Prodigal Church

“Church members are very forbearing and forgiving regarding the neglect of the lost, while extremely impatient and unforgiving regarding the neglect of the righteous."

Peter Baker | 22:18, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

That’s a quote I recently tweeted, from the book Prevailing Church, by Randy Pope, the Senior Pastor at Perimeter Church, Atlanta. I met Randy during my travels in the US and had an interesting conversation with him. 

Randy, like his friend and co-belligerent, Tim Keller, of Redeemer New York, is passionate about the Church’s orientation towards the great commission and reaching the lost. 

His comment reminds me of the more famous one by Archbishop William Temple, “The Church is the only organization which exists for those who are not yet its Members.”

What Pope has picked up on is the “elder brother” tendency which can operate in the local church. Remember how there were two lost sons in the parable of the Prodigal that Jesus told, not just one (Luke 15) – there was the man who knew he was lost; and the one who didn’t. And the one who didn’t, seemed to live his life at home resentful of all the fuss and bother the Father made of his younger, prodigal brother.    

It can be a particularly unattractive feature of the religious mindset that it just doesn’t get the extravagant grace of God, which means that lost people matter to Him. So they often resent the question, “do they matter to us?” 

For them, keeping the saved is more important than reaching the lost. 

But it’s not more important, it’s just as important. For every church needs to be committed to both - to the pastoral care, discipleship, training and nurture of those who are in the faith,  as well as to the intelligent, passionate sharing of the good news with those who have yet to hear and respond to it. 

I don’t think most churches struggle emotionally or financially to resource their pastoral, small group, discipleship, youth and kids programmes. It’s the evangelism budget that takes the hit!! 

To be a ‘Great Commission’ as well as a ‘Great Commandment’ church means that every agenda item, every financial decision, every programme, must seek to answer that question, “does reaching the lost matter?”   

Or as another tweet doing the rounds puts it, “if your church doesn’t have a few notorious sinners, it’s probably not a place Jesus hangs out much!” 

Prodigal friendly churches will be messy and sometimes uncomfortable for the religious. But it’s the only community God is interested in building - a place where the smell of the pig sty is covered by the grace of forgiveness and the clothes of Jesus’ righteousness.

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