Local pastor pens book about how to follow Jesus when you feel disillusioned with the Christian church as a institution

Dr. Justin Bowers authored a book released Nov. 18 entitled, Wonky: A Survival Guide for Following Jesus When You Hate the Church.' Bowers is the pastor at New Community Church and a business teacher at B-UHS. / Photo courtesy Justin Bowers

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon resident Dr. Justin Bowers is well-known through the community by some for starting the New Community Church and as the newest business teacher at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. ‘

Others may be familiar with him because of his role in leading Appalachian Impact, a nonprofit organization working to build hope for at-risk students in the region. And this month, Bowers announced another milestone: the release of his first book, “Wonky: A Survival Guide for Following Jesus When You Hate the Church.” Bowers is having a book launch party at 9:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, and you can sign up or learn more here.  

Bowers said he hopes his book will connect with a wide audience of folks.

“I think the book will connect with those who have quit the Church and with those who are about ready to quit the church,” Bowers said. “I hope that it is appealing because it is honest, the stories are raw and real, and not at all sugar-coated.”

He said he also thinks it can help people who are still connected to the evangelical church but who also have a sense that some things need to change and adapt. Bowers said he wrote “Wonky” after he read an article about Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka in the original 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Wilder talked about his first entry into the film, when he walks out of the chocolate factory as kind of a fragile older man on a cane, staggering toward the children who had won the contest to join him in a tour of his factory,” Bowers shared. “As he approaches, he plants his cane in the sidewalk, begins to fall forward and at the last possible second, tucks and rolls and springs back to his feet full of life and joy. [Wilder] said he added this part to the script because he wanted the audience of the film to never know whether they could fully trust him or not.”

As someone who has been pastoring churches for two decades, Bowers said as he read that story, his first thought was ‘that is exactly what so many friends I know are feeling. They want to learn more about following Jesus, but they are not sure whether they can trust the Church as an institution.’

He said he started writing with that thought in his head.

“I just found myself turning out chapter after chapter about how to survive following Jesus when you hate the Church,” Bowers said. “I know that is strong language, but I hear it every week. I have lived it myself. ‘The Church’ can be a painful place; we are often so judgmental, hypocritical and just flat-out broken. But what I keep finding is the Church can also be incredibly beautiful and life-giving and do all kinds of good.”

Bowers said his book “Wonky” came out of all that.

“It is really a confessional – naming the faults and the screw-ups of Church as institution and offering some ways forward: innovation, reimagination and ultimately, a sense that Jesus is still worth it,” Bowers said.

He also shared that while working on “Wonky,” he used writing as a process of learning.

“I found – probably more than anything else – that this topic of church-hurt and trauma is felt so strongly among so many folks,” he said. “As I wrote and shared these ideas, it was like everyone I talked to had a story to tell, something to share. And that has been a great gift: to hear others’ stories.”

Bowers said he realized that personally, he also carried a great deal of guilt.

“Along the way, I have caused hurt, created wounds and been part of the problem,” he said. “In many ways, the book feels somewhat like my own apology and attempt to make some things right.”

He said he is incredibly excited and nervous about releasing “Wonky” out into the world.

“I hope it is a gift, a help and a call to imagination and innovation for those who still have hope,” Bowers said.

Released Nov. 18, “Wonky” is available for purchase through the local online bookstore, Gaslight Books, and on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. He said he will be donating copies of “Wonky” to the local libraries.

Bowers and wife, Carrie, grew up in Buckhanon and moved home in 2012 to start New Community Church, where he still serves as pastor. They are the parents of four daughters. He also served as one of the first Communities in Schools facilitators in Upshur County Schools, working with students and their families at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

Learn more at https://www.better-stories.com/wonky-book.

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County commissioners Sam Nolte, Kristie Tenney and Terry Cutright speak via teleconference with Justin Bowers.
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