Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? Seriously. Close your eyes for two minutes and try to picture “Church” as you would know it.
Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?
Can you live with that?
Eight years have passed since I left Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, yet people are still asking me the same question: Why?
Why did you leave a church that was doing great things? Why would you leave all those people you loved?
Why did you leave the country when you seemed to be gaining influence? Did your beliefs change? Do you still love the Church?
You built a megachurch, started a college, wrote bestselling books, had a huge podcast following, and then you suddenly walked away from it all and moved your family to Asia. It just doesn’t make sense!
While I am anxious to share what God has been teaching me recently, it’s probably helpful to share about how God led me in the past. I want to clear up any confusion and give some insight on why I am writing this book.
First let me say that my years in Simi Valley were so good. I am literally smiling as I type this. I spent over sixteen years as pastor of Cornerstone, so my mind is filled with both hilarious and meaningful memories. So many faces come to mind, deep friendships, spiritual moments, and periods of awe over the things God was doing. I believe I will be spending eternity with many people who fell in love with Jesus during those years. Nothing can ever take that away.
WHY I LEFT MY MEGACHURCH
In 1994, when I was twenty-six years old, I decided to plant a church. It wasn’t something I planned on doing. After all, I had been married for less than a month. Lisa and I were having a rough time at our church. The elders and the lead pastor had been fighting, which eventually led to the pastor’s removal. The members were also fighting as they were divided on who was more wrong: the elders or the pastor. Everyone was discouraged by all the division. Sundays were far from uplifting, and I couldn’t see how any of this could be pleasing to God. It was at that time I told my new bride I had a crazy idea: What if we started a church out of our house?
Even if there were only a dozen people in our living room, wouldn’t it be better than what we had been experiencing? Lisa agreed, and so began Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley.
I was determined to create something different from what I had experienced before. This was my chance to build exactly the kind of church I wanted to be part of. I basically had three goals in mind. First, I wanted all of us to sing directly to God. And I mean really sing. I’m not talking about going through the motions of singing out of routine or guilt. Have you ever been part of a group of people actually singing directly to God? Singing with reverence and emotion? Singing as though God is really listening to their voices? That is a powerful experience, and I wanted it to be central to our new church.
Second, I wanted all of us to really hear the Word of God. We weren’t going to be those people who gather together to listen to some self-help nonsense, nor were we going to ignore half the Bible. I wanted us to dig deeply into Scripture—even the passages that contradicted our logic and desires. I wanted the presentation of God’s truth to be powerful, and I wanted us to take it seriously. So I began to preach week after week, verse by verse through the Bible. We all set out to truly hear everything the Word of God was saying to us.
And finally, I wanted all of us to live holy lives. I had seen too many Christians packed into too many churches who seemed to have no interest in actually doing what the Bible said. I couldn’t get past the tragic irony of this. 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. Not that I was perfect or expected anyone else to be, but I wanted our church to be a group of people who pushed one another toward action. It didn’t make sense to teach the Scriptures without expecting change. So from the very beginning, we challenged one another to action.
I have just completed a nine-session Bible study based on Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book. Sessions include:
- Chapter 1: The Departure
- Chapter 2: Sacred
- Chapter 3: The Order
- Chapter 4: The Gang
- Chapter 5: Servants
- Chapter 6: Good Shepherds
- Chapter 7: Crucified
- Chapter 8: Unleashed
- Chapter 9: Church Again