I’ve just started reading The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Alan Hirsch. I’m familiar with the author. At the beginning of last year, I blogged about a video about the Post-Christendom mission, featuring Alan Hirsch. This video opened my eyes to a concept that has drastically and radically changed the way I see what the church is, means, and needs to do in today’s world. The beginning of The Forgotten Ways has had a similar effect on me.
Hirsch begins his book by illustrating the steps taken to try and revitalize a church that, like so many others, was on the decline in the 80’s. The church was called South Melbourne Restoration Community (SMRC). The steps taken to bring the church back to life include changing the culture from “death to chaos” and becoming a church-planting church. I have heard such assertions before. I am perfectly aware that Jesus intended the church to be missional from the start, and that means creating intentional community, fellowship, and discipleship (which tends to result in chaos, as the Holy Spirit has room to move) and it means reaching out and spreading the church’s influence (church-planting).
But there is one concept that Hirsch introduces that I have never heard before. He says “all great missionary movements begin at the fringes of the church, among the poor and marginalized.” He points out that Jesus and the Early Church’s ministries began at the fringe, and were the most successful in history. Hirsch tells a story to help illustrate what can ensue if the missionary movement begins at the fringe. A former zany Greek drug dealer and roadie encountered God in a real, personal way whilst serving time for unpaid parking tickets, and ended up bringing his former customers to Christ. This is messy. This is unconventional. But oh, how beautiful it is when God changes people from the inside out and creates unexpected communities. Hirsch says that this community is what eventually helped bring SMRC, a dying church, back to life.
I see the truth in this. I have witnessed fringe movements myself. I have also witnessed churches which focus on the center, and then span outwards. I do not see the same passion there. I do not see the same catalytic effect.
I wonder how this idea interacts with the idea of missions in Europe, which are oftentimes concerned with the “center” rather than the fringe, because these are the people who are least likely interested in church. I’m sure Hirsch will address this later. If not, it is definitely something I’d like to research further.