“By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches.” 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.
When Francis Chan looks at the Church in America today, he sees an arrogant people determined to do things their own way rather than God’s way. Rather than following God’s commands, they have adopted something they believe, is better. Indeed, churches in America today seem to be fixated on things like age-specific ministries, worship style, length of service, music, and good parking. Of course, none of those are the commandments of God. God has commanded us to love one another, visit orphans and widows, make disciples, and bear one another’s burdens. Francis implies that today’s Church in America would be more upset with the absence of the ministry elements rather than the absence of a true commitment to God’s commands. I’m sure in the minds of many, this is in fact the case. The bottom line is some churches are set up to please people rather than please God.
Of course, Francis Chan admits to being guilty of developing programs in his megachurch in Simi Valley that catered to the congregation rather than fulfilling what God commands. The goal was to get more people in the presence of God. It seemed at the time, the best way to do that was to give them what they wanted. The problem with this is, of course, if you have gathered a crowd as a result of the entertaining services, then you will need to continue entertaining if you wish to maintain the crowd or cause it to grow. Francis makes this bold statement, “By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches.”
Francis Chan now believes that people need to be awed by the sacred. People need to come to church to encounter God – nothing more. He says, “If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away.” His new vision for the Church starts with Scripture and asking the question, “What would please God most?”
At this point in his book, Francis again looks back at the first Church found in the book of Acts. He makes the point that they weren’t strategizing about how to keep people interested. They were focused on the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. Francis believes the key to their experience was “devotion.” In his view, it is our lack of devotion to God that keeps us from experiencing him with the same passion of the early Church.
While I believe there are some profound lessons to be learned from the early Church, and in fact on occasion have suggested they should be our model for today’s church, it does seem to me an unfair comparison. The early Church was populated by those who actually witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many may have witnessed the miracles Jesus performed. Certainly most witnessed the miracles the apostles performed. These are motivators far more impactful than the greatest worship band of all time. In all fairness, the early Church did have an edge on connecting people with God in a meaningful way since many of them lived with, and experienced Jesus first hand – or at least knew someone who did.
Breaking down the practices of the early church, Francis Chan ponders whether the Church in America today truly believes the Word of God has the kind of power found in the early church. He believes if we truly trusted the power of God’s Word, we would not constantly be looking for an extraordinary pastor to bring the book to life. Francis goes on to suggest that public reading of Scripture might be a way to bring back the power of the Word to the Church. He cites one example of a group of friends that read the entire Bible aloud in seventy-two hours. Apparently the experience was euphoric. In my view, what seems to be missing here is the understanding that the power of the Word of God is not in the words themselves, but in those who act on those words. It seems to me far more could have been accomplished in seventy-two hours if that group of people had been using their time to help those in need. That is the power of God!
Continuing to look at the practices of the early Church, Francis Chan describes what is referred to as “breaking of bread,” to be a meal that celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Again a comparison is made with the early Church and today’s Church in America, which in some cases has become complacent about taking communion. Respectfully, the early Church was much closer to the actual events and of course more fully committed to the practice. Francis makes this suggestion, “God wants us to love the Lord’s Supper so much that we feel as if we can’t live without it!” I would quibble with this statement by saying God wants us to feel as if we can’t live without Jesus, and the practice of the Lord’s Supper should bring those feelings to the surface in a powerful way every time. Honestly, having this kind of experience is much easier for some than for others. I look again at the schemes of the devil that use social norms to push us away from a deeply-felt spiritual encounter with God. For some, this kind of continuously impactful connection to the Lord’s Supper will need to be nurtured and developed.
Prayer is the next early Church practice that is examined. The early church devoted themselves to prayer. Francis Chan says, “So they were constantly on their knees together.” I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction. To me, devoted to prayer means they were committed to using it as a tool to communicate with God. You don’t need to go to your knees to pray. You can pray driving your car down the freeway. You can pray in a few minutes and then move on with your day. From my perspective, prayer should lead to action. Prayer is not an all-day event. Prayer is what you do before you get started in the all-day event that is designed to carry out God’s work serving others. Prayer should be a time of alignment with God. If you are aligned with God, you are busy doing His work. That is the true power of prayer.
Yes, God commands the Church to be devoted to His Word, to fellowship, to the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer; however, none of these things stand on their own. They are all connected to taking action to serve God by serving others. If you are simply reading the Bible without taking action and putting into practice what you have read, you are wasting your time. If you are in fellowship with other believers and not working together to serve others, you are wasting your time. If you are taking the Lord’s Supper and it does not stir you to share the gospel with others, you have wasted your time. If you are praying all day long and doing nothing to take action in the name of God, you have wasted your time.
Getting people excited about the Bible, fellowship with other believers, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, is a simple matter of showing them what these things can accomplish by taking action in the name of God. When people work together to serve others, the presence of God is clearly felt. That is the miracle of God that can be experienced in the Church today. When we work together to love one another, visit orphans and widows, make disciples, and bear one another’s burdens, we will begin to rock the world like the early Church. I don’t believe we need to go back to the early church model to accomplish this goal. From my perspective, we need to circumnavigate the devil’s deception by developing the church into a facilitator of service to others. The entire body of Christ should be linked together in this way. Attending your local church should be the way to get connected to the awesome power of God by providing a never-ending menu of service opportunities.