Pioneers and prophets

Making connections beyond traditional church

Working strategically to create Christian presence

At the heart of BRF’s work is the desire for people to grow in the Christian faith – regardless of their background. A big part of how we do this is around making church accessible – for example through the ‘come-as-you-are’ Messy Church approach, or through Anna Chaplaincy, offering spiritual support to older people in the community regardless of their starting point. (There’s also Messy Vintage, which combines the two.)

One BRF author who is officially a 'pioneer minister' in the Anglican Church is Paul Bradbury. We talked to Paul about the pioneering work he’s been doing in Poole, on the south coast of England, for the past eleven years.

Paul Bradbury

Paul Bradbury (left) is a man on a mission – to 'pioneer something new and connect with people beyond the reach of the traditional churches'.

Having helped plant a community called Reconnect and eventually established the charity Poole Missional Communities, he now mentors and enables other pioneers and works strategically with Poole Deanery to see where 'we can plant or create Christian presence among communities where we’re struggling to connect in more traditional ways'.

'All churches are supposed to be communities that have mission as part of their DNA'

Sent out to build a worshipping community

Church language around mission and outreach can be baffling, so we asked Paul to decode the jargon.

'The Church of England's understanding of Pioneer is essentially someone with an entrepreneurial gift, an innovative gift,’ he explained. 'A creative kind of person who’s gifted at venturing into contexts where the church has struggled to engage or has no presence, and create some form of Christian presence and worshipping community there. Usually that’s by building a team and listening, and starting to connect with people in that context, and shaping church through that process. That’s very much, for me, the heart of pioneering.'

'Missional is an adjective we’ve come to use to re-emphasise the importance of mission, particularly apostolic mission,' says Paul. 'By which I mean that mission which is "sent": sent beyond the boundaries of the church as it’s currently engaged in different places, sending teams or individuals beyond that edge to create something new. So we talk about "missional communities" as an expression of church. All churches are supposed to be communities that have mission as part of their DNA, but perhaps we’ve created an adjective to emphasise that dimension.'

'We are swimming against the tide... Our culture is not conducive to being a disciple of Jesus.'

We asked Paul for his understanding of missional discipleship and intentional communities.

'Both of those expressions,' he said, 'are taking seriously the reality, at least for me, that we live in a post-Christian culture and we are therefore swimming against the tide all the time. Whether it's secularism, individualism or consumerism, the idols of our age are not Christian.

'So Christian discipleship is not a given, due to the culture in which we’re living, and therefore you have to be intentional about discipleship. So we’re rediscovering things like rhythms of prayer and rules of life and other practices that come from the monastic tradition, which was itself formed in another time of cultural crisis when it seemed like the church was losing its way. We’re rediscovering those things for the very reason that our culture is quite opposed and not conducive to being a disciple of Jesus.'

Radical, inspiring and transforming

If you’re interested in pushing the boundaries, you might well enjoy Paul’s books, Stepping into Grace (2016) and Home by Another Route (2019). Both are challenging, inspiring and transforming. In the first he reflects on the story of Jonah in the light of his experience as a pioneer minister, and in the second he reimagines today’s church by drawing on the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.

The difference was that I needed to write the first book – it came out of me – but the second book was much more like the Ezekiel passage itself; it took me on a journey.

Stepping into Grace and Home by Another Route book covers
'Organisations like BRF can speak with a more prophetic voice from the edge'

Speaking with a prophetic voice

Paul agrees that pioneering isn’t just something for churches: 'I think the renewal of the church generally comes from outside the traditional institution, so organisations that don’t have to be overly concerned with maintaining and sustaining the traditions can perhaps speak with a more prophetic voice from the edge. An organisation like BRF can have that kind of perspective and that kind of voice.'