Francis Chan Wants You to Forget Everything You Think You Know About Church

FRANCIS CHAN HOPES HE NEVER writes another book.
He’s been trying to avoid the spotlight since he resigned as the pastor of the megachurch he founded. So when he announced he would be releasing a new title—one he intends to be his last—it had to be important. In Letters to the Church, Chan shares what he’s learned about what the modern church should look like.

FIRST, WHY DID YOU LEAVE THE MEGACHURCH YOU PASTORED?

I was having discussions in elder meetings about what is most biblical, what God calls us to and what does He want of His Church. If we just went with the Scriptures, what would we get from it? And realizing, gosh, I didn’t think that deeply about [those] things. And I did a lot of things because it was a pattern set before me in culture and in other churches.

And as we just considered the obvious teaching of the New Testament, it started to concern us as an elder board, especially me as an individual, going, “We have to change this.” And as we tried to change it as a church, I didn’t even know how to do it.

And in a lot of ways, I felt like the church may be healthier without me because there was just too much attention on me.

YOU HAVE A REPUTATION OF BEING ELUSIVE. WHAT MADE YOU PUBLISH LETTERS TO THE CHURCH?

I wrote it thinking, “I want this to be the last thing I write. This is what I believe is God’s heart for the Church.” And also out of—gosh!—I have so loved the fellowship of my church these last couple of years, and I want this for everyone, and it’s right here in America, and it’s possible.

And I guess, for me, years ago there were doubts of whether we could even do this here, and everyone’s telling me, “Yeah, that was New Testament times” or “That’s only overseas.” And I’m thinking, no, this is happening here, we just have to choose this.

WHAT’S THE ‘THIS’ YOU’RE REFERRING TO?

Our pastors are all working and none are paid by the church, and we have a church with zero budget. So, all of the money goes to the poor and to missions, and it’s all fine.

I did make decisions in the past based upon finances, and I think we’d be surprised how many decisions we make are based on financial considerations. It’s kind of like you say, “How’s that gonna work without money?” [It’s] the first thing that comes to our mind, and if it’s not first, it’s definitely a consideration. It’s amazing when you take pride and money off of the table, how differently you make decisions. So now, when we have pastors who aren’t paid and will never grow a big church—we try to multiply our churches as soon as they hit 20 people—those wrestles of greed and popularity and pride are kind of taken off the table as we deal with other things.

The Church exists to please Him, not us. And we’ve lost that.

It would be going against Scripture to say that ministers cannot be paid by the Church. I am just saying that in a lot of countries, that’s the way it is. You do what’s best for the Gospel. You don’t do something because it’s best for you. You ask in what way would you spread the Gospel in the greatest way? Somehow you’ve got millions of believers in China, and it wasn’t about all these paid clergy [doing this as] their business, and even in the inner- cities in America where most of those pastors are bi-vocational.

YOU MENTION THAT YOUR CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF CHURCH IS BASED ON SOME VERY CLEAR NEW TESTAMENT COMMANDS. WHICH ONES?

We are supposed to be producing men and women who love the person of Jesus deeply. There should be people walking out of our gatherings, and all they can talk about is Jesus and their intimacy with Him. And I’m not hearing that in the Church. I’m not hearing, Oh, I love Jesus. I was alone with Jesus this morning and the power of the Holy Spirit is flowing through me.” I don’t hear about that. And that’s a big problem.

And the other thing is that we’re not hearing about these churches where the people are deeply in love with one another. And Jesus says, “This is how the world is going to know that you’re My disciples is your love for one another.” That’s what the Church was supposed to be.

IF JESUS WERE WRITING A LETTER TO THE CHURCH IN AMERICA, WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME THINGS HE WOULD SAY?

I think we’ve neglected the holiness of God and prioritizing Him. In other words we’ve started to create this man-centered church and man-centered theology.

The Church exists to please Him, not us. And we’ve lost that. We have become consumer- driven and in our heart to be compassionate toward people, we’ve forgotten that God’s Word should just really be so far above everyone else’s opinion and everyone else’s feelings. And it’s gotten to the point where we think about what people want more than what God wants.