Sunday, July 12, 2009

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.