Monday, 15 December 2008

Newfrontiers weaknesses?

This post is a follow on from my previous post on things I like about Newfrontiers.

It is also continues to parallel the discussion Phil Whittall has been having here.

He states:
  1. Our conferences are a bit dull.
  2. Our response to culture is a bit sluggish.
  3. We're very middle class, quite old and mostly white.
  4. Can we have some different styles of worship please?
  5. Our response to theology is a bit defensive.
I can see some interesting points in there and it got me thinking as to what I would add.

I also include his disclaimer:

"There are plenty of critiques against Newfrontiers - views on apostles, spiritual gifts, roles of men and women, baptism, missiology, ecclesiology etc... Well if I had too much of a problem with any of those things I'm probably ministering from the wrong place. On the whole, I don't so those things aren't in my critique.

But I probably need to write a whole host of caveats and disclaimers. Whenever you offer a critique there's often an inherent claim to be able to do better, and I'm not sure I could and I don't want to be arrogant about this - heck I'm just a blogger. There's also a personal preference element, I have some preferences but which may not be shared by the wider group. So I have to not throw a tantrum about it, grow up and get on with it. And of course, I could be wrong - won't be the first time."

That sums up how I approach this. This is just how I feel at the present time, and are my thoughts on a movement I am very positive about.

  1. WHAT IS NEWFRONTIERS? I hear this question asked a lot of times and I hear it expressed in many different ways. The organic, relational, apostolic foundations of the movement are something I consider to be a strength. Except that how you define "newfrontiers" then depends on your organic development, your relationships and your experiences of apostolic input within the movement. What is the central statement of faith? What are the values? We know them, we hear them, we teach them, we share them, then when someone shines a spotlight on us and asks what they are then um, err, um, err, 100 different people will give 100 different answers. I know statements of faith can be restrictive and in some cases divisive but I would love to see some sort of "value" statement agreed and published to make things a bit clearer. Restoring the Church, Making Disciples, Training Leaders, Planting Churches, Reaching the Nations are the values stated, but I think we could go a bit deeper and be a bit clearer, especially on controversial issues where we are unpopular for holding a particular position.
  2. WE RISK SOUNDING ARROGANT Sometimes I feel we know what we are not as much as we know what we are. That is how I feel reading some bloggers and some of the magazines. It starts to sound incredibly self righteous. I also feel we need to be careful about how we express some of the aims and prophecies of the movement. "Changing the expression of Christianity" came from the outside into the movement, but if you repeat it without the context it sounds like an almighty claim for a group with a mere 200 UK churches. It then sounds increasingly odd when we know what we think is wrong with other denominations who HAVE changed the expression of Christianity, albeit in different generations. Another example would be the ongoing discussion about "parachurch" organisations. I agree with the fundamentals about the priority of the local church, but the way it is sometimes expressed really does a disservice to the thousands of godly people serving God in simply astonishing ways within "parachurch" organisations.
  3. WE SOMETIMES SOUND SECTARIAN I don't think I want anyone to join my Church because we are "reformed charismatic". If people do join our Church they will find what underpins the mission and ecclesiology of our Church is highly influenced by reformed theology and very open to the holy spirit. But if someone joins my Church purely on the basis of a theological position then I don't think we will be reformed "enough", or will be too "reformed". What does that mean anyway? Are we too charismatic, or not charismatic enough? I want someone to join our Church because we love Jesus, honour the bible, are open to the Holy Spirit, are passionate about discipleship, about being the family of God, a body of many parts. I want them to join because we are passionate about effective witness, about serving the poor, about loving the lost, so that they too can worship Jesus. I want people to join our mission, not our position. I don't want to risk being "right" in my theology and "dead" in my faith. To join our mission you don't need to join every theological position the elders hold. You have to respect it, naturally, and come and join this adventure of faith. It is likely we may win you over in certain areas as we express our faith and you see it in action. But I never want to invite people to a sectarian definition of Church - I want them to be called by God (ooh, that gives away charismatic, Calvinist tendencies!) to join His mission in our church family here and now.
  4. DO WE "HATE" WOMEN? Nope. Personally I am a great fan of them. But the area of gender roles is a big area of disagreement for other people, and unpopularity for newfrontiers, and the (unfair) accusation is made that we "don't like" women. Within newfrontiers there is broad agreement on certain fundamentals but different churches draw lines in different places and there is a spectrum of belief. I am nervous that it can look like we rely on a couple of visits from Grudem to set the agenda. I am also concerned that things can be expressed in an inflammatory way, or just in a clumsy way. I am happy to be criticised for holding a certain position if I believe that position to be correct. But I think a bit more humility and a bit more care about how things are expressed would go a long way.
  5. ARE WE EXCLUSIVE? Yes and no. We don't work with everyone on everything. We won't work with certain people on certain things. I think it comes across that we have to do our "own" thing too often. It looks and feels pretty exclusive. Exclusivity is without doubt the most consistent criticism I hear from friends outside newfrontiers. Is it "focus" on our own church, our own calling, our own region, our own movement and focus on the calling of God on our lives? Perhaps. It may not even be a bad thing. But it could be expressed better. We do work with lots of people on lots of things, and need to make this clearer.
  6. DO WE LOVE "THE" CHURCH OR "OUR" CHURCH? Again a massive question. The church is the hope of the world. The church is the institution God has instigated. The church now, the church in the future, restoring the church, church , church, church, we believe in the church, we even sing songs about the church (although I am not a fan of this). But by Church - do we actually define it as just ourselves? Or our way of doing things? Our movement? I know the answer - but do other people? We are a minuscule droplet of the "church" in the UK by the narrowest of definitions of what church means. Over 93% of evangelical alliance member churches are not in newfrontiers. We have less than a fifth of the churches of the FIEC (as an example). We are small fry. Are we seen to love the church or our church? We are small fish in a massive pond. Do people think we love the fish or love the pond? I think we could express this better to show how much we love and value the pond.
  7. WE ARE MISUNDERSTOOD All of the above wrapped into one. We need to communicate better. We need to explain clearer. We need to engage closer. I think we need to be very, very careful in the words we use, and be humble. The issues listed above are more to do with how things come across and people get the wrong end of the stick.
  8. DO WE MOVE TOO FAST? Research shows churches tend to grow most (numerically) between something like 7-12 years of a pastor's ministry. Do people put their roots down far enough and their roots down long enough to really "reach" an area? I am all for Church planting to new places, but am a bit concerned if people move on too fast. The same goes for those with apostolic gifts to serve Churches - is it a long term commitment or can the sands shift a bit too quickly? Has the growth of Newfrontiers outstripped its supply of apostolic oversight and growth? I would not say so, but it is quite difficult if you go to plant a Church with someone then 3-4 years later they move on to another situation leaving you with the vision, the responsibility, and the people but minus some of the leaders. I want us to build fast (new church plants), I want us to build far (other nations), but I think sometimes we should build deep first. I think we need mobility and stability - they rely on each other, and I think sometimes stability is compromised. Missionaries of generations past are held up as models - but reading up on their lives it often took a lifetime (10 years before the first convert sort of stuff), not a five year stint before moving on again.
  9. I WANT TO STAY, IN A TOWN I currently feel called to Shrewsbury, the people here. This is a small provincial town that no-one has ever heard of. I don't want to just hear about people going, going, going. Mobility is good, absolutely. But I am currently called to stay. So I want to hear from people who are just as passionate, just as energetic, just as risk taking, just as faithful who are staying and building. I live in a town. I hear stories of this city, that city, the other city, the next city. All well and good. Let's reach the cities for Christ! I 100% agree. But I live in a town, want to reach this town, and the villages around this town. I want to hear from people reaching communities in towns and reaching the rural locations. Cities shape culture - go to cities. Cities are international - reach cities. Fair enough, all true. But so are towns. A member of our Church is on various House of Lords panels for debt related subjects and leads a national network of debt advice centres. We have 30-40 students from south east Asia and Africa in our service every week, some of whom have made very clear commitments to Christ while being in the UK studying. We have links over many years with Churches in Ukraine who are now part of Newfrontiers and in Shrewsbury we run a charity that raises thousands each year for works amongst the poor in Ukraine. In our Church we have a local newspaper reporter and a local radio reporter. We have a local councillor, doctors, teachers, headmasters. We have lawyers, financial advisors and the county's only remaining independent fishmonger. I am staying here for now, and as a Church we are playing a small part in shaping the culture of our town, engaging with local and national government, supporting international outreach, supporting ministries to the poor overseas, supporting overseas church planting and playing our part. I want to build deep, I want to build strong, and am going to do much of my "going" right here and right now, and want training and conferences that equip and encourage this even in a small church in a small town.
  10. WHY DO WE USE HOTELS? This is slightly spurious, but I dislike conferences that use hotels. This is rare, but it costs a lot of money and I can't justify it. My friends, my brothers and sisters give money to this Church and that helps to pay my wages. I just cannot justify spending X amount of money going to a hotel for a younger leader's weekend. I would go to a conference centre like Kings Park, but I feel uncomfortable upgrading from anything I would expect my peers to go to. I don't want to go to better than what people use for Church weekends, and if that means Butlin's then so be it. I don't want to be pious in pursuit of asceticism, but this week we had an email to financially support Newfrontiers churches in Zimbabwe. I'd rather pay half the amount for a conference and give the other half to Zimbabwe. As we receive we also give. I want to model something, and having stuff in a hotel is a hindrance to that.
OK - this has turned into an epic post now so I will draw it to a close. I love being in a newfrontiers church and love the vision, energy and the people in this movement. This is the way I feel right now, and God may call me to a big city sometime soon, where the new Church plant is meeting in a hotel! Equally I think within newfrontiers we do need open discussion about ways we do things and ways of improving, not least because it shows the world outside that we know we are not perfect, even if we do passionately believe in what we are doing.

Most of these are based on sensitivities about how we "come across" to other people rather than what we actually are, and my experience is that some people almost deliberately misunderstand some of these things to give room for criticism, so we must not pander to popular opinion. The flip side of that is being clear, being open hearted, and being generous in our spirit towards all the other parts that make up this wonderful thing called the Church.

12 comments:

Phil said...

That was a long post. Good post, but still long. What I find interesting is the disparity between how we are perceived and how leaders such as Terry Virgo and Dave Stroud actually are. They are very realistic about all that you've said, but somehow and somewhere along the line we've still managed to rub some of the church up the wrong way.

dave bish said...

Some of these were impressions I picked up from a distance... but generally refuted by 4 years of close friendship from outside and by my first year inside.

We clearly have much to learn as a movement and the key is to keep learning I guess.

I wonder if one way to combat #6 would be if we got more UK evangelicals from outside of NF into our conferences - and more of us into things like NWA... in house or overseas names is good but it'd be good to have people like Liam Goligher, Richard Cunningham, Pete Greasley, Tim Chester, Peter Lewis around occasionally.

I'd agree on #10 - probably getting out of Brighton would be a positive move too. Though the £250ish it cost for TOAM this year isn't all that different from the cost of a NWA or Spring Harvest... Butlins isn't that much cheaper, depends on what hotel you book I guess!

I hope the growing relationship with UCCF is helping with things like #2. Personally I'd like to see more of our speakers on the CU speaker circuit, more of our evangelists doing CU mission weeks etc. As a UCCF team leader and as a newfrontiers church member I feel like there is great progress here - I imagine 5+ years ago I'd have found it wierd to work for a 'parachurch' movement and be part of a nf church. Today it's a happy match.

Andy said...

Interesting stuff. I grew up outside of Newfrontiers and so totally understand the misunderstandings and criticisms held by some.

I came to Brighton almost 7 years ago and had every one of those preconceptions shattered.

I do agree that there needs to be a drive towards clarity (statement of beliefs etc) and a lot of thought put into the message being communicated.

I think this is going to happen more and more.

Eutychus said...

David,

It's very courageous of you to post about NF weaknesses.

I used to think that discussing that kind of thing when within NF was ok, and when things went badly wrong for me on a local level, I thought Terry would sort it out - it was not to be (you can read abot my experience in the link I've left).

YMMV, but my experience and that of others that I'm in occasional contact with is that there is no room for leaders in NF who do not toe the line. My life and spirituality has been changed out of all recognition since the days I was senior pastor of a large NF church and I am still unable to come to terms with what happened.

Take care.

DaveW said...

David,

Interesting & helpful thanks.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Dave Bish: I think Brighton is a good way of doing it because people can choose what they want to do, camp, stay with friends, caravan, B&B, hotels etc. I like the flexibility. I am talking about some of the smaller gatherings which take place in hotels. It is not a massive issue - but it pricks my concience and makes me not want to go.

Eutychus "It's very courageous of you to post about NF weaknesses. "

I don't believe so. Obviously your experiences are different and I can't speak for everyone, but I have found the leaders I have met (Dave Stroud, Dave Holden, Steve Tibbert etc) very open and realistic and interested in feedback.

Andy "and had every one of those preconceptions shattered."

That is my experience too. The difference between what I think, and what others think I think is what concerns me!

Eutychus said...

Part of my experience was that I shared heartfelt reservations in confidence and in the spirit of honesty and sharing which I thought was what NF was all about, only to discover when the tables turned that these were used as evidence against me. The disconnect between the values and the practice in this respect continues to do my head in.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Eutychus: thanks for engaging with this discussion. It is brave. I have read back through your old blog from 2004 and have a better idea of where you are coming from.

I understand your reasons for not sharing your name or describing the exact circumstances.

I think an issue is that what "newfrontiers" means is often so highly associated with who you have met and your experiences of it, or even which bloggers you read or which churches you have been to. In your case it was a very painful Church experience.

I can only speak from my own experience and on behalf of myself. One thing that struck me when I did my FP training was how different people from different Churches seemed to have slightly different slants on things and ways of thinking about things. That is fine and to be expected, but one person's experience of one church can be radically different from another person's experience of a different church.

My experience of leaders displaying openess, humility and allowing honest discussion appears to be quite different to yours.

Eutychus said...

I believe you that your experience is different. However I do contend that what I experienced had systemic aspects. Try looking back through NF history at the first related church or work in any nation and see what has become of the person who was initially leading it when it got involved with NF (you will need to do more than read the back numbers of the magazine, btw :S). The pattern is not 100%, but there is enough form there to give pause for thought - and enough deafening silence on such issues from the top to give even more pause for thought.

I don't want to hijack your blog or divert you from your journey, so I'm not intending to post here much more unless people interact with what I'm saying. There's an e-mail address in the link in my sig which I do respond to should anyone wish to continue the discussion more discreetly, though.

One last anecdote. After my NF world fell in, I caught up with a guy I had, with all my apostolic, or translocal, or whatever-we-were calling-it-that-Tuesday authority pushed rather unceremoniously out of a work he had planted (oh, the irony!) - with the blessing of those "above me in the Lord" I should add. His comment to me when I told him my sorry end was "you were just too open". If you can continue your journey in NF and make it more open, more power to you - I didn't make it.

I believe that despite appearances, NF is institutionally closed and that you deserve to be aware of that.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Let my comments policy be an indicator of openess!

I don't want to hijack your blog or divert you from your journey, so I'm not intending to post here much more unless people interact with what I'm saying.

You are welcome here - there is more to discuss on here than newfrontiers for a start!

I appreciate your openess mixed with discretion regarding your situation.

I'm wanting to be open about my journey and not be defensive, however uncomfortable a process that is.

Jongudmund said...

Another example would be the ongoing discussion about "parachurch" organisations. I agree with the fundamentals about the priority of the local church, but the way it is sometimes expressed really does a disservice to the thousands of godly people serving God in simply astonishing ways within "parachurch" organisations.

Obviously working within a parachurch organisation I remember reading the negative comments about parachurch organisations in one of the NF mags a while ago. I think I shrugged and thought 'well that's NFI for you' (I still include an I as NF sounds like National Front to me)

Thing is no church needs parachurch organisations. So NF can work very successfully without drawing on any of the resources parachurch orgs offer them. But the big question is how much more successful would NF be if it availed itself of all the tools at it's disposal by engaging with parachurch orgs and using their stuff?

FWIW I've frequently found NF material (like the national magazine) both defensive and slightly arrogant - comments you make in the post. On a local level, NF churches are full of lovely people I feel proud to call brothers and sister (especially when one is my brother). But the national level stuff does sometimes leave me cold.

jul said...

Interesting discussion...I have been familiar with Newfrontiers for about 10 years now, though we only spent a few months in a church that was later to be adopted in, so never actually in one! God has used our relationship with a few people there to help us in critical moments of our journey and we are very thankful, I'm particualarly thankful for Terry's teaching on grace and for making us aware of Rob Rufus (whose grace preaching has literally transformed me and probably saved my life).

But we were part of a somewhat similar group of churches that are in relationship with Newfrontiers (Sovereign Grace Ministries). While there are some important differences in doctrine, and I think Newfrontiers has more good doctrine, there are some similarities in structure and understaning of authority that I think does lend itself to serious problems such as Eutychus experienced. I don't know about Newfrontiers, but I do know that legalism and spiritual abuse are running rampant and unchecked in SGM.

My biggest concern with Newfrontiers right now is I'm noticing them trying to bring balance to the grace message more and more since having Rob Rufus at Brighton. I'm seeing this in Terry's blog and also CCK's. We had planned on being part of Newfrontiers ( but we're now church planting)and I have to be honest that I'm glad God led us in a different direction, not to say I'm not very thankful for and love those we know in Newfrontiers.

On a sidenote, Newfrontiers is extremely more free in their view of women than SGM or even Mark Driscoll. Thank God for that too!