead lend a hand to those who are venturing new things. Maybe if you are one of the apostles, prophets or evangelists that Scott wrote about in this blog a few weeks ago, or even a shepherd or teacher who understands the need to be part of the pioneering and missional tribe, participating in one of these networks will help you feel less vulnerable and grow you as a leader. It’s how the body connects. Because the alternative is failing in vulnerable isolation.
[i] Volland, Michael. The Minister as Entrepreneur: Leading and Growing the Church in an Age of Rapid Change. London: SPCK, 2015.
[ii] Kempster, S.J., and J. Cope. 2010. “Learning to lead in the entrepreneurial context.” Journal of Entrepreneurial behaviour and Research 16(6) (2010) 18
[iii] Rae, D. “Entrepreneurial learning: peripherality and connectedness.” International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research 23(3) (2017):
[iv] Kempster, S.J., and J. Cope. 2010. “Learning to lead in the entrepreneurial context.” Journal of Entrepreneurial behaviour and Research 16(6) (2010) 10