“Churches need both pioneers and settlers,” Mike Breen said, “The problem is, the mainline denominations have distilled off most the pioneers into parachurch organizations.” Watching a video segment of Mike teaching through the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4, this assertion grabbed me. We are working with our City Church Eastside leadership community reading his book, Building a Discipling Culture, and using the videos that come along to teach the major points.

Ephesians 4:11-13 describes the fivefold ministry: 

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ

Mike Breen and his 3DM team have developed an online assessment that helps one identify which of these spiritual gifts is primary. I’ve used a number of spiritual gifts assessments before, and the long list of possibilities confuses some people who don’t easily find clarity. In that way, this fivefold lens on spiritual gifts is easier to grasp. You can find the online assessment here.

Breen describes the Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists as the pioneers, while Pastors and Teachers are settlers. Thinking about his assertion, I came to see that indeed many of the Pioneers in denominational churches have gotten frustrated and moved into parachurch organizations to do their ministry. Even in my work, I sought to create my own parachurch organization to equip discipling leaders, since the denominational Seminaries weren’t attending to this work.

I’ve always seen a tension in churches and between those who think things are changing too slowly, and those who think change is happening too fast. But, I never had a good frame of reference for this dynamic. I’ve long seen links to Myers-Briggs style. Some people are more future oriented, others much more focused on the present or the past. I understand how any normal population will have segments that are early adopters, early majority, late majority, and refuseniks. I just did not understand how this dynamic fit into spiritual gifting, and how critical each is to healthy church community.

This fivefold framework brings clarity to these tensions. Breen describes how pioneers journey into the wilderness and stake out new ground beyond existing civilization. But, after a short while pioneers will always move on to the next wilderness. If settlers do not follow soon after the pioneers, the new land will return to wilderness. So, planting healthy community in new places requires both pioneers and settlers.

We asked the leaders to do the online assessment before the meeting. As we sat with the them discussing the video and the assessments, we found that two of the leaders on the original church plant, both elders today, identified themselves as settlers. Scott Armstrong planted the church in the very postmodern, secular Eastside of Atlanta, while bringing along those who would settle in and lay the building blocks of community as soon as they found a place to plant.

I spent twenty-five years after my adult baptism in the more traditional churches of the ELCA Lutheran tribe. I’m an ENTJ on the Myers-Briggs Personality Style Indicator, and a high D, high I on the DISC inventory. I’m a serial entrepreneur and definitely find my spiritual gifts in the Pioneer range. I had a passion to reach the unchurched, and to equip and empower people that was not shared by most of my Lutheran brothers and sisters.

I led a change effort that fractured my church in the late ‘90’s. I had watched the church hit a plateau, and begin a gradual decline. We attracted a number of new families when we started a Contemporary Worship in 1995. But, within three years, these bright, energetic young leaders were peeling off and leaving because the old guard was intent on maintaining the status quo and resisting all change.

I stepped into a leadership void that occurred when the Congregation President fell ill and resigned. I’d spent twenty years building friendships and deep roots in the church, and felt called to lead. But I soon found myself getting out too far ahead of the settlers in the congregation. I read a book at the time, Transitioning, by Dan Southerland. He described how he led a church through transition by first "preaching them down" from three hundred to two hundred, then beginning a journey to three thousand members. The early phase of change takes us through the Valley of the Shadow. Southerland said one thing that stuck with me these years. I’ve quoted it hundreds of times.  Southerland writes, “The difference between a leader and a martyr is two steps. A leader stays one step in front of the people, and a martyr gets three steps ahead, and is shot in the back.”

I experienced what happens when you stretch the tension between the pioneers and the settlers to the breaking point, and it’s not pretty. The sad thing I did not realize then, nor did the settlers either, I suspect, is that we needed each other. Without the pioneers, the church will slowly atrophy and die. When developing a leadership curriculum for the Lutherans, I researched and found that 90% of the 10,000+ churches of our denomination had not added a single person to average worship over the last five years. These churches are all on a plateau or in decline. Most of the pioneers have left, and without them, turning around the decline is nearly impossible. I was listening to the Casting Crown song, City on a Hill, and it spoke to these divisions, and inspired me to write this piece. Here is the song.

Once again, either or thinking creates divisions among us, when often the real solution is both/and. Either/or divides while both/and multiplies, because you have both the entrepreneurs who will lead us to the promised land, and the managers and doers who will turn it into the land of milk and honey once it is conquered.

Without a strong commitment to Gospel unity, such diversity will never coexist in harmony. Only the Spirit can move us past our natural selves to the supernatural state of living as Body of Christ, valuing each other for the diverse gifts brought to the table. Strong relationships are at the core of successful community. That is the kind of healthy community I have yearned for these past decades. At City Church, I’m part of a community trying to live this out. I pray you are.

See other posts on 3DM here:

3DM: A Taste of Discipleship

3DM Discipleship & Mission

The Learning Circle: Accountability in Discipleship

Person of Peace

What's your Church's Core Process?

Healthy Community: Community Built on Discipleship & Mission

Healthy Community: Community of Transformed Hearts & Souls

Churches need Pioneers and Settlers