The Emperor's New Frontiers

The official answer, of course, is no. Newfrontiers – which, originally, was simply the name given to Terry Virgo’s apostolic sphere – has always included a number of established and emerging apostolic ministries, and the only thing that is changing at the moment is that we are formally recognising and releasing them. The name will continue, the values will continue, and the relationships will continue, so to use the language of ‘breaking up’ is inappropriate. Nobody has fallen out with anybody; we still have the same mission, the same DNA and the same shared history.

If a corporation turns into five companies, each with their own leader, name, board and budget, then it’s fair to say that the original corporation has ‘broken up’. If a denomination fragments along theological lines into five smaller denominations, distinguishable from each other not just by geography but also by convictions, purpose and values, then that might be called ‘breaking up’, too. But if a family reaches the stage where the children no longer live under their parents’ roof, and leave home to form families of their own, nobody calls that a ‘break up’. Rather, it’s understood as the natural outcome of growth and maturity, and the best possible way of ensuring that growth and maturity continue into the next generation. The sort of language we use for it is positive, not negative; we mourn the physical separation, but we know how important it is for the family to continue to flourish.
So how do you tell the difference between a denomination breaking up, and children leaving home? That is, how can we tell if what is happening in Newfrontiers is the latter, as opposed to the former? Well, self-identification is one thing: when children leave home, they still describe themselves as being part of their original family, even if they are beginning to form their own. Another clue is that extended families visit each other’s houses, get to know each other’s children, exchange gifts at Christmas, and meet together to celebrate weddings, whereas denominations which have split don’t generally do those things. And of course, family members keep in touch, desire the best for each other, and continue to update each other on significant things that are happening in their lives.

For me, then, what’s happening in Newfrontiers at the moment looks much more like a family leaving home than a corporation or a denomination splitting up. From what I can tell, both spheres and churches will continue to self-identify as Newfrontiers, even if they also use a sphere name. Spheres will continue to support each other, exchange gifts (in the form of ministry, people and finances) and work together on common projects. There will be contexts for meeting together, albeit much less frequently than in the past. Visiting other churches and getting to know them will continue to happen, and so will the encouragement, news updates, sending of people and partnering in mission, and so on. All of those things, to my mind, are much more important indicators of unity than having the same leaders’ conference or the same website.

So when people ask me whether Newfrontiers is ‘breaking up’, I’m saying no. I never ‘split from’ my parents, my brother or my sisters, and nor am I planning to. In the long run, I actually ended up with a lot more people in my extended family as a result. Which is as it should be.

This blog post is a summary of a longer version originally posted on the Theology Matters forum. Read the full article here.