Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Permanent Revolution : A Personal Review

Alan Hirsch’s latest book, The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21stCentury Church - this time written in collaboration with Tim Catchim, and with significant contribution from Mike Breen – is the most comprehensive work yet written on the necessity to recover the roles of apostles, prophets and evangelists alongside shepherds and teachers, in order to restore ‘the inherent diversity in the body which provides us the essential resources and relational frameworks to grow into the fullness of Christ.’

The scope of the authors’ inter-disciplinary engagement – ‘biblical studies, theology, organisational theory, leadership studies, and other key social sciences’ - is an example of genuine genius; their observations thoughtfully nuanced; their reflections insightful and practical.  I am hugely thankful to them for this gift to the church.

Others will write overview book reviews.  At the risk of implying a limited usefulness, the best I can do is offer a personal interaction.  For an appreciation of the case Alan and Tim set out for their thesis you’ll have to read the book for yourself.  I recommend you do anyway.

Alan has long argued that while each one of us is at the most fundamental level called as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd or teacher, the motivation and expression of our ministry is shaped by the integrated interaction between these different callings.  Our unique call is composed by the unique combination of these five elements, through personality, gifting, experience...

For example, my own APEST (apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher) profile indicates that my primary motivation is as a prophet, with apostle as a strongly developed secondary; teacher also being well developed; with shepherd and evangelist being significantly lesser motivations and strengths (as such, I am a frustration to the institutional church, which struggles to see beyond the pastoral role for the spiritual health of the existing body and the evangelist role as the primary means of numerical growth).

Moreover, Alan and Tim suggest that our primary motivation is expressed through our secondary motivation (which may vary from season to season, context to context).  In Alan’s case, his call to be an apostle is expressed through his gifting and call to serve as a teacher, through his writing and speaking.  In my case, it would suggest that my call to be a prophet is expressed through my secondary call to be an apostle, which would certainly fit with the journey God has taken me on, including my alignment within an apostolic movement (The Order of Mission; 3dm; and wider relational networks).

Alan and Tim present a case for ‘dispersed intelligence’ in the body of Christ, whereby apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are by design attuned to different things that the church must be aware of and hold in creative tension (just as eyes, ears, noses, taste-buds, and nerve-endings in our skin alert us to different kinds of information we must take into account).  Moreover, they offer real wisdom in how each one relates to the others.

As generative callings, apostle and prophet are particularly designed to work together.  Apostolic intelligence acts as custodian of the ‘DNA’ of the body, as the church goes out; while prophetic intelligence acts as guardian of covenant faithfulness, ensuring we go deep as well as out.  As a prophet, that is one significantly concerned with calling the church forward – energising - or back – criticizing - to covenant faithfulness, I find their careful mapping of prophetic ministry, including the potential pitfalls to be aware of, extremely helpful.

Their primary concern, however, is apostolic calling; and as a prophet whose prophetic ministry would indeed appear to be expressed through an apostolic calling – something I had not fully appreciated – I have found their work here too extremely helpful.  They offer a differentiation of emphasis (not exclusive) between Pauline apostles, called to cross-cultural extension of the church (one of the reasons I had not fully considered the apostolic element of my own calling, as I am not primarily called to pioneer in this sense) and Petrine apostles, called to renewal within the already-existing church.

They further nuance our appreciation of the apostolic by differentiating (again, not as exclusive categories) between apostles-as-explorers and apostles-as-catalysts (my limitations as a catalyst being another reason I had not fully considered the apostolic element of my own calling), presenting four broad fields of apostolic ministry anywhere on which we might locate the current or long-term emphasis of the work of any given apostle.  By observation, they suggest Pauline explorers, or pioneers; Pauline catalysts, or networkers; Petrine explorers, or miners; and Petrine catalysts, or mobilisers.

With this as a lens, I can locate myself, certainly at this given point, most fully as a Petrine explorer – and Alan and Tim’s observations would confirm that someone whose APEST profile is PATSE, and whose Myers-Briggs personality-type is INFP, is well shaped to be a Petrine explorer – that is, the particular form of apostolic ministry through which my prophetic calling is expressed is not primarily cross-cultural pioneering or networking, or direct mobilising, but is concerned with the renewal of the existing church through unearthing both those concealed things that are holding the church back from being all that God intends us to be, and those buried resources that Jesus has given us to that end.

While we must attend to the general things – the call to all of us to be and to make disciples, growing together in the character and competence of Christ – we must also attend to the specific things, our particular and unique role within the body.  From a personal perspective I am finding The Permanent Revolution to be the most helpful book I have read, in regard to the latter.  Reflecting on their insight into my experience has given me a greater level of understanding of who I am called to be and what I am called to do (insight that the institutional church I serve, and which seeks to shape me, is simply not equipped to help me discern).

But, sharing their understanding of the importance of this endeavour, I believe The Permanent Revolution is also one of the most significant contributions I have read to the general things we must attend to – offering a paradigm to imagine (so much more is covered, but I have not attempted a comprehensive review), and a vocabulary with which to discuss, what the church is called to be and to do.  Again, I am indebted to them; and again, I recommend their book to anyone concerned with the missional sent-ness of the church.

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