[Church Mission Society] An independent report on the first five years of the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course has revealed a big success story.
The report, which was commissioned by CMS in order to provide an objective evaluation of the course shows it has had a positive impact not just on students but on what they are doing in their communities.
Asked what practical results they attributed directly to being students at CMS, more than a third said they had started a new project or community.
In addition, half the students said they had taken a major new step in their projects as a result of the course, while two thirds said they had improved what they were already doing.
The report's authors, Cocreate Consulting, said the wider church should "embrace the creativity of pioneers in mission as they advance the gospel and the kingdom."
CMS Pioneer students do a huge range of things: from boxercise to comedy clubs, community gardens to a singing cafe for people with dementia; there are pastors, pig farmers, surfers and men in sheds.
The pioneers have a strong focus on communities on the margins, whether on estates or at pagan festivals.
Students travel from all over the country to the study with CMS. Pioneer Mission Leadership Training began with a pilot year in 2010. In 2012, it was approved as a pathway for training ordained pioneer ministers in the Church of England and it now offers individual modules, a certificate, diploma and MA under the Church's Common Awards, accredited by Durham University.
The report says pioneers have found in the CMS course "a place to call home". The sense of a supportive learning community and a network of genuine friendships with other pioneers was one of the stand-out benefits for students.
They also credit the course with giving them a language and theology for the practical work they are already doing. This in turn helps them to explain often-misunderstood pioneer mission work to others.
Another important area of impact for students was the emphasis on personal spiritual growth or “soul work”.
Andy Schofield, one of the report's authors, has some advice for pioneers based on the findings. "Pioneering seems to work best with the support of others," he says.
"Surrounding yourself with networks of like-minded people can help you 'hang in there' for the long term in what can otherwise feel like a lonely challenge. This also creates the context for reflecting on practice, a key and valuable aspect of the course. Thinking about and tracking the impact of pioneering work can help pioneers stay on track and improve what they do. Lastly, based on the positive experience of pioneers who have been on it, consider taking the course!"
Jonny Baker, course leader and director of mission education at CMS, said "I am convinced that pioneers are a great gift to the church. It's so encouraging to know that the training and community we have created at CMS in the last five years is doing what we hoped when we set out – enabling pioneers to find confidence in what they bring and share Christ in mission beyond the edges of where the church usually operates. It's doubly reassuring to have an external company reflect this back to us."
Cocreate Consulting based their findings on 110 students who have either completed or are currently studying on the CMS Pioneer course, using a combination of interviews, questionnaires, self-evaluation scores by students, before and after video interviews and other data. They analysed the results in relation to success criteria set out in 2011 using the Transformational Index measurement tool.