Apostolic Environment: Missional Leadership through the Catechumenate

The third characteristic of genuinely missional churches, the mDNA that constitute Apostolic Genius according to Alan Hirsch, is Apostolic Environment. In the New Testament age, Hirsch perceives that the leadership of the Apostles constitutes the apostolic environment. This leadership “embodies, symbolizes, and re-presents the apostolic mission to the missional community…a missional church needs missional leadership” (Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 152).  

Based on his consideration of the New Testament and missional movements throughout church history, how does Hirsch conceive of missional leadership? He says that the calling of leaders in an apostolic environment is “the extension of Christianity” calling “the church to its essential calling” and guiding “it into its destiny as a missionary people with a transformative message for the world” (152). An apostolic environment is one where leaders lead from the vision and comprehensive scope of the gospel as the mission of the church. For Hirsch, apostolic leadership integrates the outward mission of the church to the world with apostolic doctrine and teaching. They go hand in hand. He says,

At core, the apostolic task is about the expansion of Christianity both physically in the form of pioneering missionary effort and church planting, as well as theologically through integration of apostolic doctrine into the life of the individual Christians and the communities they are a part of. But more than that, as custodian of Apostolic Genius, he or she is the person who provides the personal reference point as well as the spiritual context for the other ministries of God’s people (154).

The leaders in an apostolic environment envision the external mission of the church as the mission of God the Father through His crucified and resurrected Son by the power of the Spirit toward the renewal and restoration of all humanity and the entire cosmos.

From this Hirsch establishes three primary functions of leaders in an apostolic environment:

  1. Embedding mDNA through pioneering new ground for the gospel and the church
  2. Guarding mDNA through the application and integration of apostolic theology
  3. Creating the environment from which other ministries of the church emerge (155-7).

In a local congregation, an apostolic environment of leadership aims to create an atmosphere of expectation and movement (163).

               The catechumenate has the effect of embedding an apostolic environment in a congregation. Since the catechumenate is oriented toward the birthing of new Christians—especially adults but youth and children as well—it embeds the vision that the congregation is constantly in mission to the world. In the congregations we studied, the pastoral and lay leaders of the congregation lead out of the crucible of the catechumenate. Through the catechumenate they embody, symbolize, and re-present the apostolic mission to the missional community (152). By its structure, the catechumenate intertwines apostolic teaching and doctrine and the external mission of the church. For example, Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx constructed its youth confirmation on the model of its adult catechumenate. They have regular catechumenal gatherings on a weeknight for two hours with a meal (often pizza). The youth are encouraged to invite their friends. And they do! Their friends come and fellowship with the youth at Redeemer while hearing and learning the apostolic witness of the gospel. The entire congregation, youth included, live in an apostolic environment. As Hirsch concludes, “Apostolic influence awakens the church to its true calling and identity” (177).