Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson have given us a jewel in the book “On The Verge.” Obviously by the title one can assume they sense Western Christianity is on the verge of something big- an apostolic movement of gigantic potential for the Church in the West.
What I like about this book is the blending of a systematic dreamer (Alan Hirsch who has a brilliant mind) and an effective practioner (Dave Ferguson who has an impeccable track record). I’ve known both of these guys for more than a decade and I’ve never been disappointed by either. In fact it’s their coming together that excites me. The collaboration has produced a book you must read at least once and then implement.
I first met Dave in 2000 when one of the stops on our tour was held at his church. I was impressed with his passion for transformation and the development of the Big Idea which has become the backbone of their multisite and church planting efforts.
I first met Alan in 2002 when he attended an event I pulled together on our island with twenty or so people who were probing the edges of what has become a push for an apostolic movement. Among the group were such notables as Len Sweet, Ed Stetzer, Mark DeYmaz, Carl George, George Hunter, Bob Roberts, Dave Travis, Reggie McNeal and a host of other folks you would recognize. I remember talking with Alan during the event and it was clear he had little use for any forms of institutional Christianity.
Since then Alan has moved more to the middle and now accepts the role the institutional church could play in this apostolic movement. At the same time Dave has become one of the leading voices in this movement which appears to be taking shape at this moment. Notice I said “appears.” It’s still too soon to say anything with certainty.
The book is divided into four parts- Imagine, Shift, Innovate, and Move. Imagine a new form of church that is truly Apostolic. Make the Shift to this new form of church by embodying “movement practices.” Let your imagination run wild dreaming about this innovating paradigm. And then move to make the movement happen. The first two sections are written by Alan with a response from Dave; the second two sections are written by Dave with a response by Alan.
The heart of the book is what the authors call the “Apostolic Genius” which every church has within its DNA. The Apostolic Genius is more than just a way of thinking; it is also the intelligence that is found throughout the system the New Testament calls the “ecclesia.” The Apostolic Genius consists of six parts:
· Jesus is Lord is the capstone of the movement and is the only element of this intelligence that isn’t found in every other religious movement.
· Disciple making is essential because movements grow only in proportion to the number of new disciples. Apprenticing people into the way of Jesus is what defines the Christian movement and what is lacking in so many institutional churches.
· The missional-incarnational impulse means that mission is the catalyzing principle of the church and permeates everything the church does and is not just one department among many.
· An Apostolic environment is essential for any missional church and movement which means the primary ministry of a church is mission not maintenance.
· Organic systems point up our need to return to a people-centered understanding of ecclesia which has been lost in most institutional forms of Christianity.
· Communitas doesn’t refer to mere community as we are prone to think of it but more to a profound bond that moves participants from acquaintances to partners and from associates to comrades who are will to risk exploring the edges together.
The last chapter of the book is a thriller that you simply don’t want to miss. Dave shares the nitty-gritty of moving from the status quo to an apostolic movement. Just to give you a taste here are four questions he asks:
· “Is your church more interested in quality programs or quality people?”
· “Is your church as passionate about sending people out as they are about bringing people in?”
· “Is your church content with addition, or does it long to see exponential reproduction?”
· “Is your church holding on to control, or are they leading with a harmonious blend of order and chaos?”
While Alan thinks the institutional local church can reach only 35-40% of a population, I’m convinced that missional communities will never reach more than 5 to 10% of the population unless, because of persecution, the Church has to go underground. However, when you couple outward focused churches with small groups that function like missional communities, you have the seeds of an Apostolic, missional movement that has the possibility of reaching more than 60% of the population. This is my hope for the truly New Testament missional movement that may be underway today.