Alan Hirsch begins by asking the question, 'How did the early church grow so quickly?' He then looks for similar patterns in the rise of other Christian movements in history such as in Wesley's time and more recently in China.
Hirsch concludes that we as Christians have within us the ability to replicate these movements today. It’s in our DNA, so to speak, to be missional but we need to dig deep into our collective memories to recall and re-activate it.
What is interesting is that Hirsch sees a return to the early apostolic principles is needed to re-awaken this missional DNA. As I read these books it slowly dawned on me that what he is describing are churches that would refer to themselves as emerging churches that have been pioneered by apostles.
Hirsch describes the following six elements that together formed the life force that pulsated through the early church which he calls Apostolic Genius. He argues a case for developing all these elements in balance as the way forward to be effective at doing church.
Element One: Jesus is Lord
If Jesus is the Lord over every aspect of our lives then any sacred secular divide is abolished. Jesus lordship impacts our work and home life not just our meetings and devotionals.
Hirsch points out that Christ is not just working through the church but is at work in the world around us. We can worship all the time in everything we do and not just in church services.
We should imitate the Jesus of the gospels today not just by showing attitudes of love and forgiveness but also of acceptance of others and a willingness to socialise outside of our Christian friends.
Element Two: Disciple Making
Discipleship is nothing less than every member seeking to be transformed into a little Jesus. It is not just academic learning that is applied but learning that seeks to initially address our behaviour through leading by example, accountability groups and one to one coaching.
We are to learn to embody the message of Christ. Hirsch & Altclass give us some interesting examples such as in our busy consumerist society making time for families and church by working part time, or standing up for social justice or care for the environment by buying fair trade and environmentally friendly products. But the main thrust of discipleship that they outline is encouraging people in spiritual disciplines, empowering them to serve, use their gifts and reach out to others.
Element Three: Missional Incarnational Impulse
God is on a mission and he sends us to be part of his mission. Jesus came to us, to be with us, serve us and to proclaim salvation. We call this the incarnation – God becoming flesh. In the same way we are sent to be incarnational to others to be them, mix frequently with them, serve them and proclaim salvation. This is so much more than just inviting people to meetings.
What we do as a church needs to be built around mission. We need to be relevant to the host community in order to embed the gospel into the surrounding culture through meaningful interaction. Hirsch outlines a number of ideas that have been done ranging from being involved in community groups to turning a church into a recording studio and nightclub. But the challenge is to find strategies that are relevant to your community not copy others.
Element Four: Apostolic Environment
Apostles pioneer new missional initiatives implanting in them the missional DNA as they go. They guard each church ensuring it remains true to the gospel and its missional ethos. Apostles also provide an environment for the other ministries outlined in Ephesians 4:11 to emerge (i.e. prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) bringing the church to maturity.
Although he mentions people with these specific ministries such as Neil Cole of CMA, Hirsch’s emphasis is that all Christians have within them some aspects of these in varying degrees. For example someone may be mainly prophetic but also have elements of a shepherd and a teacher. On his website Hirsch provides a questionnaire to help you discover your leanings.
Element Five: Organic Systems
Hirsch sees the church as a living organism. Hence he prefers more fluid structures that involve networks of relationship rather than hierarchies. In these networks everyone can freely communicate with anyone else rather than having limited communication via your immediate leader.
Centralised institutions are potential blocks to growth but organic systems are characteristic of movements that have grown exponentially. They have the potential to spread like viruses continually reproducing themselves. If we keep church simple then churches can be easily reproduced.
Element Six: Communitas, Not Community
Rather than developing a sense of community for its own sake Hirsch sees this as a vital by-product of being stretched to your limit. In persecution Christians experience 'the fellowship of suffering'. But also groups that exist for purposes beyond themselves such as influencing the community or reaching people with the gospel develop a much more vigorous cohesion than groups set up with the aim of providing fellowship. If we are taking risks as we journey together on a missional venture then bonding will happen on the way. This is what Hirsch means by communitas.
There is much to learn from these books. Let's go for it. Don’t be afraid of the changes that come. As Hirsch comments, change may be chaotic at times but living on the edge of chaos is the best place to be.
An Evening With A Real Live Apostle
72 Christian Leaders Meet at Antioch