The Shaping of Things to Come

The Shaping of Things to Come

If you have heard any of the following terms in religious conversations as of late, Missional, Incarnational, Meta-Narrative, Post-Christendom Culture, being an authentic community, it was probably encouraged at least in part by this book,  “The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church“. Both Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have done an excellent job in describing what is at the the center of the  fresh expressions of church that are emerging.

Frost and Hirsch explain how “Western” society has been moving into what they describe as a post-christendom era. They say, “Christendom has been in decline for the last 250 years.” They argue that many are now or many ought to be moving in to a “Missional” phase of church expression. One where we are moving away from the many things that defined the era of Christendom, such as Buildings, Institutional Centralized Leadership, Institutional Sacraments, Church as center of Society,  and ex-tractional Conversions.


The Missional emerging shape of things to come will not be focused on a Church building. The new leadership mode is one that is pioneering-innovative in nature, including the five-fold ministry ethos, not just majoring on the “pastor/teacher” role. It will move towards being more grassroots and decentralized. It Redeems, re-sacralizes, and ritualizes new symbols and events. Church is once again on the fringes of society and culture. The church re-embraces a missional stance in relation to culture.That is a mouth full.

They suggest the idea of Shared Projects. Rather than only doing church based programs,  instead getting involved in programs and initiatives that are already helping the community.

There is this group in San Francisco calling itself ReImagine.  They have been meeting to explore the goal of living in what they call Green space. Green is the goal. The color green is made up of course by both the colors yellow and blue . “Yellow space refers to a Christian spirituality that is only concerned with the personal, interior world of faith. It characterizes the classic individualized form of faith the focuses on personal quiet times, Bible study, church attendance and personal moral/ethical behavior. Blue space refers to an exclusively other-focused form of Christian spirituality, one that takes context seriously and features such activities as social concern, justice-seeking, activism, and public moral/ethical behavior.” These two parts of faith ought to be blended and not separated.

Rather than being an attractional church, the goal of the emerging church is to be Incarnational. “The incarnational church seeks to infiltrate society to represent Christ to the World” A long chapter toward the end is about what they call “the genius of APEPT“. This is the five-fold ministry or functions of disciples: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. The newer expressions of church are giving a more rounded recognition within the leadership of all these roles, not just favoritism to the Pastor/Teacher C.E.O. style of things from the past.

I have read many books in this genre and this one is is quite unique and stands out amongst the rest in many ways.

5 Comments

Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. Steve Martin says:

    Not so sure about this new church stuff. But I’m willing to listen.

    Like your blog. Nice job!

    – Steve M.

  2. Cliff Martin says:

    Thanks, Nick.
    Did you read The Forgotten Ways?
    If so, how does this older title compare?

  3. Nick Watts says:

    Thanks for listening Steve!

    Cliff,
    I had read the Forgotten Ways. It has been a while and my original copy is no longer in my possession. I do remember it having plenty of interesting things to think about. I do think that I did prefer The Shaping of Things to Come a bit more. There are some redundancies in Forgotten Ways, but it is different enough to be its own book. I remember Al thinking it had a lot to give praise to.

  4. Sanjay says:

    I have read and enjoyed Shenk’s aritlce and very much appreciate your emphasis on the church giving herself away to seek the purposes of God. But I do wonder about the need to form intentional and intense community. It seems to be what the earliest glimpses of the church exemplified and endorsed. But it could be seen to be a distraction from the sacrificial pursuit of God’s mission. Some might say that the liminal experience of the dying-to-self type of of mission can create a special community (communitas), but it doesn’t seem sustainable. So I guess my question is this: how does a church radically give herself away for the pursuit of God’s purposes in a sustainable, reproducible manner?

    • Nick says: (Author)

      Sanjay,
      Both intentional and deep community seems to me, to be much needed all around.

      Yes, sustainability! I would think that whatever we put our hands to is is best if it is done out of a kind of deep and sincere love response towards God and people around us. This will help ensure the sustainability. It will bring joy and life. If we are just dying-to-self and sacrificing out of a sense of “ought-to” or law abiding, then I would anticipate it to be very unsustainable and really lacking deep joy and life.

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