Pioneering Ministry: an Apologia and a Case Study

In 2010, Wycliffe College introduced into its M.Div program a so-called “pioneer stream.” The advertising cited the writings of missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, and his call to the church in the West to rise to the challenge of a post-Christendom world, and then concluded:

The kind of leadership that was required for established, healthy churches in a Christendom setting is radically different from what is needed in a post-Christian, postmodern setting where churches may not even exist. The church now needs not only visionary, mission-minded pastors, but also pioneers, entrepreneurs, and missionaries who can take the Gospel to cultures and subcultures in North America where Christ is not represented, and found new Christian communities.

So far, some fifteen students have been involved in the stream to a greater or lesser extent.

I want to address two questions today. Firstly, a theoretical or theological question: What exactly is a pioneer, and how do pioneers relate to our understanding of church? Is it a concept with any theological traction? And then the second question: what does a pioneer look like in practice? The first part is a kind of preliminary apologia for the idea of pioneering ministry, and the latter a case study.

  1.  How does the idea of pioneering ministry relate to our understanding of church?

Many of you will be aware of the 2004 Church of England report to General Synod called Mission Shaped Church, which was unanimously adopted, and which has shaped developments in the Church of England ever since in quite radical ways. One of the innovative recommendations of the report was:

The Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council should actively seek to encourage the identification, selection and training of pioneer church planters, for both lay and ordained ministries. . . . Patterns of training should be appropriate to the skills, gifting and experience of those being trained.[1]

Several points are worth noting here: pioneering is equated with church planting, pioneering is an “equal opportunity” ministry for lay and ordained; and there should be specialized training for these pioneers.

So what is this about? Is this just another “flavor of the month” fad which wise leaders will ignore because it will disappear as quickly as it arrived? What I want to attempt is not a theology of pioneering, and not even a Bible study on pioneering: it is more an attempt to stake out a theological field, and say, I think this is the area in which we need to dig in order to figure this out.

So where to begin? We begin with God—of course!—and with the activity of God in the world we have learned to call the missio dei. Here is how Jurgen Moltmann explains the missio dei and the church:

Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.[2]

So how do pioneer ministries relate to the missio dei? All ministry begins in the ministry of Jesus Christ and flows from the ministry of Jesus Christ, and pioneering is no exception. Let’s begin with scripture. The term pioneer occurs in the NT several times: the Greek word is archegos, which is variously translated originator, author, founder and pioneer[3] and is always applied to Jesus Christ: “God exalted [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior” (Acts 5:30-31); “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14-15); “It was fitting that God . . . in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10); and (perhaps the best-known):

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

There is another related word, however, which is applied to Jesus and to his followers, and that is the term “apostle.” Jesus is only called an “apostle” once (in Hebrews),[4] but in the Gospel of John the idea of being sent (which is the meaning of the Greek word apostello) is central: Jesus is described as being sent by the Father no less than forty times.[5] Then, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21): for John, this is the point at which the disciples become “the apostles,” sent by Jesus as he was sent by the Father.

The question has dogged Christian history, however, whether the twelve are the only ones legitimately called “apostles.” Most agree that the twelve have a unique role as apostles: as John Stott puts it, they were “a very small and distinctive group . . . personally chosen and authorized by Jesus, and had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord.” He adds, “in this sense there are no apostles today.”[6]

But there are other senses. For example, Stott also says, “The verb apostello means to ‘send,’ and all Christian people are sent into the world as Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses, to share in the apostolic mission of the whole church.”[7] In between these two meanings (the twelve and all Christians) is a third sense. Michael Griffiths cites New Testament scholar John Goldingay as pointing out that the word ‘apostle’ is ‘etymologically equivalent to missionary,’ and that ‘apostles are perhaps the pioneer missionary evangelists through whom Christian communities are founded.’  Griffiths adds, “It does not seem biblically necessary to deny the continuing existence of apostles in this secondary sense of pioneer church-planting missionaries.”[8] It is interesting to note that in both Catholic and Protestant tradition, this is the way the term is popularly used: St Francis Xavier, “apostle of the Indies and Japan,” William Carey, “apostle to India,” and so on.[9]

The term “apostle” in this sense was little used during the centuries of Christendom, and it was not a ministry that was recovered by the mainline Protestant Reformers. Indeed, most scholars agree that the Reformation lacked any significant missionary impulse. [10]  Unfortunately, missiology is not just an optional extra, like heated seats in your car. Ignoring mission is more like leaving the chili powder out of your chili recipe: everything is affected and the chili is just not the same thing.

So, for example, the Reformation’s understanding of ministry is different because of the absence of missiology. Case in point: the Reformers do not consider the possibility of apostles as “pioneer missionary evangelists.” Lutheran theologians, for example, believed that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 had been fulfilled by the Twelve, and was no longer the church’s responsibility. Calvin similarly sees apostolic ministry as having come to an end. In his commentary on Ephesians 4, he writes:

[O]f the offices which Paul enumerates [apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher], only the last two [pastor and teacher] are perpetual. For God adorned His Church with apostles, evangelists and prophets, only for a time . . . But without pastors and [teachers] there can be no government of the church.[11]

For him, the main issue is whether pastor and teacher constitute one gift or two.

Newbigin summarizes the effects of this lack of missiology like this:

[T]he period in which our thinking about the Church received its main features [that is, the Protestant Reformation] was the period in which Christianity had practically ceased to be a missionary religion. . . . It was in this period, when the dimension of the ends of the earth had ceased to exist as a practical reality in the minds of [Protestant] Christians, that the main patterns of churchmanship were formed. The congregation was not a staging post for world mission but a gathering place for the faithful of a town or village. The ministry was not understood in terms of mission but in terms of guardianship of those already in the fold.[12]

As a result, whatever the reasons for this blind spot[13], it remains the fact that Reformation ecclesiology does not help us much with thinking about mission or apostolic ministries or pioneer church planting.

However, among those who have picked up Newbigin’s challenge to the church has been a group calling itself the Gospel and Our Culture Network.[14] Their most significant contribution to the conversation is a book called Missional Church (1998). In one chapter, the authors tackle this specific issue of the need for a renewal of apostolic ministries as crucial to rediscovering our missional calling:

Pastoral gifts are important, but in the current setting of the North American church, the apostolic gifts need to be called forth and equipped. While Ephesians 4 outlines a series of leadership gifts [apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher], the contemporary church focuses most of its energy on identifying, training and credentialing that limited section of those gifts related to the pastor-teacher. This indicates the levels at which the model of the settled parish culture continues to prevail. In the marginalized, missional setting that lies ahead for the church in North America, this pastor-teacher model is insufficient.[15]

All this is what lies behind the decision of the Wycliffe College, following the lead of the Church of England and its theological colleges, to introduce the pioneer stream to the M.Div program, not instead of training leaders for existing congregations, but alongside them. I am happy that we are not trying to introduce the term “apostolic,” because it would sound pretentious and presumptuous, even elitist. But if we understand apostles in this sense to be “pioneer missionary evangelists through whom Christian communities are founded,”[16] then technically it is what we are seeking to do.

That’s the first question. But then we ask what exactly is this unfamiliar animal called the pioneer minister? The second part of this paper addresses this question:

2.     What does a pioneer look like?

Here I want to draw on my work on Vincent Donovan, and particularly his letters.  Donovan lived from 1926 till 2000. For sixteen years, from 1957 till 1973, he was a Roman Catholic missionary in Northern Tanzania, and for two of those years (1966-1968) worked among the Maasai. He belonged to a missionary order, the Order of the Holy Ghost, begun in the 19th century and more commonly these days called the Spiritans. In 1973, he returned to the US, and in 1978 wrote a book about his experiences called Christianity Rediscovered (Orbis Books, 1978, 2003), which has become something of a classic in missiology,  cited in works as diverse as Adrian Hastings’ A History of African Christianity, 1950-1975 (1979), George Sumner’s The First and the Last (2004), Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder’s Constants in Context (2004), the Church of England’s Mission-Shaped Church report (2004), Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy (2004), and Dorothy Hodgson’s The Church of Women (2005).

Let me suggest six characteristics I see in Donovan which I think may be fairly said to be typical of those with this apostolic charism of pioneering.

(1)  Pioneers are restless at knowing that people have not heard the Gospel

I suspect this is the basic motivation for pioneers. You see it clearly in the Apostle Paul:

I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else\’s foundation, but as it is written, \”Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.” (Romans 15:20-21)

Most Christians who see themselves as communicators of the Gospel spend their time preaching to those who have already heard the name of Christ, and are content to do so. Paul is different: so is Donovan. In June 1960, he writes:

I personally am responsible for preaching the gospel to seventy-thousand Arusha tribesmen, and further up the line, together with another priest, I am responsible for doing the same to fifty-thousand Meru tribesmen. That’s 120,000 people on the conscience of Reverend Vincent J. Donovan of Winston Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. . . . Perhaps you understand that it is not easy to get on a personal first-name relationship with all of my parishioners, especially since some of their names are so difficult, that it develops an extra muscle in your tongue if you pronounce them often. (June 1960)

Notice how he starts: “I personally am responsible for preaching the gospel.” There is already a Catholic church among the Meru with thirty-one members, and some would be satisfied to minister to them—but not a pioneer. Here is one of his clearest statements of why:

For a big group of people in our own diocese [the Meru] whose tribal ground covered an unbelievably large land area, the gospel was an unknown quantity. They had never heard it. . . . How I longed to go to them! (April 1963, emphasis original)

Donovan, like the Apostle Paul, is a pioneer in the sense that he has a deep yearning to go to those who have never heard the gospel. This is the deepest desire of his heart.

This is why, as he looks at the church’s deployment of its resources around the world, it grieves him that:

out of the forty-thousand missionaries of the world . . . less than one thousand of them [are] assigned to evangelize the four-fifths of the world that is pagan. . . . scarcely eighteen percent of the world  . . . has heard of Christ, nearly two thousand years after the Resurrection.  (July 1970)

As a result, the conviction grew on him during his early years in Tanzania that, for him at least, other ministries had to be secondary. Early on, he is proud of the fact that missionaries need to be generalists. He (and the great majority were men) needs to be “pastor, principal of school, architect, mason, carpenter, painter, plumber, mechanic, judge, doctor, cook, employer, administrator, accountant, diplomat, explorer, lawyer, beggar, [and] priest” (August 1959). But by 1965, he is bemoaning the fact that “many of the priests and other missionaries who were working in East Africa were doing everything but teaching religion. And you know, that is actually why they came to Africa—to teach religion—or ‘to preach the Gospel,’ as it says in the Bible.” (April 1965) In December of that year, he writes, “I have been involved in many kinds of work out here, building, transporting, medical, social, educational, and searching out new sections where the church has never entered.” Then he adds a very revealing note: “but it was in catechetical work that I truly felt I was closest to the heart of the matter.” It’s the work of evangelizing those who have never heard the Gospel that engages him most fully.

This impulse leads to a second characteristic of pioneers:

(2)  Pioneers are more centrifugal in their ministry than centripetal

Here’s how he summarized one stage of his work:

Most of my time is not spent around the little mission church, but outside the mission. Most of my work is not with the Christians, but with Pagans and [Muslims]. It is an entirely different atmosphere, and calls for entirely different methods. (June 1960)

Later on, thanks to the influence of Anglican missiologist Roland Allen, he begins to understand the Apostle Paul’s method of missionary work, and contrasts it with what other missionaries have been doing for decades, and you will notice his use of the terms centrifugal and centripetal:

Paul  . . . neither built nor established a mission [meaning a “mission compound”]. He himself was the mission, he and his companions, a mobile mission, a temporary mission in any one place, a team in motion or movement towards the establishment, not of a mission, but of an indigenous church. Paul founded churches. We found missions. . . . In the latter case, it is no longer a centrifugal force reaching out forever as far as it can.  It becomes instead centripetal, attracting everything to itself. Instead of symbolizing movement towards another thing (in this case, church [that is, a new congregation]), it becomes instead, itself, the end of the line. . . . The word missionary is really a misnomer in this context. The command to go out and preach the gospel has become subtly transformed into “Stay here; take care of what you have. Let others come to you.” Missionary movement comes to a dead stop.  (July 1970)

Of course, as soon as you decide to “go” and get involved with “the other,” questions arise. We know how to relate to those who are similar to ourselves. Derek Warlock, former Bishop of Liverpool, once defined culture as “the way we do things round here.” When we meet “the other,” we find they “do things” differently, all the way from a different language to a different understanding of God, and we are faced with the question of how to communicate the Gospel in this different culture. As a result, pioneers by the very nature of their calling are faced immediately and urgently with what we call for short “Gospel and culture” questions—rather more than those of us for whom church is our normal environment.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul wrestled with this question:

Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! . . . [T]hough I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. . . . To those outside the law I became as one outside the law . . . so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, [why?] that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:16-23)

This leads me to suggest another characteristic of pioneers:

(3)  Pioneers seek to sit light to their own culture

I don’t know if Donovan ever encountered the writings of twentieth century Sri Lankan missiologist D. T. Niles (1908-1970), but he would certainly have sympathized with Niles’ advice:

When the missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flowerpot included. So . . . what we have to do is break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.[17]

Donovan’s Order was sensitive to this issue from the beginning. Their founder, Francis Libermann (1802–1852), had advised them, for example:

Put off Europe, its customs, its spirit. . . . Become Negroes to the Negroes, in order to form them as they should be, not in the fashion of Europe, but allow them to keep what is peculiar to them.[18]

Having said that, however, Donovan and some of his colleagues were dissatisfied with the way the Order was living out its charism in the late 1950’s. In an early letter, Donovan notes, without comment:

Several [Spiritan missionaries] have built their own houses; one of which could have come out of the pages of “Better Homes and Gardens” at half the professional price. One of them  . . . without any training whatsoever, designed himself a beautiful, magnificent Gothic Cathedral—and has almost completed it.[19] (August 1 1959)

A Western flowerpot was governing the shape of the African plant. Some of the dissatisfaction had to do with the Diocese of Moshi, where Donovan was first placed. Although it was under African leadership by this time[20], the church there had taken on a particularly European coloring, at least in Donovan’s eyes. They were, he reports, “Western in education, western in dress, western in the Christian names they bear, the churches they worship in, and the hymns they sing” (October 1967). Libermann had explicitly warned against imitating “the fashion of Europe,” so no wonder Donovan and his colleagues were dissatisfied. However, in 1963, a new diocese, the Diocese of Arusha, was carved out of the growing Diocese of Moshi, a Spiritan bishop (Dennis Durning) was appointed, and most of the Spiritan missionaries were transferred there. This gave them scope to put into practice their convictions about enculturation.

By 1965, Donovan has begun to use the phrase “naked Christianity”—that is, Christianity without any cultural trappings. He comes close to Niles’ analogy by saying, “I had to plant the seed in the Masai[21] culture, and let it grow wild.”[22] He says the goal of the Spiritans is:

to examine our religion itself, strip it of all the accidentals that have accrued to it throughout the years and centuries; see if we could get back to a kind of naked Christianity. People have a tendency to cling to accidentals and forget essentials. We wouldn’t give our people a chance to cling to accidentals, because we wouldn’t teach any. (June 1965)

Most these days, I think, would agree with David Bosch, who says, “There never was a ‘pure’ message, supracultural and suprahistorical. It [is] impossible to penetrate to a residue of Christian faith that was not, in a sense, already interpretation.”[23] Newbigin suggests that to try and separate what is cultural in our understanding of the faith from what is “authentic” is “like pretending to move a bus while you are sitting on it.”[24] It cannot be done. The closest we can come, he suggests, is through studying scripture with people of other cultures and learning to respect their perspectives and thus question our own—as might happen, for example, at an international conference.

In Christianity Rediscovered, Donovan actually describes how this happened for him: for example, in his work among the Maasai, he assumed that candidates for baptism would be examined and baptized one by one—whereas the Maasai assumed that whole villages would be baptised together as communities. Donovan could have insisted that his way was the right way, but was sensitive enough to realise the Maasai were right and he was wrong: whole villages were baptised.[25]

Even though it is impossible to distinguish “naked Christianity,” yet the awareness that all of us have cultural biases in interpreting the Gospel, and the willingness to accept correction from someone of another culture, is crucial for our spiritual health—and especially for those who are pioneers.

Fourthly, if pioneers want to take the Gospel to those who have never heard it, and are sensitized to cultural differences, then a major characteristic will be that:

(4)  Pioneers have a desire to translate the Gospel

Not long after he arrived in Tanzania, Donovan was struck by the fact that many of the hymns the African Catholics sang were Swahili words set to “Alsatian, French and German” tunes. The most Westernized of the tribes, the Chagga, seemed to be satisfied with this, but the Maasai were not: he writes, “They do not like Swahili . . . And they do not understand or like European melodies.” So Donovan began to collect Maasai tunes, and set the words of the Mass (Latin, of course!) to those tunes. The result was dramatic:

After the Mass, the Masai . . . in the blankets and skins came to me with tears in their eyes, to thank me for bringing to them, in a way they understood, the message of God and the worship of God.

The mark of a pioneer is not just that he or she does this, but that they find joy in doing it: “Would you think me strange if I told you that that day there were tears in my eyes, too—if I told you that there is nothing—nothing quite like missionary work?” (Aug 9, 1960) Not surprisingly, he adds, “I became half Masai myself” (July 1960).

It’s an interesting historical footnote that around this time he asked his bishop for permission to do the whole of the high mass in the Maasai language. The bishop, a Chagga by the name of Kilasara, had no choice but to say no but, Donovan comments, “I was told such permission will be granted at the Ecumenical Council soon to be held.” (August 9 1960) That “Ecumenical Council” was what came to be known as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), at which the Spiritans and their concerns were well represented.

This passion for translation is actually one way that a pioneer safeguards against imposing his or her own culture. Lamin Sanneh is an African teaching at Yale, who has written extensively on the effect of translation. He puts it this way:

[T]he gospel is potentially capable of transcending the cultural inhibitions of the translator and taking root in fresh soil [the seed image again!], a piece of transplanting that will in time come to challenge the presuppositions of the translator [—precisely what happened with Donovan’s revolution about communal baptisms] . . . When one translates, it is like pulling the trigger of a loaded gun: the translator cannot recall the speeding bullet.[26]

Perhaps it is obvious by now, but the fifth characteristic is worth spelling out:

(5)  Pioneers are willing to take on a challenge

The desire to share the Gospel with those who have never heard it means that pioneers are prepared to make sacrifices. On two occasions, Donovan’s bishop asked him to take on a pioneering challenge. The first was in 1961, when Bishop Kilasara sent a message asking Donovan to leave the Senior Seminary in Kibosho, which he had been directing, and to go to Usa River to begin a mission among the Meru tribe. Donovan writes:

The Meru! They stretched out from the south east corner ofMountMerudown into the plains far below. I remembered hearing back in 1958 that in the whole Meru tribe, there were only eleven Catholics. I asked the vicar general if he knew how many Catholics there were in the tribe now. He said according to the latest statistics there were now thirty-one. Thirty-one Catholics in a tribe of fifty-thousand! They were one of the most stubborn tribes we had ever come in contact with, rejecting every advance we ever made towards them. The vicar general was smiling. (April 1963)

Most of us would not be excited at such a challenge. Donovan is different. His immediate response? “Mission to the Meru! Mission to the Meru! My heart began to sing” (April 1963).

For a pioneer like Donovan, the challenge of a pioneering assignment like this is precisely what gives him joy.

Five years later, his bishop (now the Spiritan Bishop Durning) wanted him to apply the missionary strategy that he had developed among the Maasai to another tribe, the Sonjo, and again Donovan rose to the challenge:

The Sonjo! The Sonjo are a tribe more primitive than the Masai, mysterious in their origins . . . almost completely impervious to any outside influence. . . . Because of [this], they can be an extremely difficult people with which to work. . . . Of course, this is what I had been dreaming of, what I had been saying we not only can do but must do—evangelize one tribe after the other, and move on, never settling down, never letting the word mission be changed from the active, moving, dynamic thing that it is supposed to be into a static, settled down, comfortable, turned-in, institutional, end-of-the-line type thing that it usually becomes. . . . I took the job—and a stiff drink the bishop offered me. (September 1968)

In light of the first five characteristics, I do not think the final one will come as a surprise:

(6)            Pioneers are often considered trouble-makers

Donovan himself does not seem to have been labeled this way, but this is because he was a part of a missionary Order. But the Order itself was often considered a thorn in the flesh by the national church of Tanzania. When the new Diocese of Arusha was created in 1963, for some it was seen as a way to accommodate (and perhaps isolate) the ethos of the Spiritans, who were regarded as uncomfortably radical. Donovan comments on what happened at national church gatherings:

We in Arusha . . . are pretty far out on a limb in many things. . . . Opinions and thoughts from Arusha always caused much commotion, and were inevitably received with much suspicion and fear.

One thorny issue concerned the possibility of ordaining married men. As Donovan worked among the Maasai, he was very struck by how natural leaders emerge from the community—and he would like to have ordained them.[27] But, of course, in the Catholic system, they would first of all had to do seven years theological training, and be committed to celibacy. Even if the churches could wait that long, by the time they came back, how far would they be able to relate to their own people? Donovan describes arguing the case at a national conference:

[T]he hostility from the local clergy of other Dioceses and from Bishops towards the idea of married priests was incredible, we almost thought insurmountable. After a year of meetings, discussions etc., the change in mentality is just as remarkable. I think everyone agrees that something must be done and although everyone is not yet prepared to go as far as we want to go, they are at least willing at last to discuss the problem.  (Dec 30, 1969)

Usually it is an individual pioneer who is a thorn in the flesh for the institutional church. What is amusing here is that it is a whole pioneering diocese (not to mention its bishop) that creates a problem for the national church. One correspondent told me that other Tanzanian bishops tried for twenty years to get Durning to resign: in fact, he lasted 23 years!


You will not be surprised to know that I think we need to do more to nurture pioneers and pioneer ministries. Strangely enough, the two Christian traditions that have taken this kind of ministry seriously are the so-called evangelical denominations on the one hand, and the Roman Catholics on the other. It seems to have been harder for Protestant mainline denominations—Anglican, United and Lutheran, for example—to read the signs of the times and act accordingly. Maybe we had more invested in Christendom than either of the other groups, and are still in denial about its death!

If I am right, then there are three fronts we need to work on: firstly, developing a fuller theology of pioneer ministries and an understanding of how it relates to our missiology and our ecclesiology; secondly, looking for models—starting with the Apostle Paul, but including those like Vincent Donovan, who have exercised the charism of pioneering ministry over the centuries and who have much to teach us; and thirdly, we need to work on finding ways to identify, cultivate and deploy those who have the potential for this kind of ministry.

But let me give the last word to Vincent Donovan:

An inward-turned Christianity is a dangerous counterfeit, an alluring masquerade—is no Christianity at all. . . . Christianity must be a force that moves outwards.  A Christian, in his community or out of it, must, like Christ, be essentially a “man for others.”[28]  Not for himself.  And the Christian community is basically in existence for others.  That is the whole meaning of a Christian community. . . . Christ did not say, “Be good and the world will come to you.” He said, “Go out to all the world.”   (May 1970)

Let us be imitators of Vincent Donovan as he was of the Apostle Paul, as he was of Christ. To the glory of God.

Lecture given on the occasion of John Bowen\’s promotion to ful professor

January 11, 2012




[1] Mission Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing 2004), 147.

[2] Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1977), 64.

[3] This section builds on the work of George Lings, “Looking in the mirror: what makes a pioneer?” in Dave Male (ed.) Pioneers 4 Life: Explorations in theology and wisdom for pioneering leaders (Abingdon, UK: Bible Reading Fellowship 2011)

[4] “Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1).

[5] For more on this theme in John’s Gospel, see chapter 4 of my Evangelism for ‘Normal’ People: Good News for those Looking for a Fresh Approach (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress 2002).

[6] John R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 160. Italics original.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Michael Griffiths, Cinderella’s Betrothals Gifts (Sevenoaks, Kent: OMF Books 1978), 24. My italics.

[9] By the same token, Ignatius Loyola is never called an apostle, even though he founded the Jesuit missionary movement, simply because he himself lived most of his life in Rome, and did not pioneer any church planting.

[10] Missiologist David Bosch says:  “[V]ery little happened by way of a missionary outreach during the first two centuries after the Reformation. . . . [M]ost theologians of Lutheran orthodoxy [for instance] . . . believed that the ‘Great Commission’ had been fulfilled by the apostles [read: the Twelve] and was no longer binding on the church.” David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis 1991), 243-248. He says that, following the Reformation, “The church is a place where something is done, not a living organism doing something.” (249) Bishop Stephen Neil agrees: “In the Protestant world, during the period of the Reformation, there was little time for thought of missions.” Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1964), 220. And historian Diarmaid MacCulloch: “Reformation Protestants did very little missionary work outside the boundaries of Europe; during the sixteenth century they were still too busy fighting for their existence against Catholics, and also fighting among themselves to establish their identify.” Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (Toronto: Viking 2003), 414.

[11] John Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965) 180. My italics.

[12] “Theology was not concerned so much to state the Gospel in terms of non-Christian cultures, as with the mutual struggle of rival interpretations of the Gospel. Church history was taught not as the story of missionary advance in successive encounters of the Gospel with different forms of human culture and society but rather as the story of doctrinal and other conflicts within the church.” Lesslie Newbigin, Honest Religion for Secular Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1966), 102-103. See also Moltmann 1977, 7. Luther’s six point summary of the functions of the church says nothing about mission.

[13] A characteristically Anabaptist hermeneutic is offered by Stuart Murray: “Europe was still regarded as essentially Christian, in need of doctrinally sound preaching and effective pastoral care, rather than evangelizing.” Church Planting: Laying Foundations (Waterloo ON: Herald Press 2001), 95. David Bosch goes into more detail, but comes to essentially the same conclusion, in Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis 1991), 243-248. He says that, following the Reformation, “The church is a place where something is done, not a living organism doing something.” (249)

[14] See

[15] Darrell L Guder (ed.), Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1998), 214.

[16] Griffiths, 24.

[17] Cited by Mortimer Arias, “Contextual Evangelization in Latin America: Between Accommodation and Confrontation,” in Paul Chilcote & Laceye Warner, The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2008),  384.

[18] Letter, cited by Marc R. Spindler in “Libermann, Francois Marie Paul,” in The Biographical Dictionary of Christian Mission, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (Grand Rapids Eerdmans 1998), 399.

[19] A picture of this church is reproduced on page 21 of the Letters.

[20] The diocese had over 150,000 Catholics, 28 African priests, 164 African Sisters, and 25 African Brothers (Koren, 332).

[21] Although most contemporary writers write “Maasai,” Donovan, like most writers of his time, writes “Masai.”

[22] Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered (Maryknoll NY: Orbis 1978/2003), 59.

[23] David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 422.

[24] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans/WCC 1989), 191.

[25] Donovan, 70.

[26] Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books 1992), 53.

[27] In Christianity Rediscovered, Donovan writes at length about Keriko, who would have been the first candidate.

[28] The phrase is from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).