“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” by Alan Hirsch

This book is not designed to be a scholarly book, per se.  Rather, it is a combination of personal reflection over a life of ministry, as well as, a “missional” reflection concerning culture and the church.  Although Hirsch does implement outsider sources, they are sparsely implemented.  A side note, there were a number of typos and grammatical errors throughout the book.

Hirsch tries to define “Apostolic Genius” of the early Church and the “missional DNA” that provided the building blocks for this movement.  The current cultural milieu is surprisingly similar to the environment in which the early Church was birthed.  The Gospel, according to Hirsch, has largely been co-opted by consumerism, the nation-state, and science as the authority on “truth.”  The Church has continued to lose ground and impact society far less.  Hirsch contends that continuing to do Church in the historically “institutional” manner leaves us open to the same failures and faults.  Instead, we need to re-discover the holy fire that ignited the early Jesus movement.  In other words, we need to move away from the “attractional” model to a more “missional-incarnational” model of ministry.

The seeds of Apostolic Genius and missional DNA are contained in several factors that must be present.  First, we are a people gathered together under the declaration that “Jesus is Lord.”  This challenges all other sources of authority in our lives and says that Jesus alone is Lord.  The Church’s primary mission is to love God alone.

We are also a disciple-making Body.  The Great Commission calls us to be a reproducing Body of believers.  It is more than transferring information but engaging people in a way that brings life transformation.  This also calls for a different type of engagement from the Church.  No longer can we sit in the comfort of the “attractional” model of church that waits for people to come to us.  Rather, we are called to be a “missional-incarnational” people that embody the mission of God in the world.  We are a sent people, even as Jesus was sent to us.

Pastoral ministry itself must change.  Maintaining through administration and pastoral care is no longer sufficient in our current cultural milieu.  Instead, we must also embody for fullness of all God’s roles for the missional church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teaching ministries.  We have focused on the preaching and teaching aspects to the detriment of the other roles and to the detriment of the Church.

The Church, in Hirsch’s estimation, is a living, organic system.  It cannot be sustained or truly grown in mechanistic ways.  Rather, Apostolic Genius and mDNA are latent properties that the Spirit gives birth to in new and unique ways in each context.  A living organism is many parts operating together, rather than a hierarchy that tends to stabilize and die.

One way that helps the Church remain an organism rather than a mechanism is the concept of communitas.  Living on the edge of chaos, at the end of our comfort zones, forces the Church to be creative and live in faithful dependence upon the Spirit for guidance.  The Church is called to live in the liminality of life where the mess of life is most pronounced.  Institutions tend to move in the other direction, desiring control and stability.  Again, according to organic systems, the move toward equilibrium is a move toward death of the organism.

Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry by William H. Willimon

This book, on many levels, is designed to be academically rigorous.  In its 336 pages, it has 474 citations.  These citations range from early Church fathers to Medieval monks to modern theologians like Hauerwas, Brueggemann, and Dawn.  Not only were the notes extensive, they covered a great deal of diversity.  Judging from the citations, this book is heavily influenced by Karl Barth, Richard Baxter, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, John Wesley, and Martin Luther.  Willimon represents his Methodist heritage, but also seems to have some Reformed leanings.

To begin, Willimon notes four things about pastoral ministry: ministry is an act of God; ministry is an act of the church; to be a pastor is to be tied in a unique way to the church, the believing community in Christ; and ministry is difficult.  This then leads to the significance of ordained ministry.  Willimon wants to affirm several things about ordination: it is an act of Christ and his church; it is for service to Christ and the church; it arises ‘from above,’ as a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit; it arises from below, from the church’s need for, and wisdom in designating, leadership; it forms those who are to serve as priests to the priests; it sets apart those who are to serve as exemplars to the congregation, being in all things without fault; it is an act of collegiality; and it is effected through the laying on of hands and prayer.  Ordained ministry is to be called to be “servant to the servants of God.”

There are several contemporary images that have drastically shaped the concept of pastor, for better or worse.  These include: political negotiator, therapist, manager, resident activist, preacher, and servant.  Several of these images have created expectations of the pastorate that are not Biblical.  Therapist and manager are two that fall largely into that category.  The recovery of preacher and servant have been one positive movement toward a more Biblical approach to ministry.  In all things, Willimon reminds us that ministry is to be cruciform.

Priestly patterns of ministry have several elements: gathering the congregation; gathering them around the story of God; interpreting, proclaiming, and expounding Scripture; preparing the congregation for service; calling for and receiving the offering; remembering God’s mighty acts; eating meals together in Jesus’ name; and scattering the church into the world.  “In all acts of ministry the pastor is priest, the one who constantly looks for ways in which all of our meetings with one another might also be meeting with the living Christ, in which every activity of the church might be sacramental, a means of grace, a human act whereby we sign, signal, and point to the outbreak of the kingdom of God among us” (90).

The pastor as interpreter of Scripture and preacher and teacher are especially important.  Words make worlds.  The question is not whether we are shaped by outside influences but which outside influences we will allow to shape us.  Given that we are increasingly in a post-Christian culture, those images for pastoral ministry are vital.  Pastors are called to equip the saints for every good work and help the Church live out the counter-narrative that typically opposes our culture.

Pastoral counseling is vastly different than clinical counseling.  According to Willimon pastoral counseling does not so much depend on the contemporary counseling methods that seek to be “unbiased” (as if that were a possibility).  Rather, pastoral counseling is about guiding people and that quite often means speaking the truth in love at the point of people’s deepest points of brokenness.

Consistently, Willimon places emphasis on the pastor’s character.  Preaching includes more than words; it is living.  Although the pastor is a Christian among Christians, they must also be leaders to the flock as an example of this odd kingdom ethic – the Church.  Constancy in ministry is one way that this is accomplished.  Living among people for an extended period of time allows others to observe our way of life and for us to make the deepest impact on the community.  This also means that we must take care of ourselves (not selfishly).  But, we must maintain our relationship with God and take care of our spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.  This includes discerning what is “essential” and what is merely “important” in ministry.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic.  Willimon has an uncanny ability to communicate clearly and pointedly with a great understanding of the contemporary atmosphere that the Church faces.  I like Willimon’s approach to pastoral ministry.  He communicates well the tensions that the pastor finds and must be able to work through as a minister to the flock.