Book Review: The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson
Words by Glenn Jago // Images by Shannon Smith
In The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo Jared C. Wilson aims at making an appeal to the church leader in order to help them to “stretch and grow and be thoughtful and have firmer convictions than ever before” (15). This prodigal church once held tightly to the love for God and God’s word, but after culture shifted, the church had a problem of no longer relating to culture.
The solution? Deconstruct the methods and develop relevant and new ways of doing church.
Unfortunately, the new way became the old way and the need for deconstruction was necessary again; in time, people actually became less interested in God (11). In an ever-fluctuating culture, the church seeks new, innovative, relevant, and exciting services and programs in order to attract the consumeristic mindset of people. While there is nothing wrong with evolving dated practices or appearances, if this becomes the primary focus this can easily move the congregation to become overly focused on their needs.
The church should be pastoring to the heart, setting biblical goals, calling the church back to its biblical roots of the Gospel of repentance (184), and depending on Christ alone. Wilson offers an amazing, transparent display of his own prodigal story in his chasing after the sexual allurements of the world and pornography. In this, he learns that the only rescue is the Gospel (Ch. 10). This is the reason he appeals to the church leaders to not “deny your people their only help” (217).
The Prodigal Church exposes the how, what, and the fix for the prodigal church. Though this book will be a good source for avoiding the trappings of the prodigal church, it also calls for those in the prodigal church to know how far from the Scriptural mandate they have wandered. Wilson, through many warnings, identifies the character of the problem as the “attractional” church. He defines this as, “a way of ministry that derives from the primary purpose of making Christianity appealing” (25). Their primary aim is to get as many in the doors of the church as possible.
However, Wilson demonstrates that this attractional church method is not working. He challenges these leaders to ask if what they are doing in and through their church is actually what God would have them do (46). This driving ideology stands in opposition to the Bible as it promotes “pragmatism and consumerism” (49). Both focus too much emphasis on people’s needs and not enough on the beauty of the character of God. These churches approach the Bible more as an instruction manual than the saving revelation of the divine Word of God” (77). Their emphasis on culturally relevant sermons will always stand in opposition to the power of the Gospel of Christ (84).
Any church driven to accumulate programs and ministries for attracting people, rather than to dependence on the Lord, is in great danger (122). Too often the leaders end up driving their sheep to perform better and accomplish more, causing the church to bite off more than it can chew. This problem surfaces even in the midst of our good intentions and as we seek to attract, please, and grow people (124).
In order to determine its strength, the church should be asking: “Are those being baptized continuing to walk in the faith a year later? Two years? Three years? How many of our people are being trained to personally disciple others” (158)? When the prodigal church realizes it has stepped away from the biblical mandate, it must repent and return to a biblical approach of preaching the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified (188). The conclusion will be that the “gospel is going into the world. It is bearing fruit and growing” (220).
The Prodigal Church is not denominationally driven but is refreshing to those of us who, from every denomination, are pastors who seek to preach God’s Word as it was intended by its supernatural author, the Holy Spirit, and its human authors. The pressure to reach people must never supersede the pressure to follow and preach Jesus Christ. The church today is broken and Wilson effectively demonstrates how it can be fixed. I would definitely recommend this book to every church leader seeking to follow God and not the pressure of a consumeristic culture for their church. I would also recommend this book to members of churches who struggle to understand the mission of the church of Jesus Christ.