Newfrontiers Future Directions

I have been thinking for some time about what the key influences on the newfrontiers group of churches are. What are the trends that will shape the future of our churches? I had hoped to post these thoughts a few months ago while Dave and Phil were posting about strengths and weaknesses of newfrontiers (see here, here, here and here), but things were a bit to busy.

So without further ado, here are what I consider to be the key four influences affecting newfrontiers, and the wider new church movement. Most churches I have come across are heading in one of these four directions.

1. Church Growth – (Bill Hybels, Hillsong, Rick Warren)

By “church growth”, I mean deliberately shaping your church around the intentionality to grow. Great music such as at Hillsong, and teaching that is seeker-sensitive and full of practical wisdom such as modelled by Bill Hybels have proven highly effective in building large congregations. These churches are not so well known for their doctrinal distinctives as for the excellence with which they do their Sunday morning service. Rick Warren (author of the Purpose Driven Church) would be another prime example of someone who has built a very large church with a non-denominational feel.

The strengths of this approach are the desire to take seriously the need to fulfil the great commission. Weaknesses include the danger of only appealing to the middle class (or worse still, to Christians from other churches), and the watering down of doctrine to make for a safe lowest common denominator (though to be fair, these churches tend to retain an evangelical commitment to the Bible at least in principle).

2. Reformissional – (Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll)

Though Terry Virgo is reformed in doctrine, newfrontiers perhaps hasn’t always had very strong ties with the rest of the reformed world due to their suspicion of all things charismatic. However, the combination of reformed doctrine with a missional emphasis such as that of Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller, have deeply influenced many leaders within newfrontiers.

In additional to the reformed plus missional folk, there are also those such as C J Mahaney and Wayne Grudem who show a way to be reformed and charismatic. This has resulted in a stronger belief than ever that we can build churches that are biblically sound and doctrinally robust, while at the same time retaining our charismatic distinctives an taking on a more missional emphasis.

3. Neo-Pentecostal – (Rob Rufus, Todd Bentley)

I wasn’t quite sure what to call this, but what I mean by “Neo-pentecostal” is a very strong emphasis on the miraculous, including a confident expectation of healings. A good example would be Rob Rufus, who has twice spoken at the newfrontiers Brighton conference. There was also great excitement about the “Lakeland Revival” amongst many in newfrontiers circles, while others remained guarded about it.

This direction tends to be quite polarising, and in some ways is in conflict with the reformissional direction, although perhaps people like Sam Storms can show how those two emphases could be combined. It is not a tension easily held together though, as those who follow the direction set by the New Mystics will find themselves increasingly at odds with those of a more reformed persuasion.

4. Emerging Church (Rob Bell)

The final direction may seem surprising. In fact, few if any newfrontiers churches are following this path, although many of the other “restorationist” new church movements have done so. The emerging church is in many ways a critique of evangelicalism, including the charismatic movement. It emerges as “post-evangelical”, and “post-charismatic”.

While emerging leaders such as Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke do not have many sympathisers within newfrontiers, due to some controversial theology, figures such as Rob Bell are less polarizing (possibly Shane Claiborne too). Emerging churches are passionate about the environment, social justice and the poor, and downplay the importance of many things that conservative evangelicals would consider central. This can offer a refreshing change to those disillusioned with whatever branch of evangelicalism they find themselves in.

It would be nice to think that we adopt some of the positive aspects of the emerging movement without needing to compromise theologically. I have written about how I think that can be done here. Phil Whittall is the best example I can think of as a newfrontiers pastor who has taken on board some of the emerging church concerns of the environment, living simply and social justice.

Your Thoughts?

I would be interested to hear your feedback if you are part of newfrontiers (or if you are just interested). Do you agree with my analysis? Have I missed a direction? And which of these directions would you consider most fruitful? Personally I am most positive about the reformissional direction, and more cautious regarding the other three.

12 thoughts on “Newfrontiers Future Directions

  1. What an interesting post.

    Thanks Mark.

    My observation is that the Reformissional emphasis will occupy the centre ground of new frontiers for a long while yet. Whether any will be able to fuse the reformed charismatic emphasis with the wholistic and non-organisational emphasis of the emerging churches is an interesting question.

    Some of us are trying, or at least shuffling round the fringes.

  2. As someone who is mostly in the #2 area there this all looks like fair commentary on the influences I see. I’d say that the suspicion has probably not just been of the less charismatic reformed for the charismatic reformed, but also back the other way too. I’m encouraged to see the gap being bridged.

    Its useful to note that the best thing about the emerging scene are that they’re asking questions about key areas – addressing those with the right answers has to be a way forward.

  3. Having just come back from attending the morning and evening services at Church of Christ the King where Terry Virgo was preaching (his first on his return from Australia) – I would have to agree Reformissional is the way they seem to be going.

    I was quite surprised at the changes in CCK itself since I have last been there. I think we last went to CCK when Rob Rufus was preaching just before “TOAM 07” and the emphasis was very much on the Presence of the Spirit and manifest signs, wonders and miracles.

    I noted today that there were no “contributions” or “spiritual gifts” brought during the worship. The lighting was very low with coloured spotlights on the stage, and the names of both Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller got mentioned along with a huge emphasis on “mission” both during the worship, notices and in Terry’s sermons.

    There was a brief mention at the end during the benediction by someone (not sure who he was) who said that prayer would be available for those who needed healing or were interested in the gift of tongues while everyone else went for cups of tea.

    Personally I found it saddening – seeing as I’ve been at CCK during times when the Presence of God was so weighty that you had to sit down. The question I found myself pondering was this; In the book of Acts were the church so full of the Presence of God that the surrounding community broke the doors down (metaphorically) to get in? Or was the emphasis so militantly on getting out?

  4. Dave – “charisreformissional” – good word!
    Dan – don’t judge CCK on one meeting. Terry shows a remarkable openness to learn from a wide range of people. As for less contributions in meetings, I would say this is more symptomatic of the “church growth” influence than anything else – growing beyond the 500 mark changes the dynamics of a meeting. (e.g. the newfrontiers Brighton conference only has contributions from those personally known to the platform party)

  5. Interesting post Mark and thanks for the mention. I’d certainly like some more of the themes from 4 discussed and engaged with. We’ve switched I think from being mainly influenced by 1 and 3 to no 2. Although possibly the reason we’re actually interested in no2 is because these guys are leading big churches which means we’re actually still interested mostly in no.1!!

  6. “Charisreformissional” ….. I Love it!!! 🙂

    Yes thanks Mark, you are right for that reminder. I’m still wrestling with the growth = less spontaneous gifts being brought. It may be what happens but is it right? Rob Rufus allowed a uncensored prophecy mike at Glory and Grace in Hong Kong (no getting through Nigel Ring and then Dave Holden and then Terry!).

    And guess what? There was no heresy to correct, I think about once he very reluctantly ended the flow of the prophetic because he said “It could go on all day”. I wonder if sometimes it’s our fear that puts a stopper on the prophetic flow rather than the Spirit.

  7. Pre-testing seems a bit incongrous with 1 Cor 14, though so does “letting it go on all day”… i guess everyone has things to work out. If only we all could do stuff the way 1 Cor 12-14 says most of the fear and caution would disappear.

  8. This post is really helpful, it describes well some of the different approaches to theology.

    In these sort of conversations it’s easy to take the best arguements from our own preferred point of view, and compare it with the worst of an alternative view.

    I hope that the New Frontiers leadership can avoid this, I was part of a New Frontiers church plant for 3 years, and was “moved on” because I wanted to explore a point of view the was different from the local leadership. I wasn’t asking for new theology to be preached, condoned or even mentioned publicly, just a recognition that there are alternative views which should be understood & tested.

    I hope your post is received and engaged with in a spirit of openness.

  9. Mark,

    I’ve sweated over whether to reply at all but …

    … the Sunday referred to by Dan was not an exception.

    Although no longer living in Brighton, I occasionally go to these meetings again and I am reasonably confident in asserting that it is very much the norm.

    If large meetings result in the absence of body ministry (do we actually believe that!), then why are we doing it? If this is the direct result then and when leaders conferences take place why is there quite so much contribution from the front – are they operating on a higher plane of spiritual gifting and flow?

    John Piper wrote a fantastic book a few years ago called ‘Brothers we are not professionals’, I think within many aspects of New Frontiers of which I am aware (this is obviously limited), we are increasingly ‘running’ churches as though there were professionals (and by inference – amateurs who can simply pitch-up).

    I have no answers, but my starting position is that we are a corporate people marked by the presence of God – how else will they know we walk with God? A people, a body, a house. I find Bonhoeffer, N.T. Wight, Moltmann, Jim Wallis and others listed within the more frowned-upon ‘Emerging’ sector to be voices to which we must not close our ears on this topic.

    I think that interesting years lay ahead – and anticipate that whist we move ‘forward’ in many areas (Bethel Church’s example on the supernatural comes to mind), a rediscovery of many of the values and discoveries which were so formative for Terry also lay ahead – with these may well come many of the challenges that Terry and my fathers generation faced.

    I trust on such a journey that we will receive love and grace to continue to love to all our brothers – wherever their influences most lay.

    In love,

    a brother.

  10. hi Thomas, I agree that we have much to learn from people like Bonhoeffer, Wright etc, and it was interesting to hear some of the engagement with Keller, Bell and Wright on the “tracking theological trajectories” training track at the Together on a Mission conference this year.

    Also, I don’t know if you got a chance to hear Stef Liston’s talks, in which he made an impassioned plea to be more ready to receive contributions and let the Spirit take the lead in our meetings and make them a little less prepared and predictable. Again though, I feel that the simple group dynamics of having more than 150 or so people present can present practical difficulties that hinder that approach

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