Last week was amazing. Historic; the end of an era; inspirational; exciting; moving!
It was the last of the conferences that Newfrontiers as we know it will hold in Brighton. Newfrontiers seems to proceed though the decades with fresh developments. The first decade of our existence was the “Downs” era. This was when the churches we worked with at the time camped together at Plumpton racecourse at the foot of the Sussex Downs. At the beginning, there were about 2,000 of us, and we thought it was huge! But one year, I remember walking on the hills with my son Joel who was 9 years old at the time, and feeling a bit deflated as we peered down the slopes trying to locate the camp. When we did at last identify it, it seemed disappointingly small!
I think 1988 was the last Downs Bible week as we called it and about 8,000 were then attending over 2 consecutive weeks. In 1991 we started again at the agricultural showground near Coventry next to a village called Stoneleigh. It was always known as Stoneleigh Bible week. By 1995 we had to hold 2 events back to back to accommodate the numbers pressing in, and when we closed in 2001, 28,000 came over the 2 weeks.
I loved the Stoneleigh decade, the 90’s. I loved the excitement as we arrived, the buzz of people putting up their tents, the sound of the band coming from the main auditorium, the smell of grass(and sheep and cows), and people arriving from all over the UK and increasingly from other nations as well. Incidentally the smell in the great cattle shed which was the main venue for many of the years was incredibly pungent, but it was interesting how quickly one became acclimatised to it! It didn’t seem to interfere with the fervour of the worship or the power of the preaching!
I was gutted when we decided to end Stoneleigh… even though I delivered one of the prophecies which was a factor in making the decision. God was telling us to move on; it seems in his economy success is not necessarily a reason for staying with a thing. In fact success can become an enemy of progress: it can lead to complacency, stagnation, and then decline. A major factor in the decision making process was another prophecy (from Guy Miller) in which he saw a field of golden dandelions. People were gathering to admire this field and exclaim over its colour and beauty. Then the field turned to grey as the flower heads became seed balls. A strong wind blew and scattered the seeds far and wide around the`world.
So the first decade of the new millennium saw us launching into a number of new initiatives. Different regions set up Bible weekends; Newday took off, the hugely exciting youth event which takes place in August; and of course our leaders’ conference in Brighton.
Some years ago, Keith Hazel who is known for his prophetic gifting prophesied exponential increase. Growth has certainly been spectacular as many church plants have been established in UK and many other countries. Then in 2008 Mark Driscoll came and publicly spoke of our need prepare for a successor to Terry.
Over the next three years, Terry and his team met regularly, and systematically discussed, thought and prayed about the next step. A strategy gradually took shape. No one leader would take Terry’s place, but emerging men with recognisable apostolic ministries would be released to develop their own spheres. Everyone is very happy about this; we feel that the Lord has led us in this to bring about further growth and possibilities, built upon the values of our love and adherence to the Bible, our love and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and loving relationships between each other.
And so we have come to the end of another era. Yes, we were a bit emotional last week as we looked around at the huge auditorium full of praising people from all around the world. This would be the last time we would meet here in this way. But nostalgic? Not really. We are people of the future.
As an old hymn says:
“It’s Jesus the first and the last,
Whose Spirit will guide us safe home;
We’ll praise him for all that has passed,
And trust him for all that’s to come.”