Alan Hirsch in this work is trying to re-introduce the church to what led it to distinctive growth in its early history. He is emphatic is saying that these methods are not new, but the “forgotten” structure of the church that needs to be re-established if the church is serious about its continued existence in the world. The book is divided into two sections, the first acting as a background reader and then the second, more extensive, section expands on describing the actions of the early church and then relating them to current practices.
The Making of a Missionary
Setting the Scene, Part 1: Confessions of a Frustrated Missionary
Setting the Scene, Part 2: Denominational and Translocal Perspectives
These sections give some background on the state of the church and also reveal some of Hirsch’s motivations in preparing this material.
A Journey to the Heart of Apostolic Genius
In attempting to classify what made the early church successful in engaging its culture, Hirsch names their method the “apostolic genius”. This classification aims to map the style and strategy of the early church leaders so that it can be recovered and put into practice in the modern church.
The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord
Hirsch provides a model of visualizing the apostolic genius, and in the center he has the statement “Jesus is Lord”. From this center sprout the other aspects which receive the remaining chapters. To Hirsch, this is the defining statement of the church which the early leaders understood and the modern church needs to recapture. This statement is profoundly political and counter-cultural in its original context and should remain as such wherever a people make the decision to follow Christ.
The message of Christ only survives by transmission, and as such the church must be determined to grow successive generations of disciples. This life-commitment is contrasted with the consumer-worldview that saturates the thinking of the church.
Understanding the role of the church in multiplication, the fopcus of the church’s mission should be based on proximity. Because people inhabit a geographic and cultural space, the most appropriate context for their ministry is the life that is around them.
The growth of the early was distinguished by their leadership. In examining these criteria for the modern church, an apostolic leadership environment is one where visionaries intentionally move themselves and their communities into a mature understanding of the gospel and the transmission of the Christian message. This is not an authoritarian structure, but one that depends on the referent power of spiritual maturity.
This chapter addresses the historic tendency of a movement to become an institution, which eventually leads to demise. The early church lived in the period of upswing, but the church today finds itself on the downward slope. To address this situation requires grassroots movement to continually re-discover the gospel and re-invent the community, giving rise to sustained growth.
Communitas, not Community
In developing disciples who understand the power of the gospel, there is the need for intentional interaction. This shared experience is what distinguishes the life of the Christian apart from personal spiritual experience. By drawing from this common experience, the gospel message has both an incubation area and a stage for demonstration. Communitas distinguishes the relationships that exist on top of our geographic and cultural communities which we also are a part of.
Final thoughts: It took me a little longer to get into this book, as my recent reading on the subject has been presented in a more narrative form. This book is more prescriptive than descriptive, in comparison. It presents more research than the other texts, although he regularly cites an encyclopedia CD-ROM, which I have an arbitrary bias against.