Book Review: On the Verge – Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson

The aim of this book will not surprise those who have read Hirsch’s earlier work: “The task of this book is nothing less than to call the church to recover her most ancient, her most potent, and her most beautiful form, that of the apostolic movement.” p17

This book does answer a question that had perplexed me for a while; what in the world inspires Hirsch an apostolic movement through missional, organic church planting to move to the US, home of the mega-church and all things bigger and better, a few years back.

Hirsch believes “he is called to North America on the assumption that the future of the church in the West is somehow bound up with what happens in and through the church in this context…  I have come to believe, we simply have to activate what is clearly one of the most significant church movements in the last fifty years – the megachurch in its various forms- an allow them to help negotiate a way into a new future.  It won’t be the only form of apostolic movement that will emerge, but it will be a very significant one.” p18

“The integration of the contemporary megachurch thinking with the more missional grassroots approach will result in better-resourced, better-led, savvy expressions of church, reframed by the deepest currents in the biblical story (missional-incarnational) and restructured around the world-changing organizational paradigm of exponential people-movements.” p43

In line with this thinking has been the creation of a learning group called Future Travellers, “a two-year learning cohort initially composed of twelve megachurches… committed to seriously factoring missional movements into their current equation of church… a major commitment to somehow reframe their relative churches as high-impact, exponentially reproducing, missional movements.” p24 This book represents an effort by Hirsch and Ferguson to articulate this “dynamic learning journey.” p24.

While I remain sceptical of attempts transform an entrenched, existing structure, particularly one as complex and large as a megachurch, I was intrigued by the idea and pray for it’s success.  For what it’s worth I think rather than attempting to turn a battleship, that is a large or mega church, rather we should set aside and release smaller, more flexible, mobile missional teams in order to begin exploring new ways to do church.  This to me is a more likely both-and scenario than the one Hirsch and Ferguson are attempting.

Confessing that might explain why I found the sections Hirsch (strategist and missional theologian) wrote far more interesting and stimulating than those Ferguson (megachurch pastor and network leader) wrote (although I found his two chapters on innovation very helpful).  Hirsch admits that those familiar with his writings will find that while there is some new material here, it is fundamentally an attempt to “process and apply” some of his previous writings most notably The Forgotten Ways.

If you have read Hirsch before you will find here a good synopsis and some interesting application of his work.  You will find some of the usual themes like “dethroning Constantine”, systems theory, apostolic genius and the paradigm shift in the West needing to be mirrored by a paradigm shift in mission/church methodology.  It is always good to “watch” as a thinker/strategist is forced to work through their thinking.  If you have never read Hirsch before – read him!  You probably won’t agree with everything he says but no matter where you land when you put his book down you will have been stimulated to think in new directions, consider new alternatives and be inspired to genuine mission to a changing world.

If you are a leader in an existing more traditional structure then read this book, it will probably be an even better read for you than The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch’s previous book.  However, if you are more interested in the missional, organic church movement then read The Forgotten Ways or The Shaping of Things to Come (with Micheal Frost).

Here Hirsch & Ferguson discuss some of the key themes in the book:

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