Francis Chan's latest book outlines in a series of thematic Revelation-style letters to the modern church, the failings and path forward of a Western church often more concerned with attendance, worship style, and age-denominated ministries, than with raising up disciples who mirror the devotion of the first believers.
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." – Acts 2:42 (ESV)
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." – Acts 2:42 (NKJV)
Deeply thought provoking, I'm excited for what the rest of the book holds. It draws deeply from Chan's learnings in founding a megachurch, Cornerstone Community Church, and resigning to start a house church movement, We Are Church.
- Letters to the Church Website
- We Are Church Website
- Reading Scripture App Website
- "Does God Enjoy Your Church Service?" Francis Chan Sermon YouTube Crazy Love Podcast
- "We are Church Documentary" YouTube
We Are Church
Francis Chan after starting and growing Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California to thousands of congregants from 1994 until 2010, travelled with his family throughout Thailand, China, and Hong Kong. There he saw first hand a model of house church, especially the persecuted one in China, that much more closely reflected what we read in Acts.
Bringing this model back to the US as the Spirit led him, Chan started the We Are Church in San Francisco. Reading through the Practices section of their website provides a concise outline of how they are bring a radically different model of church to the West.
Devotion to Scripture: Everyone reads through the same scripture every week. Scripture is the primary teaching, not a pastor's weekly sermon. The home church pastor instead facilitates discussion during the meeting, encouraging everyone to bring forth what the Spirit was revealing to them through that week's living Word readings.
We Meet in Homes: Less capital requirements, easier to multiply and grow, more intimacy.
Everyone Discipled and Discipling: Everyone is a disciple or future disciple. Spiritual growth is collective responsibility, not just on the pastor.
Everyone Exercises Their Gifts: Not just a few key people preaching and leading worship, everyone is given gifts by the Holy Spirit in order to benefit the church.
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." - 1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)
The full passage expands to describe all the gifts of the spirit that can be endowed to people in the church to benefit the church.
"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." - 1 Corinthians 12:6-11 (NKJV)
Regular Multiplication of Churches: Split the group when numbers grow beyond 20-40 people. Preserve intimacy, accountability, and engagement that is only possible in smaller numbers.
Simple Gatherings: Rely on Jesus, not someone's amazing teaching or worship band
Letters to the Church Notes
Imagine yourself on an island with just a Bible. How would a church function based only on what you can read, not your knowledge of what church in the West is today? Is it different than your current church experience? Can you live with that?
Some Background / Why I Left My Megachurch
Francis built the megachurch, Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, in 1994 from his living room to thousands of people and then left in 2007. Many have asked, why?
In 1994, Francis was 26 years old and had previously been attending a church where there was a lot of infighting and division. That could not be pleasing to God. Francis had been married to Lisa for less than a month when he opened up to her about starting a church out of their house.
Their new church's priorities would be
- Sing directly to God, really sing! Sing with reverence and emotion. Sing as though God is really listening to our voices.
- Hear the Word of God. No self-help nonsense. No ignoring half the Bible. Dig deep into scripture, even the parts that make us uncomfortable, and take it seriously. Truly hear everything the Word of God was saying to us.
- Live holy lives. Too many churches are packed with Christians with no interest in doing what the Bible says.
"These people would come back week after week to hear from a Book that demands that they “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), but they never seemed to do anything." (8)
God worked, things took off! The church grew to thousands flocking to join in the passionate worship and hear the Word of God. They moved from building to bigger building. The podcast gained in popularity. The congregation would cheer and donate generously to foreign missions. Families began adoption children out of the foster care system. But something was missing.
The elders landed on the question: was this definition of success adequate? Is this what God originally imagined church to be?
A key question was the level of love for one another.
"Jesus said the world should know us by our love (John 13:35), [but] when unbelievers came to our services, they weren’t observing anything supernatural about the way we loved one another." (10)
Another issue was the increasing reliance on a single person: Francis Chan. What would happen if he left? Could the church sustain membership to support their large buildings and staff, a huge waste of money if false? People should come to church to experience almighty God and the moving of the Holy Spirit, not to hear Francis Chan.
Bible talks about every member of the body having a gift necessary for the functioning of the church. Few people in the crowd every service could use their gifts in that setting. Only a few in leadership or on stage would be, a huge waste of the Spiritual gifts given to all believers.
The church elders repented for how they had neglected Biblical commands and tried to change the direction of Cornerstone but with much difficulty.
Changing the Rules
One young person felt as if the rules had been changed under him. It was as if at first he was taught that salvation was a free gift from belief in Christ, like receiving a pair of ice skates and now being free to learn and do tricks on the local rink, and now being told that the skates were actually given to him because he was supposed to be part of a hockey team, not just to twirl around by himself.
Francis admits he did not lead the congregation through this attempted transition very well. He had been losing peace and humility as his popularity as speaker and author grew.
As he began to debate internally the thought of leaving Cornerstone, a chance conversation on the way to an event with Lisa confirmed that she too thought they had done what they could in Simi Valley and it was time to move on. 15 minutes after that, a member at Cornerstone called him to say that God told him to tell Francis "Just go. Don't worry about the church. There are others here who will step up and take care of the church."
And so things fell into place, they sold the house, and moved their family of 6 overseas for a time traveling through India, Thailand, and China. It knit the family together with a focus on mission and opened their eyes to the fearless dedication and boldness of pastors in India, how humble men and women faithfully served widows and orphans in rural Thailand, and the gospel spreading as wildfire despite persecution through the house churches in China.
After a time overseas, Francis felt that the Lord was speaking to him one day to go back to the United States. He emphasizes that his background is extremely conservative, and he doesn't say that he heard from God lightly, leaning and comparing always with what he sees written in the Bible.
While overseas, Francis had seen a glimpse of what the power of the church could be. God now wanted him to take that vision back. Francis felt daunted by a mission that he felt his intelligence and leadership skills were inadequate to accomplish.
"It was a sad day when I told Lisa and the kids that I felt God wanted me back in the States. We were so happy overseas. We were closer as a family, more dependent on God, and more fixated on eternal matters. While there were feelings of fear when we left the United States, now there was greater fear in returning. We didn’t want to lose our focus." (12)
The Journey Home
Without much planning, they landed in San Francisco primarily because Francis' brother had an open one-bedroom apartment that the family of 6 could live in. He didn't have a big plan, but wanted to live as Biblically as he knew how.
"I told the Lord I wanted to live like Christ, and it seemed like Jesus knew exactly whom to call as His disciples. I asked for that same grace: that I would be able to just walk around the city sharing the gospel, eventually meeting the people He would call me to disciple." (12)
He started a ministry serving the poor in the Tenderloin district, feeding the homeless, going door to door to pray for people in low-income housing. It was uncomfortable, but felt right. God was answering prayer in powerful ways, though there weren't many true conversions.
Asking his oldest daughter what this life now felt like, she blurted "It felt like we jumped out of the Bible." Finally in America, Francis was experiencing something congruent with what we read about in the New Testament! Alive, on an adventure that required faith, in our own backyard.
Daily outreaches were going well but the ministry had weakness from a lack of an elder-led church. Francis, like in the beginning, a few new friends into their home and starting We Are Church, asking God to build His church through them.
In the 5 years since planting, We are Church, Francis and Lisa have grown in their scriptural understanding and entered one of the happiest and most peaceful seasons of life. Not because life is easy, "but a peace from knowing God more deeply than ever" (15).
"While I believe I have loved Jesus for years, it feels totally different now. Lately I have become obsessed with knowing and experiencing Him. [Strangely], my intimacy with God has been directly tied to my connection with the Church. This is really weird for me because for years, I felt closest to God when I was away from people and alone in my prayer room. [Now], I actually feel closer to God while praying alongside my church family! It’s as if I can sense His actual presence in the room with us. [...] Just the other day, a one-hour teaching session spontaneously turned into thirteen hours of prayer! We were enjoying His presence together so much that no one wanted to leave!" (15)
While traveling and speaking, Francis often hears people complaining about their churches, many who have left altogether. The church has real issues, but this is a serious problem! The church is Christ's bride, whom we must love, not gripe or leave.
Some who've abandoned are rebellious and arrogant, others are confused. They love Jesus but struggle to see how their church connects to what they read in scripture. Francis doesn't condone their actions, but instead writes the book as encouragement to return.
"The Scriptures tell me you are indispensable and the body cannot function perfectly without you." (15)
Staying mindful of 1 Thessalonians 5:14,
"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all." 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NKJV)
...Francis admits that a book with this content makes it hard to not leave some feeling like they've been kicked, and others like they've been kicked to action.
"To the lovers of Jesus who are feeling discouraged, I pray this book gives you hope for what is possible. To those who knowingly or subconsciously are harming the Church, I pray God gives you the grace to repent." (15)
The book is a collection of letters. Each letter addresses a different issue your church may or may not need to work on. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help discern which you and your church must take to heart.
The letters are not addressing obscure details from Leviticus, but the most obvious commands present throughout scripture. Francis writes not from a motivation of conforming the church to his personal preferences, but to point out the most obvious truths of God's desire for his Bride.
"There are times when God hates our worship. There are churches He wants shut down. So often we assume that as long as we show up to worship, God is pleased. The Bible tells a different story (Amos 5:21–24; Isa. 58:1–5; Mal. 1:6–14; 1 Cor. 11:17–30; Rev. 2:5; 3:15–16).
Francis can't help but think that God is displeased with many churches in America.
He doesn't say that lightly and encourages readers to have a Bible at their side, to look up whether Francis is twisting the Scriptures or stating the obvious.
A Humble Warning
Francis writes with a spirit of unity, not that these words would be taken to confront church leadership with arrogance and division.
Now is a difficult time to be a church leader. Everyone has a voice, few are followers, strong opinions applauded, humility is not. Have grace. "Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team where each player refuses to follow because he or she has a better plan than the coach" (15).
Remember young David when he refused to harm Saul (1 Samuel 24 and 26). Few have this attitude today, of a holy fear of harming those God had placed in authority.
"I’m not arguing in favor of abusive leaders, nor am I saying that every leader has God’s blessing. All I’m asking is that we show some humility and respect, even to those who don’t deserve it. Let’s be people of grace." (18)
Just Open the Door
Remember Revelation 3:19-21.
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Revelation 3:19-21 (ESV)
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Revelation 3:19-21 (NKJV)
Jesus doesn't place a insurmountable burden on us, but invites us to join in what He is doing.
The Clock is Ticking
Often when speaking, Francis has a clock at the back of the room counting down the length of his talk. Sometimes, he pretends that he will die when the clock counts down, and face God.
"This gives me courage to say everything I think He would want me to say. If I really was going to die, I would care very little about people’s complaints. I would be obsessed with seeing the face of God and wanting His approval." (18)
Francis has written this book with the same spirit, trying to write what God has given him to write without fear of the backlash.
Consider the following situations where it seems Scripture documents a punishment too severe for the crime:
- 2 Samuel 6: God killed Uzzah because he touched the ark of the covenant (which God had forbid anyone from touching) trying to keep it from falling on the ground.
- 1 Samuel 13: King Saul waited seven days for the priest, Samuel, to come and make an offering. When Samuel didn't show up, Saul took it upon himself to make the sacrifice, as a result God took the Kingdom from him.
- Numbers 20: Moses didn't get to see the Promised Land because he struck a rock, instead of speaking to it.
- Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead after selling their land, claiming to donate all proceeds to the church, but secretly keeping some for themselves.
We don't understand "sacred" anymore. Too quickly we say "That isn't fair" believing that certain rights are deserved as humans, yet giving little thought to the rights God deserves as God.
"His ark of the covenant, His command to Moses, His offerings in the temple, His Holy Spirit, His Holy Communion, His sacred Church. In all the above situations, people rushed into something sacred and paid the price. We shouldn’t be surprised; we should be humbled. We have all done things more irreverent than those mentioned above. Let’s thank God for His mercy and tread more carefully into sacred matters." (20)
Rushing into the Sacred
In the modern era, we carelessly rush, not wanting to miss out or be unproductive.
While others are quick to judge God's actions and question His commands, we are to be careful even to speak His "hallowed" name (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2).
While others pray quickly through opinions and demands, we are to approach His throne with reverance, like a priest entering the Holy of Holies.
"Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words." - Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 (NKJV)
Remember that those who talk a lot sin a lot.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" - James 1:19 (ESV)
"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." - Proverbs 10:19 (ESV)
Francis admits caution in approaching this topic at all because of the sacred nature of the church. He confesses years in doing "whatever works" to get people's attentions and too quickly sharing his opinion.
He at times wanted to delete this book and not publish, yet couldn't walk away from what God was calling him to do. Sometimes it is sinful to not speak.
"For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot." - Jermiah 20:8-9 (ESV)
Marvel and be awestruck at the mystery and honour that we get to be part of the church, part of Christ's body.
"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." - Ephesians 5:29-30 (ESV)
"This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." - Ephesians 5:32 (ESV)
Take time to meditate on these mysteries. Pause for worship when you encounter them reading. Are we that busy that we don't?
"It’s no wonder we aren’t known as those who “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” (1 Pet. 1:8). We don’t make time to meditate on His mysteries." (22)
A Small Piece of the Temple
Imagine being present at the coming down of God's power to Solomon's temple.
"As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”" - 2 Chronicles 7:1-4 (ESV)
How would you feel to witness that? Would your heart be pounding? Could you even breathe?
Yet, the New Testament describes something greater!
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." - Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)
How are we not more astounded at us being a dwelling for God's spirit than we are at the thought of God descending on the Old Testament temple? We don't need to imagine the temple, we can experience the Spirit!
We are "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5), Jesus is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), God has descended onto a living temple formed of believers and Christ: the church.
Yet, consider this warning.
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)
Remember the temple scene, would anyone consider striking the temple with a sledgehammer? Why do we do the same to the church without second thought quick to gossip, slander leadership, or divide the church?
We can't be part of dividing God's temple.
"As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him," - Titus 3:10 (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7 and Acts 2 mirror the same story, of God pouring his glory out on his temple. Not a building now, but the church. Not hot flames, but tongues of fire.
A Small Piece of Heaven
Reflect on Revelation 4-5, we are part of the much broader, sacred temple; a heavenly community worshiping God.
"And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." - Revelation 5:8 (ESV)
We are already part of the magnificent worship scene! Those are our prayers!
"And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”" - Revelation 5:13 (ESV)
What an honour for us to get to join in the chorus of billions in worshiping the one true God.
Does it not feel like an honour? Are we too used to being our own god of our blogs and Twitter accounts, building shrines of our pictures on Facebook and Instagram?
"Gathering with the Church should lead us to holy ground. You get to come and worship Someone else, with someone else. You get to pour out love to Him by serving those around you and considering them more important than yourself. It’s not about you. And you are glad it’s not about you. Because this is something far greater than you. It is sacred." (26)
A Small Part of an Eternal Plan
We are part of an eternal plan. Think about it!
"even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will," - Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)
We have been included in God's eternal plans for His sacred church. Self-deprecation then in turn is as wicked as slandering the church, since we are the church.
Even the heavenly beings look at the church in awe.
"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." - Ephesians 3:8-10 (ESV)
"Two verses earlier, Paul explained that the great mystery God is now revealing is Gentiles becoming members of the same body as the Jews because of what Jesus did on the cross." (27)
Church isn't optional or outdated, it's God's perfectly designed plan. But how lame is it that we find it boring unless there are lights, fog machines, attractive leaders, engaging speakers, and a perfect band.
The first church was in awe at simply hearing the gospel.
"Aren’t you at least a little embarrassed that you have needed the extra stuff? It’s not all your fault. For decades church leaders like myself have lost sight of the powerful mystery inherent in the Church and have instead run to other methods to keep people interested. In all honesty, we have trained you to become addicted to lesser things. We have cheapened something sacred, and we must repent." (27)
Imagine you order a steak at a restaurant, but the waiter comes back 20 minutes later and gives you a bowl of pasta. You'd send it back! It wasn't what you asked for!
This is what we have done with the church. We've arrogantly done things our own way and expect God to be pleased with what we bring Him, even when it's not what He asked for. We have become Cain.
Commands Versus Expectations
Consider this simple exercise Francis gives to church leaders.
First, write down all the things that people expect from church. Then write down all the commands God gave the Church in scripture.
|People expect from Church||God's commands to the Church|
|Good service||“love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)|
|Age specific ministries||“visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27)|
|Certain style/volume/length of singing||“make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19)|
|Well communicated sermon||“bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)|
|Parking, clean church building, coffee, childcare|
What would upset their church's people more, if items on the first list were not provided or if the church didn't obey the commands in the second list?
Consider Jesus' parable in Luke 12 of the servant given specific tasks from his master, those tasks then neglected, and the servant punished harshly on the master's return. How can we shrug this off and not realize that this could be our fate?
Are we more worried of falling short of expectations of church we've made up or disobedience towards commands from God? Consider Mark 7:1-13 in Jesus' response to the Pharisees complaining that His disciples were not following their traditions. He decried them as hypocrites and was upset! This wasn't a small thing.
God gave 613 commands in the Old Testament to be obeyed. Along the way though, people created additional traditions that they thought God would like but that he didn't ask them to do.
"Honoring traditions made the Pharisees feel like they were obeying God when they actually weren’t. If we are not careful, we can be guilty of the same sin resulting in the same divine displeasure." (29)
Complaints about absence Sunday school, the worship music style, sermon length or countless other traditions seem to be proclaimed loudly while shoulders shrug at the practice of the Lord's Supper, plight of widows, orphans, and bearing one another's burdens.
Too many pastors, Francis included, have fallen into being willing to try anything that works to increase church attendance.
Yet, when the Corinthians wanted an eloquent orator, Paul deliberately simplified his speech so that nothing, including his rhetorical skill would diminish the power of the Gospel.
"For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." - 1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV)
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." - 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)
The same patterns of attempting to improve church popularity by diminishing the power of the cross have lasted from the days of Paul until now.
Famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was similarly appalled at the attempts in the 19th century to make Christianity more palatable, popular, and less offensive. Falling church attendance in the West is no new reason to try it again.
Alan Hirsch, from his experience building a megachurch in Australia, learned that people expect to get what attracted them.
"Win them with entertainment, and you have to keep them there by entertaining them." - Alan Hirsch
The more that church leadership focuses on addressing people's complaints, the more complaints there are. If a child asks for coffee at 11pm because they're tired, the solution isn't coffee, it's sleep.
"There are times when the most loving thing we can do is teach people that joy will come only when they stop screaming for attention and save their voices for the throne." (31)
Consider this from Revelation.
"Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”And the four living creatures said,
“Amen!”and the elders fell down and worshiped." - Revelation 5:11-14 (ESV)
Could this really be bored to you? No way! This is what we were made for!
"If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice. [...] By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches." (33)
Devoted to His Orders
The first church built on what pleased God most.
"It was their focus on the right things that actually made them attractive. You can’t read through the book of Acts without thinking, That’s a community of people I want to be part of." (33)
What did this look like?
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)
The first believers were not trying to conjure up this experience, they weren't strategizing. They were devoting themselves to prayer, gathering to ask God to direct them and work through them.
No modern church movement would take this approach. How could you attract people "with just the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer" (33)? Haven't people tried this before and not found the same awe? The key word though is: devoted.
Only 90 minutes once a week? Devotion does not look like squishing prayer, teaching, fellowship, and Communion into 90 minutes.
Devotion can't be forced, but gatherings can stop being structured so that it's easy not to be.
The early church weren't constantly bouncing from strategy to strategy. They were devoted on a few core things.
The Apostles' Teaching
Do we believe that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)?
If we believed it, we would read and speak them and expect things to happen, not wait on a preacher to "make Scriptures come alive".
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." - John 6:63 (ESV)
If you had LeBron James on your basketball team, you would find every reason to pass the ball to him and watch the magic happen. If we believe in the power of the scripture, we would read it publicly and encourage others to read it too, and "watch in amazement as the Word of God accomplishes what it sets out to do" (36).
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." - Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)
One of Francis' friend gathered some people for a time of public Bible reading. They read in shifts, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 three days later. In 72 hours, they had the entire Bible aloud! Their feeling afterwards was unexplainable, the Word did something beyond their expectations.
In three days, they did what most American Christians won't do in their entire lifetime.
At one of Francis' home church gathering, they read all of Revelation. Remember God's promise to all who read it?
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." - Revelation 1:3 (ESV)
A blessing is promised just for reading the book! The group read through all 22 chapters, without embellishment, and it was powerful.
The Breaking of Bread
The New Testament describes breaking of bread as a shared meal what includes celebrating the Lord's Supper.
Imagine what this meant for the early believers. Meeting with those who love you unconditionally, whose lives changed like yours did, remembering those who have been killed for proclaiming His death, those with scars and injuries from persecution.
"You break the bread and eat it, remembering that Jesus had broken His body so you could find life in Him. Imagine drinking wine with these fellow believers as you recall how His blood was shed. He did this for you so you could be cleansed and forgiven of all your sins. Can you see how powerful this experience would have been for the church every time they gathered?" (38)
Communion is intimate. It's not just mental remembering. God designed it to be intimate, eating and drinking. It also can be intimate with others.
"As we consider the cross and look around the room, we should be asking ourselves,
“Am I willing to love the people in this room to that extent?”[...] If Communion feels like a curious add-on to our church services rather than the very core of everything we’re about, then we’re missing the point of the Church." (38)
Discussed further in the next chapter.
"If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. This statement may be bold, but I believe it’s true. If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant." (38)
Consider the first church.
"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." - Acts 4:31 (ESV)
Don't regular modern church activities sound boring compared to this?
A Better Experience
Why "His Word, to fellowship, to the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer? [...] Because God desires His people to experience Him. [...] Our job is to reveal God to people. He is present in His Word, fellowship, Communion, and prayer." (40).
Some people are not interested in God. If they are not interested in Him alone, our caniving and luring them in is pointless, and worse, risks people attending services who have fallen in love with the people on stage, not God.
Consider asking a teenage daughter how many kids would come to her party if there was just cake, no other entertainment.
"Maybe just a couple."
And what if instead, we rented our Dave & Buster's and gave them unlimited tokens, food, and prizes.
"Well everyone would come!"
Further imagine that we did rent out Dave & Buster's, everyone showed up, and then said to your daughter, "Look how many people came to be with you!" Would she believe that? Or would that comment actually be insulting?
We do this with God when we fill services from great bands, speakers, and programs, then proudly proclaim that people are there because of God.
"Most of us have become quite good at the church thing. And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and it’s the only number that Jesus is counting. Not our attendance or budget or buildings." - Make Breen
Consider the story in Malachi of a people bored of worshiping God and His response.
"Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts." - Malachi 1:10-11 (ESV)
God would rather that it all was shut down.
Consider the observation of an Indian friend who visited one of Francis' speeches in Dallas.
"You Americans are funny. You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band. In India, people get excited just to pray."
Or this by David Platt.
"I am also struck by our reliance upon having just the right speaker and just the right musician who can attract the most people to a worship service. But what if the church itself—the people of God gathered in one place—is intended to be the attraction, regardless of who is teaching or singing that day? This is enough for our brothers and sisters around the world."
Let's dream of...
- trembling believers on their knees
- people going house to house to take Communion
- groups that tremble as Scripture is read
- true fellowship where people are living in perfect harmony with God and one another
Good Christians today "go to a building on Sunday mornings, attend an hour-long service, and call themselves members of the Church." (43)
That should be a shocking statement.
Reading the New Testament is there ever mention of someone "going to church"?
Imagine Peter and Paul talking as we do today.
"Hey, Peter, where do you go to church now?" "I go to The River. They have great music and I love the kids' program." "Cool. Can I check out your church next Sunday? I'm not getting much out of mine." "Totally. I'm not going to be there next Sunday because little Matthew has soccer. But how about the week after?" "Sounds good. Hey do they have a singles' group?" (43)
Let's Go to Gang
One of the elders in Francis' church, Rob, spent most of his life in gangs. After encountering Jesus in prison, he had to count the cost of the loyalty, the family, the camaraderie of being in a gang that he had enjoyed since childhood.
After joining, his life was at risk but God intervened to protect him. Rob's stories of life in a gang describe in many ways "the family" nature of what the church should be.
No gang member would every say to another "Yo, how was gang? I had to miss this week because life has been crazy" (43)!
How has this become expected and normal in the church! God's design for a family has been reduced to an optional weekly club.
Isn't this just a cute exaggeration? Aren't our families supposed to be our families? Why should we be so close with some people we wouldn't even be friends with?
It's not supposed to be natural... it's supposed to be supernatural!
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35 (ESV)
"One thing the New Testament makes clear is that the Church is supposed to be known for its love. Jesus says our love for one another is the very thing that will attract the world." (44)
Why is no church known for supernaturally exemplifying the "one another" commands? There are over 100 in the New Testament: love for one another, care for, pray for, admonish...
Too quickly, we can mislabel our church experience as "Christian love", yet Jesus warned that even sinners know how to love one another (Luke 6:32-34).
“As I have loved you, you also are to love one another” - John 13:34 (ESV)
How did Jesus love us?
"Our King, who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed for us, tells us to love one another in the same way." (44)
"Think of a few of the people in your church. Picture their faces. Now think about the lengths to which Jesus went to bring those specific people to Himself. [...] No sacrifice was too great; there was nothing He would hold back. [...] He did the same for you. [...] Who does God want you to pursue? [...] Jesus went to the ultimate extent for them; why would you hold anything back?" (46)
Shouldn't this greatest love that we have experience from Jesus by flowing out of us?
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." - 1 John 4:7-12 (ESV)
God promises "that if we love one another, He will abide in us and His love will be perfected in us" (46).
Love is emphasized throughout scripture (Romans 12:9-10, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Peter 4:8 ...). Couldn't we be missing out on something from our lack of love?
Consider Jesus prayer in the shadow of the cross.
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." - John 17:20-23 (ESV)
Christ wants the unity of the church to equal the oneness of the Father and Son! What would church look like if we were pursuing that unity?
Jesus prays that a unity like that would be the sign to others that Jesus truly came from heaven. Isn't that a bit like 2 + 2 = 1000? Scripture has lots of impossible equations. Remember marching 7 times around Jericho (Joshua 6)? Or that the unity of the first church did actually lead to new believers (Acts 2:44-47).
"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." - Acts 4:32-35 (ESV)
Isn't this first church beautiful? Attractive?
"Scripture is clear: there is a real connection between our unity and the believability of our message" (48).
Read the following a few times.
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God." - Philippians 1:27-28 (ESV)
Have you tried to convince someone judgement day is coming? It's very difficult. Most people do not believe in a coming judgement. Yet! The unity of the church is a convincing sign to unbelievers of the coming judgement.
Unity is easy talk but requires the kind of mutual commitment absent from our churches.
"Obedience often grates against our natural desires, but if we obey only when it feels natural, then Jesus is not truly Lord of our lives."
How many strategies have we come up with to convince people of the truth of the Gospel when God has already given us the method that will work?
Have We Given Up?
Long to live 2000 years ago and experience this unity for yourself? Depressed that this unity doesn't exist in the typical American church?
Many are sad with the church and have opted out, claiming continued love of Jesus, yet giving up on Christ's bride.
"among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." - 1 Timothy 1:20 (ESV)
Remember Paul describing how he cast two people who had rejected their faith out of the church, and handed them over to Satan. Notice, leaving the church was equivalent to being handed over to Satan. People are now voluntarily doing this to themselves!
The church is where we should find supernatural love, unity, and blessing. Yet, we no longer believe it is possible.
"What if we took God’s description of the Church as a family seriously? What would happen if a group of people sought Jesus fervently, loved one another sacrificially, and then shared the gospel boldly?" (49)
We try to ease people into church attendance. Jesus told people to count the cost before they followed (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus didn't expect perfect followers, but did demand commitment (Luke 9:57-62).
It wouldn't be easy but Jesus promised "that His Spirit can bind us together in a way we’ve never experienced" (49).
"What if we followed God’s design for the Church and in doing so allowed the Church to be pruned down to only those who wanted to obey His command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)? We might actually find that a pruned tree would bear more fruit (v. 2). We might discover that the branches that weren’t bearing fruit were actually sucking all the life out of the tree." (49)
For years, Francis doubted that a church of scriptural love and unity was possible. He saw examples of it in places like China, but people said it couldn't happen in America. They already lived communally, there was no persecution here...
This can happen in the West.
"Holy Spirit love and unity are not confined to persecuted countries." (51)
How would you respond to Jesus washing your feet? How unbelievable? How unworthy? How uncomfortable, yet secure and honoured?
Our faith is built on a God who humbled Himself to serve and die for us. Jesus commanded us to wash one another's feet (John 13:14). Yet on any Sunday, how many Christians are showing up eager to serve others?
"even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Matthew 20:28 (ESV)
We've accepted the foolish reality of must people attending church as consumers rather than servants. People put money in the plate, the staff salaries are paid, the rituals done. This is not what God wanted, but it works.
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." - Philippians 2:1-8 (ESV)
Our lives are already busy, what if we don't have time to serve?
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’" - Acts 20:35 (ESV)
God promised that those who give will be most blessed. Takers are miserable, focused on themselves. Jesus saves us by leading us to humility, and thus happiness.
"Imagine gathering with a group of people who were trying to outserve one another. Have you ever been in a room filled with humble people who count others more significant than themselves? It’s anything but burdensome. When servants gather together, everyone is built up." (52)
Paul in scripture talks about every person in a congregation receiving supernatural ability to bless others in the church, a "manifestation of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12).
"Why is it that most of us have a clearer picture of demon possession than manifestations of the Holy Spirit? [...] We need to expect more! Wouldn’t you be thrilled about the next church gathering if you knew that the Holy Spirit was going to literally manifest through someone? Everyone?" (53)
We are too easily satisfied. Is leaving pleased enough? God wants us to be awed. That doesn't mean leaning into an emotion driven craze not led by the Spirit.
But is it a surprise we end up with gatherings that are explainable, mechanical, and sometimes obligatory, when they are devoid of the Holy Spirit?
Paul yearned for all believers to show up with confidence that God wanted to move through them.
"If you are content to receive from others, you will miss out on the thrill of having the Spirit manifest Himself through you. This will cause you to be dissatisfied and the Church to suffer. Your gift is needed." (53)
The church still values people like the world does. We want to find talented orators, musicians, and leaders and put their gifts on display.
"Do our actions show that we expect supernatural contributions from every member of the body? We would never dream of looking God in the face and telling Him we thought one of His children was worthless. But we don’t have to say it with our lips if our actions scream it." (53)
The Task of Gifted Leaders
Church leaders are not there to minister to us, but to equip.
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," - Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
"Our Father thinks all His children are extremely gifted. God is convinced He did an amazing job in creating each of them and supernaturally empowering them." (55)
But our leaders are like personal trainers who lift the weights and run on the treadmill while their clients sit and marvel at their talent.
We long for growth when raising children. Every inch counts! If children aren't growing enough, parents take them to the doctor to make sure everything is okay.
Why do we not expect this in the church? It's the same small talk every week.
"Your organization is perfectly designed for producing the results you’re experiencing right now." (55)
In a 90 minute service dominated by a preacher and worship leader, is there really enough time for anyone else to feel used by God to encourage and build up others?
"from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:16 (ESV)
"If we give up on the goal of having all members exercise their spiritual gifts, we are destined for perpetual immaturity." (55)
What Are We Producing?
If every Harvard grad ended up flipping burgers at McDonald's, who would spend the fortune to send their kids there? Harvard is supposed to produce competitive high-level positions.
"In the same way, Paul expected the Church to produce courageous, hardworking saints, who are unfazed by false teachings and able to resist temptation (Ephesians 4:11–14)" (55)
Paul described the goal of a church "graduate" as "mature manhood" and "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ".
Our high expectations of the result of 4 years at Harvard should be vastly dwarfed by our expecatations from 4 years (or 40 years!) in the Church.
"The Church’s purpose is not just to exist. It’s to produce." (55)
"Are we just good at getting people together once a week and maybe into a small group, or are we actually good at producing the types of people we read about in the New Testament? Have we shifted our criteria for a good disciple as someone who shows up to our stuff, gives money and occasionally feeds poor people?" - Mike Breen
Lisa went to a step class at the gym but came back not getting much out of the workout. She explained that the instructor was so obese it was hard to be motivated. She was used to instructors that prompted envy.
"When I read about the apostle Paul, I am challenged to become like him. When I read of his longing for Christ (Phil. 1:21–26), perseverance through suffering (2 Cor. 11:16–33), and love for people (Rom. 9:1–3), it stirs me. I want to look like him. I want his peace. Like Paul, I want to come to the end of my life and know that I didn’t waste it. It’s his example, not his words, that moves me." (57)
Talk is cheap. Bloggers, speakers, YouTubers, few admire them. They just talk. We expect people to be capivated by our speech, while living non-compelling lifestyles.
Happy families with virgin non-swearing children are not proof God is with us and not with them.
"If Muslims were advertising free doughnuts and a raffle for a free iPad as a means to get people to their events, I would find that ridiculous. It would be proof to me that their god does not answer prayer. If they needed rock concerts and funny speakers to draw crowds, I would see them as desperate and their god as cheap and weak." (57)
No Longer Church
Where is the point when a church is no longer a church? Only when they no longer declare the Jesus is Son of God?
Imagine opening Chan's Healthy Juice Shop. At first, you make healthy smoothies and get an initial following of health nuts, but not enough to support your family. You start to experiment adding gummy bears, M&M's and other sweets to your juice and you start making a fortune. Is the sign still accurate? Are you still a healthy juice shop?
"Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church. It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them." - A. W. Tozer
Forcing the Issue
Christ, our model, came to serve, yet many people are called Christians who don't serve. It's like keeping a soldier in an army who won't fight, or a player on a sports team who refuses to contribute.
Scripture commands us to serve.
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:" - 1 Peter 4:10 (ESV)
"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." - James 4:17 (ESV)
We can't force people to serve, but we can stop giving them a free pass.
"We confront sexual immorality in our churches because we are commanded to live holy lives. The adulterous person does not represent Christ well. But neither does the consumer." (59)
Consider bringing your firstborn home from the hospital. You are utterly unprepared but you are forced to figure it out, to love your baby, to learn how to be good parents.
Ministry is the same. No one is born ready, everyone is forced to step up when thrown in to a position.
All of the pastors of We Are Church in San Francisco also have full time jobs. They haven't received formal ministry training, only on-the-job training from elders. They now are great pastors, making disciples, and equipping others to step up and make disciples and become pastors.
"The Church was supposed to be a breeding ground for pastors and elders. Every church should be equipping people and sending them out." (59)
Leader development is only possible when the organizational structure requires others to step up.
"I had to learn how to limit the use of my gifts in order to make space for others to lead. The result has been an army of equipped leaders who could be dropped off in any city in the world and they would be capable of making a living while making disciples." (59)
As pastor for 30 years, this chapter was written with the most prayer and love, writing to "full-time pastors, to bivocational pastors, and to many of you reading this, who, unbeknownst to you, will be called to shepherd others" (62).
"I also write with eternity in mind. Not all of you will hear “Well done” from the mouth of God, but I want you to." (62)
The Enemey is working hard to lure away pastors from serving Christ and becoming people pleasers. Paul had many loving warnings for Timothy that he would not fall into the many pitfalls.
Throughout the book, Francis focused on the topics that God spoke most strongly about, near the top of the list are leaders. God reserves the most tender and honouring speech for leaders, yet at the same time was most severe with leaders who led His sheep astray.
- Miriam was struck with leprosy when she spoke against Moses (Numbers 12:1-10)
- A couple of bears mauled 42 people when they mocked the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-24)
- John was call "beloved" (John 21:20-24)
- Abraham was "a friend of God" (James 2:23)
- Leaders will be judged more harshly (James 3:1)
- Leaders will give an account of how they shepherd (Hebrews 13:17)
- Jesus addressed the religious leaders as children of hell (Matthew 23:15)
Not every person in spiritual authority deserves to be there.
With care to not be arrogant or disrespectful in writing this chapter, the model of Christ, Peter, and Paul admonishing false teaching is one that can't be ignored.
Francis admits times he's been overly critical and disrespectful, and others he's been too political. He doesn't have all the answers or is a perfect model. God has been patient teaching him how to say tough things with spirit of love instead of judgement, that he needs to start with examining himself first. This a good starting place for all.
"For those in church leadership, we can’t assume we belong there. We have to ask ourselves, Am I sure I should be in this position? Am I in a good place to lead? Is my relationship with Jesus one that I want replicated?" (62)
For those not leading others, don't assume you shouldn't. Your fear of failure could keep you from being used by God. No one is called to be fed without in turn leading and feeding others. If no one is following you, something is wrong. God called us to make disciples, which involves leading in some capacity.
Don't use this chapter to judge your leaders, their life is hard enough leading highly opinionated individuals. This chapter is written to make us evaluate our own lives.
We are all called to pastor, or shepherd.
- Older women are to shepherd the younger (Titus 2:3-5)
- Parents are to shepherd their children (Ephesians 6:4)
- Timothy was told to teach others what he had been taught (2 Timothy 2:2)
- We are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)
"If you can’t find a single person who looks to you as a mentor, something is wrong with you. And social media doesn’t count. I’m talking about flesh-and-blood humans who mimic your actions. This requires living a life that’s worth duplicating, which is quite a bit harder than posting pictures and quotes." (64)
The Traps of Ministry
Many leaders entered ministry with a deep love for God and people, a fearless and radical mindset, ready to risk it all for the Kingdom. But they fell into one of the following traps and became distracted, deceived, or depressed.
- The Trap of Avoiding Critisim. People say harsh things to pastors. No sermon goes uncriticized. In this trap, the leader becomes too aware of people's responses and only preach to avoid criticims rather than fearlessly proclaiming the truth.
- The Trap of Fund-Raising. No one enters ministry because of a love of fundraising, yet many are regularly worried about church budget or building projects.
- The Trap of Comparison. Church members listen to sermon podcasts, read books, and watch videos from gifted speakers, theologians, and church leaders. It's hard for leaders and followers to not become discouraged by the comparisons.
- The Trap of Meeting Expectations. People come Sunday expecting coffee, parking, music at their volume, 30 minute sermon, all the ministries (children, preteen, middle school, high school, college/singles...). Leaders can get caught up in creating everything that people expect instead of pursuing what God commands.
- The Trap of Popularity. Empty seats and people flooding to the church down the street can be depressing. It's hard not to become envious, and hard for those who have "made it" to not become proud.
- The Trap of Safety. "We place our pastors in a church office surrounded by Christians for forty hours a week and then ask them to teach us about living by faith." (64)
- The Trap of Greed. Everyone feels entitled, pastors are no exception. Larger church, larger paycheque. Higher book sales, higher royalties. Church growth can have mixed motives for those who like to live comfortably.
- The Trap of Demonic Attack. On top of all of this, the Enemy seeks to devour all (1 Peter 5:8), pastors at the top of the list. Every temptation for a pastor to sin can harm the reputation of the Church.
How can we expect Spirit-filled disciples be produced by leaders that fall into these traps?
The Times Have Changed
When Francis started Cornerstone Church in 1994, people were more respectful of pastors and authority. There was no social media, few cell phones, encouragement or criticism came in person.
Francis became both inflated and hurt from listening too much to compliments and harsh statements made online when social media emerged.
Large crowds, like social media, subconsciously push you to preach to avoid criticism rather than teaching truth regardless of response. People are now so volatile, one wrong word in public can wreak havoc.
A pastor in China said, "In America, pastors think they have to become famous to have a big impact. In China, the most influential Christian leaders had to be the most hidden" (66).
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." - Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)
Leaders, examine your lives. Can you tell people in good conscience to follow you as you follow Christ?
Those not yet leading, examine your leaders with grace and humility when considering whether their faith and way of life is worth imitating. God may be calling you to step into leadership, devote yourself to growing in the following areas.
The Christian Pastor
But isn't every pastor a Christian?
After 5 years in theological school, Francis says they were the worst years of his life. A degree proves intelligence, discipline, but not spirituality.
Jesus warned of religious leaders as some of the most evil. Scripture warns us to be on guard for false teachers.
"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." - 2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV)
Jesus taught that wolves will come in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). A minister is the best camouflage.
Some will teach false doctrine, desiring to be accepted. Some will preach truth, while living a lie. Both are condemned.
2 Peter 2 lays out the terrifying judgement reserved for false teachers. Paul does too.
"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" - 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)
Is there real evidence that your pastors have foresaken all to follow Him?
The Praying Pastor
Francis once told his staff to let him know if they were not praying at least an hour a day. That way he would know who would need to be replaced.
Harsh sounding, but prayer is critical. It is not a task of ministry, it unveils our pride, revealing whether we belive we are powerless apart from God.
Prayer is an expression of surrender and reliance on God's infinite wisdom and sovreignty. Even Jesus prayed instead of taking problems into his own hands.
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." - Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)
"Prayer is the mark of a lover. Those who deeply love Jesus can’t help but pray often" (68).
Pastors not drawn to prayer, should not become pastors. In prayer, we seek the Lord and the welfare of our people.
A pastor in India remarked after researching movements that, "movements of God always start with a leader who knows God deeply, and they always end when the followers know only the leader deeply" (68). Pastors must make disciples with their primary attachement not the pastor, but to Christ.
The Humble Pastors
Another pastor from India whose ministry lead 3+ million people to Jesus remarked, "Americans always want to know about strategy. This is what I will tell you: my leaders are the most humble men I know, and they know Jesus deeply" 68). His biggest mistake and regrets have been releasing leaders who were not humble.
We don't admit it but we search for leaders like the world does, by outward appearances. God chooses the humble who passionately seek Him.
Too many pastors started as humble prayer warriors but have been swayed by people's expectations. Others have little pretense of humility but are only encouraged to stay as leader by their charisma.
"Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says,
“He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says,
“**God opposes the proud** but gives grace to the humble.”Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." - James 4:5-10 (ESV)
God opposes the proud.
Before preaching ask yourself, will this sermon draw attention to Christ or to me? Don't fall into the default of self-preservation and self-exhalation.
"In speaking of humankind, Jesus said there was “no one greater” than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). He was great in God’s eyes because he didn’t seek to be great in people’s eyes. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)." (69)
The Loving Pastor
Is there a pastor who doesn't genuinely love people?
Turns out it is very easy to "do ministry" without loving people. Ministry "success" does not require love.
Francis admits many seasons of ministering to people without real feelings of love for them. People are seen as projects to fix, than children to deeply love.
"For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." - 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12 (ESV)
Too many pastors long to be great writers, speakers, and leaders, and don't want to follow Paul's example of longing to be a great mom and dad to their flock.
Achieving the goal of perfect unity in the church (John 17) requires leaders who love their people sacrificially; as parents, not babysitters.
The Equipping Pastor
The responsibility of a good dad is to raise kids so when they are capable, they can leave home and start their own. A dad's job is to train them to stand on their own.
A good pastor raises up good pastors. The goal isn't full pews of people complaining that they aren't being fed. Success isn't full pews of people "who sing loud, don’t divorce, and give to missions" (71).
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." - Ephesians 4:11-14 (ESV)
Paul is clear that church leaders are to equip the saints for work, not for consumption.
"One of the most debilitating issues facing the Church is the lack of maturing her members. Churches are filled with children who never grow up to become parents. And they’re not expected to." (71)
"Many vocational ministers are stuck doing the work of ministry because they take a paycheck from consumer Christians who fail to see the full scope of their calling." - Hugh Halter
How fast would society collapse if parents didn't expect their children to start their own families? This has already happened to the church, pastors plague their members with low expectations.
Stop doing all their chores. Prepare them for a lifetime of work.
Many will rebel when the easy consumption is cut off, focus on the "faithful" ones who will go teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
"While many pastors boast of how many children sit under their care, doesn’t it make more sense to boast of how many have graduated from their care? Isn’t it more a sign of failure when children are unable to leave the house? Raising thousands of consumers is not success." (71)
The Spirit-Filled Pastor
What do you picture when you think of Spirit-filled?
Consider Paul's description of a Spirit-filled person.
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." - Ephesians 5:18-21
Paul compared it to being drunk. Noticeable. Visible. Speech and movements changed. The Spirit changes everything. Paul says that Spirit-filled people are:
- "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"
- "singing and making melody to the Lord with [their] heart"
- "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"
- "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ"
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We're familiar with them. But shouldn't they be so exemplary, outstanding, and noticeable if the fruit is from the Spirit, and not from our own efforts?
Don't we all want our pastor to be truly filled with the Spirit? "If pastors don’t exemplify these qualities to supernatural proportions, what hope do our churches have?" (73)
The Missional Pastor
Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) commands us to reach the ends of the earth, for His glory, their salavation, and our well-being. A mission focus gives us fulfillment.
Pastors must set the pace of urgency to help the suffering and long to reach the billions who haven't heard the Gospel even once.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." - James 1:27 (ESV)
God's heart is to be a Father to the Fatherless (Psalm 68:5). Filled with the Spirit, our compassion should be for those who suffer. Without perspective of the starvation, suffering, and Spiritual darkness encompassing this world, pastors and churches can focus and complain about trivial matters.
Pastors must lead their flock to learn to love helping the lost and desperate around the world.
The Suffering Pastor
People need to see examples of a leader who rejoices amid suffering. Our words matter when we go through rough times. More on this in the next chapter.
"We are too quick to get discouraged and quit because we have not learned to rejoice in suffering. Show me a pastor who rejoices in suffering, and I will show you a pastor who will be in ministry a long time. When pastors who rejoice in suffering make disciples, you end up with an unstoppable church." (73)
"Some of you may have read this chapter and thought, My pastor doesn’t match up. This may be true, and in some cases it might be best to walk away from your current leader. That is a very serious decision and should be made only after lots of prayer, humility, and biblical reasoning." (75)
Yet, the point of this chapter was that "each person who reads this would seek to rise up and become that godly leader" (75). This may feel daunting to picture, but it is what the Holy Spirit longs to do in you. In the flesh it is impossible, but in the Spirit it is possible.
Shepherds can become corrupt, in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34), with the religious leaders in Jesus' day. The solution was to replace the professionals and train up ordinary, uneducated people to change the world. People like you.
"God hates it when we underestimate the potential He created us with. He has always valued faith; people take His words literally. Ephesians 3:20 must be a verse we shape our lives around, not just a catchy quote we paint on our walls. The Church is in dire need of a fresh wave of godly leadership. I pray all existing leaders would be renewed or replaced. May God continue to raise up an army of good shepherds who love Him above all else and live to make the Church become everything God designed it to be." (75)
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us," - Ephesians 3:20 (ESV)
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
Consider an Ironman Triathalon. If asked to watch one with me, many would consider it. If asked to compete in one with me, the number would drop off considerably.
Christ's life is not simply an example, it is a call to follow, a call to be crucified with Christ.
How different is the reality of a Christian's need to suffer different than what modern preachers and writers convey as the essense of Jesus and being a Christian? Millions believe and have been taught that following Jesus will cost them nothing; Jesus taught the exact opposite!
Interpret Jesus' words for yourself, they are far more important than any of Francis'.
"Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying,
‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)
Forget about what you've been told about just praying a prayer. After reading that, do you still want to follow Jesus?
Jesus had so few disciples because the call to follow was a call to die. We focus on the grace and mercy of the gospel far more than the other side, the costliness of the gospel that Jesus explained bluntly, not in fine print.