NOTE: The beginning section of this review is cross-posted on the Amazon site for 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ, by Alan Hirsch (2017; published by 5Q).
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I know it’s not normal to write a review before finishing the book. However, in this rare case of Alan Hirsch’s *5Q*, I am. That’s because I’ve read enough to know that I WILL finish it, because the first quarter of the book (preface, intro, and first two chapters) provided more than enough threshold details for me to recommend specifically why I believe you should read it, too.
In a nutshell: I am convinced from a combination of constructive and destructive experiences in 40-plus years working with non-profits, church plants, and social change activism that applying paradigm systems theory is essential to successful, sustainable transformation. And, the way I see it, *5Q* provides a conceptual framework for identifying deficiencies in our system compared to the revealed ideal, and a set of practical skills and tools for filling in gaps and filing off excesses in our systems.
This means 5Q can drive both context-based intervention when things have gone toxic, and prevention of problems in our start-up and sustainability efforts. So, 5Q is valuable to those working in situations that focus on Kingdom embodiment and personal discipleship: churches, church plants, social transformation endeavors, community development, missional impact metrics, and spiritual abuse survivor advocacy.
For those not yet acquainted with the core concepts of 5Q, here’s the kernel of the system. Ephesians 4:11-13 specifies a fivefold structure of giftedness in the Body of Christ. Using the acronym of APEST, these are: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. The APEST giftings are meant to work together. Christ manifests all five and they are key to the Church universal’s genetic code. As with any genetic aberrations, a deficiency or duplication of any fivefold chromosomal element can lead to chronic illnesses, sterility, or even premature death of a body.
*5Q* is an intermediate introduction to Alan’s lifetime work in missional ministry. In it, he presents (1) the revelational and incarnational bases for the APEST typology as the Body of Christ’s genetic system, (2) practical outworkings of the system for individuals and organizations, and (3) solutions for addressing related problems. Additional component trainings and tools are available from “5Qcentral,” making this a robust, holistic system for context-sensitive ministry movements.
Here are my five observations from the first 25% of the book that convinced me to read the rest. I hope you’ll find reasons to read it in these as well!
1. Paradigm Shifts Require Understanding Paradigm Systems. If we don’t have all the parts in an interconnected system, at best we have a dissected body – not a living Body. Alan gets it about the interconnected nature of paradigm systems, plus the meanings and mechanics of “paradigm shifts.” That doesn’t mean he addresses every relevant question about the functional life of the Church in depth. But, he does provide an exceptionally broad system in which we can explore for better questions and biblically-resonant solutions.
2. Paradox Keeps Theory and Practice in Dynamic Tension. Theorists cannot prove IF their theory will work. Pragmatists cannot explain WHY their actions work, don’t work, start working, or stop working. Alan is not only a theoretician-practitioner, but also one of those rare individuals who is both a paradigm shifter and a paradigm pioneer. He deals in both big picture and details, abstract theory and concrete practices. This uniquely equips him to lead us to the both/and antidote for our either/or overdose.
3. Readers with Different Learning Styles Resonate with Diverse Content Elements. The agonizing truth is, what appeals to some readers will annoy others. But, if we are committed to do Kingdom work, we must learn to accommodate such God-ordained diversity in order to bring the strength that only comes from compositing complementary differences. *5Q* works as a training guide that is relatively friendly for people from any APEST profile and every information processing style.
4. Open Systems are Needed for Health and Sustainability. A closed system seems to protect people, but its isolation eventually devolves through entropy and it dies. Open systems are messy, but they have the possibility of sustainability by adding new growth. Alan grounds *5Q* in Imago Dei design and general revelation. These identify a strong, open-system platform that already exists for missional movements, by listening for common-ground “human universals” in specific cultural conversations so we can find reasoned contextualizations.
5. High Explanatory Power Means Broad Applicability. The wider the range of real-world situations of both constructive and destructive behaviors that a system can explain, the more powerful that system is as a tool to reflect on reality. Christendom has left us with a spectrum of weak to terminal ministry models, and we need to understand the whys underneath them if we are to get to the wherefores and what-nexts needed to shift to a sustainable Kingdom course. Alan’s overall *5Q* system holds “high explanatory power,” meaning it can illuminate problems and possibilities in a wide range of theoretical issues and actual case studies.
I’ve volunteered with non-profits regularly since the early 1970s, and been a student of paradigm systems since the late 1970s. As best I understand decades of experiences and explorations, these five elements are essential – not incidental – for ongoing paradigm shifts toward robust health and sustainable growth. They are necessary for any kind of personal or social change that sticks. They represent the high-bar that I work toward in my own writings, and what I’m constantly looking for in the writings of others – but usually find only in bits and pieces. It’s a rarity to find all five elements in one place. The more an author covers them, the more likely we are to derive benefit from a powerful theory with workable practices. And Alan has what looks to be the best systems approach I’ve seen for ministry, and that’s why I’m in with *5Q*.
How about you?
Please consider reading Alan’s book, whether you want to understand situations where things have gone wrong or you’re in situations where you can work to direct things to go right.
For those who prefer processing with more details, there’s a long-form expansion of my five reasons on my “futuristguy” blog.
DISCLOSURE AND BACKGROUND. I requested and received a copy of *5Q* with the understanding that I would post a review. I’ve been acquainted with Alan and Deb Hirsch for over 20 years; have periodically read newsletters and blog posts by them; and heard Alan teach in person once, at an organic church conference 10 years ago. Alan and I have had occasional email exchanges over the years, mostly about paradigms, systems, and social transformation – which are some of my key areas of research writing. Alan referenced my work on toxic systems in Chapter 1 of *5Q*.
I have formal training in linguistics, and I’ve been a long-time student of information processing and creativity theories, cross-cultural communications, and strategic foresight. I’ve written extensively on spiritual abuse, malignant leadership, and toxic systems, including articles and case studies. And I’ve co-authored missional metric tools (The Transformational Index), plus produced and facilitated gamified trainings on cultural research and contextualization. I’ve been a team member in 10 church plants and social change start-ups, served on the boards of two non-profits, and am associated with Matryoshka Haus – a missional/social transformation incubator organization.
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Here is the long-form version of the five reasons for recommending Alan Hirsch’s *5Q* book and equipping system. I’ve included information that’s more technical here, along with additional reading resources.
1. Paradigm Shifts Require Understanding Paradigm Systems
Alan gets it about the interconnected nature of paradigm systems, plus the meanings and mechanics of “paradigm shifts.” Call it worldview, mental model, or paradigm – it’s about a comprehensive and integrated way of categorizing the ways we process information, how that affects the ways we organize ourselves, and how we go about our cultural life and connecting with others. Alan appears to be comprehensive in the categories of topics he considers and range of implications of an integrated system for when changes take place. That doesn’t mean he addresses every relevant question about the functional life of the Church in depth. But, he does provide an exceptionally broad system in which we can explore for better questions and biblically-resonant solutions.
Why is this so crucial? Because it’s easy to be enamored of the coolness of the idea of a paradigm shift – I’ve seen plenty of that, starting with the “emerging ministry” movement of 20+ years ago. But it’s hard enough work to actually do it, worse if you don’t really know what paradigms or systems approaches are. And *5Q* calls for a shift, but is also insightful in describing the what and how of it.
2. Paradox Keeps Theory and Practice in Dynamic Tension
Alan is not only a theoretician-practitioner, but also one of those rare individuals who is both a paradigm shifter and a paradigm pioneer. If you’ve been around enough to have questions about why Western churches tend to stagnate and don’t do well at replicating disciples or movements, then you’re aware of our need for a shift in theories that are kept in dynamic tension with practices grounded in reality. Otherwise, we end up with abstract theories/theologies that go nowhere, or ungrounded pragmatic tips where we don’t know why they work, don’t work, start working, or stop working.
It takes a particular kind of paradoxical “wiring” to work at high levels of both paradigm conceptualization and transformational system change. The mindset and skills of this rare both/and “creative personality” are described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his research study, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, and the impact of paradigm shifters and pioneers is described in Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers. It’s clear Alan can geek out on details of theory and theology, but it’s equally clear he seeks to live out what he geeks out on. So, *5Q* offers a rare opportunity to see the inner workings of someone who can do both big-picture/global panning and detailed/analytic scanning – plus theorizing and practicizing. This uniquely equips Alan to lead us to the both/and antidote for our either/or overdose.
3. Readers with Different Learning Styles Resonate with Diverse Content Elements
*5Q* works as a training guide that is relatively friendly for people from any APEST profile and every information processing style. Distinctive profiles in the combination of ways we process information is one element that cuts across all other divides: genders, generations, races, cultures. So, to communicate in order to educate, authors would do well to keep that in mind. Alan does. For instance, he presents conceptual material for those who process best/first in abstractions, and real-life examples for those who process best/first in concrete situations. He alternates between big picture and details. He uses metaphors and icon symbols that fuse abstract concepts with concrete objects or actions. Some graphics capture both the individual parts and their relationships in interconnected processes.
And, while this kind of attention to learning styles is crucial, it’s also inherently tricky: What appeals to some readers annoys others. (As an example, read other *5Q* reviews on Amazon, and you’ll see the love/hate spectrum for Alan’s use of Padawan. For some readers, it’s part of a positive “tone” of personal connection; others interpret it as an overall negative, perhaps bordering on patronizing.)
Still, it’s not merely admirable that Alan walks the fine line between resonate-and-repulse, because this practice embodies the aggregation realities of a 5Q system. Real-world teams generally do run the gamut between people who want concise information vs. expanded details, theoretical vs. practical, personal connection vs. just-the-bottom-line. Successful, sustainable teamwork requires compositing all such differences for a larger strength.
One reason we’re in such a mess is that only certain modes of information processing are valued and validated in Christendom. We’re not used to communicating across our own epistemology divides – so how can we expect to generate a replicating movement with a collegial outlook, when we’re exclusionary toward people who process information in other ways? Whether intentional or intuitive, Alan at least attempts to do this equitably – optimize resonation and minimize discordance. This is a tough thing to do, in person or in print, and I see Alan attempting to draw in potentially competing audiences.
4. Open Systems are Needed for Health and Sustainability
Alan grounds *5Q* in Imago Dei design and general revelation. These identify a strong, open-system platform that already exists for missional movements, by listening for “human universals” in specific cultural conversations and contextualizations. It seems to me that *5Q* is a call for us to include, listen, and adjust. This “hub” of 5Q social structures that shows up in all cultures gives us an opportunity to find attachment points that people of any/every culture can relate with. It keeps them actively engaged in the system – “in the game,” as author James Carse says in his book, Finite and Infinite Games: A Version of Life as Play and Possibility. And those who remain involved can become an organic part of the organizational system. This is necessary for sustainability.
The alternative is a closed system, which seems to protect people, but its isolation eventually devolves through entropy and it dies. Open systems are messy, but they have the possibility of sustainability by adding new growth. I would suggest that conventional attractional methodological models represent an inherently closed system, inviting people into a bounded-set system to receive what’s there. Missional/incarnational models present inherently open systems, sending people to enter into a culture or neighborhood, receive what’s there, add to the mix there, and thereby change what’s there.
This kind of open system is compatible with what’s been called a “welcoming and mutually transforming” approach to ministry. It doesn’t have the closed borders and inflexible set of internal rules that are hallmarks of a legalistic system. However, this doesn’t mean the system has no standards (i.e., is licentious/libertine) and no protections for participants; that would allow the system to be infected by toxic people and principles, and its trajectory to be hijacked.
It also makes sense to me that design based in universals inherently lends itself to metrics for evaluating impact. That’s because these universals – like emotions, innate desires, and types of values – are qualitative in nature. And in the world of social enterprise, “measuring what matters” is crucial. Degree of transformational impact is measured qualitatively; quantitative metrics can only work for indicating how many resources (e.g., funds, work hours) were expended in creating an opportunity for making a difference. So, being a qualitative system, 5Q should find significant appeal at the intersection of social entrepreneurship, church planting, and ministry movements where impact metrics help evaluate whether things are on track for health and sustainability, or course corrections are need.
5. High Explanatory Power Means Broad Applicability
Alan’s overall *5Q* system holds “high explanatory power,” meaning it can illuminate problems and possibilities in a wide range of theoretical issues and actual case studies. This is crucial, because Christendom has left us with a spectrum of weak to terminal ministry models, and we need to understand the whys underneath them if we are to get to the wherefores and what-nexts needed to shift to a sustainable Kingdom course.
Here’s the basic concept behind “explanatory power”: The wider the range of real-world situations of both constructive and destructive behaviors that a system can explain, the more powerful that system is as a tool to reflect on reality. I learned about the power of theories and hypotheses to model real-world situations in my collegiate courses in research methodologies for linguistics, sociology, and political science. I gained depth of understanding in studying ecological systems, and in editing client materials on medical research, public health, and organizational development. In all of these fields (and more), the better the theory, the more it covers and the less it leaves out.
I’ve been applying this principle to the arena of spiritual abuse. I’ve been developing an original systems approach that (hopefully) has high explanatory power in analyzing and interpreting why cases of abuse of power show up in all theological streams, all forms of polity, and both centralized/hierarchical and decentralized/flat-structure systems.
In the last 10 years, I’ve spent over 1,500 hours in research writing, applying versions of this system to a dozen case studies on toxic church/ministry systems. I can already see how useful 5Q is in analyzing the underlying system issues in those same situations. For instance, it highlights inherent system imbalances and negative impact on people in an AP-only or ST-only church. And a significant number of spiritual abuse cases do fit those profiles. So, an analysis system that can explain what goes right or wrong – and why – is an exceptionally powerful tool for sustaining what should be in an organization and correcting what shouldn’t be. The flip side is equally important – and 5Q is also about how to construct teams, churches, and ministries well so they are robustly healthy and have sustainability.
So … now I need to read the other 75% of Alan Hirsh’s *5Q* book, to see the specifics of how his holistic system works in intervention when there are organizational problems and prevention to keep them from happening in the first place!