Five Reasons Why *5Q* by Alan Hirsch is a Need-to-Read Book

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! Continue reading

If I Could Only Have 25 Books in My Ministry Library …

A friend of mine was interested in my take on a recent post by Thom Rainer, What If I Could Only Have 25 books in My Minister’s Library? I compiled my list and short descriptions of reasons for each of my selections before I looked at his list, to see how they compared.

Like Mr. Rainer, my list encompasses a range of topics and issues, and reflects my personal preferences. However, his list was what I suspected it would be: 25 books for a scholarly theologian. I guess that is how he interprets being a “minister” – some who emphasizes academic studies, exegetical research, and preaching/teaching. Certainly, there’s a role for a resource list like his. However, there was very little on his list that was directly about praxeology – practical ministry frameworks and methods – just a few titles on evangelism and church. And while his theological studies may “minister” biblical answers to people, it doesn’t seem to me it does much for the apprehension of people’s personal and social questions first, if at all.

I consider myself a ministry practitioner. I’ve been involved primarily with recovery ministries, social enterprise and church start-ups, and advocacy for survivors of spiritual abuse. So, I’m more interested in making sure I listen carefully and “get it” about actual questions, and then search the Bible for concept frameworks and practical applications as answers. My experience is that answers not matched to questions tend not to connect for people, but can pressure them to conform for wrong reasons. Also, I’ve found in my research on toxic systems and spiritual abuse that if you have supposedly sound theology but have a deficient praxeology, you tend not to be a minister who empowers hope, but end up a malignancy waiting to happen. So, I start with questions to explore, not answers to impose. My list intuitively leaned toward cultural systems and their specific underlying worldview paradigms, where Mr. Rainer’s understandably leaned toward systematic theology and books on specialist disciplines.

That said, maybe my strategy for choosing these books is more important than the final selections. In my opinion, robust ministries call for us to be generalists, conversant in multiple domains and disciplines, so we have raw materials from which to synthesize trustworthy ministries. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 4

Leadership Certification Checkpoints

and System Trustworthiness Checklist

I’ve been having conversations with researchers and writers about spiritual abuse since the mid-2000 decade. Since at least early in the 2010 decade, we’ve increasingly talked about creating some kind of evaluation or certification process that identifies (1) issues of power abuse by leaders and (2) toxic practices in organizations. We see this as necessary because so many training programs and “meta-organizations” – like church denominations, professional networks, and informal associations – don’t always have mechanisms in place for such processes. Resources to fill that need seem a natural byproduct of the Do Good Plus Do No Harm curriculum I’ve been developing. Some of these tools will come into play in it, while others will have to wait for time and teamwork to get them produced. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 3

Top 10 Dimensions Our Systems Need to Equip Participants and Counteract Abuse of Power


I served a total of nearly 20 years of my work life at two universities and one seminary. I spent significant amounts of time in roles where I wrote up processes and procedures, edited catalogues and manuals, researched institutional history and governance, planned conferences, transitioned departments to digital systems, and created visual aids that captured school statistics and data. All of this gave me an insider perspective on many aspects of how educational institutions run their business – for better or for worse. That was complemented by my years of collegiate studies and many practitioner trainings on “recovery ministry” topics, learning styles, futurist skills, and start-up theories and skills for social transformation enterprises and church planting.

These experiences uncovered many gaps and excesses in our conventional systems for equipping people for both vocational and volunteer work. Since the mid-1990s, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the problems I’ve observed and experienced, trying to figure out practical ways to upgrade such systems to make them more holistic and more relevant to the changing times in which we find ourselves. I was particularly focused on approaches that promoted volunteer workers as guests in a host culture rather than as dominators, and relied on intercultural teamwork to get things done.

The following list shares my top 10 list of concepts and components to accomplish that task. I designed this list originally for faith-based trainings, because that has been the majority of where I’ve done most of my work. But, I’ve adapted it here for broader audiences who want to do good plus do no harm.

The items that are ideas generally are interwoven throughout this curriculum. Others require larger components to be added in forthcoming modules as time allows. For instance, plans for the larger Opal Design Systems eventually include the following elements:

  • Field Guides (curriculum for social transformation entrepreneurs).
  • Personal Profiles (assessment tools for self-discovery and team building).
  • Organizational Profiles (evaluation tools for identifying overall “health” of an organizational system, plus pinpoint problem areas that need to be addressed).
  • Cultural GPS system (for dealing with cross-cultural communications and culture shock issues).
  • Group simulation games and practice projects (to apply ideas with teamwork in a more monitored “laboratory” setting where it’s safer to make mistakes).
  • Case studies (media, historical, and quadruple bottom line).

Not all of these elements can be presented in the text of a curriculum, because they require a relational context – teamwork, internships, mentoring. But some such elements can at least be simulated, through case studies. Altogether, these create the Opal Design Systems. I will also recommend other well-developed systems that have compatible approaches. These include assessment tools, organizational systems development, project planning and evaluation tools, and systems of indicators for qualitative measurement of project impact. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 2

Top 20 Problems I’ve Encountered in Organizations

I have real-world personal stories that go with every one of these situations and the questions embedded them. I’ve clustered them according to which of the three volumes in my curriculum I deal with them. I’ll share relevant vignettes when I detail frameworks I found or figured out to understand what had happened and applications for what to do about it. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 1

This blog series was originally focused on introducing the curriculum I’ve been writing for church planters and social transformation entrepreneurs: Do Good Plus Do No Harm. While piecing together the four parts of the series, I realized it had turned into something else. For over a decade, I’ve been dialoguing with survivors of spiritual abuse in church plants, “legacy churches,” and Christian non-profits. One concern that surfaces repeatedly is, “We need a way to identify toxic organizations and certify ones that are truly ‘safe.’ Who could we do that, and how? What would that process look like?”

After almost seven years of working on my curriculum, I keep coming back to the same elements that I believe are building blocks for exactly that kind of certification system. While they may seem “negative,” because they started from actual, soul-damaging situations of abuse of power in religious organizations, I don’t know a better way to arrive at principles and practices for what’s “healthy” and “whole” than from experiencing the opposite: malignant leaders and toxic organizations.

And it seems to me that too many textbooks that are supposed to be about quality leadership and great systems don’t always seem to take into account the realities of how harmful organizations happen, or the destructive aftermath they leave in the lives of those victimized in them. So, how useful are they for developing a certification system that can identify and intervene in sick systems, or even predict and help prevent them? Maybe this curriculum will serve as a base for building a certification system that can. Continue reading