The Mission Driven Life and Vehicles to Get You There

November 24, 2008 at 1:14 pm 7 comments

I admit it, I am one of the over 20 million people who have purchased “The Purpose Driven Life” and read it. Not only did I read it, but our church joined other churches in organizing our small groups and Sunday gatherings around its message for 40 days. Was it life changing for me? No. Did our church become a better church because of it? I don’t know, maybe some of the people who were part of our church at that time are more intentional Christians today because of that book, and I’ve heard stories of some people who decided to follow Christ because they were invited to a small group participating in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. My intention is not to criticize this popular book, but to remember what it was all about. I wasn’t real excited about the “driven” metaphor used in this popular book, so I may be more critical of it than others. Day 36 of the book is focused on the idea “Made for Mission.” But I wonder, if over 20 million people have read (or at least purchased this book) why don’t we see millions more people on mission for God? OK, enough of my cynicism.

As I was reading “The Forgotten Ways” (Hirsch 2006) I couldn’t help but think about “The Purpose Driven Life” when I read, “It’s all about God, after all.” (Hirsch 2006, 85) I then began to ponder if Hirsch had titled his book “The Mission Driven Life” would he have sold millions of copies? So, then I searched to see if someone else decided to go this direction and found a few who have. Father Patrick Brennan wrote, “The Mission Driven Parish” in 2007. One of my favorite mission organizations, OMF, published an article titled, The “Mission Driven” Life in 2007, Wes Handy, a Southeastern Baptist Staff guy has a blog called “A Mission-Driven Life”, and Growing Leaders offers a teaching series called Leadership 2 Go and one of the titles is, “Mission-Driven Life” and it’s only $6. I’m glad Hirsch did not go in this direction, as this driven metaphor is driving me crazy. The vehicles we would use for propelling a mission driven life would by virtue of being driven be gas-guzzling, consumer focused, in-organic, human designed, and individualistic. Instead of using an over-rated, market saturated metaphor, Hirsch chooses a universal, organic, essential to life metaphor to lead us into the heart of Apostolic Genius – mDNA.

Survival of the Fittest and Selective Breeding
Hirsch chooses the metaphor of DNA for the elements of Apostolic Genius because it conveys the ideas of inherence, coherence, reproducibility and transferability. The m- of mDNA distinguishes it from the biological construct the metaphor is derived from and stands for missional. mDNA is the structure for Apostolic Genius and illustrated beautifully in two visuals worth a thousand words:

So, there you have it, now you don’t need to read the book. Just study these visuals and somehow absorb them into your spirit and allow them to re-place your existing xDNA constructs – where x stands for anything other than m. If only it were that easy. Just as we have seen that best-selling books don’t change the world for Jesus, so too, merely reading about, understanding and agreeing with “The Forgotten Ways” will not change a deformed, deactivated, degenerating, declining church in the West. The sub-title for the book is “reactivating the missional church” and is the key aim. It will not help us to merely understand how important disciple making is and how best to do it in our changing cultural context, we must be doing it. Our missional-incarnational impulse will not create a movement unless we are moving in missional-incarnational ways.

I am very excited for the new and emerging churches that are starting with an understanding of Apostolic Genius, or are forced to find it like the Chinese underground church. I am thrilled by the many missional church leaders who are trying new things and appear to be making a difference and seeing people respond to the life-changing gospel embodied through their missional churches. The biggest challenge I see for the church in the West is for the existing churches to reactivate this mDNA and recover the Apostolic Genius that has been long forgotten, or maybe even mutated for many of them. Hirsch offers an online assessment of missional fitness and I believe we are seeing the survival of the fittest and for the church in the West to be missionally reactivated, they must become missionally fit or they will die.

Hisrch is very careful in his introduction as well as in every chapter detailing the elements of mDNA to emphasize that while all of the individual elements are great, and probably many are represented in existing churches, it is the combination of all of them together, centered around the lordship of Christ, that makes up the Apostolic Genius that has the power to change the world. Hirsch describes each of the elements artfully, inspiring the imagination with the hopes of activating the church. The book is a worthy read, but I’d like to focus on one idea in particular that interests me – the idea of reproducibility. Hirsch touches on this subject in the chapter on Disciple Making, but goes into more detail in the chapter on Organic Systems. Hirsch’s use of the metaphor of mDNA includes the ideas of replication and healthy reproduction. He uses the idea of the gospel spreading as an ideavirus (Seth Godin) and while the implications of such a spread are positive, the verbal imagery of virus leaves me wanting. I’ve been thinking hard to find an alternative image, but have not found one that communicates the communicability of the gospel as does the viral image.

But then, Hirsch switches images and writes, “Let’s Talk about Sex” as he discusses the issue of reproduction and reproducibility. This is where I see the Church in the West has failed. If we are in such rapid decline, we are in decline because we have failed to reproduce healthy, reproducing Christians. I think there are four main factors contributing to this failure:

•    Neglect – we have neglected to activate mDNA in our offspring, both physical and spiritual.
•    Cloning – we try to reproduce through copy-catism – replication not reproduction.
•    Inbreeding – we stagnate the gene pool by cloistering in our Christian bubbles (Kimball 2007) and ultimately end up with unhealthy mutations.
•    Hybridization – we have allowed breeding with different species, marrying empire with faith (Murray 2004), church with politics (Boyd 2006) and as in biology, “Hybrids are usually, but not always, sterile.

Failure to Thrive, Unconscionable Copies, and Barren Mutants
As I have mentioned before, the failure to make disciples is one of the most critical failures of the church in the West. While our churches are replete with discipleship programs, the dearth of fully devoted followers of Christ in America is evidence that these programs are not working. Just as we need the full complement of elements inherent in Apostolic Genius to change things, we cannot attribute the fall of Christianity in America or the West to one factor alone. But, failure to make disciples is at the top of my list. Hirsch believes that one of the greatest enemies of the church in the West is consumerism. (Hirsch 2006, 106) And I would agree. Our discipleship programs have become yet another service the church offers as it has become a dispenser of religious goods and services. (Clark 2008) “Ninety percent or more of the people who attend church services are passive. In other words they are consumptive.” (Hirsch 2006, 110) Instead of following the model of Jesus who spotted the Twelve, prayed about whether to call them to discipleship, and then pursued them and invited them to join him in his life and ministry, we have offered discipleship services for a price to anyone who will come at no real significant personal cost without interfacing with their everyday life as our mega-churches with food courts and fitness centers create a sort of “parallel universe.”(Hsu 2006, 162) The “church world” can be a powerful conforming influence lulling us into a false sense of security thinking we are being conformed to the image of Christ when we are really being pressed into the mold of Christendom and consumer Christianity. (Romans 12:2) Rather than making fully devoted followers of Christ we are producing weakling Christians suffering from spiritual neglect resulting in a failure to thrive.

One of my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movies (yes, I am a big fan) is “The 6th Day” and in this movie they have developed the ability to transfer the consciousness of a person being cloned. This has not happened in real life. Clones are merely a vacant copy, or in the case of identical twins, an identical physical representation with a life of it’s own. Recently, I have been discouraged by the number of churches who see another church having great success and using the logic that they don’t want to reinvent the wheel, they attempt to copy that other church – especially if that church has experienced tremendous growth or popularity. So, we’re all Willow Creek Wannabes, and Purpose Driven Proselytes when God wants us to be Missional-Incarnational Masterpieces representing him in distinct ways in our unique contexts. The reproductive capacities of the church are directly linked to the missional-incarnational impulse (Hirsch 2006, 139) and when we are copying how Christ chose to send a group of people and reveal himself through them in a specific context, we are being neither missional nor incarnational and we are certainly not reproducing organically. “If we put up this [Saddleback or Willow Creek] as the sole model of effective church, the net effect will be to marginalize most people from ministry and church planting, and it will effectively put a contraceptive on the reproductive mechanism of the church.” (Hirsch 2006, 215) Rather than reproducing effective ministries with the power to change the world, we are creating unconscionable copies void of the creative power needed to make a difference at all.

You’ve probably heard all those bad jokes about inbreeding associated with certain regions of our country, but I wonder what those jokes would sound like if we put them in the context of some of our churches. Some have noticed that in America we have a tendency to create a Christian sub-culture and then cocoon ourselves within that sub-culture (Kimball 2007; Hsu 2006). As a result, we experience inbreeding. “We all know what happens in a closed genetic pool. Serious deformities and weaknesses result from inbreeding. Healthy reproduction therefore draws upon a much larger gene pool and thereby invigorates the living system [in this case, the church] by giving rise to more possibilities in the genetic makeup.” (Hirsch 2006, 213) I believe that some of the criticisms of the church offered in recent books like Kimball’s are the result of years of inbreeding. But along with inbreeding, I believe the church has suffered from hybridization through the marriage of empire and faith through Christendom (Murray 2004) as well as the quest for political power through the marriage of church and politics (Boyd 2006). The resulting mutations of both inbreeding and hybridization have left the church barren, to the point of near extinction in Europe and rapid decline in America (Wicker 2008).

As usual, I often return to one of the lingering questions in my life and my church world – can the mega-church become missional? Will the mega-church survive, and should it? Willow Creek, considered one of the most successful churches in America after which thousands of churches have patterned themselves recently revealed their own sense of failure, “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.” Neither Willow Creek nor 40 Days of Purpose seem to be the answer to the dilemma of the church in the West, and I don’t think a book like “The Forgotten Ways” with all it’s great ideas and inspiration to rethink and reactivate Apostolic Genius is the answer either. I think a movement of people who are the least, the forgotten, the voiceless ones, the people leaving their traditional church contexts looking for a change – this will be the change, for “the organic approach says that real change, especially lasting change, comes from the bottom up and that it is the task of leadership to create the conditions that foster imagination, initiative, and creativity.” (Hirsch 2006, 256)

I’d like to end with a “note of warning for those leading in established churches: what Western Christianity desperately needs at the moment is adaptive leadership – people who can help us transition to a different, more agile, mode of church. Such leaders don’t necessarily have to be highly creative innovators themselves, but rather be people who can move the church into adaptive modes – people who can disturb the stifling equilibrium and create the conditions for change and innovation. By and large, many leaders in church organizations, particularly those with strong caring and teaching gifts, can exhibit a tendency to avoid conflict and too easily soothe tensions. Left unchecked, this can be lethal, because it caters to equilibrium and therefore ultimately to death.” (Hirsch 2006, 257) I’m not looking for the latest, greatest vehicle to drive as I embark on some mission driven life, I am looking for a group of people who are willing to think different about church and mission, adapt to the challenges of changing culture, and allow people to develop a sense of Apostolic Genius and reactivate the missional church to follow the movement of God as he continues to send people to be a blessing to the whole world.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007
Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006.
Kimball, Dan. They Like Jesus but Not The Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007
Kinnaman, David and Lyons, Gabe. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters. Baker Books, 2007.
Bickel, Bruce and Jantz, Stan. I’m Fine with God, It’s Christians I Can’t Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual Truth. Harvest House, 2008.
Hsu, Al. The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty. InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Wicker, Christine. The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church. Harper One, 2008.
Boyd, Gregory. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Zondervan, 2007.
Clark, Jason. Missional Ecclesiology Face to Face. George Fox Seminary, 2008.


Entry filed under: church, faith, Missional, paradigm.

Futility and Fugacity or Future Hope? If I Married a Homer, does that Make Me a Marge?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Goins  |  November 24, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Nice – great dichotomy here between purpose-driven and missional movements. I have the Forgotten Way sitting on my shelf and keep saying that I should read it. Thanks for sparing me the time!

  • 2. Elizabeth Chapin  |  November 24, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Jeff, I just want to clarify that I think “The Forgotten Ways” is a worthy read, as long as we are not spending more time reading and thinking about the latest trends in church-dom without taking the time to practice our faith in ways that make a difference in the world. I think “The Forgotten Ways” will likely have a more significant impact than some more popular books if the principles are put into practice.

  • 3. cindyinsd  |  November 26, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Hi, Elizabeth

    I always enjoy your well-thought-out posts. I read Purpose Driven Live quite a lont time ago and I thought it was good, but I don’t remember it that much. As I recall, it was pretty basic, but then basic is, unfortunately, what a whole lot of Christians need. If the foundations aren’t there, what good is anything? Again, I confess I don’t specifically remember what is in Purpose Driven Life, and there are too many other books waiting for my attention to re-read that one.

    One point I’d like to emphasize, which I realize you don’t personally need to hear, but I didn’t see it brought out in this particular post . . . we can purpose to be missional and do all sorts of things and see fruit from none of them–and all with the best intentions of serving God. To quote another friend, “roots before fruit.” If the tree is good, it will produce fruit naturally and with no particular determination on the part of the branches. The great thing is to be connected to and abide in the vine. Then fruit will come.

    God bless,


  • 4. Elizabeth Chapin  |  November 27, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Cindy, great reminder. In Hirsch’s book, and in the diagrams above, Jesus remains the center and as you say, if we are rooted, centered, connected, focused on Jesus then we should expect to see fruit. After all, it’s all about God. But there’s a big difference between saying it and living it/experiencing it.

    It’s great to hear your comments. I appreciate your voice here in the discussion.

  • 5. Mark R  |  November 28, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I have the book on my shelf as well!!! to be honest – “How To Books” don’t matter what it is called on the front cover, don’t impress me much …
    I am enjoying comming to this site and reflecting upon the thoughts you post.

  • 6. Elizabeth Chapin  |  December 2, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Mark, thanks for visiting and commenting. I enjoy your site as well. It’s nice to make friends from different parts of the world! I hope to make it back to Australia someday.

    “The Forgotten Ways” offers more theory than “how to” most of the time. It is a good read and worthy of contemplation. One idea from the book that intrigued me is the idea of the inter-relationship between the elements of apostolic genius. I think we often underestimate the power of synergy and the need for balance in our church bodies. We have overemphasized some things for so long I think we have deformed the body of Christ to the point where it is often crippled in it’s task of being on mission with God.

  • 7. Influential or Inspirational or Both? « Emerging Chaos  |  February 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    […] to help with my book has inspired me to not give up on writing. I’ve blogged about his books here and […]


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