Book Review: The Gospel-Driven Church, by Jared C. Wilson
Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace. Zondervan, 2019. 240 pages.
The world’s definition of success often runs contrary to God’s idea of success.
Shortly after Jesus’ disciples argued about who among them was greatest, Jesus recalibrated their idea of greatness saying, “Those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 9:34, 10:42b-43).
In like manner, Jared C. Wilson’s The Gospel-Driven Church holds up a biblical picture of success and exposes misguided ones.
WHAT IS A ‘FRUITFUL’ CHURCH?
The book begins with a dilemma: the “attractional” model of church doesn’t work (chapter one).
For years, it’s presented a version of success based on a church’s size, budget, programs, or number of views—or “likes”on its media platform. Achieving the benchmarks of the attractional model can leave you proud (“I’ve made it”); and falling short can leave you in despair (“I’ve failed”).
While church size or budgets may not be right or wrong, they’re the wrong metrics for measuring a church’s fruitfulness (chapter two).
Central to the book’s argument is the dictum “what you win people with is what you win them to’ (109). The idea of getting people in so they can hear the gospel makes sense. But if shaping the “experience” becomes the focus, we’re in danger of making the worshiper and what they want the object of worship, not God.
“This is problematic,” Wilson writes. “To enjoy worship for its own sake, or simply out of a cultural appreciation of the ‘performance’ … would be like Moses coming upon a burning bush and deciding to cook his lunch on it” (109).
Chapter three examines five “metrics of grace” to examine a church’s fruitfulness, following the pattern of Jonathan Edwards’ book The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.
- A growing esteem for Christ
- A discernable spirit of repentance
- A dogged devotion to the Word of God
- An interest in theology and doctrine
- An evident love for God and neighbor
These metrics were so helpful I turned them into a prayer list for myself and our church prayer meeting.
After establishing different metrics for measuring fruitfulness than the attractional model, the rest of the book focuses on how to shift to a more biblical way of doing church (chapters 4-10).
Wilson proves a capable guide, weaving the hypothetical narrative of a church’s ministry shift with practical principles. By balancing faithfulness to God’s Word with gentle, patient leadership, the author writes as a practitioner who’s led a church through change himself. I felt pastored as I read, enjoying the thoughtfulness and wit along the way. (Who else uses the trojan rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to illustrate a philosophy of ministry?)
The book rightly emphasizes the importance of biblical polity and church membership (chapter seven), but a minor critique is the ambiguity on the multi-site or multi-service issue. It’s not the focus of the book, so I appreciate why the author doesn’t expound more. But writing that “there is nothing biblically wrong about the multi-site model” may give more support than the author intends (161).
(Through email correspondence, I understand Wilson agrees with the biblical critiques of multisite.)
If the reader misses the author’s view and employs multiple church gatherings under the banner of “one church,” it may unravel some of the good the book calls us to. Nonetheless, I agree where the author lands: the best way to utilize satellite campuses of a multi-site church is as temporary incubators for church plants, not a long-term strategy (220).
I happily recommend The Gospel-Driven Church for any pastor who desires to be faithful and fruitful, is weary from trying to keep up with the latest cultural fad to make Christianity attractive, or simply desires to glorify Christ through the church. I’d also recommend The Gospel-Driven Church to the church member who assumes the attractional model is the key to “success.”
Wilson refuses to pit fruitfulness against faithfulness. And in doing so, he guards pastors and church members from envy and its exasperating effects. Read it, and be challenged, encouraged, and refreshed.