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Thursday, January 12, 2017

"The Forgotten Ways" (Alan Hirsch)

TITLE: The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements
AUTHOR: Alan Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Why is the Church in general struggling with growth? Where is the passion for a movement for Christ? Have churches spent too much time defending traditions and their ecclesiastical rituals to the point of forgetting their biblical ways? Have they unwittingly based their ecclesiology on the medieval European model of Christendom instead of the first-century model of New Testament Christianity? Have we forgotten that the Church is the 'ekklesia' a 'called-out people of God?' According to author Alan Hirsch, the contemporary challenges of doing Church has an upside because "it forces us to think and act like our original founders and pioneers thought and acted." When we know that there is no "Plan B," we will pray desperately, spend frugally, live passionately, and reach out fervently. The key question for readers in this book is this: "Have we forgotten about the mission of the Church?" He affirms that our greatest truths are not invented or newly discovered. They are remembered. Key to this book remains the mDNA paradigm (gospel-fluency, discipleship, incarnational mission, innovation and risk, multiplication, APEST, etc.) which the author admits could be designed as several standalone books. He hopes to wake up sleeping people and sleepy churches with the revelation of God's ways which somehow had been forgotten.

As a leading advocate of missional Church, missional living, and missional everything, Hirsch has taken his decade old book and updates it for our present context. The primary proposal in this book is worded as follows: "What this book proposes is just that: a synthesized, integrated model that does justice to the primary codes of Jesus’s church and provides us with a viable way forward."

This second edition comes with a few observations:
  • It is not right to simply copy formulas of other great movements happening in the world like now. Modern excitement over dramatic movements in other parts of the world (like India, South America, Africa, parts of Asia, etc) happen in the context of a "pre-modern, pre-Christian societies." What if their societies become as secular, skeptical, and cynical like ours?
  • While there are some encouraging progress when the mDNA model was practiced, most churches that do that apply only about one or two (maybe three) of the six elements.
  • This book needs to be read not as a how-to book but a book to inspire imagination
  • Don't love the system to the point of being unable to adapt where needed
  • We are still very outmoded in our thinking with regard to Church, choosing to build on a "static monument" rather than a more "dynamic missional movement."
  • Beware of producing programs and people for a outmoded church that no longer exists.
  • Leaders have two roles to play. First, they can be key openers or lockers. Second, they can play the role of either a good or a blind guide.
  • The Church is on a general decline because it has failed to deal appropriately with a world that is increasingly complex and changing. 

Readers might be wondering about what are the forgotten ways? I comb the book for answers. One of the ways to read a book is to understand the author's narrative, which is what Section One is about. He begins by noticing that the great missionary movements throughout history had been started at the fringes of church. Great missionary movements do not begin with one's comfort levels but multiple levels of discomfort. Using his South Melbourne Church as an illustration, he shares about how the Church dealt with the discomfort of chaos when they embark upon new and radical changes. They became an active Church-planting community instead of a passive planted monument. They move beyond Church growth strategies toward an organic movement. The core of any Church growth and evangelism efforts lie not in missional strategies or fruitful evangelism but making disciples. Throughout the book, Hirsch advocates:
  • Moving away from static location based on geography to a dynamic movement independent of geography
  • Reversing the 20/80 volunteer pareto to a 80/20.
  • Making ideas reproducible
  • Organic multiplication instead of centralized organization
  • Mission not ministry as the way forward.
The central part of the book deals with the six elements of the mDNA model also known as the APEST model. 
  • Apostolic Genius: A central paradigm for thinking, developing, and thriving. Missional movements begin with apostolic ministry. This means the church remain "sent." (strategic issues, church planting, and networking
  • Prophetic teams
  • Evangelism teams
  • Shepherding teams
  • Teaching teams
All of these are derived from Ephesians 4 passage on spiritual gifting and calling. With incisive observations about the state of the Church and the pressing need to go beyond mere Church growth strategies, we are urged to journey to the heart of the apostolic model, that Jesus is Lord, and our actions flow out of this Rock. In Christ, there is no sacred-secular divide; no allowance for syncretism; and the lordship of Christ is to be proclaimed unabashedly and with conviction. This must drive all of our discipleship; all of our missional activities; and all of our outreach efforts. The purpose of the Church is to draw people to Christ and disciple them to be Christlike.

While Hirsch begins well in diagnosing the state of the Church and to propose a theological framework forward, I feel that it does not provide enough fodder for practical implementation. He has accurately highlighted the problems of the Church growth movement, how they stem from a culture of consumerism and human-centered needs. For instance, in order to grow, activities that attract take primary state. Many churches want to grow their congregations. So they designed a great Sunday service; attractive music band; built around a powerful preacher. These are accompanied by children's, youth, and Sunday School programs for all ages; and all kinds of activities for every interest group. In order to ensure high attendance figures, the Church will continually try to improve programming that is attractive and enticing for people. What happens when the attractiveness fades? Here lies the problem. The underlying assumption of these activities is consumerism. If people come for the sake of these attractive add-ons, how can they call themselves CHRISTians if their primary reason for coming is not Christ?

Truth is, for all the right diagnosis, the astute theological frameworks proposed, there is a lack of practical how-tos. Although this has been qualified early in the book that this book is not a how-to but written to trigger the imagination of the reader, I feel that there ought to be greater guidance for general readers who agrees with what Hirsch is saying but has no idea how to go about doing it. Not everyone has the experience and knowledge as Hirsch. Having said that, the way forward is to read together the book as a community. Let the ideas and observations trigger moments of reflection and active discussion. Hopefully, through the open engagement, churches and groups can discern what is best for their church and their contexts.

Alan Hirsch is founding director of Forge Mission Training Network. He is co-author of "The Shape of Things to Come" and is a thought leader in missional movements.  

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic / Brazos Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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