“For those in church leadership, we can’t assume we belong there. We have to ask ourselves, Am I sure I should be in this position?” Francis Chan
Pastor Francis Chan walked away from his megachurch to start over with a collection of home churches. His spiritual journey is an enormously valuable lesson for all Christians. In his book, “Letters to the Church”, Pastor Chan details his experience and his concern for the Christian church in America. His observations are enlightening and insightful; however they are, in my view, incomplete and I believe invite further discussion. To that end, my goal here is to expand on Pastor Chan’s experience by balancing his vast experience in ministry with my personal experience as a worshiper. It is my hope that these two points of view blended together will inspire the reader to carefully consider the path forward for the Christian church in America.
If you haven’t read “Letters to the Church,” I highly recommend you do. I’ll be offering my point of view chapter by chapter. It is not necessary to read the book before reading my response, but you will benefit greatly from Pastor Chan’s teaching and his inclusion of the scripture from which he bases his conclusions.
In this chapter Francis Chan takes a solid biblical look at what it means to be a leader in the church. He establishes right up front that not all pastors deserve to be pastors. He urges all church leaders to take a close look at themselves. Ultimately, he says, we are all called to be leaders and share with others what we have been taught as we make disciples; however, this requires living a life that is worthy to be followed.
Francis points out that it’s not easy to be a church leader in today’s world. Unfortunately, there are many traps that church leaders can fall into. Some will water down their teaching to avoid criticism. Some will let fundraising overwhelm their teaching. Some will be distracted by comparing their talents with other pastors. Some will fall victim to an obsession with fulfilling all the church member expectations for church programs. Pastors who are successful sometimes fall into the trap of greed. And of course, all of this is compounded by the relentless attacks of the enemy fueled by social media that makes it easy for anyone to express an opinion and start a firestorm of discontent.
As a result of this difficult environment, Francis warns that pastors can become false teachers as they stray from the Word of God, to preach only to be accepted and avoid rejection. He also warns that even those accurately preaching the Word can be false teachers by living a life outside of the church that denies what they are teaching.
Another problem with today’s culture is our fixation with celebrity. People tend to flock to great speakers and become more interested in the person teaching than the message being delivered. Francis recalls a pastor in India who told him “Movements of God always start with a leader who knows God deeply, and they always end with the followers knowing only the leader deeply.” It can be hard for a pastor to remain humble with so much adulation. Of course, God opposes the proud, so pride in a church leader makes no sense.
Francis tells us that the real goal of a pastor is to share God’s love. He reminds us that the apostle Paul said that a pastor should be like a mother and father combined. He goes on to explain that good parents teach their children to start their own families; therefore, church leaders should be equipping their followers for the work of raising disciples. Francis worries that churches are filled with spiritual children that never grow up. He says that pastors should not care about how many people are in their church, as much as they care about how many graduate and go on to raise their own family.
I have to quibble with this aspect of Francis Chan’s teaching. I agree completely that we are not to simply consume the teaching of our pastor without the expectation of one day sharing that teaching with others; however, I don’t believe every church member should be capable of starting their own church as Francis suggests. Some may only go on to share their understanding of the gospel with friends and family on a very limited scale. Francis Chan’s expectation seems to be that we can all become church leaders and that does not comport with my understanding of the scripture. Yes, if we are truly spirit-filled, anything is possible; however, we are all different and not all are called to be leaders. To further establish his point of view, Francis reminds us that Jesus didn’t like the religious leaders and he replaced them with ordinary men that he trained to be leaders. I have no doubt that ordinary men can accomplish extraordinary things through the power of Jesus, but this seems to me to be something limited to a select few.
Here are Francis Chan’s criteria for a good pastor: suffering, missional, spirit-filled, equipping, loving, humble, praying, Christian pastor. I agree completely.