Review: The Forgotten Ways – Part One

Handbooks which are published to follow-up (cash in on?) the success of books are in my experience almost always a disappointment. It seems as if the publisher has paid someone to think of some applications and questions that anyone could have thought of for themselves.

The Forgotten Ways Handbook is a clear exception to this rule.

The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US by Alan Hirsch with Darryn Altclass (Brazos, 2009) is a follow up to Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways: Recovering the Missional Church purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. I would go as far to say the handbook is better than the original book! The core content of the book is summarized at the beginning of the chapter (so all that organizational theory is thankfully missing) and this is then followed by genuinely helpful and insightful ideas. This is a great book for anyone leading missional communities or wanting to move in that direction. I was recently asked in a couple of comments how to create a missional culture. The Forgotten Ways Handbook is a great place to start.

I’m going to post some extracts over the next few days to whet your appetites …

‘Given our current state of knowledge and how we gain it, we have to shift from trying to think our way into a new way of acting to the process of acting our way into a new way of thinking.’ (20)

‘Identify the core value you wish to integrate, and state it clearly. Once the idea is clear, work together to ask the question, “What action, if applied, will most consistently embody this core value in the organization?”’ (23)

‘As a faith community, evaluate everything you do – all your programmes, gathering, ministries, and so on. Ask whether you think this is what Jesus would be doing if he were in your context, Is this how Jesus would go about incarnating the kingdom in your area?’ (45)

‘Here are a few questions each missionary group can ask and reflect upon periodically. This will help the group assess whether they are embracing the mission potential of proximity, frequency, and spontaneity.

Q.         Are we in close proximity with those we feel called to? Give example of proximity.

Q.         Are we spending regular time with these people? Give example of frequency.

Q.         Are we too busy to develop meaningful relationships? Give example of spontaneity.’ (97)

Bookmark and Share


15 thoughts on “Review: The Forgotten Ways – Part One

  1. Tim,

    I am very tempted to get this book. The last bit about the example of spontaneity is gold. A great reminder to think in faith community and fostering relationships.

  2. Are these available in the US? I loved the book, this would be a sweet addition for our church to take others through and build that culture here. Thanks Tim!

  3. Appreciate the review, Tim.

    Alan’s work – together with that of his regular writing buddy and fellow missional dude, Mike Frost – has given us some of the clearest & most articulate assesments of what it means to be corporately & individually missional, so this book will surely be a great addition. The Forgotten Ways was excellent, so I look forward to eventually getting hold of a copy of the Handook.

    They’ve avoided the trap of trying to give us a formula, but rather tried to switch us on to the person of Jesus and the Mission of God.

    Thanks again, Mission-Al & Frosty! ;-)



  4. Tim, I’m sorry I have to do this, but I wanted to comment/ask you a question about some old posts of yours, but the comments were turned off. I couldn’t find your email address, so I figured this is the only way to do it!

    I just read all of the posts in your series, “a dialogue on sermons.” Very challenging and thought-provoking! I must admit that much of my thinking about church and sermons is based more on tradition and presuppositions than on the NT. However, there were a few points that were mentioned briefly in your exchanges that I’d like to hear your thoughts on.

    In John Stott’s book on preaching, Between Two Worlds (p. 122-124), he makes the point that the NT church followed the Jewish synagogue pattern — reading a biblical text or Pauline letter and then expounding it in a monologue. Jesus in Luke 4 and Paul in Acts 13 went into synagogues and followed this pattern. Stott seems to make the point that NT church followed this pattern for their church gatherings based on a couple of observations: in the only description of a church gathering, they met on the first day of the week. Stott doesn’t say this, but the implication is that the early church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday because of the ressurection, and made this the day that they gathered. It seems to me that the early church is following the Jewish pattern of formal worship gatherings, but making it distinctively Christian. Tim Keller has elsewhere pointed out that in Acts 2:42, the pattern of “breaking of the bread and the prayers” is almost certainly liturgical — ordered (I’d need to check Keller here, but it makes sense to me). Also Acts 2:46 notes that they met in BOTH homes and in temple courts. It seems that the early church not only met in homes but in formal settings with ordered prayers, reading and exposition. As Stott points out, Acts 20 seems to give us this kind of formal church gathering — they gathered to break bread and then Paul gave a “speech” until midnight. You make the good point that that the verb for “speech” was “dialogue.” But at the very least, it seems like Acts paints a picture of the early church engaging in some sort of synagogue-like formal gathering weekly on Sunday, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Perhaps this “dialoguing” type of teaching was much like the synagogue teaching — reading of a biblical text, a monologue-exposition, followed by discussion. I’d agree with you that this is not really the modern “sermon” as we see in most churches. But what about a sermon on Sunday followed by Q&A as a vital element of church WITH small discussion-oriented household gatherings? Perhaps the household gatherings can discuss the sermon on Sunday. Many churches do this. I will admit my reticence to give up the Sunday sermon is partially based on the fact that it “just doesn’t seem right,” but I also think that that the NT places much emphasis on purity of doctrine (not separate from right living) and against false teaching. The Sunday Sermon is more effective at unifying a church under good doctrine. Isn’t is much harder to battle spurious doctrine when there is no centralized teaching time? It seems to me that our culture certainly has an allergy to monologue, but how much of that is due to postmodern relativism and a general allergy to any kind of authoritative teaching? At the same time, I don’t see schools and universities abandoning lectures and monologues — certainly education is most effective with both monologue and dialogue. I would agree that many churches have a fixation with the Sunday meeting — perhaps our energy is 80% on sundays and 20% on community living. But is the answer to go 80% community and 20% sunday meetings/monologues? Acts seems to depict more of a 50/50 mix. I’ve rambled on for quite a bit. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Ah what a lots of points to address! I’m not sure what you’re arguing for or what you’re arguing against. I often feel like people are attacking some kind of straw man – some kind of teacher-less and teaching-less group with no regular meetings who all just hang out whenever and wherever they feel like it. I hardly need say that that’s not what I’m arguing for!

    I’m all in favour of a central teaching time. ‘Isn’t is much harder to battle spurious doctrine when there is no centralized teaching time?’ Yes. But it’s also harder to battle spurious doctrine where you don’t have interaction because you don’t know what people are thinking or how they are interacting with the text.

    I don’t see any conflict between community and Sunday meetings. As I keep reminding our people, there’s a clue in the name: ‘meetings’ are about communities coming together. But that doesn’t have to mean a large gathering in a specially built building at 11am on a Sunday morning.

    I’m actually not against sermons (as I keep saying), just their privileged status.

    How can you say, ‘I don’t see schools and universities abandoning lectures and monologues’? Look more closely!

    There’s a ton of eisegesis in the first half of your comment. Acts 2 is liturgical!? The early church retained a synagogue pattern read from the fact they met on a Sunday?! Meeting in homes and the temple in Acts 2 was not (and could not have been) replicated outside Jerusalem nor probably after Jewish persecution against Christian. It’s simply anachronistic to claim as a pattern for a mix of large gatherings and home groups. (I’m not against a mix of large gatherings and home groups – a think the NT allows a good deal of freedom on structures – but let’s not pretend Acts 2 lays down some kind of normative pattern.) Luke 4 and Acts 13 are not church gatherings and both an impromptu. If they have any contemporary counterpart it would be an evangelistic opportunity outside a church building – perhaps giving a talk to a local society. The teaching at the one church meeting that is described in Acts is called a ‘dialogue’. There’s so much being built on so little here (in ways we would never countenance with other issues) that one wonders motivates all this. My theory is that for many people their identity is tied up with being preachers of sermons.

  6. Thanks Alan and Tim, for some reason I saw the links for purchasing in the UK. Super stoked about getting it. Loved the book. Ed Stetzer had it for his class at Trinity last fall.

    Thanks fellas.

  7. Tim, thanks for your thoughtful response to my very long, and sometimes less-than-coherent thoughts.

    To answer your question, “where is this coming from?” I will say that I have only recently been really exposed to “the house church movement” through friends who have been influenced by Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, yourself and Steve Timmis. It was all a little jarring to me — because as you said, I do think that much of my identity is wrapped up in being a/aspiring to be a sermon-preacher. I deeply resonate with the movement’s desire to recapture the bible’s vision of deep, missional communities. And I also really appreciate the fact that many in the movement (like yourself and Timmis) are firstly motivated by the gospel of grace, founded in historic, orthodox doctrine, as the heartbeat of these communities. But, I’m just not sure whether I’m ready to give up on Sunday sermons and weekly large group gatherings. I know that’s not what you’re after either — but it does sound like you think that sermons and large gatherings are optional (though not wrong), and that household gatherings are more important than the large gathering — something akin to the 80% emphasis on household gatherings/ 20% large gatherings. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Regarding Acts, I went and checked some commentators (Bock, Barrett, Polhill, Bruce) on Acts 2:42 — and almost all of them did agree that “the breaking of bread and the prayers” probably did refer to some kind of set prayers — b/c the plural is used. That doesn’t prove that we must have weekly sermons, but I think it shows that the early church did have “formal” meetings with some degree of structure — liturgy. On the word “dialogue” in Acts 20, I think it was Barrett who noted that the word probably meant something like “discussion,” as in a discussion on a certain topic in the form of a lecture. The BDAG lexicon lists two meanings: “(1) to engage in speech interchange, converse, discuss, argue (2) to instruct about something.” The context does not show any sign of interaction. In vs. 9, it says that Eutychus fell asleep as Paul “discussed/talked/spoke still longer” sounds like it is more in the form of a lecture. Perhaps this is why most translations translate the verb as “speech” or “talk.” In either case, I don’t think you can dogmatically make the point that Paul’s instruction here was completely in the form of an interactive dialogue. The context seems to point to significant amounts of monologue. And, again, I know you’re not against all monologues. You said that you are “all for” centralized teaching times. Perhaps I just don’t know how that looks like for you. Do your communites still meet weekly on Sundays for a monologue style sermon? Or during your household gatherings, is there a monologue teaching time before the discussion? Also, what should we make of the fact that the NT church did meet on Sundays? It seems like they did translate the sacred meaning of Sabbath to Sundays. I don’t think this means we MUST have a certain type of meeting every Sunday, but I think the tradition of meeting on Sundays, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ is a good tradition that the NT begins. Lastly, I agree that we can’t read too much into Acts. But is the fact that Acts does give us many examples of evangelistic speeches support the use of Sunday sermons for evangelism? This is one of the reasons why I’m hesitant to de-emphasize the Sunday sermon too much — I do think that God uses Sunday sermons to powerfully move in unbeliever’s lives (as well as believers). Tim Keller is a good example of a Sunday sermon preacher whose sermons attract many unbelievers, while also speaking to believers. Keller describes his sermons as breaking down walls and barriers in people’s minds, and community groups as the infantry who march through the broken-down barriers to put flesh and blood on the sermons and disciple people. My point is that both the sermon and the household gatherings are essential and can work together quite nicely.

    Perhaps we basically agree. I watched all of Timmis’ lectures at Mars Hill Seattle. He did say that he wasn’t saying that you can’t have large group gatherings, just that the large group gathering should be seen as a gathering of the house communities. I am reacting to the idea, which I think is pretty strong within the house church movement, that ALL churches must give up weekly sermons and large group meetings or perhaps only meet once or twice a month and meet primarily as households to be true to the vision of the New Testament.

  8. Hi Ben, a few points in return, though like you I don’t want to exaggerate the differences.

    My best reconstruction of Acts 20 is this. Paul intends to leave Troas the following day. So this is Paul ‘for one night only’. I suspect what happened was that the church in Troas had a hundred questions they wanted to ask Paul and no doubt Paul had some things he wanted to say to them. So they probably had an extended Q&A that went on through the night because there were so much to say and such little time to say it. (If you want to preach a sermon all through the night you need to be pretty confident you can raise the dead!)

    I just think it is anachronistic eisegesis to go from impromptu defense speeches to Sunday morning expositions in a church building! If Sunday morning expositions in a church building works in your context then great. But don’t make it normative on such a flimsy exegetical basis.

    We’ve operated with a household church model (household churches with their own elders, meeting regularly at least once a week, usually on a Sunday but not always, with a big emphasis on sharing life and doing mission and ministry in the context of ordinary life) and we’ve operated with a gathering of gospel communities model (gospel communities, meeting once a week, sharing life, doing mission and ministry in the context of ordinary life, meeting with other gospel communities, in some cases once a fortnight and in some cases once a week). I’m happy with either model. Let context decide. But don’t say the former is inferior – otherwise you’ve rubbished the majority of churches in Asia (outside Korea). Remember all the groups of believers meeting in homes in the slums of India and the villages of China. Why can’t churches be small? Why do you need to have ‘large’ in there somewhere? I would suggest it’s a cultural norm rather than a biblical norm. It may even be because some leaders want ‘large’ to indicate their own sense of importance!

  9. Tim, thanks so much for engaging with my questions. This has helped me think through these important issues. Just a couple of things: I do not think the household model is inferior, but I don’t think the “Sunday meeting” model is inferior either. I’d agree the “Sunday meeting” model has caused a lot of problems in Western cultures. But I would say let’s reform the “Sunday meeting” model, and make them more about community. In addition, I think it’s great that new gospel-centered house churches are being developed all over the place. That’s great! God works in so many different ways. House churches are flourishing in parts of the world where it is harder to meet in public. Amen! But I know you’d agree that this doesn’t make the house church model normative. In the post-Christian context of North America (my context), should the house church model be normative? I don’t think so. I think God is working through “big” churches as well as household churches. But I guess only time will truly tell.

  10. Pingback: The Forgotten Ways – Part Two « Tim Chester

Comments are closed.