7 observations & 3 challenges for Newfrontiers

Nearly three years ago Newfrontiers formally transitioned from a first generation to a second generation movement. Newfrontiers had from its inception been led by Terry Virgo until 2011. Then a process, which had been under way for some time, was publicly acknowledged and around 20 teams all around the world began their own journey (you can read some reports from that night here and here).

Newfrontiers is now defined thus:

“We are a group of apostolic leaders, who, together with our teams and churches, are united on global mission by core values and genuine relationship.”

A year or so later Matthew Hosier, in a post called Creative Destruction, described the process:

“Terry releasing authority to a new team (and teams) and the creative destruction of one, central, organising hub around which the movement turns. This has caused a certain amount of pain and confusion for numbers of churches, as it is not yet clear where and to whom everyone is meant to relate. There is also the danger of some feeling that we have taken something of size and substance and broken it into smaller, weaker, parts.”

Summing it up rather dramatically, he ended with “Newfrontiers must die, in order that Newfrontiers might live.” Quite.

Matthew has recently returned from a gathering of these team leaders (and some of their teams), now nearly three years on, and has again reported on the process. Has Newfrontiers been broken up? Does it even exist? Is Newfrontiers, dead or alive?

The answer is very much alive but it has changed and is still changing.

I was privileged to be included in the gathering, Matthew reports on, so I thought I’d write down some of my reflections.

  1. Newfrontiers has moved on: The room was full of leaders but the founder wasn’t one of them. He could have been and that would have been brilliant. In fact, he shared a message by video which was very warmly received. However, the fact is Newfrontiers has made the leap from 1st to 2nd generation. It’s a transition that is now in the rearview mirror.
  2. Newfrontiers has no centre: It was a clear devolution and decentralizing of authority. Often movements have gathered to a centre, but Newfrontiers has no Rome, no Constantinople, no Canterbury. There is no HQ and no one really knows even how many churches are represented. Multiple teams means multiple hubs and much more movement.
  3. Newfrontiers has the 3rd generation in view: The presence of the next generation of leaders was very encouraging, it gives Newfrontiers every chance of making it to a 100 which in this current age would be something of an achievement. Although I should add, no thinks that’s the point of the thing, but a movement that can keep moving and keep sustaining that movement has a genuine chance of accomplishing something significant if it can keep building on the ground gain by the previous generation.
  4. Newfrontiers is increasingly representing global Christianity: There was a notable shift south and east with significant numbers from Africa and a growing contingent from Asia. For some reason at this gathering we had no one from South America and China is noticeable by its absence but this increasing diversity is hugely encouraging. This also means that Newfrontiers is not a British movement. It started there, it’s still predominantly an English language movement and still leans on the UK – but without a centre and with the increasing diversity it would be wrong to describe or think of Newfrontiers as British. That’s good.
  5. Newfrontiers is still about relationships: Having met lots of leaders who feel isolated and unsupported, the atmosphere at this gathering could not have been more different. Mutual accountability, genuine vulnerability, openness and honesty and a desire to encourage one another. Collaboration, partnership and forging paths together were recurring themes. You join Newfrontiers (or more accurately one of its teams) by forging relationships around common values, vision and mission. It’s about being friends together on a mission.
  6. Newfrontiers is still about the mission: There were lots of stories of people continuing to move cities, nations and continents because God will have a family from every tribe and tongue. The determination to plant churches, reach the unreached, break into new nations and raise new leaders is what I signed up for. It’s great to see that back at the top of the agenda, after the necessary pause of breath in many places over the last few years.
  7. Newfrontiers is committed to learning: This is encouraging and necessary. There is a desire to keep learning about apostolic mission, growing and leading movements, engaging with culture, contextualisation and most importantly knowing Christ.

That’s not all of it, I’m sure, but there are also some challenges ahead. The ones I see include:

  1. Embracing cultural diversity while holding theological unity: It was encouraging to see how global we are becoming but there’s much more to do. Pastors & theologians from other continents need space to be heard, new voices with new perspectives provides its own challenges. You only have to look at Anglicanism to see how hard it is hold separate teams together from America and Africa. Constant work at relationships and renewed agreement about core values is vital work.
  2. Developing genuine partnership which releases not controls: The last few years have seen independent teams emerge, all rapidly developing their own identity, teams, training programmes and so on. If Newfrontiers is to keep advancing the kingdom of God, we will need a spirit of humility and generosity in large measures. It may mean someone decreasing so others increase. We kid ourselves if we think there is no ego in the room (certainly if I happen to be in the room anyway) but ego must be conquered. We can’t be secretly wondering ‘who is the greatest?’ even if we’re too nice to say it in public.
  3. Courage in the face of suffering and cultural shifts: It was humbling to hear stories of genuine challenges from eastern Europe to the far East and plenty of places in between. While one of our enemies best weapons in the west is comfort that is not true for so many. I am convicted to keep growing in prayer for the suffering church. Yet the other side to that coin is that the church in the West is on the frontlines of huge cultural shifts that like an earthquake haven’t fully hit the outlying regions yet but they will. It will take courage to identify where to change and where to challenge and over what to embrace the costs of remaining faithful to what you believe to be true.

Overall I’m surprisingly upbeat about the prospects – and remain glad to be a part of a movement that seeks to glorify God in all the nations, seeks to love Jesus, listen to His Spirit, be faithful to His word and do it all as friends.

 

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8 Thoughts to “7 observations & 3 challenges for Newfrontiers”

  1. Excellent post Phil, and very, very good to see you last week. Running with you by the Mammara Sea was a treat!

  2. Thanks Matt, ditto!

  3. Interesting read. A brave development for such a large group. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

    Do you think there will be any room for those in Newfrontiers spheres who have egalitarian leanings?

    1. Lots of things there Alan. Depends what you mean by ‘room’ and depends quite a lot on what those ‘egalitarian leanings’ mean. But I’m fairly sure it will be a conversation in some parts over the next few years

      1. Hi Phil. Thanks for your openness. I wish you well and look forward to more discussions going forward. Al

    2. Dave Warnock

      Alan,
      Some claimed there would be change relating to gender. I have not seen any movement. Consider these two recent blog posts :

      http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/act_like_men

      http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/women_sermons_and_sydney_anglicans

      Just as bad as ever 🙁

      Dave

  4. Lee Yarbrough

    Hola, good article. I couldn’t be there to represent Mexico and South America because of emergencies here in Mexico, but we are very much a part, including ongoing efforts to see more open up in South America. Saludos!

    1. Hi Lee, I was sure that must have been the case – I may have missed the part where that was explained. Where would we get an update from? May you now God’s help in all your efforts for Him in South America.

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