Frontline Blog

The Forgotten Ways 3 – John Harding

Categories: Authentic Devotion,Bible,Church,Principles


As a Senior Leadership Team we’ve been huddling (leadership development / coaching circle) around Alan Hirsch’s book, the Forgotten Ways. The book was originally written in 2006, it was a fantastic book back then, but Hirsch has re-written it with lots of new material. The first half of the book is basically an observational study of gospel movements around the world that have grown and made a significant impact in the world around them; the Earliest Church and the Chinese underground church, to name but 2. He then identifies across these movements 6 themes or threads that they all had in common – DNA strands, his analysis of which makes up the second part of the book. In this blog series I’m going to reflect on some of the insights we’ve gleaned from going through the book.

3. Missional Incarnational Impulse

For a Christian, a Missional Community or a church to be healthy and flourish, there has to be what Hirsch describes as a Missional Incarnational Impulse. By Missional, we’re talking about living in such a way that we’re seeking to connect with people who don’t know Jesus in order to share the good news with them. Incarnational (think ‘carne = flesh’) – God’s approach to mission was to clothe himself in flesh and outwork his mission on humanity’s terms and turf. This should be our approach. Importantly, this is the opposite of what we might call ‘attractional’ which says we’ll do mission, but you come to us, on our terms and turf. Impulse is essentially what drives us, our heartbeat. Or we might think about the impulse to sneeze, something that comes naturally to us.

So put simply, we’re talking about the instinct, desire and drive to live out the gospel naturally through our daily lives, amongst people who don’t know Jesus yet. Wherever and whenever this happens, we see the church grow and impact the world.

In John 20:21 Jesus says ‘as the father sends me, so I am sending you.’ Hirsch rightly points out that this should be translated ‘just as the father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ In other words, we are to live out the mission in the same way that Jesus lived out the mission. Jesus was always on the way to meal, at a meal, leaving a meal, at a festival or travelling in a boat when his teaching and miracles took place. It was mission woven into daily life, as opposed to a particular activity, time and place.

That’s why as a church when we gather, we gather to encounter the presence of Jesus but when we scatter we do so into our neighbourhoods to do life with people and naturally share with those people the difference Jesus has made in our lives. This is missional incarnational impulse.

I grew up in church where Sunday nights were the gospel meeting. It was a ‘come to us’ strategy; we’ll put on a show, and you’ll hear the gospel. For many churches that’s sort of still the strategy; if we get the right venue, the right lighting, the right worship team and songs with a contemporary enough feel, then we’ll build church; if we build it…. they will come. But really, if we’re honest, this approach is having very little impact in our nation other than recycling existing Christians.

Rather, my dream is of a people who gathers to be filled up with the Holy Spirit’s power and boldness, and who are then sent out as communities to live and love a broken world, just like Jesus.

Some questions for reflection:

1. How am I living out God’s mission on earth?

2. Who am I living this out with, and how can we grow together in becoming more like Jesus, the ultimate incarnational missionary?