Spiritual Abuse within NewFrontiers

leftmenu The events of 2004

The backstory

The explosion

How things stand today

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The crisis

This is a summary of how I came to leave the church I had planted with a dozen or so others in 1989 and which by 2004 was gathering some 240 people on a Sunday morning, making it one of the largest Protestant churches of any kind in our region. It's also the story of how that church ceased to exist.

This is essentially a rewrite of the tale as I originally wrote it down soon after the events in question. It's shorter and hopefully, with the passage of time, a little more detached. If you want to read the full, original version, it can be found here.

I have only named one person in this account since their position makes them easily identifiable anyway.

The events of 2004

In January 2004, the two people who at that time were my fellow-elders in our New Frontiers-affiliated church told a church meeting that I was under the influence of a 'Jezabellic spirit', that this had been the case at least since they became elders, and that if nothing changed they would leave the church to found another one with the backing of NFI.

This announcement had an explosive effect in the church - all the more so because there had been no prior indication of this turn of events. I myself had only learned of this accusation a few days beforehand.

Given this declaration of division, I wanted the church to vote on whether to keep me on as pastor - an exceptional move, but one set out in our church constitution. The NFI partisans rejected the notion of a vote as unspiritual and intimidated the members so that no vote ever took place. I apologised before the church for everything I could in all conscience recognise within me as having potentially led to a breakdown in relations within the eldership; the other elders did not respond in any way. Within a few months, it had become clear that the procedures established to govern the church's charitable status were no longer being observed. As a result, I resigned from the church in March 2004 giving as my principal reason my conviction that the church was no longer a safe or healthy place to be.

Over the following months, other divisions appeared and the two elders left that summer to found a new Newfrontiers church in the city. They were supported throughout this by Newfrontiers and by the then 'apostolic delegate'. The group remaining in the premises (which had regularly held some 240 people on Sunday mornings) quickly shrank to perhaps 20 people and was soon forced to leave the building and to all intents and purposes disappear.

The backstory

In 2001 a new 'apostolic delegate' was appointed to oversee the work of Newfrontiers in France. My sphere of responsibility (which had previously extended nationally) was never clearly redefined after his arrival. This and his lack of familiarity with the context gave rise to a number of tensions between us. To my mind these tensions were in no way related to the workings of our local eldership team (who I felt supported me in this matter) nor with NFI in general (I was convinced I was functioning consistently with Newfrontiers' values). After a national leaders' conference in Bordeaux in May 2003, this 'delegate' had a much harsher attitude towards me. Although there was subsequent talk of problems in our local eldership, I felt this was a sign of these same tensions: there was no clear accusation against me personally.

The explosion

In January 2004, the 'apostolic delegate' announced he was coming over to hold an 'Apostolic Consultation' to determine 'who was best placed to lead the church'. I could only interpret this as a challenge to my leadership as pastor. My co-elders assured me they understood it similarly and also gave me to understand they themselves did not call my position into question.

As a result I wrote to the delegate and to Terry (leader of Newfrontiers) explaining that while we were happy to accept the delegate's apostolic input, we as an eldership did not feel it was up to him to call into question my role in this manner (all the more so in that to my mind, the problem was with his attitude in general and not with any internal issue) - I felt this was a sure way to divide the eldership.

Within a few hours of sending this e-mail, I received a copy of an e-mail signed by my co-elders and sent to the same recipients, explaining that when they expressed their support for me they 'did not really mean it in that sense'. I immediately asked for explanations from them and as a result heard, for the first time and to my astonishment, the accusations of a Jezabellic spirit - a mere ten days or so before they went public with them. I also learned that this accusation was backed by the apostolic delegate and that he and the elders had discussed their convictions in this respect ever since the leaders' conference in Bordeaux, nine months previously - something of which I was utterly unaware.

Even if was assumed the accusation was to be well-founded, I could not see how this could justify such a Machiavellian course of action and could not imagine Terry approving it. I intended to discuss this with him, but when the 'delegate' came to hold his 'consultation' in January - two days before the public meeting, he made it clear to me that he was acting with the full knowledge and support of Terry and I felt that to pursue that contact would be futile.

My options were thus limited. Either I had to go against my conscience and, in the absence of any evidence, admit that I was afflicted by this vague spirit (which would have led to a forced 'sabbatical' followed by an unwanted 'transfer' elsewhere - and in the process agreeing to accept NFI's assessment of my inner spiritual condition), or I had to leave the church I had planted, where my role and ministry were recognised and bearing fruit, with the accusation hanging in the air - which is the case to this day.

Two subsequent exchanges of correspondence with Terry confirmed that he supported the apostolic delegate unreservedly and did not wish to discuss the gap between Newfrontiers' claimed values and these actions.

Seven years on...

In 2010, the "apostolic delegate" parted company with NewFrontiers. This offered an opportunity to renew contact and see if any progress could be made. In the wake of this development, in early 2011, almost exactly seven years after I left, one of the elders in question came and apologised to me, as did two other leaders with responsibility within NewFrontiers who were indirectly involved in events.

These personal initiatives at last provided some degree of closure and healing. However, despite further exchanges, to date Terry has not recognised his involvement and as a result, there has been no admission of responsibility on the part of NewFrontiers as a whole.

How things stand today

Over the years I have had various discussions with current and former leaders within NewFrontiers about this situation. These and the 2011 developments have reinforced my conviction that there are good folk within NewFrontiers, and I have been impressed with the courage and integrity of those who have accepted their share of responsibility in events.

At the same time, these developments have also reinforced my conviction that as things stand, despite its claim to integrity and relationship-based workings, there are things which are seriously wrong with the structure of NewFrontiers in terms of governance which means there is a particularly acute risk of this type of spiritual abuse happening. I hope this can change as personnel move on.

(summary as of April 2011)