Newsletter #480 – Learning From Pioneer Leaders

Several years ago I spoke at a banquet honoring Clyde and Ruth Narramore, pioneers in the development of Christian counseling as it developed following World War II. Now in his nineties, Clyde’s work was shaped by early American fundamentalism and the post-war culture where he worked. Beginning as a licensed psychologist working in secular schools, he emerged as a speaker and entrepreneur who brought popular psychology to evangelical churches and radio listeners. As described in Clyde’s recent autobiography, Every Person is Worth Understanding, he and his wife had the first Christian radio program dealing with psychological issues and the first Christian psychology magazine. Each lasted thirty years. Clyde and Ruth spoke at hundreds of Bible conferences and travelled around the world pioneering the work of psychology and missions. He was invited to speak in the military academies and centers of power in Washington including the White House, Pentagon and State Department. He wrote a number of books and was founder (with his nephew Bruce Narramore) of Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology.

What can we learn from pioneers like this who appear on the scene, have a significant impact during the prime of their lives and then often fade from view?

  • Pioneers are alert to opportunities and possibilities in their environments. Before this was popular, the Narramores used radio to spread their message.
  • Pioneers take action and often take risks. Clyde and Ruth demonstrated the relevance of psychology and counseling when these were suspect in many Christian circles.
  • Christian pioneers are faithful believers, alert to God’s guidance and not ashamed of their beliefs.
  • These people work hard, often without funds or recognition, but they persevere in doing what they feel called to do.
  • Committed people, pioneers included, strive to make a lasting impact even when they recognize that all our lives and careers are like fog that eventually fades (James 4:14).
  • Pioneers keep looking forward. Dr. Narramore ends his book “looking forward to great years of ministry” and identifies a competent successor to advance and continue the work.

Can pioneers be coached or trained? Can an individual determine to be a pioneer or are trailblazers blessed and gifted in some supernatural way? What would you add to the above list? Please comment.


    1. Thank you Rich for your quick and affirming response to my post. This caught me off guard. I wonder if the many pioneers never expected to be trail-blazers, never apply any of this to themselves but certainly are able to spot the pioneering spirit in others.


      1. Gary, I think you are right in regards to thinking about ourselves. I never thought of myself as a pioneer until I read the blog description and my wife, said, “Hey, look at all of the programs and organizations that you have started, often facing skepticism and difficult obstacles, not getting credit, etc. I think you qualify.” The April 18th entry of Oswald Chambers’ devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, reminds us to be “ready!” His March 7th entry also calls us to “Undaunted Radiance.” That one describes you, Gary!

      2. Rich, I have known you for a long time and your wife is right. How interesting that so many pioneers go unacknowledged and unappreciated. Have you ever noticed how you do something that is pioneering, nobody notices, and then along comes somebody who takes your ideas (often innocently), publishes them, gets the acclaim and you recognize that what everyone lauds as new has already become old stuff for you – often because the idea originally came from you. It’s not fair but that often happens. I know it has happened to me; I am pretty sure it has happened to you. We hang in there and press on with new ventures. We’re made that way and can’t settle for the old stuff.

  1. While we all can benefit from coaching, I believe pioneers are those whose God directed passion pushes them into unexplored territory. Their motivation and perseverance comes from accepting that the pursuit of the passion is the most important thing in their life. It is God honoring as the passion stems from a God calling and not a selfish pursuit.


  2. I agree with Bruce that everyone can benefit from coaching. However, the skill set and gifting for pioneers is factory-installed by God, I think. Pioneers are both ‘lead’ and ‘driven.’ God seems to gift pioneers with the ability to ‘sail out of sight of the shore for a very long time.’ I believe such individuals exhibit, as Joshua of old, a predisposition to be ‘strong and very courageous,’ while listening for their direction and marching orders from God.


    1. Ken and Bruce, thanks for your comments. Ken I love the ways in which you describe pioneers. Often they do disappear for a long time, laboring in lonely places, sometimes misunderstood and attacked for their visionary activities, but still pushing forward.

      I agree that some people seem to be divinely appointed and equipped to be pioneers, able to envision new possibilities, sensitive to emerging trends around them, willing to try new things and persistent in the pursuit of cutting edge goals. I guess we can learn some of that from mentors and heroes but the people who become pioneers are willing to step forward ahead of others (like Joshua took a step into the Jordan River in obedience to God’s leading). Others never see the future or see possibilities and never take action.


  3. The ultimate coaching guide is the bible. Coaching is all about challenge and support. Therefore scripture is Gods support during our challenges.

    All new Christians have the potential to become a trailblazing pioneer like Joshua. Perhaps not to the same degree, but anyone led to Christ and accepting Him has the potential. The promise of moving mountains comes to mind.

    What is needed are the seasoned Christians willing to blaze the trail along side the new, mentoring and coaching as they go.

    Thanks for a though provoking letter.


    1. Thanks Patty. But do you really think that we all can be trail-blazers? I think God especially anointed Joshua and people like him. Joshua (like most pioneers) was a risk taker. Most people are not. But I agree that we all have and the ability to pray mountain-moving prayers.


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