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More pastors should follow Francis Chan’s example

Francis Chan reads the Bible and tries to do what it says. He listens to the Spirit and tries to do what Jesus did – only what he saw the Father doing. Chan’s church was growing and his books were selling – he was becoming successful, an authority and a conference speaker. And just when things we…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Francis Chan reads the Bible and tries to do what it says. He listens to the Spirit and tries to do what Jesus did – only what he saw the Father doing. Chan’s church was growing and his books were selling – he was becoming successful, an authority and a conference speaker. And just when things were starting to sizzle, he left his position as pastor.
His model has stirred consternation and controversy among those who don’t see the world as he does. In the interview (see video below), Chan talks about why he left and how he deals with expectations from those in the American church who disagree with him.
I personally love that Chan left his church. It’s easy to elevate Christian leaders to a place God never intended them to be. Megachurch pastors can lose their prophetic edge and become trapped by a system that forces them to compromise their principles (a subject I deal with here). And even pastors of smaller churches can feel claustrophobic, the victim of unrealistic expectations.
Barna’s statistics show that a large majority of pastors feel dissatisfied in their roles. Pastor’s wives feel isolated. My hypothesis is that one reason they feel this way is that God has called them out of their churches to something that feels riskier, but they have said “no” to the call, feeling constrained by loyalty and lacking the courage to jump to something they can’t see. And in a way, they are no different than many of us who feel dissatisfied in our current roles, but don’t know how to follow God’s call to something we struggle to understand.
By following God’s call to a different platform, Chan set an example for those who feel trapped. Obedience to what the Lord is saying, especially when it’s difficult, should always be our highest priority. We need more examples that show us how to do it.
Chan’s not leaving his church and he’s not leaving his international platform. It’s likely that his voice calling believers back to the gospel that Jesus preached will take on even greater resonance in this new and still undefined role that he is moving into.

Comments (29)

  • I heard his message on leaving his church. What a great example of following God’s call even when it does not make sense to others.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Good article – good point

    I would remind you of one thing that I’ve found out the hard way…

    whenever I talk or write in such a strongly supportive way about someone or something that takes a significant step of faith, God usually ends up telling me to do the same thing.

    for the past 2 years I’ve talked & talked to my wonderful kids in House of Grace about embracing the BIG life God has for them – to step out and do something out of the box.

    some of them have done so – many of them with the World Race, or with summer missions to Uganda & other places.

    but guess what?

    God took me up on my words.

    Recently, God has led my wife & I to leave everything we had in Macon & move to Blairsville.

    What will we do?

    So far, what we see is to be who we are, get jobs in the area, love 20somethings, live stream Sunday morning services from Macon in our home.

    But we also know that there’s a whole lot more He wants us to be & do.

    So that’s what happened to us when we encouraged our HOG kids to throw away their boxes. God led us to do that very thing.

    It will be interesting what the future holds for you.

  • I’ve often called this a ‘net leaving attitude’… that is, the attitude and willingness to get up and go the moment Jesus calls us to. I was once accused of being fickle for having this attitude, and I sometimes wonder if that’s part of my personal equation. At the same time, I’m someone amazed that I’m still here, serving as a pastor in the church that Jesus planted 11 years ago. I was once convinced that I was supposed to pack up the family and go to King Cove, Ak. I’m continually convinced that I should be teaching Inductive Bible Study in Nepal year round. I’m also convinced that I should re-plant a church right here in town in the form of a community center. For some reason, I’m still doing what I’ve always been doing.

    There are petty aspects to this scenario. Chan does have a lucrative speaking schedule and book sales to cushion his ‘step of faith’. Kind of makes me wonder if my financial situation helps to keep me anchored, (as opposed to bouncing about sporadically), or if it’s truly a faith issue.

  • I have been struggling lately myself with the whole idea of being a hypocrite. I had such dreams of being radical for Christ but have allowed the day to day overwhelming burdens of ministry to cloud my view of the real priorities. I work in a church full time and I ask myself, have I really been walking on the narrow road as I thought? I was in a bookstore yesterday and the clerk recommended David Platt’s book “Radical” and said how challenged she was by it. I told her I was already overwhelmed by so many other things that I couldn’t imagine taking on another challenge, but pushed pass the feeling and bought the book. I started reading it yesterday and it is blowing me away. Opening up your post this morning just made it so clear to me. The recent Mega-Church scandal is really a wake up call to the American Church. We (all of us) have been heaping upon our own lusts for quite sometime now and lost sight of Jesus (if we really saw him to begin with) and the true mandate of the church. I applaud Chan’s move and all those who are willing to walk away from the trappings and the burdens we have taken on. It takes much courage to step out and away from your familiar, and I solicit your prayers for me and the countless numbers who sense strongly the Lord calling us to take up our cross and follow Him where ever He may lead.

  • Good point about being forced. We always have a choice. Victor Frankel showed us this as a concentration camp victim. Here’s a great excerpt:

    … We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

    That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

    A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory….”

  • I so respect Chan for walking away and following God. That call had to be difficult, and yes, I agree with the individual who pointed out that Chan’s writing and speaking provide a safety net that many of us don’t have…

    But it has helped me think through a real funk I have been going through. I came to the conclusion that what I was experiencing was a church crisis. Not a faith crisis, but a church crisis.

    I love my home church. I met Jesus there almost ten years ago, but a malaise has set in. I think it is because change is so difficult and there is still a “don’t rock the boat” sense. I have been part of a church plant launch team (for lack of better words to describe who we are and what we are doing). But we haven’t planted a church and our attempts at gatherings have been awful.

    I am a dreamer and a vision caster who longs for more than the status quo church. I pray that if God calls me to something radical I will have the courage to follow.

  • Thanks Seth for focusing attention on this arena.

    Whenever we make the right hard choices God smiles.

    That’s the distilled truth of Chan’s decision and I deeply respect him for it.

    And when confusion, dissension and disquiet abound in a heart or community that almost always means Jesus has left the building or it is time to move.

    We often forget (I do) that the followers of God and then the disciples of Jesus were more nomadic than security oriented and a cloud by day and a pillar of fire in the night led a nation. Those signals meant change and choice each day and night.

    If there isn’t a willingness to leave it all for the sake of the call then we may be listening to the wrong sirens.

    Appreciate you…

  • Interesting! This is the second time I’ve heard the word “repositioning” especially in tandem with “God’s strategy.”

  • Drea Statzer (k-squad)

    theres a movement starting. theres a hunger stirring seth. a hunger for the authentic, the raw, the real, the manifestation of Christ. i see it everywhere i turn. in my community in phx. in fransic chan. in the world race. a dissatisfied generation that is calling out for more.

    all i can do is stand back in awe at what ive seen lately..

  • Many of the comments here revolve around a common theme and it reminds me of Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

    Western culture has discovered a new way to communicate, a new ‘communion’ of sorts…things are changing fast and social media is becoming the fabric of society, not just a medium. The church has been a monologue for centuries, but now everyone has a voice everywhere, it’s becoming a dialogue…EVERYWHERE BUT THE CHURCH!

    People want to share their opinions on blogs (like I’m doing now), or on Facebook, or via Twitter, or on forums. Then on Sunday morning, they sit muted in a pew or row of chairs and listen passively as someone else delivers everything without their input. The Body of Christ in a coma with its mouth moving! This was the old wineskin of television. You could scream at the tube, but no one would hear you! Network TV is now on life support.

    Modern churches need to become more organic and participatory and this is what Francis Chan saw before being called to leave his church. His church, Cornerstone Simi Valley, reorganized their gatherings to make the focus small house churches called “gospel communities” where true fellowship and community happens. The Sunday service was just the celebration of their commonality in Jesus and some great teaching by Francis. He saw the shifting paradigm as do many of us.

    Can the behemoth of the “institutional church” turn to be more in tune with the changing times? Look at Blockbuster. Netflix realized that people didn’t want to have to drive to a physical store. People responded favorably to getting videos delivered to them and now even streaming instantly to their TVs or phones. Blockbuster declared bankruptcy last week. Maybe we need to rethink our definition of church to include the group of the faithful meeting right here? Maybe the church mindset needs a reboot??

  • Thoroghly enjoyed reading this Seth and every comment that followed! We sold all to follow him to South Africa out of obedience as sacrifice isn’t all that elegant in His eyes. I am struggling mightily with the idea that it is now time to return to the States. It doesn’t seem near as sacrifical but I do believe is obedient.our first move with no profound purpose

  • In all honesty, we haven’t a way of knowing whether this was a legitimate call from God to leave the church or Chan’s own dissatisfaction with the struggles of ministry. What makes his claim that this is “a call from God” more legitimate than Jesse Duplantis’ claim that he “went to heaven?”

    There’s a problem with your hypothesis: it assumes that following God’s call will mean you don’t feel dissatisfied in what you’re doing and your family will feel like you’re all as close as you’re supposed to be. How’s that different from the prosperity gospel that says if we do things right, God will bless us?

  • Jesse,

    Perhaps you’re reading more into my post than I’m saying. I didn’t write the blog to validate his call (you’re right – who are we to say that he heard God and someone else didn’t?) so much as to say, “Pastors in general struggle with staying too long in a church when they feel God calling them elsewhere and they struggle to take risks. We need more examples of what that looks like and here’s one.

    What Chan did was jump into an unknown future, apparently based on conviction. I find that inspiring and many others do too.

  • My apologies if I was reading too much in.

    But I wonder why you feel that pastors stay too long in a church when they are being called elsewhere and this gets back to the point I brought up: how are these calls to something else tested?

    Additionally, if you’re up for it, I’d love more elaboration from you on the bit about familial contentedness and following the will of God.

  • Barna on pastors & risk: Risk-taking drops off among pastors after 20-plus years in ministry. Taking appropriate and calculated risks is an important competency among leaders and most pastors consider themselves to be “risk-takers.” But the research shows that the risk-taking impulse declines significantly after someone has been a pastor for 20 or more years. Pastors who have stayed at the same church for more than 20 years are particularly risk averse.

    80% of pastor’s spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
    80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. 70% constantly fight depression and half would leave if they could find an alternative.

  • I’m not sure how risk-taking made its way into the toolbelt of things a pastor should be doing. Further, I’m unsure of what qualifies as “risk-taking” and why doing so is important. I find Scripture silent on the matter of taking risks.

    Regardless, the stats don’t substantiate a call elsewhere. That pastors and their families suffer in their call is not an indication that they are acting out of the will of God – this gets back to my point about prosperity gospel. Does the connection I’m making make sense? Perhaps I’m not being clear enough…

  • Jesse,

    I’ll take this conversation off-line if you’d like to send me your email. I don’t want to keep going back and forth on the blog and our exchange feels polemical.

    You and I seem to have a fundamental disagreement, I spell faith R-I-S-K. It’s dependence on God. It feels very uncertain and unpredictable. It’s something Jesus was constantly monitoring in his disciples. I believe that a pastor’s primary job is to disciple others in how to live a life where risk-taking based on hearing God’s voice is normative.

  • Francis Chan sums up the words of John3:8
    “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  • I mean my statement in Christian love. I don’t like reading nasty comments on blogs, so please know that I’m not attacking you. I do want to disagree, however.

    I think pastors should follow Jesus’ example, not Francis Chan’s.

    Francis states on the Cornerstone website that he is going to plant a church in a larger city.


    As a result, he will probably have a larger church and a larger platform. This is fine, and it is normal, but it’s not like he’s stepped out of the spotlight. He is actually moving to a larger spotlight than Ventura County. This looks like the typical move to greener pastures. It may indeed be that he is called to a larger city, but pastors do that all the time. I’m one of them.

    Francis is a great preacher, and God bless him. Let’s just make sure we’re honoring Jesus, not a celebrity pastor.

    God’s blessings to you, bro!

  • I love Francis! He’s not pursuing prosperity like some of the Church. He’s not pursuing poverty like some of the Church. He’s pursuing Jesus! Through that pure desire to serve God and others, he’s suffering for Christ and being blessed by God at the same time!!! That’s the balance we are ALL looking for! Obedience is really better than sacrifice!!!

  • Im not sure how I feel about Chan anymore, I loved his book, when he first came on “the scene”, but I’m suspicious when I see someone claiming to give it all away for Jesus wearing designer jeans that cost $150 bucks and flying from city to city. In a recent interview I read he commented that he could write a cheque for a new hospital is he chose to do so……………it doesn’t sound like he’s giving it all up to me…………is he just pretending, while sitting on his money, or fooling himself? or us?……………..he does a good job at what he’s doing, regardless 🙂

  • Great post. Francis is such an inspiration and the humble way he handles his critics and mockers is as powerful as any sermon he’s preached.

  • Timely, Seth…and on the money.
    My only quibble is with this thought: “Megachurch pastors can lose their prophetic edge and become trapped by a system that forces them to compromise their principles (a subject I deal with here).”
    I propose that no system or individual can “force” us to compromise our principles.
    But, they/it sure as heck can make a big dent while trying!
    At every point, in every hour and day, we need to place our lives and calling before His review.
    Asking God to shine a daily spotlight on our personal lives, our spiritual discernment, and our moral integrity.
    The other key component is community and accountability.
    Man, am I thankful for that one…I have deliberately placed myself in accountability to my 33-year-old housemate. Talk about humbling. But, let me tell you…it keeps me objective about myself and my walk with God!

  • Thank you, Seth.
    It was only a quibble and I did not intend for it to detract from the well-taken point of your article.
    In some ways, aligning ourselves with a system that is not based on God’s principles – such as the prosperity gospel of the particular mega-church in the news – does at some point “force” us astray.
    The beginning steps set the path…until either we listen to correction.
    Or God corrects in a strong and counter-forceful way.
    So, all of this is to say…I can see value in how you phrased it.
    Just wanted to add a different slant.

    The Viktor Frankl quote was beautiful. And, in keeping with my thoughts and pondering these last few days as I sink into the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the newest biography: “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” I have had to force myself to put it down and attend to daily tasks. I highly recommend it to all. It calls, as few things I’ve read of late, to the rugged mountain terrain where the air is rarified and survival is reduced to the basics: the oxygen of the Holy Spirit and the support of a tribe of fellow climbers. Interestingly enough, I have also watched a documentary and read a National Geographic article in the same time period about the unique and dangerous challenges of ascending Mt. Everest.


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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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