Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Prodigal Church

Last year I downloaded a talk by Jared C Wilson from The Gospel Coalition 2015 conference and I thought he was good. I also had just finished a book that Wilson had co-authored, so I thought I might see how this guy writes on his own (I had never read his blog). I found that Wilson is a really good writer, I can seen why Chandler gets him to co-author his books.

The subtitle of this book is: A gentle manifesto against the status que. By "status quo" Wilson is pushing back against the attraction/seeker-sensitive/program driven church, and he is pushing back against it pretty hard. These do not necessary have to mean mega churches, although they seem to follow this paradigm more than others.

Wilson is a pastor of a church of 110, so he doesn't have the celebrity status some pastor/authors have (although I didn't realise he had his own blog at the Gospel Coalition - that probably gives him more of a platform than most), but I think we should still listen to him because his points are sound. The size of a church and doing things that "work" (in the sense of having lots of people) is a bad gauge of success in the church world. Christians are not church customers. Besides, it has been found that generally ten churches of a 100 people do more for God's kingdom than one church of 1,000.

Jared used to be caught up in the whole seeker sensitive/attraction scene and so relates to those who hold these pragmatic ideas. He even affirms their main principal in bringing people to Church to know God; this is a good aim. However, Jared points out that the way this aim is implemented doesn't actually attract non-Christians and it doesn't mature believers. Willow Creek, under Bill Hybels, which promoted the attractional model even published a document called REVEAL backing up Jared's point. Jared also worries about Willow Creek's reaction to help people "self-feed" so they can be self-mature. Jesus didn't ask Peter to teach His sheep to self-feed (John 21:17).

The main point in this book is that what you win them with is what you win them to, so method is important. Are people coming to Church because of felt needs or the Gospel? Do people come to hear how to be a better person and a great leader or do they hear they are sinful but still loved by God not by their own efforts but because of Jesus'?

There is a lot in this book that deconstructs the idea of what a successful church is, how the attractional model doesn't work and what should undergird your thinking when planning church. There are only two or three chapters on the positive side which puts forward what Church should be about. I found this the most lacking part of the book. Of cause Wilson wasn't going to put forward yet another program that church is to do, so they can pump out more clones from some light weight sausage factory program, but I think Trellis and the Vine gives a better framework of what Jared wants to see in churches instead of a general call to be "gospel centred".

You can't plan for the Holy Spirit, so a pastor has to trust, deep down that the Holy Spirit will work in His congregation. Wilson calls for more prayer in this area, for a trusting of God and not of man and their programs. He also calls for a promotion of community groups (or small groups, life groups, or Bible studies or whatever you call them) and for discipleship. There isn't much explanation of what discipleship is and looks likes and I would have liked to have seen this develop more.

I didn't really know what to expect from this book, but I did find it helpful. In a general sense this isn't anything really new that I haven't read in the Trellis and the Vine, What is the mission of the Church? and perhaps Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Why we love the Church, Total Church and Everyday Church. The angle this books has is that Jared is coming out from a scene that he supported, but eventually found it lacking after while and when his life fell apart.

While my own church doesn't generally go down the seeker sensitive path, this book did make me think about what does my church actually promote. How do we win people to Christ? What type of church and community are we trying to promote? It is always good to go back to the basis and reassess assumptions and motivations. Our ideas of what a "successful" church is may need to be re-evaluated; after all Jesus didn't call us to make churches, but disciples.


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