Leading People to the Prodigal God

A lack of spiritual vitality is still the problem. We have all these great ideas for how to lead the church, but we don’t have the horses to do it. A few people in the church do all the work.

Diagnosis of the Problem

The Prodigal Sons

  • Prodigal originally meant reckless – not simply wayward.
  • It’s not mainly written for the younger brother – it’s written to the pharisees (the religious people – us in the church)
  • The main point of the parable is that both younger brothers and elder brothers are alienated from the Father and from the Father’s heart. Both are lost.
    • The younger doesn’t want the father, he wants the father’s money.
    • The elder doesn’t really love the father either – he wants the father’s money too.
  • When you get to the shocking ending – and it is shocking – the younger brother is in and the elder brother is out. The bad boy is saved and the good boy is lost. He’s not lost in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness. The gospel is something altogether different.
  • How does this play out in the church? Very simple, yet scary – pharisees and gospel-centered Christians will sit next to each other in church and do all the right stuff. But one will have different motivations. Pharisees will be using God to try and get things. If you really believe the gospel, then everything a rational person could ever want is already yours.
  • The source of spiritual deadness – elder brotherishness – marks of elder brotherishness –
    1. Bitterness and anger when life doesn’t go the way they want it to – b/c they believe God owes them – “how do you respond to criticism?” When elder brothers get criticized they either respond with defensiveness or it destroys them. You can’t take it. Elder brothers pray, but by and large the prayers are petitionary, but there isn’t intensity and intimacy in prayer. Elder brothers can’t forgive. You can’t stay angry and bitter at someone unless you feel superior to them.
  • Until you start repenting of the reasons you do the right things you won’t have spiritual renewal. “The main thing separating you from God is not your sins, it’s your damnable good works.” You’ve got to get to that deeper level of repentance. What you need to see in the parable is what it cost to bring the younger brother back home. It was at the expense of the elder brother – atonement was costly. The young man did not have a true elder brother – but you do.
  • Spiritual renewal is not something that you go and do – it has to start now on the spot!


There are five things to go deeper to help your people see their need for the gospel.

  1. The Leader has got to work this into your heart. Romans 1:16 – “he who is righteous by preaching dies a thousand deaths every Saturday night.” Don’t you realize why you overwork? Don’t you realize why criticism cripples you? You have got to get this into your own life.
  2. The preacher/teacher needs to be careful to move beyond biblical principles to the gospel.
  3. Get a group of leaders together and take them through a book like prodigal god and the study guide – but not like a class – like a group to begin helping your leaders work it in their hearts.
  4. Work it into your congregation – either by filtering it down from your leaders or all at once.
  5. Pray for this to happen.

How do you know it is working?

  1. Your church will start having gracious disagreements.
  2. When you have a lot of religious people coming to you and saying “I thought I was a Christian, but I realize I am not”