A few months ago, I began occasionally writing a book review/summary of some books I have read to offer insight. Whether it be communicating the important takeaways which I got from the book or encouraging you to read it for yourself, I felt occasionally highlighting some of what I was learning from others would be beneficial. Today, rather than writing a review or a summary of Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church, I thought I would write a couple of the takeaways I got from Chan.
Just to preface my reflections, let me first give a short background on who Francis Chan is in case you are unaware. Francis Chan founded Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California as well as the founder of Eternity Bible College. He has written multiple books, most notably Crazy Love and has been an influential speaker in Western Christianity the last decade or two. Chan grew Cornerstone into a megachurch which was thriving in practically all Western church metrics, but did not feel full.
Chan stepped down from Cornerstone and moved for a short number of months to Asia with his wife and kids, and they traveled working with many persecuted churches. Chan’s short stay in Asia was still a tremendous time of growth for him in his life as a pastor and his understanding of the church. So Chan moved back to the States and began a new church this time which he would attempt to model after the church he saw described in the New Testament.
So what is the big idea with Letters to the Church? Chan looks at the Western church, which is often so caught up in the business aspect and programs, and wonders why we are not seeing a movement like we read about in Acts or see happening today in the Middle East and China. Christianity is still tied to much of culture in America and this makes the lines between the church and the world fuzzy, and Chan longs for a day where the American church will be as passionate as the church we read about in Acts.
So Chan goes through a number of aspects in the church and gives the good and bad of how the church has been doing this in America recently, and then compares it to the New Testament model. I am not going to take the times to dive into all of these which he speaks of, but I am going to discuss a few which I find interesting as I have been thinking of this book for the last month or so.
As soon as Chan has finished prefacing where he has been and what has led him to this point, his first aspect he looks at is the “order” of the church. The way it is structured and run. Chan compares what he reads in the Bible to what the majority of churches in America are doing, and asks the question why? Why, if we have a layout of what God says he wants and how to order church, do we think we know better than God and try to do it our own way? This is a great question to look at and discuss. Does the Bible give a clear layout for church? It discusses some schematics for church structure and also some practices for the congregation, but much of this is based around the Jewish practices which led to the Christian church. The earliest document we have which is a manuscript of church organization, Didache, was written around 100 AD and is a generation or two removed from the apostles. So what is important for church? Chan names a number of practices which are central for the church: worship, proclamation of the Gospel, prayer, and partaking of Communion are all central. These central pieces of worship Chan identifies brings us to the most important question of Chan’s whole book.
Are we making church to please the worshipers, or a place to please the one worshiped? Are we focusing our worship on the people or on God?
Whether you are the most traditional New Testament focused church in the nation, or a seeker driven church in the city, this is a question we must wrestle through. This question gets at the heart of why we do church and what is the purpose. I am not advocating for one or the other, if that is something you wish to discuss feel free to contact me, but these questions need to be thought through.
The final idea of Chan’s book which I want to bring up is a bit of a controversial one, and I will attempt to explain his purpose and reasoning for it. Chan (rightly) looks at the church as something which should be a family, yet does not act like it at all. So Chan compares the church as a family to another popular grouping in America which is built and run similar to a family model. Chan asks in a funny rhetorical way, could you imagine if gangs only met together once a week? How ridiculous would it sound for a gangster to say to another, “Hey man, missed you at gang yesterday. I will be at a soccer tournament next weekend, but can I count on seeing you at gang in two weeks?”
Now right away let me address the issue with this comparison. No the church is not like a gang in many ways. Gangs are dangerous, and to get out of them often times ends in death or a serious beating. This is not condoning or approving of gangs at all. However, both being a member of a church and a gang is more than just attending once a week. In America today, the average family attends church around 1.5 times a month. When I was little we attended three times a week, and I am not that old. Now no, attending church in a building is not what makes church. But we are the church, so even when not present, our lives week in and week out should involve our church and church family. So how do we do this? Chan recommends house churches, which is how his church he now pastors and leads – We Are Church – is setup.
House churches are similar to small groups. You meet in your local neighborhoods in small groups and live life in fellowship together. Even in a church of 150, it is difficult to truly fellowship on a deep level together, so house churches helps shrink that number to a more focused group to walk with. Chan has taken this to the extreme, however, and We Are Church actually has 50+ groups of 20ish members each. Once they begin to grow to large, they train up a new leader to pastor a new house church and they split the group to allow for more intimate fellowship.
So what do we do with Chan’s book? I will be the first to admit I truly did enjoy it. I do not agree with everything he said, but the beautiful part is I can learn from those who think differently than I do. Chan also has began thinking in extremes, which I believe is due to the extremes on the other side of so much of the American church. However, an honest and open reading of Chan’s Letters to the Church should definitely make Christians and church leaders ask the question of “why?” Why do we do what we do and how we do it? What is the purpose and goal for our church? What is distracting us from that? What could be re-worked to better accomplish this goal? Extremes are not new for Chan, as anyone who has read Crazy Love would know. But as the church, everything we do should have a purpose behind it. So what is yours? To leave you with Chan’s question he is asking on this journey:
Last quick thing, I would love to receive your reaction and thoughts on this. I believe these ideas can spark a great dialogue. If you wish to reach me about this or other blog posts, you are more than welcome to contact me through the tab on my site or commenting directly on the blog or by social media. I look forward to walking on this journey of faith with you all!