The Forgotten Ways

This book asked the right questions and challenged much of my current thinking. Basically, it asks: what’s the best form of church? And it shouts loudly against anything large and institutional, and argues for something smaller and incarnational — something that doesn’t merely invite, but goes out.

It seems idealistic. In the end, they argue for a church structure that has worked during Roman and Chinese persecutions of the church, and argue that it might possibly work here where there is no persecution. That’s where I’m skeptical: we, in the Western world, live in a time without persecution, and so these larger, more institutional forms of church do exist and provide alternatives. The fact that alternatives exist will create competitive structures against these smaller structures that the author is arguing for, making them harder to sustain.

That said, this book has a lot of insights and challenges for the institutional church today, if even to get us to stop thinking about inviting people to bigger rallies called worship services, and to think about being Jesus’ presence beyond our the walls of the church. And the author’s right: the megachurch model isn’t reproducible, and we should choose models that can be easily reproduced, like a network of house churches.

Much of these principles need to be reincorporated back into the church to remind us who we are and are suppose to be — a community that loves God and others. Yet, many of these ideas, especially if read by idealists like me, need a healthy dose of nuance and maturity to make these models sustainable.

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  1. Wasn’t a fan of the book, for the reason you said. Trying to fabricate an environment to spur on growth just doesn’t work.

    Also was annoyed by how he wanted everything ‘organic’ of a sort, but was putting a structure around it.

    And yeah, everyone’s a hater of the megachurch these days, and his view was just another reason why everyone should hate their local megachurch.


  2. As a life long Christian, a kind of born and raised Christian, compared to the born-again Christan. I never experienced “the Road to Damascus Experience.” I have to realize that I have been born again and again and again, in slow and subtle ways. I was blessed to be born into a Christian family, and am inspired to be a blessing to my own family and those around me. The ripple in the pond of my nieghborhood, starts with me. James, I pray that you will continue to be a blessing to others, and that Jesus Christ will richly bless you and your family as you minister to our broken world. Shine on.


  3. I read it last year… Heard him give the talk on it at a pastor’s conference… I am convinced that Alan Hirsch is a great guy, but his overall approach is more sophistry than practical. Lots of great big ideas on paper that have worked once or twice, but are not the type of replicable ideas to be building growth models upon. One shining moment was where he explains that a majority of churches target a small section of the population that is on the fringe of Christianity (used to go, parents or grandparents went, have a Christian friend or two, etc), but few churches target the section of society that has no connection to Christianity. This is a great challenge to those who want to live and minister missionally… it forces us to ask, what are we doing to associate, befriend, and share the gospel with people that have absolutely no connection to historic Christianity.


  4. I am just discovering your site and I’m really enjoying it. Of your 50 latest book reviews, I think I’ve read (or planning on reading) 40! I haven’t read this book, but John Stott’s book The Living Church addresses many of the same issues. He writes with such warmth and practical insight. A true pastor.


  5. Thanks for the blessing, Bill!

    Matt and Matt — thanks for the insights. Why do you think it’s not replicable?

    And Kent — thanks for the book recommendation. And yes, John Stott is the man. I had a chance to lead worship at a conference he was speaking at, but I was a bit too sheepish to say “hi.” But I hear he’s a really good guy — and really bright.


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