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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Francis Chan, Christian Discipleship, and House Churches

Jul 4, 2017

For some reason, there is one article that I wrote some years ago that has been read more times, shared more times, liked and commented on more than any other piece I have ever written. For a rinky-dink website such as mine, this particular piece just shot through the roof and has been shared all over the place. It has had a half million views, while my next most viewed article has had less than a tenth of that.

So what was it about? It had to do with the widespread move in the West of Christians still loving Jesus, but not being so thrilled with the local church. For good or ill, millions of Christians have simply stopped going to church. They have not stopped loving and serving God, but for a whole range of reasons, they are quite dissatisfied with the status quo of most church life.

Many meet in home groups or house churches for their fellowship and worship now. The fact that I have had such a massive response to this article tells me there are countless Christians in this place at the moment. The article is here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/12/26/on-leaving-church/

chan 6I share all this because there is at least one case of a very well-known pastor who also feels quite dissatisfied with the current way of doing church in the West. And he was no small fry but a hugely successful megachurch pastor. I refer to Francis Chan.

Now I do not know all that much about Chan, but what I do know I really like. The California pastor has long been saying things that I shout a hearty ‘Amen’ to. He often says things that far too many pastors will not say. He urges us to consider the radical and costly call to Christian discipleship, and urges us to stop playing games and get real with our faith.

His calls to radical discipleship have stirred my heart and rung true with my spirit – and that of many others. Five years ago I wrote a piece on lukewarm Christians, and quoted heavily from one of his books. In that piece I said this:

Perhaps a few lines from Francis Chan’s Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God might suffice. He has an entire chapter on this called “Profile of the Lukewarm”. Discussing the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, he says this:
“My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil. I think most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns. Thorns are anything that distracts us from God. When we want God and a bunch of other stuff then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions or commitments are piled on top of it.”
Chan summarises: “As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it bluntly, churchgoers who are lukewarm are not Christians.” Quite so. He explains:
“The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives.”

Amen to that. Give me one paster preaching this sort of message than a thousand with their feel-good gospel of selfishness where the focus is mainly on what you can get out of the Christian life. I know that the ‘your best life now’ message appeals to millions, but a watered-down and self-centred gospel always will do that.

An authentic self-denying, cross-carrying, world-renouncing gospel will always attract much smaller crowds. That was true when Jesus and the disciples proclaimed the gospel, and it is still true today. So why am I bringing up Chan here again just now?

Because he has made a move that has shaken the evangelical world, and for good reason. He has abandoned his thriving 5000-member megachurch and started a much more humble and low key house church movement. Let me quote from one article as to why he left his church seven years ago. Chan says this:

I got frustrated at a point, just biblically. I’m going, wait a second. According to the Bible, every single one of these people has a supernatural gift that’s meant to be used for the body. And I’m like 5,000 people show up every week to hear my gift, see my gift. That’s a lot of waste. Then I started thinking how much does it cost to run this thing? Millions of dollars! So I’m wasting the human resource of these people that according to Scripture have a miraculous gift that they could contribute to the body but they’re just sitting there quietly. … [T]hey just sit there and listen to me.

The article also says:

Moreover, he felt the church wasn’t following God’s command to love one another — attendees would simply greet each other for 30 seconds and mainly hang out in cliques once a week. “I was like, ‘God, you wanted a church that was known for their love. You wanted a group of people where everyone was expressing their gifts. … We’re a body. I’m one member, maybe I’m the mouth. But if the mouth is the only thing that’s working and … I’m trying to drag the rest of the body along, chewing on the carpet …”
His decision in 2010 to leave Cornerstone — which he started in his living room — came as a shock to many, including fellow evangelical pastors. In his announcement to the congregation at that time, he said he had been feeling a restlessness and stirring to let go of the megachurch and take on a new adventure. He also indicated that he was wary of being “comfortable.”
In his talk at Facebook last week, he offered more details about why he made that decision to leave, including a desire to get away from the pride he began to feel as his book, Crazy Love, became a bestseller and as he became a popular sought-after speaker.
“I freaked out during that time in my life,” Chan recalled. “The pride … [going to] a conference and seeing my face on a magazine … and hearing whispers … and walking in the room and actually liking it.” At one point, Chan felt convicted and realized he became everything he didn’t want to be. “Everything you (God) said you hated, that’s me right now,” he realized. “I gotta get out of here. I’m losing my soul.”
Wanting to hide from “that weird celebrity thing,” he also realized that he missed the old Francis Chan — “that stupid kid who fell in love with Jesus in high school and starts calling everyone in the yearbook that he knew to tell them about Jesus because he was so concerned about their eternal destiny.” Chan stressed to the Facebook group that God hates pride and that one can easily lose humility.

And many Christians will get upset and offended with this, but Jesus and all of Scripture make it perfectly clear that one of the supreme tests to determine if you really are a true disciple of Jesus Christ is your attitude toward money and riches. Yes, the way we relate to wealth and material things tells us a whole lot about the sort of relationship we have with Christ. The article concludes:

As for what he does with all the money he earns through his bestselling books, Chan said he gives it all away. He had prayed to God years ago, saying he was frustrated with the rich people in church who only give 5 to 10 percent of their money to church while living off millions. He prayed that God would either raise up a new generation of rich people who would actually live for eternity and give all their money away or make him rich.
“I’ll give it all away to show that you’re better than all of that,” Chan remembered praying. So when he surprisingly made a million dollars the next year through his book and continued to make more over the following years, he signed it all over to a charitable gift fund “so that I can’t even touch it. I can’t even buy lunch with the money … I can only give to charity. “It’s been the best thing. Now I spend my days going and looking where are the needs around the world and how can I contribute to it?”

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the real deal when it comes to Christian discipleship. No clichés and empty rhetoric, but genuine evidence of a heart fully given over to God and his purposes. So am I saying all true Christians must give away all their money? No.

But probably the overwhelming majority of rich Christians need to have a good hard look at their life and what is really a priority for them. Spending time on our faces before Almighty God might be the best thing most wealthy believers could ever do – and poor believers as well!

And what am I saying here about church life? Must every pastor and member of a megachurch quit what they are doing, sell the buildings, and form house churches? Not necessarily, although I suspect that for many of them this might be a far better option than what they are presently engaged in.

Each Christian and Christian leader must prayerfully and carefully consider what God would have them to do when it comes to the issue of church activity. Far too many folks are just gliding through life. The initial love and passion they had for the Lord as a new Christian has long ago disappeared.

Now most Western believers are simply going through the motions. And far too many of our megachurches have become pale imitations of the world and its celebrity and entertainment culture, complete with rock concerts, strobe lights and smoke machines. Worship of God has effectively been replaced with worship of self.

God have mercy on your people. And bless Pastor Chan for being willing to seriously take up his cross and follow you. We need more Christian leaders who are willing to do the same. As Chan has said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/19/on-being-lukewarm/
www.christianpost.com/news/francis-chan-goes-into-detail-with-facebook-employees-on-why-he-left-his-megachurch-190136/#.WVj6uUXB2HE.facebook

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17 Responses to Francis Chan, Christian Discipleship, and House Churches

  • This reminds me of another couple I met. They were pastors in the US, but decided to leave their church, and become foreign missionaries. They both felt that they wanted to work with people who were more receptive to the gospel than those in their own country.

  • I wrote to the Hillsong Bloke (can’t think of his name) Brian somebody or other, a couple of years ago, and said that Hillsong would be much more effective if he broke it down into congregations of 100 and dispersed them all around Sydney, one to each suburb. Instead of having one big congregation, he would have immense numbers of big congregations as they were bound to grow.

    I receive a non-descript reply that more or less said the status quo is fine.

  • I had been thinking that: imagine just one of those mega-rich pastors earning 20-40 million a year putting some of that into saving babies from abortion either by adoption or by helping the mother cope or using it to adopt young Chinese girls who have an uncertain future when they become teenagers. I heard pastors in India earn about 20-40 dollars a months to support themsleves and their families.

  • Yes I was one of the many Bill that read this article (but didn’t share it). I have watched the Churches disintegrate into ‘business centres’ that want to ‘connect’ people together. Usually in the form of Cafes in Church, with feel good twinky sermons, not to mention the ‘don’t ever mention doctrine, sacrifice, Sin, Salvation. There are a few cliche’s that have also appeared as well. Campuses – where do we get campus from? So your Church (all different types) wants to branch out and create a Franchise all over your town geographically. The new cliche is Pioneering. ‘We are a pioneering’ Church. The explanation is about planting Churches strategically. However the last time I looked up the word ‘pioneering’ it meant where ‘nobody’ has been. Also over the years we have discovered that there is such a thing as “Agenda Based Preaching’. That is preaching that is centred in your ‘Vision Statement’, Church Motto or your next ‘Yearly Offering’ or your ‘Church Program’. We still go to an established Church to look after people. We certainly don’t go for the preaching (I haven’t heard a decent Scriptural Sermon In years). But quite a few times I have felt like Frances Chan – bewildered and lost in a cesspool of a ‘System’ that kind of ‘serves’ its own industry. Itinerant ministers also have intrigued us. They usually have a ‘Faith Based’ Ministry but seem to travel around the ‘Churches’ around the world that will give them an offering when they are a guest preacher. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me. But I considered it an ‘industry job’. The Christian ‘industry’. This is one of the many puzzles that most people don’t want to confront, There is something very very wrong with the Local, Small, Independent and the Megachurch (Name your type or flavour). It is failing the Lord big time.

  • Another wonderful article Bill.

    I meet a lot of Christians when they stop by the street outreach and one of the first questions I ask is “Where do you fellowship” Quite a number, sadly have been caught up in the Mormon movement but many of those declaring they are ‘born again’ are not attending a ‘formal church’ setting. They say they did but not now or it isn’t important. Some have wanted to know where the ‘Enjoy Church’ is and I endeavor to steer them to a Bible believing God fearing church rather then ones that appeal to the emotions.

    Sitting on the train a lady in her eighties sat next to me and I was taken by her bright countenance. It didn’t take long to learn that she was a Catholic but as we shared the conversation she was a believer in Christ Jesus just like I was. When I asked where she got her Christian understanding from (because the Catholic church certainly don’t teach it) she said she went to a Charismatic renewal house meeting. Jesus knows His own sheep and looks after them.

    I attended the Ballarat Christian Fellowship 8.30am service which is situated in the city centre. We often clashed with the 10.30am service so about a month ago we moved out so that both services could have the freedom of time and we renting a Senior Citizens building. We have called the fellowship Southside Christian Fellowship. The vision is to grow until we reach around 100 then start a Northside, then a West and Eastside Christian fellowship as God gives the increase. We see the importance of what a small church family brings to Christian growth in the individual and how it is a natural principle to reproduce other families.

  • Thanks for this Bill. I have attended a church that meets in a community centre and now I live in a country town. I attend a local church which might be small but lives out the Gospel. Sunday’s service was about seeking God’s will and using our resources for His Kingdom. No therapeutic moralistic deism there.

  • Gary Whelan, I am saddened that you haven’t heard a Scriptural sermon in years.
    I don’t know where you live (doesn’t matter with the internet I suppose), but try the audios you will find at www.ashburtonpc.org.au (my church).

  • I am brother Julius in Kenya. I love brother Chan’s stand, he’s a true follower of Jesus Christ. I am a pastor in making still in bible school. I always want to be a disciple who speaks the truth rightly dividing the word of God without fear or intimidation. We should have the “Peter’s courage” in the book of acts of the apostles. Church should be taught about Holiness which will take us to heaven and term sin as sin. I really love this message and I am inspired. You are better to have 100 church members who are devoted to God than 1000 lukewarm members.

  • Thanks Bill for continuing to write truth and warn….and I 100% agree with Gary Whelan…Most Churches had become “businesses” with a bottom line, targets to meet, and the leadership now called names such as “Spiritual Oversight Team & Ministry Support Team” as opposed to Elders and Deacons, requiring non of the Biblical requirements to fulfill those positions. Its now more about numbers and how good the coffee after the service is than making disciples of God based on Biblical truth. The Church of Laodicea comes to mind.

  • Bill, the fact that the article about Francis Chan is so popular is very encouraging.

    I think one is fortunate to be “pulled up” early on in proceedings, with a rebuke to one’s conscience, as Francis related.

    I am not in the same circumstances as Francis Chan – I’ve never had a “mega” following and never written a best seller. I never had an ambition to preach, and was taken aback when this was where God directed me. I managed to overcome my fear: a craven attitude of “Here am i. Lord. Send someone else” because I literally could not stay silent in the face of blasphemy within my then-church.

    I look back and am grateful that didn’t stay silent – although it was rather awful at the time. Before too long, opportunities to preach elsewhere opened up (& I wasn’t seeking them!) After a couple of years I started to feel less “I can’t believe I’m doing this”. Well, one Sunday morning I had a little glimmer of “well done me, for being obedient”. I am VERY grateful to be on a “short leash”! The sermon I heard that morning was Luke 17:7-10.

    7“Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

  • For years I have wondered how the Church wandered so far from its New Testament model. Certainly the Roman Emperor Constantine was instrumental in making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th Century AD. But with this change in status of Christianity came its transition from a vibrant movement based on local groups meeting in homes or in public facilities, to a more formal, official State religion. Many would argue that what religion Constantine had was at best a blend of paganism and Christianity for purely political purposes. From that point on, Christianity became increasingly formalized and encased in doctrinal rules. The writings of Eusebius, a Christian Bishop and Greek historian of Christianity, played a significant role in the doctrinal debates and disputes that troubled the fourth century church. And it seems that the politicalization of Christianity did not stop with Constantine. Today the contemporary Church bears little resemblance to that of the First Century.
    I have been involved in OIKOS, an Australian resource centre for house churches, and there are many vibrant Christian groups meeting in homes around Australia – much like the New Testament Church practised in its early days. There has also been a resurgence of ‘New Testament Christianity’ in many forms over the past few decades, partly at least as a reaction to the ritual and and rigidity of many denominations today.
    At the same time, I am pleased to say that there are several Christian groups in Frankston (near where I live) that are having an amazing impact on the local community. On Friday evenings they are out on the streets ministering to people who would be unlikely to darken the doors of local church buildings, but respond readily to this more New Testament style of evangelism. With such love and passion for the Lord comes a new zeal and commitment to the task of ‘preaching the Gospel’.

  • I have been out of the institutional church since around the year 2000. It was around this time I came across writings by people such as Frank Viola – Rethinking the Wineskin, Who is your covering?, Pagan Christianity etc….Also discovered other books – some older such as The Problem of Wineskins Today by Howard Snyder – released in 1975! …Jaded – hope for believers who have given up on church but not on God- AJ Kiesling, Church After Christendom – Stuart Murray …etc…
    Along with this also saw through many articles that many christians were giving up traditional church services and meeting in homes, parks, cafes etc… I wasn’t alone, and have been meeting that way ever since…. I simply feel ill if i ever go to a mega church again, as it’s so much of a show and business…
    Sure, many people who leave the IC might go off into deceptions such as the New Age and skepticism…but I believe in Jesus more than ever…He is both by Lord and Saviour and I’m saved by this grace alone… I can see the church moving more and more in this direction as this west recede into a new dark age….It seems we are going full circle to the way the early church would’ve mostly been.

  • I also believe in Young Earth Creationism more strongly than ever too, and although I support their work and have got their magazine for 25 years I feel they miss the point abit in their recent dvd – Fallout – where they think they people don’t come to church any more mostly cos of belief in evolution. This sadly simplifies things. Yes, this is true for some, but it doesn’t take into account the many reasons why people can leave the building focused church. The church is a spiritual organism more so than a building that meets at the corner once a week.

  • The same problems existed during the time of Jesus and later Paul. There is nothing new under the sun.

  • Jeremy, Your right, although the Fallout phenomenon is true. It would be a gross oversimplification to say that is the whole story. I guess you could still make the point that those who can defend their faith will be seeking God somewhere.

    I would urge all Christian group to be extremely cautious about acquiring property. Bills MUST be paid so in most cases the property owns the congregation. Paying bills destroys pastors.

    The other major thing destroying the church is putting one man (other than Christ) at the top. This is more true for house Churches where relationships tend to be closer. I would love to see more Churhes with multiple coequal elders who are examples and not Lords.

    People like one man at the top to take their own responsibility. Someone to blame. The pastor tries to bring God’s word while denying the Church the true riches of digging together.

    I’m all for home churches since you already own the place but don’t think it is easy. In big church you can avoid facing your own sin and laziness , avoid the people you don’t like and avoid the pain of growing. In home Church you better start with a course on peace making. There will be opportunities to practice.

    In home church you discover the painful truth that is avoided when the church only has one mouth. Everyone is a heretic.

  • After years of deeply seeking the Lord, battling the flesh, attending countless venues for healing, a library of soul searching books- seeking God and answers (including many standard Western church/business entities) The Lord lead me out of cookie cutter- religion, yet at the same time keeping His word and Holy Spirit as my “Lamp”. The Beatitudes have been greatly instrumental in my growth. It was scary and took courage and focus on Jesus alone given the opinions of the average old fashioned religious mindset. I listened to the Lord, not man, and “stepped out of the boat”. For the last 6 years I have had the most incredible walk with Him and others from all around the world who are also fully committed. So- I am not surprised at all that others are evolving into deeper truth and personal relationship with Christ and away from Western Christianity as a business. Beautiful 🙂 As we seek His face, and seek Him with all our heart, He will guide us in a sun scorched land to the Living Water that never fails!

  • I just want to say Be humble and stay focused on His Word. Watch out for emotionalism and love others deeply with the love of Jesus. Be careful to judge in generalities. Every soul is precious and God works in mysterious ways. Whether house churches or megachurches, be prayerful, careful and watchful. The Lord is coming.

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