Tag Archives: The Prodigal Church

Some Churches Have Lost Their Way

How do you react to the claim that what a Christian does at church on Sunday morning is the most important thing he can do that week? I think some pastors have said this as a way of saying worshipping God is our most important act, but if that’s what they intend to say, they aren’t quite saying it. One could easily hear in such a claim that attending church that morning is the most important part of the week. Is that what worship is? Are we only able to worship the Lord in an organized service on one day or can we develop a lifestyle of worship for the whole week? Is the church’s mission to draw people into its organization or to declare the wonders of Christ Jesus?

Jared C. Wilson has experience in churches that put all of their creative energy into making the Sunday morning service exciting, unique, and attractive to the people of their city, and he believes those church leaders have lost the vision for Christ’s church on earth. The manner of the services and the theme of the sermons (or talks) point to good feelings and self-improvement. “But are they the real message of Jesus?” he asks.

Wilson’s argument in The Prodigal Church rests on his belief that what you win people with is what you win them to. “Pragmatic discipleship makes pragmatic Christians. The way the church wins its people shapes its people. So the most effective way to turn your church into a collection of consumers and customers is to treat them like that’s what they are.”

He urges church leaders to question their assumptions about what takes place in their services and programs. If their goal is make clear the claims of Christ or to help others make God of first importance in every part of their lives, then they are on mission regardless their presentation style.

You could walk away from the attractional church’s pattern of teaching and think you needed some more skills, some more enthusiasm, and some more advice, but you’d rarely walk away thinking you need more grace.

Wilson is careful not to overly criticize. He isn’t arguing for his preferred church style or saying that everyone has to agree with him on what makes for a good worship service. He admits we have different styles, but making consumerism a normal part of the American church does not lift up the name of Christ or apply his grace in healthy ways. That’s not a style choice. It’s a problem. It isn’t cultural sensitivity; it’s being co-opted by the culture.

The second part of the book offers many thoughts on how to do church well, including some stories of people who realized their manner of ministry didn’t accomplish their intentions. I heartily agree with and recommend this book.

Excerpt from The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson

Many attractional churches still preach that Jesus died for our sins, of course. But too often this message of Christ’s death has become assumed, the thing you build up to rather than focus on. Or, in too many other cases, this message is treated as the “add-on” to other messages, the proposition presented at the end of a message that is more about our personal success than Christ’s personal victory.

A cognitive dissonance can result for those who hear a message all about what they should do to be more successful or victorious or happy or what-have-you, only to then hear the proposition that Jesus died for our sins. To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash.

But the appeal is easy to see. Attractional is certainly attractive. These kinds of messages, over time, communicate to seeker and believer alike that Christianity is about themselves, making the faith more about self-improvement or life enhancement—which are things we all want deep down. But are they the real message of Jesus?

— From The Prodigal Church:A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, by Jared C. Wilson

Though I am in no position to challenge Wilson’s assessment here, I want to offer the suggestion that the spiritual whiplash may be negated quite a bit by presenting the gospel with a heavy emphasis on personal choice. These preachers could be summarized as saying that since Christ has done so much for our eternal lives, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of it. Don’t you see how your life would be improved by declaring yourself a follower of Christ Jesus?

That may be a way to make converts, but it isn’t a way to make actual disciples.

Pushing Back the Status Quo

Jared C. Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, urges churches to seek Jesus and his mission over all other people or missions. “I think the stakes are too high to simply preach to the Amen corner in the ‘young, restless, and Reformed’ movement. My hope for this book is that it may challenge the status quo outside my own tribe…”

Are we effectively looking to the nations to see if we can worship our God the way they worship their gods? No Christian wants to do that, but many have not been circumspect enough to recognize how they are doing it now.

ocaso de reyes y dioses │twilight of kings and gods

Photo by jesuscm/Flickr (CC 2.0)