success stories

Posted December 11, 2003

Book: The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church
Authors: Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch
Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, pp. 236

Excerpt from Jacket:

For the first time we in the West are living in what has been called a “post-Christendom era.” Most people throughout the Western world have seen what the Church has to offer, and they have found it to be wanting. The current credibility gap has made it hard to communicate the gospel with clarity and authenticity. Paradoxically, this is the case even though it is currently a time of almost unprecedented openness to the issues of God, faith, and meaning. This is a time when the need for, and relevance of, the gospel has seldom been less. If ever there was a time for innovative missionary effort in the West, it is now.

This raises enormous challenges for God’s people in the West. The Shaping of Things to Come explores why the Church needs to recalibrate itself from its roots up. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch build their case around real-life stories gathered from innovative missional projects from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and England. These spirited experiments of Gospel community serve to point out just how varied a genuinely incarnational approach to mission can, and indeed needs to become. They present vital nodes of missional learning for the established Church as it seeks to orientate itself to the unique challenges of the twenty-first century.

Excerpts from Book:

In our attempts to make the gospel clear, we have often squeezed all the life out of it. Jesus’ parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting. They provoked people to search further for the truth. Elie Weisel tells about an editor who once told him, “If you want to hold the reader’s attention, your sentence must be clear enough to be understood and enigmatic enough to pique curiosity. A good piece combines style and substance. It must not say everything — never say everything — while nevertheless suggesting there is an everything.” Parables, stories will be more likely to excite curiosity than propositionally presented outlines of the gospel. In Faith in a Changing Culture, John Drane outlines the importance of story-telling in this day and age. He claims that God is present and actively involved in our world and we should be prepared to tell such stories about him. By this, we take him to mean God’s prevenient grace. Tell your friends about a film you’ve seen where God’s truth was revealed in a particular scene or character. Tell your friends about sunsets, items in the newspaper and so-called coincidences. As Drane says,

The Bible unhesitantingly affirms that God is constantly at work in the world in many ways, times and places. Evangelism is not about Christians working on God’s behalf because God is powerless without them. Effective evangelism must start with recognizing where God is already at work, and getting alongside God in what is going on there. God’s story, not ours, is the authentic starting poing.

Second, Drane recommends the use of Bible stories. This might sound like the ultimate conversation stopper, but we have found that at the right time and place, within the context of a strong friendship, the retelling of an ancient biblical story can evoke a great deal of curiosity. And third, he advocates the use of personal stories on the basis of 1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer . . . for the hope that you have.” While propositions about Jesus are words on a page, stories are events in a life. Drane puts it well:

Telling stories demands personal honesty, accepting our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. It is only when we reveal ourselves as weak and vulnerable that others will readily identify with us and be able to hear the invitation to join us in following Jesus.

Too often, Christian proclamation sounds like a patronizing sermon, in which we, the Christians are the experts and all others are ignorant. As Karl Barth put it, “When we speak of our virtues we are competitors, when we confess our sins we become brothers.” Drane says that if you think of the three kinds of stories as three overlapping circles, their point of intersection, where God’s story, our story, and the biblical stories overlap, is where effective evangelism takes place.

Table of Contents:

Part One – The shape we’re in
One — Evolution or revolution?
Two — The missional church

Part Two — Incarnational ecclesiology
Three – The incarnational approach
Four – he shape of the missional church
Five – The contextualized church
Six – Whispering to the soul

Part Three — Messianic spirituality
Seven – The God of Israel and the renewal of Christianity
Eight – Action as sacrament
Nine – The medium really is the message

Part Four – Apostolic leadership
Ten – he Genius of APEPT
Eleven – Imagination and the leadership task
Twelve – Organizing the revolution