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Of Apostolic Spheres, the methodology of movements (Thanks, but no thanks Mark Driscoll)

Last year Mark Driscoll spoke at the Newfrontiers leaders conference, he made brilliant contributions about the need to be missional and get moving with more church planting, he was outstanding on engaging with culture and he made some penetrating insights into movements in his final session 'movements are messy' (mp3). Driscoll noted that many movements become institutions or museums, memorials to the way things have been done and the way they used to be.

From which he concluded that Newfrontiers is a movement led by an old man that needs to think about it's future, finding a successor to marry the movement he birthed to. How you evaluate that depends on how the movement works in the first place. Terry Virgo,69, observes that Driscoll, 38, hadn't quite understood us. Newfrontiers is a name that has been given to Terry Virgo's apostolic sphere of influence.

Here Newfrontiers is making at least two claims which shape the movement (alongside being reformed & charismatic and loving the local church):

1. There are apostles today. This would be disputed by many seeking to defend the sufficiency of Scripture. Seeking to protect the canon is noble, but Terry persuasively argued that most apostles didn't write scripture and that much of the NT isn't written by apostles. More on this in the mp3 or in his book "Does the future have a church". Jesus is an Apostle, so are the Twelve because they met the risen Jesus, and then there are others like Timothy, Silas and Barnabas who are grouped with Paul... it's listed with other gifts in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 and can't be easily explained away. Apostleship is about foundations and influence, about building churches and forming relationships. Apostleship is a gift not something man decides upon.

2. Apostles have spheres (or areas) of influence, as in 2 Cor 10:13-16: "But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence."

Consequently, Newfrontiers is the name given to the relationships that have risen around Terry Virgo's gifting over the past 40 years. This movement spans many nations and has long since become a gathering of the spheres of influence of many apostolically gifted men, such as Edward Buria and John Kpikpi in Africa, David Stroud in the UK, John Lanferman in the USA. What you can observe is a family on a mission driven by apostles.

The point then is that Newfrontiers as a name is nothing.  To try desperately to sustain the name by appointing the right leader would be to fall into institutionalism. The brand simply doesn't matter. Newfrontiers doesn't need to be sustained, but the gospel needs to keep advancing and vital churches need to grow and be planted - whether as one large sphere or via the ministry of many others raised up by God for the work. Not appointed to fill a role but gifted by God.

Reflecting as an amateur church historian it strikes me that whilst the progress of the church is one of overall advance, movements rise and fall rather rapidly, few sustain on-mission beyond their founders. This is fine. Movements are not about the people who lead them. The people have moments - like Peter at Pentecost - but the important thing is what Jesus is doing to build his church for his glory.


  1. Yeah - the New Frontiers system of apostles is essentially the same as the CofE system of Bishops.

  2. "Apostleship is about foundations and influence, about building churches and forming relationships. ... Apostles have spheres (or areas) of influence"

    Which is exactly what Bishops do!

  3. I thought apostles were defined by having seen the risen Christ, by being condemned men (remember that passage where Paul says the apostles are the scum of the earth), not by their writing of Scripture.

  4. From a Reformed Catholic view Bishops are Apostles. And just like the Apostles of the New Testament they vary in gifts and efficiency.

    The other major order in the Church is that of Deacon. Which somes up the majority of service based ministry in the church which is less concerned with 'leadership' issues.

    The third order of Presbyter falls somewhere between the Apostolic and Deaconal.

  5. Theological discussion of continued apostles aside, I think that the church needs apostolic ministry in every age, whether or not there are 'apostles' to do it (however we're defining them). Part of that is taken up by prebsyters in a local setting, but part of that is also a connectional-catholicising ministry. I'd contend that that need was met in the first centuries by the system of bishops that developed, and is being met by 'apostles' and the like in NFI, and is met by others at a denominational level in other groupings, even in a more 'loosely defined' fellowship like FIEC perhaps.

    That's not to say all these different structures meet the need for 'post-apostolic connectionality and catholicity' with equal efficiency, or indeed with equal faithfulness to the biblical norms that should shape such ministry. But it's an interesting observation to make that eventually most churches end up recognising the need for some sort of ministry of this nature.

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  7. I'm a bit confused now I reread this. Are you saying that Driscoll was wrong in saying that there ought to be a planned handover from Virgo to someone else? If so then what happens when Virgo has to step down due to illhealth (or death)?

    What did the original apostles do? Did Bishops take their place? Was it planned what happened?

  8. I guess the point is that it's not that Newfrontiers is an organisation with Terry as director, but a network of people - around him, but also long since a collection of other networks around other leaders. Post-Terry they might stick together and perhaps someone will rise and keep the whole thing gathered - but perhaps people will head off separately, and that either way that's fine. The name doesn't have to be perpetuated.

  9. ...which is different to the CofE which is determined to continue existing rather than allowing itself to break up into effective spheres around gifting and relationship so that the church can be built rather than spending all its time infighting.

  10. Anglicans do exist around effective (geographical) spheres.

    Our relationship is between one another within the communion, a relationship which I would say is working rather well given the scale of the church.

    Something I find difficult is the new startup groups/denominations like New Frontiers implying that they've rediscovered everything (like being apostles, which AFAICT is more or less the same as the system of Bishops that have been around for thousands of years) -- or criticising the functioning of a church group that is far larger and has to deal with a lot more problems because of it's size.

    I think criticising the CofE for being 'determined to continue to exist' is rather an unexpected attack from a fellow brother!

  11. I guess it's a question of continuing to exist on what basis and for what purpose - the continuation of the church matters, of Newfrontiers or CofE not so much...
    It's not an anti-Anglican thing, honestly! :) [I owe the Anglican tradition a lot]

    I wonder if the size is part of the problem - I'm not sure if people can organise something so big and stay on mission - entirely why Newfrontiers may to some extent fragment as it grows, but I guess I'm not sure that's a bad thing...

    I agree there is a danger of new groupings implying they've just rediscovered everything... Newfrontiers isn't so new really - I spent 4.5 hours in a church history track that illustrated well that what Newfrontiers is doing isn't so new. I guess that's part of why we like the reformed label, it anchors us back 500 years to the reformation...

    Still just figuring it out.

  12. So basically Newfrontiers is Terry Virgo's personality cult then, right? ;-)

    The claim to be an "apostolic sphere of influence" rather than an institution seems a bit odd to me. Looking in as an outsider, it seems to me that Newfrontiers is a fairly hierarchical setup. I'd agree it's not doing anything new - bishops are hardly a new idea! Newfrontiers seems more than just a bunch of churches "influenced" by Terry Virgo - but NFI doesn't like to see itself as an institution.

    The comparisons with bishops don't seem far off the mark to me - but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Structure and hierarchy aren't sinful, and can be helpful. Saying that it's all about Terry's apostleship just seems to swap the danger of making Newfrontiers an idol with the danger of making Terry Virgo an idol - but both dangers are avoidable, by the grace and power of God, of course.

    Basically, I think NFI needs to stop being embarrassed about being an institution. As long as it's an institution committed to the Gospel, that's no bad thing!

  13. Its is a bit reactionary, but a good thing to try and avoid the bad ideas of institutions.

    It might look heirarchical but the leadership is very localised to each church, with support and relationship beyond.

  14. Leadership is localised to the church? I have read that 'apostles' have changed NFI church leadership where they've been unhappy with it, which sounds extremely hierarchical to me. But then, I heard that on the Ship of Fools, which is not a terribly reliable source of information...

  15. Avoiding the issues of the word 'Apostle' (probably why the word Bishop came into helpful use) the issue of continuity is what is being raised.

    The CofE is a remarkably loose hierarchy which allows a great degree of diversity and shelters much spirit led growth in all its expressions. There are missional liberal, catholic and evangelical churches that are growing and discipling. There are also plenty of communities in palliative care. Unless a seed falls into the ground as someone once said.

    But there is an understanding of office and relationship that goes beyond individuals. Being in a diocese with a newish Bishop is almost like a step father coming into an existing family. Our newish Bishop visited one church I serve and confirmed 5 people in their faith and was compelling on the meaning of the sacrament and the reality of giving ones whole life to Christ. This is a bit like TV or other oversight turning up at membership admission services in an NFI Church. Never happened when I was in Canterbury.

    A Bishop has to win hearts and minds rather than having an absolute personal authority, or rather people will respect his office but have to discern his authority. This lies at the core of 'Priestly' ministry. It is representative of the Priestly ministry of the Church, it is not individual.

    Anyone who takes on TV's See would probably have to follow the same pattern. He would be respected by NFI folks because of his office and the hands that were laid upon him, but to establish the apostolic authority would take time and sacrifice. I pray God will do this.

    Still I find this fascinating as someone who left the new churches for the CofE and stayed there mostly because of its Ecclesiology and Sacramental orthodoxy ...

  16. Edward, I think the point is that no one can come in and take on Terry Virgo's sphere of influence - because it's his through his relationships... If he'd been the Director or Bishop of the Movement someone else could take his seat and the thing would continue as it had been before... but it was always just friendships between leaders and churches.

    Inevitably he was never the only person people looked and received help from... and the outworking of the newfrontiers story has now shown that there were 5-6 emerging leaders already exercising significant ministry - with teams of leaders around them.

    So, Farewell Newfrontiers, and hello new smaller movements, with different leaders who had already been recognised as leaders long ago... elders leading churches, but apostolic and other trans-local ministries serving them in various ways.

    And if people remain faithful in time other leaders will emerge with significant influence and service to churches... much more an organic movement than a preserved institution.


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