In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was heavily immersed in the Purpose Driven church. My dad went to a church that walked people through the Purpose Driven model. I was in a church that had programs designed to help a variety of age groups to grow in Christ. As time passed I moved away from the Purpose Driven model for a more gospel-centered approach. In addition to this, I’ve grown in my understanding of how the church is supposed to function from the Word of God. When I read The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson I was reminded once again of my late teens and early 20’s and attending and serving in churches that held to a pragmatic approach to ministry.
As I’ve matured from my early 20’s, and now almost in my mid 30’s, I’ve come to understand the issues behind why people do Church the way they do. While I’m not against the pragmatic approach to ministry, I think it’s not the best approach to doing church. Pastors need to open up the Word of God and not preach only to felt needs but make the point of the text under consideration the point of the sermon. There are many things we can learn from, Jared C. Wilson that he writes about in The Prodigal Church, such as about seeker sensitive and attractional church models. His critiques are spot on and will help readers to consider what he is saying.
The book deals with the major question, “What if the system’s broken?” looking specifically at whether the attractional church system that is so popular in American evangelicalism is indeed broken. Most of the book chapters two through six is spent looking at this. Even in the more positive chapters (chapters seven, eight, and nine) the author spends considerable time sharing what he experienced in the attractional church.
As I’ve thought about the content of this book, I’ve struggled with whether to write a review of his book. On the hand Jared has a lot of helpful things to say on the church and especially on the gospel. This book is a reflection of his obvious thoughtful engagement on the subject and his love for God’s people and the Church. With that said, I think this book could have been better. Better in that it could have focused less on spending most of the book on critique instead of time on ways forward to improve local churches engaged in the attractional model of church. In saying that I’m not saying that the author doesn’t do this, he does. He emphasizes how attractional churches should focus on discipleship, preach the Word, love the people, and more. For me personally, I felt that there was too much critique and not enough emphasis on solutions to the problem of the attractional church model.
In my own experience with attractional/seeker sensitive churches, I see, as Jared does, an emphasis on topical messages that speak to felt needs and transformation of people’s lives. There’s a difference between preaching topical messages and preaching expositional messages. Expositional messages focus on the text of Scripture with a view to help people understand what the passage is saying and helps hearers to apply the text to their lives. While I’m not against topical messages the main diet of the Church should be expository sermons that make the point of the passage the point of the sermon with the result that the Word will transform and renew people’s minds.
As I’ve come out of the attractional/seeker friendly model of church influenced by Willows Creek (which by the way the church I attended growing up was heavily influenced by to the degree that this church I went to was a satellite location in the Seattle area for their leadership summit). With that said having an understanding of both Willow Creek and Saddleback model’s of ministry, and having benefited from the insights therein, the job Jared does of diagnosing the problems with this model of ministry are commendable. He speaks the truth in love as one who has walked a mile in this particular church model.
I highly recommend this thought-provoking book. You won’t agree with everything Jared says but what Jared says in this book needs to be considered. The author writes in an easy-to-understand manner with a gentle tone to help people reconsider how they do church. Jared wants you to reconsider what the Bible teaches about the church itself. In doing so, he sets forth a biblical approach that is gospel-focused, grace-based, and fruit-oriented. This book will help you to love the Church and the Lord of the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Pastors, ministry leaders, Bible College, seminary students, and future pastors should add this book to their libraries and consider what Jared has said. His book will help you to avoid the snares of the attractional model while helping you see what the Bible teaches about the Church.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.