The Forgotten Ways

The Forgotten Ways unpacks the history, theology and practice of what Alan Hirsch is convinced are the basic ingredients that catalyse an apostolic movement. Rather than being content with static and declining patterns of institutional church life, or chasing the latest programs of American church growth, Hirsch appeals for a more organic and dynamic practice of missional church. Drawing on his analysis of the phenomenal growth of the early church and the church in China, and his experience as a church pastor, missional educator and movement consultant, Hirsch points to what he terms ‘Apostolic Genius’. This is not hidden arcane knowledge, but six foundational practices of ‘missional-DNA’ (mDNA) that are latent in the people of God:

  1. Jesus is Lord – the heart of it all is this simple confession (or sneezable virus) that recognises the claims of the one God over all of life, so called sacred and secular.
  2. Disciple Making – moving beyond consumerist faith to embodying the message of Jesus with not just right beliefs but countercultural action and obedience.
  3. Missional-Incarnational Impulse – rather than merely attracting people to church, this goes out and deep, to seed and embed the gospel in the rhythms and subcultures of neighbourhoods and networks.
  4. Liminality and Communitas – embracing the church’s marginalized place in post-Christendom and the liminality of discontinuous change, and letting a deeper ‘communitas’ emerge out of adventurous mission.
  5. APEST culture – releasing Apostolic servant-inspirers, the Prophetic challengers and the evangelistic recruiters to the cause, as well as Shepherding and Teaching ministries.
  6. Organic Systems – leaving behind institutional CEO-approaches to leadership, and fostering more flexible, networked and organic leadership that unleashes people to dream big, embrace the chaos of change and spread like a virus.

These are elements that Hirsch explored in the first edition of The Forgotten Ways, published a decade ago and the centrepiece of his writing. Other earlier work in Australia leads into it – local church ministry, denominational leadership, founding Forge Mission Training Network in the early 1990s, and his writing of The Shaping of Things to Come (with Michael Frost). Over the last decade, while based in America, he has unpacked these elements in other books and workshopped the concepts with thousands of leaders and dozens of church consultancies, especially the ‘Future Travelers’ megachurch learning cohorts and the ‘100 Movements’ training and coaching of movemental churches. The result is some reordering and relabeling of concepts, a host of more recent case studies and inspiring examples, and more accessible language and explanations.

This second edition is even more worthwhile to read, reflect upon, and most importantly act upon. The key challenges, Hirsch urges, is not just to act on a few of the elements, but to bring them all together; and not just think about how they transformed the early church or China, but how they can mushroom in America, Europe or Australia. In Hirsch’s words, it is about ‘a missional translation of movemental phenomenology into a form that speaks to postmodern, post-Christian, post-Christendom, individualistic, middle-class, market-based, consumerist democracies.’ (Preface)

The Forgotten Ways is a seminal volume by one of the world’s leading missional strategists. Hirsch brings the heart of an evangelist and the mind of a scholar to the question of how the decline of the church in the West may be reversed. This updated version should be on the reading list of every missional training course and every church leader serious about engaging the challenges of mission in the West. The Forgotten Ways is not merely a book to educate us about the need – although it does that with passion; but also a kind of philosophical handbook to guide us into a whole new imagination for mission and new ways of acting to catalyse missional movement.

This review was originally published in Mission Studies 33:3 (2016).