Letters to the Church by Francis Chan

In his book, Francis Chan challenges the American Church to refocus on what God has called His people to be and to do. Though he does criticize what is being done, he multiplies warnings against those who criticize too often out of “personal preference rather than biblical conviction.” (p. 24). But he explains himself:

“I am trying to point out only the most obvious biblical truths about God’s desire for His Bride—truths that none of us can afford to ignore.” (p. 24)

The sacred character of the church

The church is called to worship God. Unfortunately, we tend to make church a business where pastors are CEOs, church members customers, and church programs a service they are paying for. No wonder why we criticize the church like the pizza we have just eaten. This is a call against cultural Christianity and its “attractional” model.

“The early church didn’t need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being a part of God’s body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe.” (p. 44)

Chan confesses his own participation in that model where church leaders seek to meet people’s expectations rather than God’s commandments. Of course, it is not mutually exclusive, but the reality is that our expectations are often driven by preferences rather than obedience to God’s commandments. “We end up creating a whip for our own backs” (p. 51) because we have made our churches centered on members rather than on God. However, I would add that church leaders must also be accountable and willing to question their own motives. Church members may complain for good or bad reasons, but our response demonstrates where our focus is.

“If we focus too much of our attention on what people want, we will only increase the amount of complaining. The more we try to fulfill their desires, the more they complain when their desires are not met. Now we have many people who genuinely believe their unhappiness is the church’s fault! Much of the fault lies with leaders like me for addressing these problems the wrong way.” (pp. 51-52)

“If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice.” (p. 53)

What the Bible says about the church

Using Acts 2:42-47, Francis Chan lays out what the church should be like:

  • Apostles’ teaching.

The Bible is at the center of what the church does. The church should encourage reading the Bible more, and being less addicted to preachers.

  • Breaking of bread: 

The breaking of bread may refer to communion. Communion is about remembering Jesus’ sacrifice. It is not only intimacy with God, but also intimacy with one another. Just as Christ died for us out of love, we ought to ask ourselves when we take communion if we love others in the same way: “As we consider the cross and look around the room, we should be asking ourselves, ‘Am I willing to love the people in this room to that extent?’ ” (p. 61).

  • Fellowship

Fellowship is more than a few activities we gather for. Fellowship is living together. The church is called to live as a family with supernatural love and supernatural unity. This is God’s strategy for making disciples. We fail when we view discipleship as classes and programs instead.

We are also all servants called to use our gifts. It is not just for church leaders. Now if church is only ninety minutes a week, Chan wonders how it is possible to have everyone use their gifts. Serving others is not signing up for a volunteering position, but a lifestyle of loving and caring for others.

“Even if we wanted all people to use their gifts, is it even possible with the way we currently do things? There isn’t time. When we reduce “church” to a ninety-minute service where one person teaches for forty-five minutes and another leads music for thirty minutes, we are left with fifteen minutes for announcements and forced handshakes with the people sitting near you. Are we creating the space necessary for every person to feel like he or she can be used by God to encourage and build up others? Have we made our churches so professional and impressive that only the polished few can contribute?” (p. 92)

  • Prayer

“If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. This statement may be bold, but I believe it’s true. If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant.” (p. 62)

All those “activities” are ways we can experience God.

“Our job is to reveal God to people. He is present in His Word, fellowship, Communion, and prayer. Rather than creating our own pep rallies, our calling is to simply put Him on display and watch as He draws people to Himself” (p. 64)

What does the Bible say about pastors

“Speakers can fool some, but everyone admires the life that’s worthy of following. It seems we have lost some of this reality in the Church. We expect people to be captivated by our speech when our lifestyles are not that compelling.” (p. 95)

Pastors are called to be good shepherds. Chan lists traps for pastors: politics, fundraising, comparison, meeting people’s expectations, popularity, safety, greed, demonic attack. Then he lists the characteristics of pastors:

  • The Christian pastor: this seems to be obvious, but it is worth asking the question. A pastor is someone who has received the Gospel and lives in faithful obedience.
  • The Praying pastor

“Pastors who are not drawn to prayer should not be pastors.” (p. 114)

  • The Humble pastor: A humble pastor points to Christ whatever his gifts and weaknesses are.

“We would never admit it, but we often search for leaders the way the world does. We look at outward appearances. We want a great speaker and gifted leader. God has always championed the humble person who passionately seeks Him.” (p. 115)

“One of the questions I often ask myself before I preach is, Will this sermon draw attention to Christ or to me? For many of us, our default is self-preservation and self-exaltation. In our insecurity, we worry about what people will think of us rather than hoping they will not.” (p. 116)

  • The Loving pastor: A pastor cares for his flock the way Jesus cares for his people.

“Too many pastors are aspiring to be great writers, speakers, and leaders. There are not enough who are known as great moms and dads. And those who serve well as moms and dads never become known because this isn’t highly valued.” (p. 118)

  • The Equipping pastor: One of the roles of a pastor is to empower people to make disciples. Self-centered pastors enslave, Jesus-centered pastors unleash. Everyone ought to be discipled and disciple.
  • The Spirit-filled pastor: This characteristic may seem vague, but the idea is to depend on God. A Spirit-filled pastor bears the fruit of the Spirit. He is led by the Spirit. He is gifted by the Spirit. He rejoices in the Spirit. Eph 5:18-21 describes a life in the Spirit:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

  • The missional pastor: A pastor is called to “engage them in helping the lost and desperate around the world.” (p. 124)
  • The suffering pastor: Ministry can be discouraging, but a pastor ought to endure suffering to bear fruit.

“We are too quick to get discouraged and quit because we have not learned to rejoice in suffering. Show me a pastor who rejoices in suffering, and I will show you a pastor who will be in ministry a long time. When pastors who rejoice in suffering make disciples, you end up with an unstoppable church.” (p. 125)

The cost of discipleship

The call to be a disciple of Christ involves suffering though it is not a goal. As disciples, we love Jesus and people, but sufferings are on the way. We may be rejected for our faith. We may be misunderstood. It is inevitable. Are we willing to accept that fact?

“The call to follow Jesus was a call to die. The price tag was front and center. Jesus laid it out from the start and told people to count the cost before they got themselves into something they weren’t ready to commit to.” (p. 129)

“Until we embrace the suffering that so many Christians embrace around the world, we’re not going to have an unstoppable Church.” (p. 136)

Making disciples is difficult, but Jesus does not want to us to create bunkers and comfort zones. We want to be on mission with a love that does not stop.

This following (and lengthy) quote describes what has been my experience, but I believe God has put in my heart a desire for more which is why this book has been so relevant. I want go to back to living in the wild where I am called to make disciples of all nations through loving others the way Christ has loved me.

“I wonder whether you’ve felt like the zebra. You’ve been a faithful member of your church, but you keep feeling like you were made for something more. Maybe you’ve even experienced what it’s like to live in the wild. It may have been on an overseas mission trip or while boldly reaching out in your own neighborhood. You’ve known the joy of seeing your instincts kick in and allow you to thrive. But now you’re stuck in the zoo, where everything is comfortable, everything is controlled. And you just want to get back to living in the wild.” (p. 152)

Rethinking the church

It is important to reaffirm that structure matters. There is always a structure even if it is minimalist. We just need to make more room for God! Our model reflects our faith. Do we believe the Gospel is enough? Do we believe our love will demonstrate God’s love for others? etc. If so, how does our model and leadership demonstrate it?

“Your church model often communicates your true theology.” (p. 172)

“Haven’t there been times when you have felt suffocated by the busyness at a Christian event? Something in you longs for more space to breathe, more room for God to move.” (pp. 173-174)

“Some of our additions are birthed from a lack of faith. We don’t really expect God to move, so we fill our gatherings with exciting elements that will entertain people even if God does nothing.” (p. 175)

We Are Church Model

Francis Chan explains the We Are Church movement he initiated. He clearly mentions it is not THE solution, but a solution.

Core Values:

  • Devoted Worshippers
  • Loving Families
  • Equipped Disciple Makers
  • Spirit-Filled Missionaries
  • Suffering Sojourners

Practices to help achieve the values:

  • Daily Bible Readings
  • Meet in Homes
  • Multiply Leaders
  • Elder Authority
  • Everyone Discipled
  • Everyone disciples
  • Everyone exercises gifts
  • Regular multiplication of churches
  • Simple gatherings
  • Share Possessions
  • Assume Missions

He gives a few reasons for smaller churches:

  • No need for building and staffing, therefore less pressure to raise money. The money that is raised can be used for helping those in need and for mission. To be clear, the Bible encourages the church to support ministers (1 Cor 9:8-12), but money can have side effects. With money comes politics, and politics can cancel the effectiveness biblical leadership.
  • Little power to gain. Church leadership is less appealing for people who lust for power. It gives room for biblical leadership which is being an example in following Christ (=in my weakness Christ is glorified)
  • There is nowhere to hide. Everyone gets involved.
  • Greater Intimacy

The model also involves gathering for only one year, and then multiplying. More information on http://www.wearechurch.com

This model is challenging, especially because a group gathers only for a year. Church members are always on the go. I have actually been very challenged but at the same time attracted by this model. I appreciate Francis Chan’s heart to go back to the Bible, to love people, to be hospitable, to develop others, to reach out to those in need, etc. However, I can also think of a few cons:

  • Supporting ministers is not only biblical, but it is also a good practice for church members to care and partner with their pastors. “Full-paid” pastors also have more time and focus on pastoral work though it is nice to have pastors who can relate to church members’ issues.
  • Sunday mornings are more Bible studies than sermons. I appreciate it, but at the same time, I also believe there is a need for sermons once in a while where someone can spend more time teaching the Bible and explaining how it has been relevant to him personally.
  • There is a benefit to have trained pastors who have some expertise. I am not saying they should be the only teachers, but there is a need to have a better understanding of the Bible, ministry and the mission of the church. What We Are Church actually does (if I understood correctly) is to read the Bible through a phone application during the week that provides more insights. I can see how that kind of “expertise” can be lost in the long run. Unfortunately, I saw churches misusing the Bible because of a lack of training.
  • Curriculum and classes have their own importance. It ought not to be the heart of discipleship, but those curriculums can help training people in areas they are not familiar with. I recall listening to a podcast where a pastor was sharing how he wished he had trained people in a more systematic way on the topic of suffering.
  • Is one year enough for people to acquire a base for multiplication?

Those are my questions. There is no perfect church structure/model that works for every context. There are pros and cons associated to all of them. At the end, we have to accept it, and remind ourselves that church strategy can also be an idol. Our hope is not in how well we can do church, but it is in God who can lead His church to accomplish His mission.

Let me conclude with the following quote:

“The intimacy I’ve been experiencing with God has been directly tied to my connection with the Church.” (p. 192)

It hit me. Many have felt the disconnect between church and their personal spiritual life. Church had little impact. Maybe it was because of our life stage, or our spiritual life stage. Maybe when we were younger in our faith, church had a greater impact. Maybe we have wrong expectations of what church is. But I want to believe that the previous quote can be our experience as well. Church does not have to be without impact on our spiritual life.

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