“Our King, who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed for us, tells us to love one another in the same way.” 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.
Francis Chan opens the fourth chapter in his book asking the question, do you find anyone in Scripture who went to church? I’m not an early church historian, but it seems logical to me that at some point a building dedicated to Christian worship would be built and some kind of formal service would be the result. The Christian experience has evolved over time to include larger gatherings. I have no reason to believe God intended us to remain a body held together by our loving hearts and not establish large gatherings. Francis seems to suggest that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to function as a family in a large group. I don’t believe that’s true. Indeed, God makes all things possible.
Francis goes on to lament the fact that church has been reduced to one hour a week. This seems like an exaggeration of the actual facts. Without question, there are many who attend church on Sunday and never think about God until they return to church the following week. In the church I attend, I believe those kinds of people would be in the minority. I would venture to guess that the 5,000 people at Cornerstone church, when it was led by Francis Chan, carried God with them in their heart twenty-four-seven. There were probably very few one hour-a-week Christians at a church led by a pastor like Francis Chan.
While I share Francis Chan’s passion for bringing the body of Christ together as a family, I don’t believe it’s as far away as he seems to believe. The fact that we attend a worship service only once a week does not mean we aren’t Christians all week long. In regards to our family connection, consideration needs to be given to the devil’s work in keeping us cautious of giving away too much of ourselves to near strangers. We are reminded in Matthew to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. Nevertheless, I believe it’s possible with God’s help for the entire body of Christ to demonstrate their love for one another in a far more profound way.
With respect, I feel like Francis Chan’s expectation for church love is unrealistically extreme. When he says this, “Our King, who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed for us, tells us to love one another in the same way.” I’m not sure Jesus was suggesting we go to the cross for our friends at church. I believe Jesus expects us to love within the limits of our own ability. Yes, that love should be powered by the Holy Spirit which makes our ability limitless; however, we still live in a world controlled by the devil, and again, we are to be shrewd in our dealings with his potential schemes.
Francis Chan goes on to make the point that unity in the church is God’s design. There is no question this is true, but that doesn’t just mean unity in a small, ten to twenty member home church – that means unity within the entire body of Christ. In today’s world, that kind of unity will require some seriously complex planning. If we are focused on bringing all the Christians in America into loving family unity, we need to consider strategies that go well beyond holding worship services in small groups in people’s homes.
Francis makes the observation that many people are opting out of going to Church even though they continue to have Christian faith. He believes the reason for this is the fact that real love, unity, and blessing are missing from the church. To be sure, the reason people are opting out of church and the reason that there are not more converts flocking to the church, is because it is unappealing. There is nothing miraculous happening there. I absolutely agree that honest family unity fueled by love for one another, manifested by the meeting of everyone’s needs, would be an irresistible attraction. To accomplish that, our focus needs to be on connecting people who have needs with people who have the talent, experience, and resources to help. Our focus as a church needs to be on taking action and serving God by serving others.
Finally, I have to address Francis Chan’s suggestion that it might be a good idea to remove people from the church who are not fully committed. I honestly love the idea of removing dead branches; however, in our world today this can be a dangerous proposition. First of all, I don’t even know how you tell someone you can’t come to church anymore. Secondly, what if they decide to retaliate in some way? Maybe it would just be legal action, but it could be violent action. My initial inclination is to make an effort to inspire the uncommitted to a deeper connection with God. Beyond that, it simply seems prudent to allow them to stay unless they are truly disruptive, which in my experience is extremely rare. If we are truly providing the kind of miraculous love Jesus demonstrated, I don’t believe it would be possible for anyone not to be fully committed.