The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines, in part, a pioneer as “a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development.”
For us, as Youth With A Mission (YWAM), pioneering can mean birthing something completely new or redefining something that is or has been.
In either case as we face the challenge of pioneering in the uncertainty of a world impacted by a pandemic we need to think differently, re-imagine our activities and develop new methods.
Thinking differently is not about having radical or ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas. First and foremost it is about focusing on the Lord, listening to His voice and acting in obedience.
Secondly it is about not submitting to, or being intimidated by, the negativity of the world around us. In Jeremiah 32 we read how Jeremiah bought a field in the face of great adversity and uncertainty. He took a step of faith in the midst of that uncertainty and God opened his understanding to see His purposes and outcomes.
Lastly, it is recognising that the challenges we are facing are not short-term. We cannot just envisage the future when things finally return to ‘normal’. We are in a new season that is largely here to stay and we have to think, dream and plan accordingly.
Re-imagining our activities means being willing to evaluate what has been and weigh its effectiveness against today’s challenges. Evaluation is not negative criticism. It is measuring the fruit of past or current ministry against the investment in it of time, people and resources. It is knowing when to let go of something that is no longer, or never was, particularly fruitful.
It can also be recognising that the season of something that is fruitful has come to an end. Prior to pioneering our first YWAM ministry location in Zimbabwe my wife and I had led a very fruitful youth ministry for three years. As we started the YWAM location the Lord showed us that the season for the youth ministry was over. One of the churches involved in the youth ministry with us asked if they could continue with it as they did not want to see a fruitful ministry terminated. Two months later the ministry died. Even fruitful ministries can have a season.
Most importantly we need to weigh our priorities against God’s priorities. If we cannot physically ‘go’ as we have been accustomed to doing, what should we be doing instead. How can we reprioritise. As YWAM we are called to know God and make Him known. Our default is often to make Him known – which can be reflected in our prayer life as we pursue guidance and resources.
When pioneering our first Discipleship Training School (DTS) in Zimbabwe we had 10 days of 24-hour prayer leading up to outreach. We were trusting the Lord for $20,000 to purchase a vehicle for the outreach, and on the last night of the prayer time the Lord spoke to me and said He would give us the money for the vehicle – but then He said you could have asked me for something else: You could have asked me for 20,000 souls. My priority had been to make Him known, but His priority for me was to know Him – and to understand His heart for the nations.
Perhaps our most important activity right now is prioritising knowing God so that from that renewed place of intimacy He can birth His new plans in our hearts. At the beginning of lockdown the Lord took me to Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7. It is not that our works were bad, its that we let them get in the way of our first love. The world has never been in such need of the love, hope, healing and compassion that is available in Jesus as it is today. We can only give away as much as we have received. Our most important activity, as we embrace the challenges ahead of us, is to intentionally pursue knowing God more than ever before.
Developing new methods requires that we recognise that we have not been this way before, and much of what we have become accustomed to will no longer be possible, relevant or fruitful.
I said earlier that pioneering is not about having radical or ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas – but it is about using the inherent creativity and imagination that God has placed within each one of us. If God has raised us up and prepared us for this time then we carry within us the potential to give full expression to all that is on His heart. The key to new methods is to look beyond the safe and the predictable and to know that in Christ all things are possible.
One of those new methods is learning how to use modern technology to reach the nations with the gospel. I remember, many years ago, Loren Cunningham (the founder of YWAM) in a moment of humour saying that as YWAM and commercial international air travel were both founded in 1961 the latter was God’s gift to YWAM and we just shared it with the rest of the world! As international air travel becomes increasingly restricted and expensive could it be that modern digital technology is God’s gift to us today?
Our confidence, as we commit to engage with the new things on God’s heart in this new season, is not YWAM’s past successes or our past experience. It is God’s promise to not leave us or forsake us. When David gave Solomon the mandate to build the temple I imagine Solomon felt a little overwhelmed by the challenge and the responsibility. David’s encouragement to him was “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.” 1 Chronicles 28:20 (NASB)
In his letter, James says “I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18b. We have much work to do and the Lord is ready and waiting to equip us for that work.