Lucas, Jeff. Creating a Prodigal-Friendly Church. Zondervan. 2008.
J.L.- On the leadership team of Spring Harvest. He is a teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado.
This book is an exposition of the parable of the prodigal son with a focus on what this parable teaches regarding the church’s responsibility and relationship with ‘prodigals’. I feel the author takes liberties of interpretation that are at times extreme even though the principles are valid. People, especially young people, leaving the church are a reality that the church needs to address. There are good stories of evangelism in this book.
The parable of the prodigal son contains many truths that must be ‘unpacked’ carefully to understand how churches might be more prodigal-friendly. Just like in the parable not everyone will be excited about the return of the prodigal. “We are called to be a people known more for risky love than pious murmuring.” (37) Explanations of eastern culture and customs are helpful in understanding the significance of events in the parable. The church must take its share of blame and/or responsibility when a prodigal leaves. (This is an example of ‘over interpretation’.)
There are a number of violations of the current customs by the actions of the characters in the parable. E.g. According to the practice of “hezazeh” (62) the son should have been driven away for even making the request for the inheritance. The author points out that repentance is not as prominent a theme in this story as many preachers would have us believe. (I agree.) For churches to become prodigal-friendly they will have to be prepared to deal with ‘elder brother types’ in the church. We all have tendencies to be unresponsive (defensive) about acceptance and reconciliation with those who blown it.
The folks that will frequent a prodigal-friendly church may not blend in well with the average church culture. Such folks will include not just prodigals but those who have never had a church experience.