TOAM 2011

I managed to get down as a day visitor to Brighton for the final newfrontiers Together on a Mission conference on Wednesday. Though I never get to go for the whole week, attending the conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me. I have to commend newfrontiers for making the talks available for free allowing everyone to benefit from the teaching.

Session 1 – Matt Hatch – A Culture of Discipleship in the Local Church

I have always found Matt Hatch very helpful and provocative on the subject of accountability and developing a culture of discipleship within the church since I first heard him at TOAM a few years ago. This time he took us through John 4, highlighting the importance of communicating the acceptance of Jesus and moving people to a place of delighting in Jesus. Some of his church resources on accountability are available here, and his seminar certainly provoked some thought about being more proactive in seeking to disciple the men in my cell group.

Session 2 – Dave Stroud

Then came Dave Stroud with a main session in which he outlined some of the future plans for newfrontiers in the UK, which it seems will consist of several distinct “apostolic spheres” working together under his guidance. He picked out five challenges for courageous leadership. First was, everything leadership, which essentially is a call for the church to broaden her horizons and have a more holistic vision of the mission of God. Second, missional leadership, by which he means churches that are deliberately engaged with the communities they are located in. Third, affirming leadership, in which he reminded us that, though newfrontiers remains theologically complementarian, there needs to be a firm commitment to creating environments that are equally liberating for both women and men. Fourth, embracing leadership, in which he expressed the desire for newfrontiers to take up a more central role within evangelicalism, rather than watching from the sidelines. I found this very interesting, and perhaps more controversial than his third point in some ways. It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Finally, he called for naturally supernatural leadership, which seemed to be a gentle rebuke aimed in the direction of those who seem to assume that the mark of spirituality is strange behaviour.

Session 3 – Terry Virgo

In the afternoon, Terry Virgo spoke on Heb 12. As always, his amazing gift for teaching was a joy to receive. He spoke on the Lord’s discipline, and particularly applied his message to people struggling with bitterness. Adrian Warnock notes are here.


Worship was led by Kate Simmonds and Simon Brading. There was the usual mix of new songs along with well-loved classics. I love the atmosphere at TOAM – thousands of people, passionate about God and hungry to meet with him. It draws you in, even if you are feeling tired (which I was).

Session 4 – PJ Smyth on Sickness, Suffering and Healing

Finally, in the evening it was PJ Smyth. I must confess I wasn’t impressed at all with PJ Smyth when I first heard him at TOAM 2006, which with hindsight I realise was more a reflection of my own arrogance than any faults with PJ. In any case I have warmed to him over the years, and the message he brought was one of the most outstanding I have heard on the the subject of suffering, bringing a faith-filled, thoroughly biblical perspective to bear on the trial he has gone through in the last year as he has battled cancer.

I won’t attempt to outline his talk, because Adrian Warnock has already blogged a detailed outline, and you can download notes and listen to it online. But suffice to say, this is one well worth your time. It is the best treatment of the subject I have come across since I read Mark Stibbe’s Fire and Blood.

Another very powerful moment that evening was when John Groves got up to lead us in a kind of corporate promise-making ceremony (the day after I blogged about how little we emphasise promises in our movement). We rededicated ourselves as a movement to fulfilling the key prophetic exhortations that have shaped newfrontiers over the years. It was a holy moment as we answered “we will” to the various charges to remember. I would love to hear that cry of “we will” resound throughout all the individual churches too – it is not just the leaders, but every member who must play a part in seeing these promises come to fulfilment.

TOAM 2010

After sadly missing out last year, I was able to make it for a day visit to the newfrontiersTogether on a Mission” conference this year. As always, Adrian Warnock is doing a sterling job of live-blogging the conference. You can also get real-time updates by following the #TOAM hashtag on twitter.

I always find a visit to TOAM to be a spiritually refreshing and energising experience and this year was no different. I’ll just give a brief report on the sessions I went to.

Session 1 – Matt Hosier – Faithful & Fruitful – The “Lion”

My first session of the day was a seminar by Matt Hosier. His was the first in a series entitled “The Lion, the Bear & the Bulldog”, which was about how we can remain faithful and fruitful at different life stages. I just about still fall into the “Lion” category (up to 35). He worked his way through 10 things you should do before you are 40, based on a list from John Maxwell.

Rather than being a biblical exposition, it was more a collection of proverbial wisdom: “become reconciled to your averageness”, “don’t be dictated to by the tyranny of the urgent”, “things that are worth achieving take time”, “develop the skill of friend making”. A nice touch was that a representative of each of the three age-groups was given a brief chance to give their perspective on the needs of those in the “lions” age range. We were reminded of the importance of simply being willing to serve, and the need to actively seek input from older generations. It was great to be prayed for by a really nice bloke from Brighton at the end.

Session 2

Sadly my visit was on a day when Dr Goodwill Shana was due to speak, and he was unable to attend due to visa problems. Still the extra time meant the day wasn’t quite so rushed as usual. It was great to meet some fellow newfrontiers bloggers, including Dave Matthias, Dave Bish, Steve Froud, and Steve Dunn.

Session Three – Terry Virgo – The Armour of God

The afternoon session started with worship led by Evan Rogers in his usual exhuberant style. Then it was Terry Virgo, preaching on “the need for defence”, working through the armour of God from Eph 6:10-17. It is testimony to his gift for Bible teaching, that a passage that most of us have heard preached on dozens of times was brought to life yet again, in a challenging & insightful way. I won’t summarise his points since Adrian Warnock has already done so here. He was particularly good on the breastplate of righteousness, and on the helmet of salvation, where he emphasised our future hope – the “not yet” part of our salvation.

Session Four – Dave Devenish – God’s Purposes Fulfilled Through Scattering

The evening session’s worship was led by Kate Simmonds, and we learned an excellent new song about the grace of God. Dave Devenish had the unenviable task of preparing a message for a major conference at very short notice. After a slightly rambling introduction he got right into his stride, speaking on the way that God fulfils his missional purposes through scattering. He showed that this was not merely apostles going to new places, but hundreds of ordinary people taking initiative at a grassroots level. I think this is a principle we really need to take hold of if we are to see significant gospel advance in our nation. Again Adrian Warnock has provided detailed sermon notes.

MP3 downloads

I obsessively listen to almost every TOAM message each year so am eagerly awaiting the downloads to appear on the newfrontiers website. Sadly they haven’t appeared online yet, but look out for them here over the next few weeks.

TOAM – Calling the Nations to the Obedience of Faith

OK, here’s my next report from the Brighton Together on a Mission conference. Dave Devenish was speaker at session 7 on Thursday morning. His text was Rom 1:1-15; 15:17-24; and 16:25-27. You can read what Adrian Warnock made of this session here.

He wanted to focus on the way Paul begins and ends the letter of Romans – parts that can get missed as there is so much good stuff in the middle. The key verse he picked out is Rom 1:5 –

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Through his apostolic ministry, Paul wanted to bring the gospel of grace to every nation – bringing people to the obedience of faith. Dave had clearly been reading some N T Wright, as he contrasted Christ’s kingdom with that of Caesar’s. Our King is claiming the whole world – but his kingdom is brought in not by brute force, but by grace and apostleship. All this is done for the glory of Christ – which according to Stott is the highest missionary motivation.

He then went on to list some enemies of this vision, which result when we preach a gospel that is not truly the gospel of the kingdom. For example, where Christ is promoted as an alternative therapy for felt needs. Or the western consumerist gospel plus a private ambition of going to heaven when I die. Other examples include churches in Africa where tribalism and sexual immorality is not renounced despite claiming to be Christian.

Where Christ is not Preached

Dave then spoke of Paul’s desire to preach where Christ was not known. Even though the areas already evangelised were by no means Christianised, Paul had left reproducing churches behind. They could be entrusted to plant more churches. Paul’s own ministry was pioneering, and others were called to fill in behind him. He wanted to reach “Greeks and barbarians” – he was not limited to those who were culturally reachable. Dave then gave some space to giving examples of unreached people groups – defined as peoples without an indiginous, witnessing (i.e. reproducing) church.

Why are we involved in this mission to the unreached?
1) Prophetic Promise
2) Apostolic Passion
3) Eschatological Necessity (Matt 24:14)
4) Contemporary Urgency

What is stopping us reaching them?
1) Non-missional churches. We need everyone involved, not just the keen few.
2) Culture-bound instead of culture-challenging churches
3) The Muslim identification of Christianity with the west. The only way this is overcome is by planting small communities of believers who demonstrate that Christianity is something different.
4) Cultural and linguistic challenges

Practical Outworking

We need to keep preaching this message of reaching the nations, and give practical help to those going – more than giving money, this includes strategic support. Pray continually and give generously. Encourage people to go and support them.

My thoughts

I thought this was an excellent message, and underscores some of what I feel is best about newfrontiers. There is a real desire to bring the gospel to the nations, and work to build cross-cultural churches in our own cities. It would be easy for a group of churches like newfrontiers to settle for just having some large churches in major UK cities that thrive simply on Christians moving in from other churches, but here a strong commitment reaching the unreached was articulated passionately.

I am glad for the emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom. It is clear that Tom Wright has been influencing many of the newfrontiers leadership team, and informing their understanding of the proclamation of Jesus as King as politically subversive.

I think it is also interesting that the word missional is being liberally used this year (I suspect in a few cases by those who aren’t quite sure what it means). Missional is a buzz-word at the moment, speaking of a church that doesn’t see the church service as the main connecting point with unbelievers, rather we meet people within their culture by expressing the gospel through the way we live. It is about living out a Christian counter-culture and not retreating from the culture around us, but bringing the gospel to it in a way that is contextual.

I personally welcome newfrontiers embracing the concept of being missional. However, I am not too sure that many churches are entirely thinking along the same lines as those who write about being “missional”. In particular, I think the “church growth model” has also been widely embraced, which is often-times at odds with a missional approach (see my posts on the principled missional church and the results driven church). Sunday services especially focus less and less on equiping Christians to live out the kingdom lifestyle and try instead to be enjoyable for unbelievers. I know there were some other seminars at the conference that included the word “missional” in their blurb, so hopefully I will get a chance to listen to them and see if there is any more clarity on exactly what is understood in newfrontiers by the word “missional”.

New Frontiers Leadership Conference – Wednesday

I had the privilege of attending the New Frontiers Brighton leadership conference for the day on Wednesday. I arrived just in time to sneak into Ian Stackhouse’s seminar on preaching. I chose the seminar because I had never heard him before and I was hoping that he might discuss some of the issues in his new book (that I haven’t read) – the Gospel Driven Church. However, the main point of the seminar was that preaching is still relevant and that we should stick to the Biblical text and let it speak. He seemed to disapprove of using lots of illustrations or preaching on topics and current events without explicitly saying that you shouldn’t. I was annoyed I hadn’t chosen Philip Greenslade’s seminar instead.

Anyway, things greatly improved for me when I got to the bookshop. I noticed a man buying 10 volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary series. I knew immediately that this meant it was on special offer and so I ran to make sure I grabbed the 2 volume Hebrews commentary by William Lane. This means I now own my first choice commentary on each book in the New Testament.

The first main session of the day was a sermon by Dave Holden, and as usual he was outstanding. His main point was encouraging those who build churches to build them well. I had lunch with a doctor and two pastors, who discussed how to help people with terminal illnesses (the balance between praying for healing and preparing people for death). It was a subject that I felt way out of my depth on, but for these guys, its part of their job.

The afternoon was a seminar by PJ Smyth, one of New Frontiers up and coming new leaders. His style is very dynamic, and he likes his audience to participate with various noises and actions. My preference is for preachers to be a bit more boring and academic, but I guess I’m in the minority there as lots of people really appreciated his style. His sermon also brought up the interesting issue of how we treat contemporary prophecy as compared to the Bible. Much of the sermon was based around significant prophectic words spoken about New Frontiers. His main point was that New Frontiers needs to be getting into the major world cities and building big (‘juggernaut’) churches from which to plant smaller (‘fiat uno’) churches.

I had dinner with a bunch of Ukranians who didn’t speak any English, but I did also get to speak to someone who has just got back from an extended visit to Zimbabwe. Sounds like things are really bad there – she told us about beheadings of people who voted the wrong way in the recent elections.

The evening was CJ Mahaney. I explained to someone beforehand that CJ was a very dynamic and amusing speaker, and most likely to speak on subjects such as humility, suffering or the cross. I got it exactly right. He did one of his typical extended introductions where he waxes lyrical about his gratefulness, love and admiration for New Frontiers. Finally, he preached a very solemn and passionate sermon on Christ’s gethsemane experience – where he looked into the cup. It was an unashamed advocation of the penal substitution theory of the atonement, which it looks like New Frontiers are underlining their commitment to in light of Steve Chalke’s book, which Dave Holden had subtly alluded to in his talk.

Another great blessing of the conference was that it gave me an opportunity to finally meet Andrew Fountain, who I have been in email contact with for some time now. (In fact we met up just before the conference as well). I’m hoping to get him round to my house to tell me all about New Covenant Theology before he heads back off to Canada.