I got back today from the Newfrontiers “Together at Accelerate” conference, which is a mini-Bible week running over the bank holiday weekend for the churches in the “Wessex” region. Here’s a few miscellaneous thoughts about what was a great holiday for our family.
First the bad. The less said about the football tournament the better. We crashed out in the first round, and I drew the short straw to play in goal so didn’t even get a proper game.
There was a better layout to the site this year, with tents surrounding the big top rather than all at one end, which made us a lot closer to the action than last year. And like last year, it was a very well run event – a superb effort from the organizational team.
Evan Rogers led worship for the opening meetings which those who have heard him before will know means lots of silly dancing. While his style not to everyone’s taste, you had to be impressed at the way he managed to get everyone joining in, and it gave a good kick-start to the weekend.
John Groves preached on the first night, and the remainder of the talks were shared between Guy Miller and a visiting Indian speaker Vinu Paul. I only heard one of Vinu’s talks, in which he gave a very Pentecostal style reminder of the vital need of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.
He warned us against low-risk Christianity which revolves around cake and coffee. I thought Guy Miller’s messages were well targeted and challenging. At the Brighton leaders conference, many of the talks revolve around how to be an inspiring visionary leader, but Guy made it very applicable to the whole church by tackling issues such as the importance of family, of sexual purity, submission to authority, and of how we behave in the workplace. If we are to be a ‘kingdom’ people, we need this kind of practical teaching on what it means to live under the rule of King Jesus.
One slightly interesting thing about this weekend is that it featured churches in the “apostolic sphere” of Guy Miller and his apostolic team. This was why we had the visiting speaker from India, and also why there were a good number from a church plant in Portugal. But the fact remained that for the British churches, we were simply carved up by region.
I still think newfrontiers need to wrestle with how they deal with the inevitable tendency for apostolic movements to tend towards a structure with regional apostles over time. If we say that “apostolic spheres” are built on relationship (particularly through an apostle being involved in the planting of the churches in his ‘sphere’), rather than on geography, do we not set ourselves up for tension in the future where churches are in the region of an apostolic leader but do not particularly consider themselves have a close relationship with him? I guess I am saying that the mechanics of a future for newfrontiers of “interconnected apostolic spheres” is a little unclear to me. This is a particular problem for established churches who may not really consider themselves to be in anyone’s “apostolic sphere”.
Although these smaller and shorter gatherings don’t quite reach the same heights that the old Stoneleigh Bible weeks did, I am glad to see they are becoming a regular fixture in the church calendar. Whilst the Brighton Leaders Conference and Mobilise serve as something of a replacement for envisioning church leaders and students, I always felt that the ‘ordinary’ church members were missing out, so it was great so see many families and grandparents on site – people who would never make it to the Brighton conference. It was also good to see many people still very new and immature in their faith, or not even Christians come along. Smoking, swearing and heated family arguments may not be the ‘nice Christian behaviour’ we try to encourage, but it does at least show that some our churches really are beginning to reach the “unchurched” and “urban poor” of their communities and experiencing the ‘messiness’ that brings with it.
Which brings me on to the subject of church planting. If in newfrontiers we are serious about spreading the gospel through church planting then we need everyone to catch the vision, from the youngest to the oldest. So I was very pleased to see that church planting was very much on the agenda, with a well attended seminar outlining some of the opportunities and practicalities of church planting, and a call to commit to church planting on the final night which many responded to.