Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pioneering Plan B: bite-sized education?

Last Friday, I was contemplating a pioneering disaster.

Last Friday, we only had one student enrolment for the March 17-21 Pioneering intensive with Dave Male. Despite a range of advertising, despite Dave being well known in South Australia, I was contemplating the difficulty involved in offering a decent educational experience to a class of one.

It was time for plan B. Annoying at the time, but in hindsight, totally consistent with a course on pioneering! We had shaped the original intensive with Dave to run mornings and evenings. So on Friday we decided to drop the mornings. Instead we will use the time to work one on one with Dave, designing a blended learning distance Pioneering package. What this will mean is that any person, any candidate, can study Pioneering with us at any time in the years ahead, rather than simply by intensive when Dave Male is in town. Which will be a really exciting addition to our Bachelor of Ministry degree, a permanent topic in Pioneering! (A first in Australia I think.) So that was the first part of Pioneering Plan B.

The second part of Pioneering Plan B was to take the existing week long evening programme and offer it in bite-sized chunks. Same topics. But advertise it not as a week, but as bite-sized. Come to one evening or more. Even all four.

The third part of Pioneering plan B was to emphasise that the existing evening programme is not about content but conversation. Rather than lecture, we are offering worship, drink and a story. Four stories actually, of women exploring pioneering in different ways. Which will start a conversation about the issues, the resources, what we are learning about innovation, leadership, mission and church. All stimulated by Dave and by all those who participate.

Some five days later, we have 13 18 20 RSVP’s. Which is a quite a turnaround from the solitary one.

It’s really got me thinking. What was the difference? The personal invite email? The fact the evenings are being offered for free? The deliberate naming of a shift from content to conversation? The shift to bite-sized, with folk able to give an evening, but not a week?

I’m looking forward to doing some market research but I suspect the biggest factor is the latter, the offer of bite-sized education. That one week is too much, but an evening (of four for some) is do-able. Which raises some intriguing questions for education in general. What might it mean to modularize a syllabus, to go bite-sized?

And the one enrolment? They are delighted at our flexibility. They will get some focused 1 on 1 time with Dave Male at the start and end of the week, in order to establish some specifically tailored guided reading, all mixed in with some evenings of rich conversation to help their own processing.

And for those in Adelaide, it’s still not too late to RSVP to steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au. Here’s the bite-sized programme, come to one, come to more …

Monday 17, March- Pioneering and I – Personal leadership and the pioneer – confidence, priorities, delegation, project planning; sustainability, with a story by Tracey Spencer of early contact between missionary and indigenous peoples

Tuesday, 18,March- Pioneering and we – Working with wider church and agencies – Resourcing (funds, people, volunteers); explaining, clarifying, communicating, with a story by Christy Spier of community gardening as a hot house for community development

Wednesday 19, March- Pioneering and us – Communal Leadership and the Pioneer – building vision, relationships, recruiting, growing volunteers, with a story by Lynne Taylor of building participation across three fresh expressions

Thursday 20, March- Pioneering and seasons – Navigating Leadership changes in fresh expressions, as individuals and in the groups, with a story by Ruthmary of transitioning a community from one pioneering venture to another

Uniting College Common Space, 7:15 pm-9:15 pm, RSVP by Friday 14 March, for catering purposes.

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM


  1. Might be a problem with the name…. Pioneering ??

    Comment by dean — March 13, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  2. Thanks Dean.

    Part of my dilemna is that it is language the Synod and Presbytery agreed to: Here is the minutes:

    In June, 2010, the Synod and Presbytery of South Australia resolved to:
    REQUEST the Mission Resourcing Network, the New Models Core Team of the Strategic Plan and the Missiology Stream of the Uniting College to:
    (a) Take a lead role in promoting the development of Fresh Expressions and Church Plants.
    (b) Develop a network/community of Pioneer Ministers.

    REQUEST the Leadership Development Council and the Uniting College to take the lead in developing suitable training courses for Pioneer Ministry including:
    (a) Short-term courses which will offer basic training and formation of lay people.
    (b) Pathways to formation of people called to pioneer ministry

    It would have been great to have had the time on Synod floor at that time to work on the language.

    In response to the feedback from you (and others) I am working on 2 other processes re language – one of which is to have Tracey Spencer tell a post-colonial story to kick off these evenings. The other is making a request to Regional Council for a conversation re the language.

    But until then, we are working with language the whole church agreed with,


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2014 @ 10:44 am

  3. There are 2 problems with the language of “Pioneering” and at least one “meta” problem.

    Problem 1. “Pioneering”, as has been noted, carries colonial, imperialist and triumphalist baggage that doesn’t sit well with the gospel.

    Meta Problem 1. Those of us who complain about the language, or depend the process which saddles us with the language, run the risk of being wet blankets and slowing down the intent of the process to help us think of new ways to have fun with ministry in our current context.

    Problem 2. “Pioneering” is just a stupid word for what we are trying to do. We are not opening new geound. We are actually revisiting very old territory to see what can be “dug over”. I’m not sure of the metaphor to choose here. Our call here in SA is to understand not only “post-christendom” but also how we can use what is left over.

    There is a lot of good fertiliser forming out of the corpse of Christendom as it decomposes. Sure it stinks a bit at times… But we the more time we spend in the muck the more we will appreciate its richness. (Now that is a crappy metaphor)

    Perhaps another set of words we could appropriate for our task is that of subversion. Perhaps our task is not to stake out and claim new ground but to subvert and pervert current claims for God’s purposes. The corrupting influence of the gospel… I see a theme here!

    Comment by Geoff Hurst — March 13, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

  4. Geoff,

    This is the dictionary def of pioneer


    a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.
    synonyms: settler, colonist, colonizer, frontiersman/frontierswoman, explorer, trailblazer, discoverer More
    “the pioneers of the Wild West”
    a person who is among the first to research and develop a new area of knowledge or activity.
    “a famous pioneer of birth control”
    synonyms: developer, innovator, groundbreaker, trailblazer, pathfinder, front runner, founder, founding father, architect, experimenter, instigator, avant-gardist, creator; More
    avant-garde, spearhead;


    develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity).
    “the technique was pioneered by a Swiss doctor in the 1930s”
    synonyms: develop, introduce, evolve, start, begin, launch, instigate, initiate, put in place, take the initiative in, take the lead in, spearhead, institute, establish, found, give birth to, be the father/mother of, originate, set in motion, create, open up, lay the groundwork for, lead the way for, prepare the way for, lay the foundations of

    So yes, as a noun – “colonial, imperialist and triumphalist baggage” but there’s more to the word than that, esp as a verb.


    Comment by steve taylor — March 13, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

  5. Good point Steve. Let’s work on some good verbs (verbiage 🙂 )

    Comment by Geoff Hurst — March 13, 2014 @ 6:08 pm

  6. One of the things that Paul in the NT does is take words from the culture and fill them with content. So in 1 Corinthians 4 he is the “pater familias” to the church. In a culture where “pater familias” meant absolute authority, he a few verses before also calls himself the servant and the fool of the church.

    So words are used, but filled with a subversive content. So the question becomes for me – is pioneer so damaged we need another word? Is, if Jesus is, as in Hebrews, the pioneer of our faith, can this help us subvert the pioneer word – eg the suffering pioneer, the Philipians 2 kenotic pioneer, etc,


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

  7. Sounds awesome, and i am REALLY looking forward to being involved. Had a mildly (almost, no tissues required) teary moment when i thought today about all the amazing people i have had the privilege of pioneering (developing, innovating, breaking new ground) with … Steve, Nick, Karen, Phil, Jan, Tony, David, Annette, Kristi, Chris, Stephen, Jan, Shannon, Jo, Paul, Anne, Andy, Bob, Jess, Kayli. And many others. It’s a team sport. Each doin’ our little bit. More on Wednesday night. I’ll be telling (my/their) stories…

    Comment by lynne — March 13, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

  8. I think that what you’ve done in respond is very creative and good for the long term. You already know that I have questions about the initial advertising. I don’t think that people knew about it or could find out about it easily. I’m choosing to say this here because you asked the question here. BTW ‘pioneer’ is not a problem for me. I’ll ask my girls what language works for them. Anyway looking forward to engaging with Dave. I appreciate the fact that he’s in town and the work that has gone into that.

    Comment by Craig Mitchell — March 13, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

  9. Thanks Craig for the feedback. We can certainly always do better on the promotions front.

    We decided not to produce a separate colour brochure to send around re Dave Male, which has been a historic mode of operation at UCLT. The reason was that with the Evangelism, Conversion and Mission of God intensive 2 weeks later, I was uneasy about placing the 2 events in competition.

    Re Dave Male advertising, we had an article in February NT and an advertisement in March NT. We had a 4 page center colour spread in Australian Leadership as a way to advertise all our intensives as part of Master and Dr of Ministry.

    What is interesting is that with very similar advertising approaches, we’ve had 12 enrolments for the Evangelism, Conversion and Mission of God, but 1 for Pioneering. The main difference I can see is the Evangelism, Conversion and Mission of God is tied to the Clear Call Conference. Perhaps that might have given us some leverage.

    As I said, we can always do better. December 2013 I had set aside time to work on promotion, but found myself involved an unexpected search for a new Faculty position. In hindsight, time was re-assigned and perhaps that does validate your critique, that we can do better in promotion.

    I’d love to know what your daughters think of the language.


    Comment by steve — March 14, 2014 @ 8:42 am

  10. what made the difference for me was
    a) personal invitation
    b) bite sized chunks (evening / day not necessarily better than the other)
    c) format: worship, drink, conversation

    also, a week long intensive didn’t work because
    a) minister in a congregation in lent
    b) don’t feel like I’m at a stage of wanting to ‘study’ pioneering, having done it, been it … if that makes sense
    c) don’t feel like studying at all just at the moment, having just finished honours ;o)

    hope that helps :o)

    Comment by sarah — March 14, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

  11. I spoke to steve about my concerns a few weeks ago – i think terms like ‘pioneering’ support a view of Australian history that is racist – it is a word like ‘settlers’ that sounds benign because it covers up a history of anglo atrocities.
    I was under the impression that the ‘pioneering’ concept was connected to David Male. The Synod presbytery decision above altered me to the fact that this is the Synod’s language. I am dismayed at the way we are describing ministry.
    If we are going to be pioneers then i want to get our wagons in a circle and shoot at indians with John Wayne!

    I will accept Steve’s invitation to come along Tues evening. I’m part of a project that is practising community ministry out of an agency setting. More about it can be found at
    Our next projects is to look closely at the Recognise campaign which is about recognising the place of Aboriginal people in the upcoming referendum.

    Comment by Peter — March 15, 2014 @ 5:25 am

  12. Glad to hear the pioneering conversations are working out. My first engagement with pioneer language was in the 1980s, reflecting on the distinction between being pioneers and being settlers. At the time I was living in a small NZ town established by Irish (Ulster) Presbyterians, over the top of a Maori community. When we explored the language of pioneers/settlers, I was told by a few that the preferred mode had always been and always would be “Settlers” – taking a well established model and planting it in a new setting. However others warmed to pioneering – exploring new ways to connect, with innovative approaches to youth ministry, community engagement, the development of a new creative faith community. The issues of colonialism and engagement with already existing cultures needed to be addressed by both settlers and pioneers.

    My 10 cents worth on the enrolment issue. I went looking for the Dave Male Pioneering intensive online, so I could promote it in NSW/ACT. I found it mentioned as being planned, but couldn’t find a page anywhere with details on program or registration details. I assumed it was either invitation only or it had been cancelled. That being said, I’m working on a page for your missiology intensive in Sydney in July!

    Comment by Duncan — March 19, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  13. Thanks for the feedback Duncan. I’m not sure what worries me more – a church of settlers or a church of pioneers? James Belich reckons the most destructive time in intercultural encounter is during settler periods not pioneer periods. Initially there is often reliance on indigenous people by pioneers (surely an essential lesson in itself re mission). It is as settler pressure builds that atrocities have mainly occurred.

    The feedback re lack of a page on the website is helpful. We can look to create an “intensives” section that lists all the way’s were doing this – I think there are 10 scheduled for 2014 in different places.


    Comment by steve — March 19, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

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