Collin Carbno’s review of Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).
Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways is a fascinating portrayal of a “new” paradigm of church. He starts by noting that in the developed world there is little true church growth (mostly believer shifting) and indeed most denominations are losing their young people. What is the root of this problem, and what can be done? In a personal quest to answer this question, Alan looked to where and when the church has thrived.
The early church, the recent Chinese church explosion, and the Pentecostal church explosion in Africa captured Alan’s interest. Alan is struck by the fact these in these movements, the church didn’t have any buildings, was an illegal religion, with few scriptures, with no institution or professional form of leadership. Still it thrived at a level that astonishes believers and unbelievers alike.
Alan contrasts this with the failures of Christendom, with its established organisational structures, ordination councils, and buildings. While this Christendom paradigm sort of worked when Christendom was an empire state religion it is clearly failing today. Alan says we must change.
Indeed, Alan explains how the organizational top-down, building dominated, attraction driven model of the church is poison to true church growth. Alan claims that every community of believers, every believer contains mDNA, or missionary DNA, in short the blue-print of church growth. Tapping into this mDNA involves activating Apostolic Genius. Apostolic Genius is the kind of leadership that the early church had (and Chinese church explosion has) and it involves 6 key elements:
- Jesus is Lord
- Disciple making
- Missional-Incarnational Impulse
- Apostolic Environment
- Organic Systems
- Communitas not Community.
He gives clear evidence that the church is not dying after all, and the explosive growth of Christian movements based on this pattern around the world. I found Alan exploration, and personal knowledge of many of these “new” growth movements of Christianity enlightening, and it took the book out of its theoretical thesis mode into real world action.
Throughout the book, Alan draws on the latest findings in science around chaos theory, organic systems, leadership insights, and organizational dynamics to help explain in detail the various key elements, why and how they work. Being from a theoretical physic background, I found his descriptions accurate, and clear enough that most people can capture some of the concepts at a level that makes sense.
While the book has an academic, almost theoretical flavor to it, Alan had the fortune to be brought into leadership in one of these new type Christian movements early in his career where he experienced both Apostolic genius in action, and negative dynamics of traditional church structure. Throughout the book he draws on this personal experience to illustrate the principles he is explaining.
Who should read this book?
In my opinion, every pastor, every domination lead, every church board, and every single Christian believer should read it! Not everyone will agree that the current church organization models should die, and be replaced by Christian movements using Apostolic Genius but I’m sure that everyone’s thinking will be impacted. Overall the book contains a wealth of ideas that could be useful in all church situations, such as the APEST (Apostles, Pastors, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers) and TEMPT (Together we follow, Engagement with Scripture, Mission, Passion for Jesus, Transformation) models.
Will and can the traditional denominational bodies transition to this new church paradigm? Should believers be shunning the traditional church and pouring their lives into Christian movements based on the Apostolic Genius model? The book doesn’t answer those questions. I think it is possible that traditional denominational bodies could adapt to the new model, maybe even coexist in a state with the two paradigms operating at once. Few denominations will likely be able to make such fundamental profound changes.
Regardless, Alan has convinced me that the future of the Christian Church will continue to rest on the release of Apostolic Genius.
Christian Education Chair
First Baptist Church