on the verge: book review

I’m a sucker for free books, and when I saw that Alan Hirsch’s latest book, co-authored with Dave Ferguson On the Verge; a journey into the apostolic future of the church was being given to willing bloggers to review, I signed up right away. Plus, having taken a class with Alan through Wheaton graduate school last spring, my mind was spinning with possibilities for about 3 months after I read his book The Forgotten Ways and then The Forgotten Ways Handbook. 

I’ve resonated with the ideas within these books of giving the church back to the people, mobilizing all believers to have the divine spark of living into their God-given purposes (what Alan describes as mDNA- missional DNA) and multiplying Jesus-following communities primarily because InterVarsity, the organization I work for seeks to be a missional movement of students. When I first started working for InterVarsity, people would ask- “where is your office?” to which I’d reply; “my car, a coffee shop, the student union and dorm lounges.” InterVarsity isn’t an institution, doesn’t have a building or an office for their staff to do ministry within- it has a network of students and faculty seeking to be transformed by Jesus, working and praying to renew their campus, and to change the world.  And this transformation, renewal and change happens while Jesus-following students are in biology labs, Bible studies hosted in their dorm rooms, urban projects where they serve in cities across the U.S. or on global projects in the garbage villages of Cairo where they work with church leaders to serve the poor. Books like On The Verge click with people like me who are in ministry but don’t work for churches- we have our organizational issues but by nature, but we’re designed to see our ministry as out among the people and within the culture rather than primarily happening within the church walls.

InterVarsity students in Cairo work with handicapped ministries, at a hospital and with boys and girls programs

In On the Verge Hirsch and Ferguson provide a framework for churches to move from an institutional paradigm to a verge paradigm as they call it. The Verge paradigm encompasses church-growth practices (like multiple church sites), incarnational mission approaches (off-site missional projects- i.e. a missional project isn’t planting flowers at the church) and exponential systems (church planting movements). While some may dismiss the ideas encompassed in this book as just new tools to try and reach people, (yeah, yeah, have church in a pub…we heard that in the 90’s) it’s really more than that.  For the authors, both practitioners of mobilizing people and churches to live out the priesthood of all believers in their neighborhoods, workplaces and homes, On the Verge serves as a handbook for church leaders who long to see their congregations be the church instead of simply going to church.

hanging with Alan & some folks from his church at Burning Man last year was a highlight of my sabbatical! It was great to see them living out their belief that church should be lived out anywhere among people far from God.

While there are models, frameworks and ideas for how to go about changing the mindset of a church as to be a movement rather than an institution, there are also helpful stories of churches who are actually trying, succeeding, failing and praying for God to move among them within the book.

The people I envision reading this book are people who long to see a different story told by the church- pastors, leaders, church members who have a healthy discontent with how church is done and an inkling that God hold more potential for their lives than just showing up on Sunday mornings or passing out church bulletins. Though it can be a bit technical in communicating the paradigm for some people- it’s essential in helping the reader realize that the ideas presented aren’t tools- they’re a framework. As Dave Ferguson puts it in On The Verge; “many churches have created a missional apartheid- we allow the professionals and a few of the very gifted amateurs to participate in the mission, and the rest have to stay on the outskirts of missional engagement. Verge churches have cultures in which the next great idea can come from anyone! Verge churches believe that God has a great idea about how to use everyone! We are all born with a craving for mission and “good works which, God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10)

if you cut off a starfish's arms, it creates many more starfish- the authors posit the church has should be able to multiply this way as well.

As the authors both admit- these ideas they’re sharing aren’t exactly all that new- they’re old ideas that made the early church explode, compelled fishermen to become fiery preachers to crowds of thousands, widows to create social justice programs, thousands of women to pastor house churches across China, soccer moms to mobilize clean-water campaigns and business men to plant a church on a golf-course on a Sunday morning. In both the micro and the macro On the Verge is seeking to help churches recapture what made the church the church. Their ideas may piss you off, excite you or depress you to wonder why your church isn’t more like a verge church- but hopefully it will spark your imagination and compel you to begin thinking of and living out ways to make Jesus more visible to the people in your life and community who are far from God.