The Forgotten Ways book review

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The Forgotten Ways – Alan Hirsch

DME Major Ian Mountford says The title of Alan Hirsch’s book ‘The Forgotten Ways’ proposes a reflective voyage into past journeys of Christian faith, and that is partly the purpose of this important work, it is in part a quest, a passionate expedition to discover something forgotten something lost.. However, you can forget bringing along your wide brimmed sable fedora, this is no Indian Jones adventure; this is serious stuff. As indicated in the forward by Leonard Sweet it aims to defragment much of what we know of leadership mission and Church. It simplifies much of what we have made complicated and brings complexity to much of what we treat as pretentious.

It is a pivotal and comprehensive theological examination and seeks to discover the apostolic treasure at the heart of this journey, rediscovering the organic nature of the Church, something forgotten or in many cases possibly abandoned. Like any theological book often the most helpful place to start is at the back with the glossary of key terms, understanding how the author intends to use vocabulary to express his or her thinking. In the context of this book this in my opinion is essential, there are 14 pages devoted to ensuring that we are crystal clear as to what Hirsch means when he uses particular technical terms and phrases.

The book is helpfully split in to two sections; the shorter first section explores his personal insights into the differentials between ecclesiastical heritage and roots, and what Hirsch goes on to label as Apostolic Genius and mDNA or Missional DNA. In the second he embeds this in what he identifies as the APET ministries of Ephesians 4, Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Pastoral and Teaching or didactic. For any salvationist reading this book there should a clear correlation between the prime questions asked in this first section of this book by Hirsch and the principal question asked in ‘The Journey of Renewal’ (IHQ) ‘Where do we get the energy for the Journey? Hirsch begins with a single logical ‘how’ question, a contextual one that also seeks to know what brings life to the Journey, particularly life that fuelled the rapid growth of the church from 100Ad to 200Ad. He goes on to suggests the answer to this critical question are to be found in the building blocks of apostolic genius and its composite structure of mDNA embedded in the Christocentric monotheistic confession that Jesus is Lord. Recognising the importance of defining both the centre and the fringe of Ecclesiastical life, with all its challenges and interpretations, Hirsh rather places the living system of the body and mDNA further under microscope to identify chapter by chapter the molecules of Disciple making, Missional Incarnate-Impulse, Apostolic environment, organic systems and Communitas instead of Community. This latter chapter is particularly fascinating and for me it cries out to The Salvation Army about its security and liminality. Indeed reading this through the lens of officership is both creatively energising yet disturbing. From the engaging writing to the helpful drawings and tables this book challenges us not only to think seriously about our own understanding of what is means to be missional but also to be ‘leaders in ministry’. It reminds us that ‘survival is not enough’, that challengingly ‘existing organisations seldom yield radical innovation’, that to really be missional is to ‘surf on the edge of chaos’, to become more liquid, embracing adaptivity in both our leadership and structures and to be far more organically networked and pioneering in our understanding of a mixed economy ‘church’. Hirsch concludes with the adage ‘better to light a single candle than curse the darkness’. In 2003 when we were appointed as Corps Officers at Bristol Citadel we were involved in a programme called the Candle Project. The project effectively a mission to the homeless had a candle logo and underneath was written the same adage. That project which ran for over 30 years ceased in 2009, not because it was unsuccessful or that we had forgotten its purpose. Nor had we abandoned its ministry, but as local church we were called to be far more adaptive. We recognised that many of those who were locally homeless as adults had been forgotten and broken as a child. Lights are still being lit, but now predominately in the lives of children as the corps steped out beyond what it knew to surf on the edge of chaos in order to be more adaptive be disciple making and bring transformation.

Hirsch’s book is a powerful reminder that actually, if we dig deep enough we know this stuff, it’s in our blood. I only hope we have just forgotten it, and not abandoned it. One of the best ways to practically engage with the energy of this book as a practitioner is to use it alongside the accompanying ‘Handbook’ written by Alan Hirsch with Darryn Altclaass .Both books are essential tools for anyone wanting to embrace apostolic practice.