A Living, Organic Network: A Catechumenate Heart

Alan Hirsch’s 4th characteristic of missional DNA (mDNA) or Apostolic Genius is what he calls Organic Systems. This entails perceiving and structuring the church’s life in mission on organic, living models rather than institutional and bureaucratic models. As Hirsch says, “A living systems approach seeks to structure the common life of an organization around the rhythms and structures that mirror life itself” (The Forgotten Ways, 182). Hirsch argues that the organic model is “theologically richer…because it is funded by a sense of God’s intimate relation and investment in his creation” (181).

Organic systems function primarily in networked ways. Think of the various systems of the body such as the neurological system. It operates in a collaborative way, all the parts of the neurological system contributing to its guidance and operation. With regard to vital organic networks Hirsch says, “The effective performance of a network over time and distance will depend to a large degree on the cultivation of shared beliefs, interests, principles, and goals—perhaps articulated in an overarching ideology” (202). Those beliefs, interests, etc…, shape that ideology. That ideology or shared social imaginary, to borrow a phrase from Charles Taylor, is the living pulse that keeps the network interconnected and thriving.

Missional leadership within an organic network will foster the permeation of that social imaginary throughout the network. Hirsch delineates 4 things that missional leadership can do for the living network to thrive in the world:

  • Unleash the mDNA that is dormant in the system.
  • Bring the various elements in the system into meaningful relationship.
  • Move the system…to become highly responsive to its environment.
  • In a mass of disordered information … select the flow of information and focus the community around it (183-4).

Through such leadership in the body of Christ—the living network of God—the relationships of the believers to one another and to those outside the body become the very center of the church’s life. In other words, mission resides at the center of the church’s life.

Central to the organic network of the body of Christ are hubs. For Hirsch, “Hubs are places where the lines of communication connect” (204). Hubs are central nodes in the neurological system of the body. In the congregations whose catechumenates we studied, the catechumenate functioned as just such a hub, and often as the central hub. The catechumenate was a central connection point for sharing and communicating the social imaginary of a congregation in mission. Other elements of congregational life emanated from the catechumenate such as Bible studies, community service, youth group, youth catechumenate, liturgical service, men’s and women’s groups, hospitality ministries, even congregational committee meetings. The catechumenate became one of the places that embedded in the congregation the way in which the congregation understood its life together and shared that social imaginary. It is the living heartbeat of the organic network of the congregation—the body of Christ in that place.