As I sit here at home I have just finished the book! So we are on the home stretch with only a couple of posts on The Forgotten Ways remain. This chapter was one that I was not particularly looking forward to. As a result it took a while to chew through it. However, it turns out that “Organic Systems” are actually pretty cool things! Who knew?

I think that the best way to understand the concept of “Organic Systems” in Hirsch’s mindset is to think about a spiderweb. The whole web is connected to itself. There are multiple nodes and lines. The whole thing is interconnected. This is what an organic system is all about.

Consider our body. There are multiple little systems like the nervous system, skeletal system, or epidermal system, but each one by itself does not a body make. They all come together and create a body. This is what the church ought to look like.

The church, Hirsch argues, is a living system. This means that it is marked by certain elements that set it apart from a static system. A static system represents something solid. Consider a chair or some other inanimate object. It is assembled and when finished does not change. No matter what room it is in the chair remains exactly the same.

Now, consider a living system. It is always growing, adapting, and changing. Think of a plant. If it is in a room where a window is to its left the plant will grow towards the light and have a bit of leftward orientation. If you move the plant to the other side of the window then it will change its orientation to the light. It is liquid and not solid.

Hirsch makes a compelling argument that the church is to be like this plant. It is to be liquid. The church is to be ever changing as it pushes forward into new cultures and times and people groups. The manifestation of the church must look different for each context within which it finds itself.

To achieve this it must have a system that is liquid and not static. This means that there must be a movement ethos within the church itself. A movement ethos is that mindset of being on mission with Jesus towards the ends building his kingdom for his glory.

Leadership within this system is decentralized and spread out. Hirsch points to Al Qaeda as a picture of how this works in reality. Each individual cell has the DNA to reproduce the entire movement. This is why all the armies of the first world cannot stomp it out. This is why the persecuted church grows with such rapidity. The leadership is not centralized in one person or in a group of persons.

The church must be constantly birthing new cells with their own leaders who can and do embed the mDNA. This is very different from the way the institutional church plants. Hirsch argues that the Christendom model is cloning as opposed to birthing. In a clone the new church seeks to look just like the parent church. In birthing there is a combination of different factors that bring about something new (not to mention the fact that making a baby is more fun than cloning one).

Hirsch uses the example of Willow Creek and Saddleback to paint this picture. A church plant from these places will have difficulty in reproducing the level of programming and excellence that the original brings, because by its very nature it does not have the critical mass to do so. However, if you birth a new church it will take the mDNA of the parent and combine it with a new context thus creating a whole new church that belongs in the family of the parent but is itself a unique embodiment of the mDNA.

This is what organic systems are all about. He argues that organic systems grow by hyperbolic multiplication as opposed to linear addition. The example he cites is Pay it Forward the film that protrayed the story of a boy who is assigned the task of changing the world. He devises a plan where you don’t pay back someone for doing something good but you pay it forward. The effects were deep and lasting. The arrangement was that you pay forward two good deeds when someone does something good to you. This rippled to the other side of the country.

Hirsch argues that it is this hyperbolic growth that saw the Chinese church grow from 2,000,000 to 60,000,000 in forty years. The picture is quite simple. Each individual covenants to lead two people to trust Christ and disciple them sending them out to do the same. Each church covenants to plant two churches and pushes them to do the same. It would not take long to reach the whole world with the gospel.

This chapter is simple spiritual multiplication. It is something that most of us have known about for years and years. However, most of our churches have not embraced this. We have moved into a fortress mentality where bigger is better and safer. We pull people in and out of the world as opposed to discipling them and sending them out.

What would happen if our church, your church, grasped and applied this principle of hyperbolic growth? Are we willing to change? Are we willing to push leadership to the edges? Are we willing to send, send, send?