Francis Chan is a preacher and an author well-known for planting a megachurch and then leaving said megachurch shortly after. In his new book, “Letters to the Church,” Chan discusses his reasoning behind the decision.
“I got tired of hearing my own voice,” Chan said about stepping down from pastoring a megachurch in a recent episode of the Relevant podcast. “And I felt like people relied on my voice too much and they weren’t getting in the Word for themselves, that they weren’t seeking God on their own.”
In “Letters to the Church,” Chan details the effect his decision had on him personally. When he first left the megachurch, skepticism quickly arose from those both inside and outside of the congregation.
When he left, he shared that after a lot of prayer and conversations with various members of leadership at the church, he had decided to step down. People made many assumptions about his leaving, but in his heart, he knew it was what God was asking him to do at the time.
“It was a confusing time. I just really didn’t know what more I could do for the church,” he said on the podcast. “And as my wife and I prayed, both of us just really sensed there’s something else.”
He explained that he thought the church was to be a part of his life forever, but that he knew in order to obey the Lord’s urging, he needed to leave his leadership role.
Since making that pivotal decision, Chan has become vocal on the topic of American churches and the many flaws in the way our culture approaches “going to church.”
In “Letters To the Church,” Chan discusses how the American church has become less about God and more about what the individual can get out of it. It has created a consumerist viewpoint amongst churchgoers, distracting them from the real purpose of church.
He even pointed out how in many countries around the world, pastors are not paid to preach, which differs drastically from American churches, where preaching can be a multi-million dollar career.
“I would be going against Scripture to say that ministers cannot be paid by the church,” he told Relevant. “[But] somehow you have millions and millions of believers in China, and it wasn’t about all these paid clergy [where] that was their business. And even in the inner cities of America where most of those pastors are bi-vocational.”
After Chan left his church, he started founding smaller churches around San Francisco. Chan explained that these home-church pastors are not paid, and if they take in money it goes directly to the poor or other charity-related activities.
“I don’t want to be critical but the Christian church in America has just gotten goofy,” Chan said during a sermon he gave at “We Are Church” in April.
“You’ve got crowds of people at the Wailing Wall praying because of what they believe. You’ve got Muslims, thousands on that Temple Mount praying. You’ve got people of all sorts of different religions that just go after it for what they believe. And then you have Christianity in America where people show up depending on the speaker, depending on the band, and show up for maybe an hour a week if it’s good enough for them. Have you tried to look at how the church looks from an outsider’s perspective?”
In “Letters to the Church,” Chan drives home the point that the American way of life has corrupted and blinded Christians to what is truly important when it comes to our faith.
He explained one encounter he had with a pastor from the Philippines, where his notion of the church was shaken. The pastor, who has over 30,000 people in his church, said that he used to send missionaries to the United States to receive formal Bible training, but stopped because of what happened to his congregants when they went to the United States.
“He explained that once these would-be missionaries spent time in the U.S., they never came back! Once they tasted the comforts, they came up with all sorts of reasons they were called to take a nice salary from a church and raise their children in America,” Chan writes in his book, as reported by the Christian Post. “Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out glaring issues we have become blind to. This pastor now trains missionaries in the Philippines, in an environment where there’s no temptation to stay. It keeps them on mission. In the wild.”
In his April “We Are Church” sermon, Chan admitted he was embarrassed because he too fell prey to the idea that going to church comes with many twisted decisions like who is preaching, who is leading worship and whether they serve coffee before church.
“It’s embarrassing and I look back and say ‘God I’m so sorry,'” he said.
He adds in his book that Americans have gotten so comfortable with the church, and so needy with their desires that their decision making has been tampered with.
“Too often we add in our own voices, thinking that if we just offer just the right services or package the Gospel in just the right way so no one gets offended, we can convince people to stay. By catering our worship to the worshipers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches,” Chan writes.
“I don’t say this to condemn anyone or to point any fingers,” he notes. “I am guilty of it too. When I look back at my life and the times when I fell prey to the consumerist mentality, I don’t believe that my intentions were evil or that my love for Christ was weak. God may say otherwise in the end, but I really believe my biggest mistake that I didn’t think things through. Or that I didn’t consult the right Person enough. I got caught up in the consumerism like everyone else, and I paid too much attention to what I wanted and what others wanted.”
“We’re just trying to come up with a way of doing church and show people that it is possible. But I’m not saying it’s the only way to do it,” Chan told Relevant.
Despite the grim outlook, Chan believes there is much room for change and hopes that he and others can start this movement.
“You know what, we can change…We’ve got to give God the glory he deserves and we’ve got to be willing to suffer whatever we need to suffer to walk away from our sin, to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we believe what the disciples did – that Jesus rose from the dead,” he urged during his “We Are Church” sermon.
“We’ve go to become people who don’t just love it when a person preaches in a way that they like, we are to be people of the Book,” Chan said, Bible in hand.
Chan was asked on the Relevant podcast if there was any advice he would have told his younger self about launching a megachurch, to which he replied that he would have made scripture more fundamental than he did. He also noted that he would have spoken differently.
Listen to the full interview here.
(H/T: Christian Post)