Prosper - Streaming now on Stan

They say the higher you climb, the more spectacularly you fall – and haven’t megachurch scandals and stumblings made for an unedifying spectacle. Capitalising on this “can’t look away” fascination many of us have with watching the mighty crumble is the latest Stan original drama, Prosper.

Centred around the wealthy Quinn family, deep in the belly of a Sydney evangelical megachurch with sights set on global expansion, Prosperexplores what happens when faith and ambition collide and when the end goal of glorifying God and protecting the church justifies the ungodly means of getting there. 

Prosper is the kind of eight-episode watch you might easily smash out over a weekend or two. Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney do an excellent job of portraying Cal and Abi Quinn, the passionate but calculating senior pastors of U Star church and the head of a family that appears picturesque and perfect. 

Throughout the series the couple tries desperately to hold together their family, church and, most importantly for them, their public image. Their struggles are not the only plot vying for centre stage, with each of their four children wrestling with a litany of sins and sufferings: from drug use to sexual misconduct, money laundering and political manipulation.

Sadly, the Quinns are forgetting what they believed and how they lived when they first began in ministry, somehow managing to be corrupt, callous and caring at the same time. 

In one episode, Abi Quinn visits Juno, a grieving daughter, with a lasagne and genuine concern. The Quinn family helps Juno find affordable accommodation and work in the wake of her mother’s death. Yet Cal Quinn truly believes his wealth is a result of his obedience to the work of the Lord, and struggles greatly when he fears he can no longer hear God’s voice. But when every success is a sign of blessing, and every attack or hardship is the work of the devil, there’s not much room for taking responsibility for your own sin. 

The moments of care and compassion for God’s church displayed from time to time do not excuse the Quinns’ twisted attempts at self-preservation or the controversy that surrounds them. The hypocrisy is frustrating viewing for anyone with an elementary understanding of the gospel and God’s word. 

Sometimes these shows can be hard to watch, and at other times they’re a little too easy to enjoy. They’re hard to watch because they can hold up a mirror to our own dark places or experiences. There is no institution immune to sin, after all. It can also be painful viewing because it reminds us of the times we’ve been hypocritical, the times we’ve acted with impure motives, the times we’ve been hurt by others in church or the times we ourselves have hurt people in our care. 

Prosper reminds us of the importance of accountability and being above reproach in every way, both in formal ministry spaces and in our personal lives. It’s a clear call to repentance if we are continuing to take part in similar behaviours that tarnish the reputation of the gospel. 

It points us to the forgiveness to be found at the cross for every sin and the call to full obedience to Jesus – to deny ourselves and our ambitions and, instead, take up our cross and follow in his footsteps.

While some plotlines feel a little far-fetched, others look similar to many of the controversies we’ve seen play out in the media from megachurches in Australia and around the world. These include, but are not limited to, inappropriate behaviour of pastors, sexual misconduct, the irresponsible use of money and potential tax fraud. 

It can be satisfying to sit in our comparatively small congregations and criticise Prosper’s characters, the fictional U Star church and the flaws that seem so obvious and far away from our own experience. Yet we must be humble. Our hearts are deceptive and we are not immune to sin or to sinning against others. We have a fabulous and faithful God who offers forgiveness every time we sin, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking that we are above stumbling. 

Arrogance comes too easily, especially when the downfall of megachurches is displayed for our entertainment. If we catch ourselves thinking “That wouldn’t happen” or “How foolish of them to do that”, we must stop and pray for ourselves and our churches. 

Finally, Prosper should prompt us to pray for our leaders – that they would hold unswervingly to God’s word and be humble to accountability. The Quinn family certainly talks a lot about God’s word, but they don’t do a lot of listening to it. There are few if any accountability structures in place, and deals are done in darkness. We must pray that we and our leaders would live in the light and be above reproach in all aspects of our lives. And we must pray for our hearts, that the ambitions of God would trump every one of our own. 

May our number one concern be not to conceal our own sins and shame in return for worldly success, but to preach Christ crucified and live a life consistent with what we proclaim.