Review: The Shaping of Things to Come

"Ivan Illich was once asked
what is the most revolutionary way to change society.
Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?
He gave a careful answer.
If you want to change society,
then you must tell an alternative story, he concluded."
     Tim Costello

cover ** The Shaping of Things to Come:
** Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church
** Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch
** Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003, 230 pages
** Price: $13.99 US at AMAZON.COM

Passionate.. idealistic.. imaginative… seminal.. incisive.. visionary.. these are some of the words that come to mind as I consider my six weeks living with "The Shaping of Things to Come." A gripping exegesis of culture, church and history, with some careful theological reflection along the way, Frost and Hirsch contribute to the dialogue on innovation and mission and end up with re-imagining eccelesiology against the backdrop of emerging culture.

There are so many good things about this book, that I can't imagine not adding it to a short list of recommended reading for 2004.


The book is organized into four sections and twelve chapters. Instead of an intro a subheading appears: "You must read this bit first." This section is like a manifesto where the authors declare some of their bias - toward missional efforts rather than revitalization (outward vs inward) - that the small and experimental groups around the world may be the best hope of Christianity - that they intend to reshape ecclesiology around mission. The authors consider themselves missionaries more than academics.

In this short section they define two important terms: institutional and missional. Rather than a sociological definition they use a functional one: the church has been an institution to which outsiders come in order to receive a certain product. They argue that the church must redefine itself in terms of mission: to take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel in specific cultural contexts.

Part One "The Shape We're In"

  • 1. Evolution or Revolution?
  • 2. The Missional Church

Part Two "Incarnational Ecclesiology"

  • 3. The Incarnational Approach
  • 4. The Shape of the Missional Church
  • 5. The Contextualized Church
  • 6. Whispering to the Soul

Part Three "Messianic Spirituality"

  • 7. The God of Israel and the Renewal of Christianity
  • 8. Action as Sacrament
  • 9. The Medium Really is the Message

Part Four "Apostolic Leadership"

  • 10. The Genius of APEPT
  • 11. Imagination and the Leadership Task
  • 12. Organizing the Revolution

Part One: The Shape We're In
(the Old Grey Mare she ain't what she used to be…)

The first chapter opens with a striking story: the experience of "Burning Man," the pagan festival held yearly in the Nevada desert near Reno. According to participants the festival experience has six key elements:

  • Belonging
  • Survival
  • Empowerment
  • Sensuality
  • Celebration
  • Liminality

Burning Man is not just a bad day in Black Rock, but "a cry from an emerging postmodern generation for a community of belonging, spirituality, sensuality, empowerment and liberation." The authors note that "unless the church recovers its role as a subversive, missionary movement, no one who has been to Black Rock will be the least bit interested in it."

This chapter argues that tweaking the system will be of no avail. We do not need an evolution, we need revolution. The authors quote Einstein that "the kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be of a different order than the kind that created those problems in the first place." We need to step out of the box of Christendom.

Christendom, as opposed to the movement Jesus initiated (Christianity), has been the dominant religious force in the world for 1700 years. Under Constantine Christianity moved from a subversive, marginalized and persecuted movement to the favorite religion of the empire. "Christianity moved from being a dynamic .. movement.. to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood and sacraments."

The authors then offer a story to illustrate the difference between the dominant Christendom mode of thinking and the post-Christendom, missional mode. Their story is titled, "A Tale of Two Pubs." The first pub was purchased by a denominational group and refurbished into a church meeting place. The old crowd was instantly disenfranchised, and the community itself felt the loss.

The second pub was rented by a consortium who, rather than transforming it into a church, brought Jesus into the pub. The managers are Christians as are many of the employees. In this manner the pub has remained a safe and connected place, where the locals still come, but now it is an incarnational meeting place where the gospel meets the road.

The authors note that GOCN has elucidated twelve features of the missional church. Frost and Hirsch propose three more, over-arching principles that give energy and direction to the twelve. These are:

1. The missional church is incarnational, not attractional, in its ecclesiology. By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which believers much come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't yet know him.

2. The missional church is messianic, not dualistic, in its spirituality. That is, it adopts the worldview of Jesus the Messiah, rather than that of the Greco-Roman empire. Instead of seeing the world as divided between the sacred (religious) and profane (nonreligious), like Christ it sees the world and God's place in it as more holistic and integrated.

3. The missional church adopts an apostolic, rather than a hierarchical, mode of leadership. By apostolic we mean a mode of leadership that recognizes the fivefold model detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6. It abandons the triangular hierarchies of the traditional church and embraces a biblical, flat-leadership community that unleashes the gifts of evangelism, apostleship and prophecy as well as the currently popular pastoral and teaching gifts.

We believe the missional genius of the church can only be unleashed when there are foundational changes made to the church's very DNA, and this means addressing core issues like ecclesiology, spirituality, and leadership. It means a complete shift away from Christendom thinking, which is attractional, dualistic, and hierarchical.

I would likely have substituted "sacramental" for messianic. Messianic connotes something too narrowly Hebraic for me, and I have seen too many arguments for a Hebrew perspective that are an excuse to impose Jewish ritual on western culture. For me, "sacramental" echoes an ancient teaching while connoting symbol, redemptive presence, and the gracious intersection of two worlds that may only be obvious to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

You may feel the same way, but the authors put forward a convincing argument for their choice. By "messianic" they intend to point to the centrality of the life and mission of Jesus, and the wholism implicit in the eastern Hebraic perspective. More on this in later discussion…

You may also have difficulty with "apostolic." But it's worth sticking with Frost and Hirsch to see how they use this language and relate the biblical concept to the church's need. "Forging.. apostolic movements will require a different kind of thinking that innovates new modes of being and doing church and recasts its notions of leadership, structure , and mission."

Chapter two begins to spell out the implications of the three principles above. Where the church has been attractional, dualistic and hierarchical, it is already shifting in small and diverse contexts to incarnational, wholistic (messianic) and egalitarian community. It's not an easy transition to make, and few established groups will make the transition.

Gerard Kelly in Retrofuture quotes Tom Sine, "Every denomination and religious organization I work with does long range planning. Ironically, they do long range planning as though the future will simply be an extension of the present… As a result, we are chronically surprised by change…"

The authors then cite two examples of church in the missional mode: a retro shoe-store in San Francisco, and Hope Community in Wolverhampton, England. Three Roman Catholic sisters moved into a housing project to get to know and help their neighbors, and have become the center of a missional effort that involves literacy training, advocacy, and parties.

The authors look at these two examples to begin to distill some of the shared traits of missional churches. They conclude that four traits deserve consideration: proximity spaces, shared projects, commercial enterprise and indigenous faith communities. They consider the Millenia Co-op in Pomona County, LA as an example of all these traits.

Part Two - Incarnational Ecclesiology

Part Two opens with a chapter on the incarnational approach, and the quote that I used to open this review. The authors argue that coming to grips with being incarnational requires an entirely new paradigm. The western church has been primarily attractional, and has stood apart from culture and invited people to "come in."

Frost and Hirsch find four characteristics of the incarnation. It involved,

  • identification
  • locality
  • the Beyond in-the-midst
  • the Human image of God

From these characteristics they conclude that "the Incarnation provides us with the missional means by which the gospel can become a genuine part of a people group without damaging the cultural frameworks that provide a sense of history and meaning" and that "in reaching a people group we need to identify with them in all ways possible without compromising the truth of the gospel itself." (p37) They note that the danger of failing to practice incarnational mission is cultural imperialism.

They further conclude that "incarnational mission implies a real and abiding presence among a group of people," and that "incarnational mission implies a sending impulse rather than an extractional one." To Frost and Hirsch incarnational mission means that "people will get to experience Jesus on the inside of their culture's meaning systems."

The chapter then proceeds to contrast the attractional church vs the incarnational one. They use the analogy of the single fishing rod with a single hook to describe the attractional method, vs the use of nets in the middle east. The strength of the nets is key. Nets depend less on the weather or the ability of an individual fisherman, and whatever is swimming by is caught. The chapter then moves to a discussion of Paul Hiebert's classic "centered set" vs "bounded set" using the analogy of wells versus fences.

"The church bids people come and hear the gospel in the holy confines of the church and its community. This seems so natural to us after seventeen centuries of Christendom, but at what price and to what avail have we allowed it to continue? If our actions imply that God is only really present in official church activities – worship, Bible studies, Christian youth meetings, ladies fellowships – then it follows that mission and evangelism simply involve inviting people to church related meetings." p.41

A fence is "a bounded set," a mechanism to determine who is in and who is out. But a well is a centered set. Fencing the enormous expanses of the Australian outback simply isn't possible. Instead, a farmer sinks a well to create a precious supply of water. It is assumed that livestock will stray, but never wander too far from the well.

There are many implications for this conception, and the authors apply it first to evangelism. In the bounded set evangelism is seen as getting people into the religious zone. In the centered set the goal is not to just to "present" Christ in one fell swoop but to get people to begin the search. The centered set approach only works when grounded in an incarnational mode. Furthermore, it works best with the homogeneous unit principle.

Chapter four is "The Shape of the Missional Church." The chapter opens with an illustration drawn from the movie "Chocolat." What some have seen as a showdown between Christianity and paganism the authors interpret as a showdown between the Christendom-attractional mode and the missional-incarnational mode. Much of what we do in church is non-organic and feels artificial and mechanistic and is non-relational. The chapter moves on to discuss leadership, the danger of reliance on buildings, multiplication versus addition, and the four objectives of incarnational mission: real connection, real demonstration, real access and real encounter.

"If you are digging a hole in one place and realise that you need to dig it elsewhere, you don’t get there by digging in the same place only deeper. And yet churches when they realise the old attractional mode isn’t working, seem to believe that if they just do attractional church better, it will work." p.62

Chapter five is "The Contextualized Church."

"Don't think church, think mission!" the authors often announce in their lectures as part of the FORGE Mission Training Network. In contrast to the cultural imperialism of many past missional efforts, the authors advocate a "radical rethink about the symbols, language, metaphors, vernacular and idioms we employ when presenting Christ to our world."

Contextualization has had a cool reception in some of the more conservative circles. They present a number of definitions: "Contextualization is when the gospel offends for the right reasons and not for the wrong ones." That one made me smile. They quote Rene Padilla: "To contextualize the gospel is to so translate it that the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not an abstract principle or mere doctrine, but the determining factor of all of life in all its dimensions and the basic criterion in relation to which all the cultural values that form the very substance of human life are evaluated."

Frost and Hirsch note that they yearn for something deeper than a mere reworking of church language, and something beyond the one-size-fits-all approach too common in the west. They argue that the gospel must relate to the whole human context, situational and experiential. By situational they mean "all that is true of people in their given situation --their lot in life, including their culture, nationality, language and the laws that affect them -- their falleness and their beauty." By experiential they refer to the subjective experiences that rise out of, but also create "their context, such as insecurities, hopes and fears."

In 1987 Paul Hiebert presented a model for critical contextualization of the gospel in un-christian contexts. The authors rehearse that framework and then refer also to the work of Phil Parshall, who created a tool for defining six types of Christ-centered communities by virtue of their level of contextualization. Both frameworks are interesting and help in conceptualizing the task before us.

Chapter six concludes the second section, and is titled "Whispering to the Soul." While the book is integrative throughout, this chapter begins to lean more heavily to the intuitive and imaginative dimensions of life and thought. Recounting the story of Monte Roberts, "the horse whisperer," the authors call us to listen to our culture and to the longings of those around us, with a view to whispering into the deepest parts of theirs souls. They suggest that we should excited curiosity through the use of stories, provoke a sense of wonder and awe, be extraordinarily loving, explore how God is already at work, and focus on Jesus. They close this chapter quoting Martin Buber when he claimed that, "We Jews know Jesus in a way -- in the impulses and emotions of his Jewishness -- that remains inaccessible to ... Gentiles." This statement transitions us to the next section of the book, a section where the authors show the way forward with innovative theological reflection.

Part Three - Messianic Spirituality

The Bible of Judaism... makes one contribution
to Christian faith. It is the profound conviction
of these ancient rabbis, whom Jews revere and
call "our sages, of blessed memory," that Scripture forms
a commentary on everyday life-- as much as
everyday life brings with it a fresh understanding of Scripture.

      Jacob Neusner, p.111

"We have used the term messianic in a very deliberate way. What we mean by it is that which has traditionally been called Christology must of necessity define missiology. This, combined with the idea that God's people operate messianically in the world, refers back to the person and work of Jesus as witnessed in the Gospels." p.112

"We evangelicals have for too long read Jesus through predominantly what have been called Pauline eyes. We doubt the Apostle Paul read Jesus this way himself." 113

"So much reflection on Jesus portrays a man who is overly serious, who wrung his hands a lot.. rather, his was a very attractive spirituality.. He was notorious for hanging out with the wrong types.. We need his model of holy laughter, of his sheer love of life, of his infectious holiness, of his common people's religion... We partner with God in the redemption of the world." 114-115

The writers argue that an alternative, missional approach to being and doing church is best supported by an alternative approach to Christian spirituality. This makes perfect sense. Western dualism has resulted in a gnostic approach to life and to salvation, a damaging influence that has undermined the very foundations of the gospel itself. The result has been an ontological Christology, divorced from history and from life.

The author's sense of dis-ease has taken them on a journey of discovery. Alan Hirsch's Jewis heritage took him back to those sources, and Michael Frost's Catholic heritage took him to Benedictine thought on the sacralizing of the everyday. This in turn resulted in both discovering the work of Abraham Heschel and Martin Buber. The rich early traditions of the Hasidic movement opened a deep resonance with Scripture.

Under broad categories, key differences are these:

Hellenistic thinking is speculative in nature, whereas the Hebraic spirit is much more concrete. As Philip Yancy wrote, the church affirmed that Jesus was "the only begotten Son of God, Very God of Very God.." but those statements were light years removed from the Gospel accounts of Jesus growing up in a Jewish family in the agricultural town of Nazareth.

Second, the Hebraic spirit is a religion of time. The Hebrew Bible describes history as the primary source of revelation of God and God's will for the world. History is where we must do our work to advance the kingdom.

From this point the author's move to speak of the redemption of the everyday. The Jewish people have preserved a profound ability to celebrate life: L'chaim!

Dualistic Christendom actively opposed a healthy materialism and denigrated the body as unspiritual. Instead, CS Lewis reminds us that,

"There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he uses material things like bread and wine to get the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it." "Mere Christianity" bk.2, ch.5

Frost and Hirsch point to films like "Chocolat" and "Babette's Feast" as potent parables of the poewr of pleasure to redeem and reconcile. "It is not for nothing that the covenants -- new and old -- were sealed in full meals, replete with four glasses of wine... It is unredeemed or undirected pleasure that destroys life."

The word "Torah" catches the author's interest. Usually translated "law," a truer translation is "instruction" or "teaching."

"The instruction aims at the harnessing and directing of the community's resources toward a redemptive end. When reading the Pentateuch, one is immediately struck by the radical non linear logic associated with it. One verse deals with the Israelite's approach to God" the temple. The very next verse deals with what one does when one's donkey falls into a pit.

"We suggest that there is indeed a rather profound logic going on in the Torah, a logic that attempts to relate ALL aspects of life to God. Therefore, everything -- one's work, one's domestic life, one's health, one's worship -- has the same significance to God. He is concerned with every aspect of the believers life. p.126

Under speculative/abstractive Greek thought the biblical teaching about God's unity/oneness becomes a matter of philosophical speculation. But passages like Deuteronomy 6:4 are not merely a description of the pure nature of God in his eternal Being. They are far more concrete and practical than that.

"The claim has direct and concrete implications: It is a call for the Israelites to live their lives under the Lordship of one God and not under the tyranny of the many gods. In other words, it is a practical call not to live one's life as it there were a different god for every sphere of life-a god of the field, a god of the river, a god of fertility, a god of the sun, and so forth. Judaism loudly proclaims that there is only one God and he is Lord of every aspect of life. "p 127

This next section advances the argument that the Jewish concept of kavanah can help us recover a biblical understanding of wholeness in thought and action. Kavanah means "to pay attention, to direct the mind and heart in order to maximize the levels of intentionality in our actions" and goes beyond action, study and prayer "to the notion of attentiveness to God Himself." Kavanah is not primarily an awareness of being commanded by God, but an awareness of the God who commands.

"The focus in kavanah shifts from the deed itself to its inner meaning, the goal being to find access to the sacred in the deed itself. It is finding the essence of the cask, to partake of its Inspiration, to be made equal to the task of fulfilling holy commands. Abraham Heschel says that "kavanah is direction to God and requires the involvement and redirection of the whole person. It is the act of bringing together the scattered forces of the self; it means the participation of heart and soul, not only of will and mind."

The authors rely heavily on the work of Abraham Heschel and Martin Buber. Buber's work "I and Thou" was floating around seminary in my early days there in 1980. I remember it as a profound work of reflection on the meaning of relationship and identity and humanness. Buber comments that, "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God. Buber says elsewhere that,

What matters is not what is being done, but the fact that every act is filled with sanctity - that is, with God-oriented intent - is a road to the heart of the world. There is nothing that is evil in itself; every passion can become a virtue, every inclination a "vehicle of God." It is not the matter of the act that is decisive, but its sanctification. Every act is hallowed if it is directed towards salvation. The soul of the doer alone determines the character of the deed. With this, the deed does in truth become the life center of religiosity. p.131

I have quoted extensively from this section because it seems to me so critical in recovering a biblical praxis in everyday life. Failing to recover this focus and praxis, we will have difficulty escaping the kind of dualism that undergirds our separation of sacred and secular, clergy and laity.

But there is a second issue highlighted by this fresh perspective: the elements of motive and intentionality. In at least some segments of the emerging church these two elements have been the source of considerable reflection and struggle. At ALLELON that struggle was reflected recently in the article "The Tension Over Intention." In the introduction to that article Todd writes,

"I hear tension with intention just about everywhere I go these days; and these days, I “go” a lot. I am in groups of all kinds and talk to hundreds of people a month. There is tension over whether or not to intend to evangelize, or to plan to lead or to aim for spiritual formation in ourselves or in others. This is especially true regarding the first two: evangelism and leadership. In most of the emerging, alt-church scene it is currently a pretty big foul ball to have a previous aim of evangelizing someone or a determination to lead a group toward a preferable future. "

But what if we could short-circuit the question of intention altogether? Last fall I overheard part of an interview on IDEAS on CBC Radio. The show title was "RENEGADE ARCHITECT" and the interview was with Christopher Alexander.

Alexander advocates building in process and not from a plan. He stated that this is the ancient way of architecture, and that the modern and mechanistic approach demonstrated our lack of spirituality.

Near the end of the program, Alexander expressed that one of the fundamental problems in architecture arises when the building is going up and the designer must make simple choices. For example, should this column be 5" or 6" in diameter? He talked about how the designer's own ego could get in the way of constructing the right building. The question he would finally ask is: "which choice is a greater gift to God?"

In the emergent church discussion of intention and motivation, part of the challenge was the recognition that we have few pure motives.. nearly all of our motives are an admixture of good and selfless intention and personal ambition or need.

Here too Frost and Hirsch are helpful in reframing the discussion. They recall the Jewish teaching on the two inclinations; the good inclination and the evil inclination. The good inclination is that which leads us to God. It is the directed forces of the soul. The evil inclination, on the other hand, is those passions left undirected.

"They are not evil in themselves, but are evil because if left without holy direction, they will inevitably lead us away from God. The belief is that we can, and indeed must, worship God with the evil inclination. This is not as startling as it first appears. It simply means that we must serve God with all our passions. Nothing is to be left out of the redemptive direction of the heart toward God. Says Buber, "The Mishnah interprets the phrase "Thou shall love the Lord God with all thy heart" to mean; with both your inclinations, the 'good' and the evil; that is, with and by your decision, so that the ardor of passion is converted and enters into the unified deed with all its strength. For no inclination is evil in itself; it is made evil by man when he surrenders to it instead of controlling it." Quoted from Buber in "Mamre" p.130

Most of us know that we can be overwhelmed by our feelings. The doctrine of the two inclinations tells us that a lower passion can only be overcome by a greater passion. The authors quote CS Lewis as well as Paul Ramsay, "One's loves are always deeper than his reason; and reason is always in the employment of some love." (Christianity and Society, 1943)

This is all very helpful. The dualism of Western Christianity has often failed to integrate pleasure, passion, and instinctive drives into the faith. Aware of that failture, we tended to focus on the soul and left bodily drives outside of Christ's redemptive work. There are effectively only two realities in the world: the holy and the not-yet-holy. The missional task of God's people is to make the not-yet-holy into that which is holy.

Chapter eight follows naturally from the above and is titled "Action as Sacrament." In this chapter the authors address the need to reconnect proclamation and mercy. "Our spirituality must move from primarily a passive/receptive mode, to an actional mode."

Viewed in this manner, action is a sacrament of grace. Action can be revelatory, even as it pulls us away from our self-involved concerns and directs us missionally toward others. Does this raise the spectre of salvation by works? The authors affirm that there is no salvation in action, but our deeds remain inherently valuable. Our God is interested in both right thinking and in right action. Obedience is first an act of the soul and then an act of the body. Abraham Heschel asks, "Is it the artist's inner vision, or his wrestling with the stone that brings forth a sculpture?"

Chapter nine, "The Medium Really is the Message," opens with a striking metaphor of captivity and freedom borrowed from the movie, "Chicken Run."

"In a tragic scene, she [Ginger] is trying to share her vision and stir up another escape attempt when she realizes that most of her fellow hens have no concept of freedom. For them, this is the way it has always been. Why try and change it, when, as one hapless chicken claims, "This is a chicken's lot -- to lay eggs then die." Ginger is a real hero because she refuses to give in to the prevailing consciousness of the prison camp. She's a prophet and visionary and a darn good leader. At risk of her life and by enduring incarceration and suffering she eventually succeeds in organizing the most daring escape by building the most extraordinary flying machine... Without being too dramatic, this is precisely what is needed for missional leaders and radical disciples who know that the urgency of the day requires a significant shift from the predominant image of "church." p.146

This striking image and passionate call to action is typical of the imaginative tapestry woven by the authors throughout the book. But the chapter itself is unique for deeper reasons: this is the first time I have seen a treatment of Marshall McLuhan's prophetic voice in culture within any published emergent church literature.

The first point the authors make is that "God changes us by changing our identity, our sense of self-definition." This statement is so loaded that it may slip by some readers. It is simply profound.

Consider for a moment the experience of the typical western churched believer. We are constantly reminded that we are priests of the new covenant, ministers of the gospel. In some churches you will see statements to this effect in the weekly bulletin, and in others in bold letters at the top of a wall in their gathering place. Naturally, the statement is often advanced from the pulpit as well.

Yet in spite of that, only a few believers have a voice in the typical gathering, and only a few are given authority to preach or teach the word, to baptize or to counsel, or to facilitate the gathering. Consequently, we are given a double message. We are told one thing, but we experience that only a few are really adequate ministers of the gospel. The medium is the message, and the message is a profound statement about our identities in Christ. And then the clergy wonder why we are not transforming the world from Monday to Saturday...

McLuhan's core insights are summarized by the authors in this chapter. McLuhan used the word "media" like we use the word technique or technology. Jacques Ellul developed a similar direction fifteen years later in his works, "The Technology Society" and "The Presence of the Kingdom."

The idea behind "the medium is the message" is that we shape our tools, then they shape us. McLuhan recognized that tools or methods are not neutral but have their own demands that impact us deeply. The authors apply this insight to the typical media and technologies of the western church: the sermon, the building, and the seminary. They warn that the sermon tends to addict listeners to the communicator and that we place too much reliance on it; they warn that Christendom is addicted to buildings and that the setting encourages professionalism and passive consumers; they warn that we have outsourced biblical knowledge to the academy, enhancing intellectual approaches to faith over discipleship.

In contrast, the authors remind us that "we are the message." They quote Martin Buber,

"A "zaddik" (a righteous person) said about the rabbis who "speak Torah" (ie. who interpret the Scripture for others) "What is the sense of their speaking Torah? Man should act in such a way that all his behavior is a Torah, and he himself is a Torah." At another time it is said, "THe aim of the wise man is to make himself into a perfect teaching." p.156

This chapter closes with a discussion of the dualistic, either/or church experienced by so many in the West. Using two diagrams around the categories of God -- Church -- World, the authors show how we have tended to compartmentalize our lives, and point to an alternative imaginative integration.

Missional-Incarnational-Messianic-Apostolic Mode


In the footnotes early in this chapter hides another gem: "We believe that if we aim at ministry, we seldom get to do much mission. But if we aim at mission, we have to do ministry because ministry is the means by which mission is achieved. The established church has generally got this wrong." 149

The chapter closes with an invitation to partner with God in His kingdom and creation. The story which forms the example at the end of this chapter is edgy and is going to be a problem for some, but it does dramatically illustrate their point (far be it from me to spoil the impact!)

Part Four - Apostolic Leadership

In this fourth part Frost and Hirsch continue their imaginative and reflective theological work. Some will find chapters eleven and twelve worth the price of the trip. This section could almost demand a review all its own. Chapter ten begins the tour with "The Genius of APEPT."

For three or four years now I have been uncomfortable with talk about the "five fold ministry." I've had difficulty identifying my discomfort, but I'll bet many of you are ahead of me on this and could give me many reasons why it doesn't work for you.

It seems that the phrase is mostly used in charismatic circles as part of a package that sells a certain understanding of authority.. hierarchical and positional, founded around office and status in the community, and aimed at maintaining a clerical management culture. Unfortunately, that particular conception of authority is part of the reason that the modern church got stuck, and the places that talk a lot apostles and prophets are too often old paradigm.

As I have completed my read of Frost and Hirsch, "The Shaping of Things to Come," I have found myself asking some old questions about vocation and its relation to gifting, and gifting and its relation to position, and of course, questions about the relationship of leadership and authority in this matrix.

It seems to me that we have three urgent tasks in the emergent church in relation to the biblical revelation on gifts and authority.. we have to disentangle leadership and authority, we have to disentangle biblical language about gifting from the cultural morass of Christendom, and we have to find a way to embrace the diversity of gifts in the body. If we attempt to do one of these without the other, we will probably slide back into a familiar clerical mode with centralized and positional authority.

Frost and Hirsch use APEPT to refer to "five fold," apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. They make the argument that "to each one grace has been given" and "he gave some to be" in Ephesians 4 applies the APEPT giftings to every believer.. every believer has one of the APEPT gifts.

APEPT Ministry Matrix Furthermore, they locate these gifts within two matrices: an inner leadership matrix and an outer ministry matrix. Picture two concentric circles with APEPT leaders in the center and the APEPT community surrounding them. This two dimensional understanding may be helpful to us in moving forward. Not all apostles will hold leadership positions in the church. Not all prophets will be recognized as such or exercise their gifting in a way that moves the entire community forward. But all five gifts are necessary "to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up." All five gifts contribute to a life giving dynamic and continued responsiveness to the Head of the body. There is no either/or dualism in charismata that separates the people of God into clergy and laity, but we continue to acknowledge that the measure of gifting and the measure of faith in exercising a gift varies with each individual and their context.

Innovator = Apostle, Questioner = Prophet

Frost and Hirsch run the five gifts through the grid of organizational and social research. While at first glance this may seem pedantic, it is really helpful. They make the following connection:

  • entrepreneur/innovator - the apostle
  • questioner - the prophet
  • recruiter - the evangelist
  • humanizer - the pastor
  • systematizer - the teacher

This is helpful for two critical reasons:

1. it pushes us to see the function of these gifts in any church team.
2. it moves toward disentangling these biblical terms from the muck and mire of cultural religion

In the modern setting we were very enamored of pastors and teachers, and lost the missional ability to innovate. The apostles have been thought dispensable by the management culture of modern clergy. Then we neglected to listen to the prophets, who had their ears attuned to both God and the culture, and we likewise marginalized the artists and poets, who are some of the prophetic among us and are often apostolic. Remember Ron Martoia's words describing the kaleidoscopic dance (there are three mirrors in the kaleidoscope) :

"The apostolic mirror says what do we see out there in our "sentness" role as a church. Most churches are very focused within their four walls. The word apostle means sent one. The church isn't to be gathered except to be sent out. As we go out into the culture, what do we see and hear that will enable us to address ministry in ways that are culturally sensitive? In other words, the apostolic mirror reflects to us all the culture context can show us.

"The prophetic mirror reflects to us the new thing God wants to do in us and through us. Isaiah 43 says God wants to do a new thing. This mirror reflects to us God's heart at the moment and in the context of the apostolic mirror of the cultural context we find ourselves.

"The third mirror is the poetic. Every church has a unique voice, unique gifts, a unique way of expressing what God is doing through them. The poetic mirror reflects each churches unique delivery system to the community around them. When apostolic "sentness" captures the cultural context, and then mingles with the new thing God wants to speak prophetically into the culture and that is sieved through the poetic voice of the church, you have a very unique missional picture emerge that shapes and contours ministry initiatives for that local church. The interplay of those three mirrors and the corresponding ministry beachheads that emerge are what I call the kaleidoscopic dance." An interview with Ron Martoia at THE OOZE

An Apostolic Movement?

Suddenly we are living in a time when many are talking about apostles and prophets. But I can't help but wonder if there aren't actually two separate dynamics at work.

"We are up against the real disintegration of the Western psyche. To compensate for the loss of control and meaning, we find a rigidity of response on both sides of most questions…"
Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

The first dynamic is an attempt to strengthen the existing authority structures. When things are shaking all around us, we run for cover. We try to build a stronger fortress against change. Much of the talk of apostles and prophets in charismatic circles is just circling the wagons. It is an attempt to strengthen centralized authority in fear that we are losing control. This is a fleshly dynamic and a distorted response to what the Lord is doing in kingdom and culture.

The second dynamic is almost underground.. unless you spend a lot of time at emergent websites :) The FORGE network, ALLELON, Emergent and many other groups are not interested in controlling anything or establishing a kingdom of their own.. they are interested in supporting the growth of a new movement, of rebuilding the broken walls, of nurturing the growth of God's kingdom in small ways wherever they see it happening. No one is interested in status or titles; many in fact are trying to avoid prominence. This is a trans-boundary, trans-cultural and trans-national movement because it is something that the Lord is doing. This second dynamic is apostolic because it doesn't claim apostolic authority but would prefer to be invisible, it has a strong interest in marginalized people, it is non-hierarchical, and it is all about service.

Stages in Organizational Life: from Movement to Machine

Frost and Hirsch note that organizational research finds definable stages in organizational life in relation to leadership. Young movements are full of prophets and visionaries, people with little vested interest in old forms and lots of energy for risk and experimentation. But as movements become organizations, the builders and synergists take over.. establishing relational connections, consolidating the group. The visionaries and questioners are marginalized. Next teachers and administrators standardize roles and functions and systematize a system of understanding and the builders and synergists are marginalized. As time passes the adminstrators rule, and as they manage the organization it shifts to maintenance mode. Finally, authority is encapsulated in an office and the bureaucrats rule with a rod of iron. Little change or growth is possible, and the organization dies. (This progression has been documented as far back as Niebuhr's "The Social Sources of Denominationalism.")

So the apostles and prophets are always strongly in evidence in the birth of new movements, but then are thrust aside as the movement becomes established. Charism gives place to charisma.. pastors and teachers rule .. humanizers and systematizers. Movements become institutions in part because they push aside the innovators and visionaries, they lose touch with context and become frozen in time. Life and passion gives way to "hardening of the categories."

This explains in part why I am so unhappy with our religious conceptions of the five-fold ministry. Those titles tell us little about the life of a spirit born body and a lot about the frozen irrelevance of modern churches. We have legitimated authority narrowly into a few roles and lost the dynamic of the Holy Spirit in the community. We need all the gifts, but in the birthing of a new movement we particularly need the artists and prophets and poets.. we need to get comfortable again with the questioners and innovators.. we need "poets who speak against the prose flattened world" (Brueggemann).

"Our God is a God of beginnings. There is in him no redundancy or circularity. Thus, if his church wants to be faithful to his revelation, it will be completely mobile, fluid, renascent, bubbling, creative, inventive, adventurous, and imaginative." Jacques Ellul, Resist the Powers

All very nice, you say, but who gives direction? Is it the apostle, the prophet, the pastor, the teacher, the evangelist.. or all of them? What if this is the wrong question?

What if leadership has more to do with finding meaning than in setting direction (see the work of Wilfred Drath and Charles Paulus in "Making Common Sense: Leadership As Meaning-Making in a Community of Practice.") "Strange attractors," in the world of physics cause order to emerge from apparent chaos. "Strange attractors" are like guiding principles or values and have more impact on individual behavior than good management.

Organizational science is finding that focus is more important than individual behaviors. Taking control would mean replacing individual initiative, and re-centralizing authority, thus impeding the natural development of community and natural development of new leaders. If our goal is to be in control, we needn't worry about the growth of community; a hierarchy will do. If our goal is to build a congregation, an audience, we only need a few leaders, who will foster dependence in order to maintain the system or soon burn out with the impossible task of holding it together. Instead, leaders need to know how to support, as leadership coach Margaret Wheatley put it,

".. self-organizing responses. People do not need the intricate directions, time lines, plans, and organization charts that we thought we had to give them. These are not how people accomplish good work; they are what impede contributions. But people do need a lot from their leaders. They need information, access, resources, trust, and follow-through. Leaders are necessary to foster experimentation, to help create connections across the organization, to feed the system with rich information from multiple sources-all while helping everyone stay clear on what we agreed we wanted to accomplish and who we wanted to be." A Simpler Way, 1996

If we no longer see dominance and social influence as the basic activities of leadership, we no longer think of people in terms of leaders and followers. Instead, we can think of leadership as a process in which an entire community is engaged. This enables us to disentangle power and authority from leadership. Authority is a tool for making sense of things, but so are other human tools such as values and work systems.

Chapters eleven and twelve continue the creative theological work, beginning with "Imagination and the Leadership Task." It was Winston Churchill who wrote that "the Empires of the future will be the empires of the imagination." Our transition to a designer culture opens up new possibilities for the church.

Frost and Hirsch argue that we "need to begin with the end in mind." The end exists only in the future, so it requires an act of imagination to re-vision the world. One of the core aspects of poverty is not a lack of money but a lack of hope -- lack of a dream. One of the core tasks of leadership, therefore, is to help the community to dream again. Part of this task is "the management of meaning... It is this capacity to articulate a preferred future based on a common moral vision that allows people to dream again.." 188

The authors list some keys to paradigm shifting:

  • encourage holy dissatisfaction
  • embrace subversive questioning
  • become a beginner
  • take more risks
  • create a climate of change

Each of these keys is elaborated in a page or so, including a description of Edward de Bono's game of the six thinking hats.

"One of the most important lessons from history is that the renewal of church always comes from fringes, and we mean ALWAYS. And it is the movements of mission that in turn create movements of renewal. This can be tested in every context of the church. The lesson is that the church ought to remain in mission for God's sake, but also for its own sake. It is this radical openness to, and engagement with, the margins that so often brings that needed inrush of new thinking, acting and feeling to Jesus' people." p.194

Chapter twelve closes the book: "Organizing the Revolution." This final chapter is less a summary and collection of closing remarks than a consideration of strategy. "We believe apostolic leadership works more effectively when the church rediscovers itself as a missionary movement; when it organizes itself as a centered set; when it builds organic structures, gears for metabolic growth, and develops a missional leadership training system." This is authors agenda for their closing chapter.

The chapter then opens with another look at organizational life cycles, and moves to a summary of the characteristics of dynamic movements from Howard Snyder's Signs of the Spirit.. The authors then reopen the discussion of centered versus bounded sets, stating that "we feel it has relevance not only for incarnational mission but also for the way we structure our life together." 206

"In the bounded set, it is clear who is in and who is out (fences, not wells), based on a well-defined ideological-cultural boundary --usually moral and cultural codes as well as creedal definitions.. but it doesn't have much of a core definition beyond these boundaries. It is hard at the edges, soft at the center."

The centered set, on the other hand, "is like the Outback ranch with the wellspring at its center. It has very strong ideology at the center but no boundaries. It is hard at the center, soft at the edges. We suggest that in the centered set lies a real clue to the structuring of missional communities in the emerging culture.

"The traditional church makes it quite difficult for people to negotiate its maze of cultural, theological, and social barriers in order to get "in.".. and by the time newcomers have scaled the fences built around the church, they are so socialized as churchgoers that they are not likely to be able to maintain their connection with the social groupings they came from...

"We propose a better and more biblical way.. is to ... sink wells. If you sustain your connection with the water sources, you will find a whole host of people relating to Jesus from different walks of life. We allow people to come to Jesus from any direction and from any distance. The Person of Jesus stands.. at the center."

The authors propose two metaphors as a way of leading so-called "millennials.." that of herding cats and leading horses to water. Cats are impossible to herd.. they are rugged individualists. But put down a dish of food when they are hungry and they will come to. It is said that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.. the authors argue that if you first give the horse salt it will drink. Their conclusion.. cultivate hunger, and provide the right kind of food.

Following this discussion is a short section on "eco-leadership" and the dangers of programming, then a discussion of metabolic growth (multiplication not addition) and idea viruses. Finally, sustainability and its relation to vocational models is discussed. The authors close the chapter with a listing of the values of the FORGE mission training network and a parable about wild and tame geese. While it has been observed that wild geese become tame, it has seldom been observed that tame geese can become wild again.


If you made it this far.. good on you! You are either obsessive, completely crazy, or you are passionate about God and His Kingdom. Hmm.. could be all three I suppose!

My intention is not to provide a critique of the book. My intention is to faithfully represent the sweep of the book, its content and its inspiration, so that you can make the completely reasonable and spiritual decision to order it :) Obviously Frost and Hirsch have covered the bases well. They use many stories and illustrations and diagrams to assist the reading in grasping their message. And their message, as you already know! is an important one.

This was an enjoyable journey. Let's pray for these guys that their book does well and that their tribe increases. Thanks to Alan and Michael for their work, and to Hendrickson Publishers for the gift.

Reviewed by Leonard Hjalmarson. All quotes from "The Shaping of Things to Come" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch unless otherwise noted.

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005