From the very beginning, the Church has always needed pruning. We’ve always needed reformers and reformations to speak with the voice of the prophet, to call us back to what we were meant to be. Church history is full of reformations of all sizes that have pulled God’s people closer to God’s intention for His Church.
After Christianity became the official state religion of Rome in the wake of Constantine (c. AD 300), the Church became a place of privilege and prestige. People would buy their way into church leadership because this was the way to gain power in society. So God raised up a group of monks who exposed the Church’s wickedness and greed by pursuing God simply and passionately.
When the Catholic Church went so far astray in the sixteenth century that forgiveness of sins was supposedly being sold by the church and human effort was deemed necessary to salvation, God raised up Martin Luther, who himself stood in a long line of reformers like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, to call God’s people back to a true understanding of grace. When this Reformation became too institutionalized, God raised up Anabaptists to bring reformation to a Church that had already been reformed. There are so many reform movements throughout history: the Celtics, the Moravians, the Azusa Street Revival, the Jesus People. Virtually every denomination we have today began as some sort of reform movement meant to pull the Church closer to God’s intention.
There’s a part of me that fears becoming overly dramatic, comparing ourselves to the Moravians or Reformers. But they were just people! Why not us? I believe this generation can kill the consumer mind-set in the Church and replace it with a servant attitude that thrives on suffering for His name. There is no reason we can’t join with those who have gone before us and be the ones who restore the missional focus of the Church. What else would you rather do with your days?
It should not feel out of the ordinary, harsh, or inappropriate to call the Church to change. Nor should we imagine that our unique expression of Church is the only one God sanctions. Instead, we should be constantly seeking renewal, being ready at any moment to discard the elements of Church that lead us away from God’s heart rather than toward it.
Maybe you should do Churchbnb. Maybe you shouldn’t. I can’t answer that for you. My hope is simply to convince you that there are compelling ways of living as the Church that look nothing like our traditional models. My goal is to get you dreaming, to keep you from settling, to affirm that nagging sense you can’t shake that God wants something more for His Church than what you’re experiencing.
As we have been stepping out in faith in San Francisco, we have seen encouraging signs of growth. People rarely talk about a great “sermon” but often discuss what they’ve discovered in their Bible readings. Fellowship over the Word has become normal. People regularly take hours and even days to be alone in the presence of Christ. They enjoy Him. Prayer gatherings go longer than planned, and rarely are people anxious to leave. Families are opening up their homes to others. They give away cars, possessions, and money out of love. It is perfectly normal for accomplished professionals to be best friends with ex-cons. Homeless addicts have become faithful pastors. When we gather, many come with prayer requests for people they’ve shared the gospel with that week. We recently emptied out all our church bank accounts (we actually took a picture of them all being at $0) to fund the kids’ ministry in Africa—over $300,000 was given by people who don’t have much! People are sacrificing better living conditions to move closer to the projects. Some are being slandered and betrayed yet rejoicing through it. We have around forty pastors now who work full-time jobs. They are missionaries at work and they shepherd and disciple in their free time. We have plenty of problems, but there is plenty of life.
We seem to be seeing more and more of what pleases God most.
This takes me back to where I started this book. I have never been more in love with Jesus or the Church than I am right now. And the intimacy I’ve been experiencing with God has been directly tied to my connection with the Church. We still have so far to go, but I can honestly say my experience with the Church no longer looks drastically different from what I read about in Scripture. God does not intend for that to be the exception; it’s simply what the Church was meant to be.
I have traveled and seen God’s Church multiply and thrive in ways I only dreamed were possible. Now I’m starting to experience it myself. But I never would have experienced this if I had given in to the powerful inertia that pulled me to fall in line with everyone else’s expectations.
Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2018).
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