I just finished reading Francis Chan’s new book Letters to the Church. It was an eye-opening read, and one that made me re-examine my life, and re-evaluate what I know as ‘church’ here in the West. Chan looks at the characteristics of the Church in the New Testament, and then compares them to some of our practices here. Let me just say that there is a stark contrast. When he was visiting the underground church in China, and he told them that Westerners go to a building for 90 minutes per week, and call it ‘church’, they started laughing hysterically. They couldn’t believe he was actually serious. We are so far removed from where we should be, but it is my prayer that God will use this book to wake us up, and cause us to make some changes.
Here are some lessons I took away from this book.
1. The Church should be characterized by radical love. If non-believers walk into our churches, and don’t see something supernatural about the way we love, then something is wrong. Jesus tells us to love as He has loved (John 13:34-35). That’s some serious love, one that took Him to a Cross. We should not just love those who love us, but those who hate us as well.
2. The Church should be rejoicing in suffering, not trying to flee from it. This is what makes the Church unstoppable. Persecution in other countries actually makes the church stronger, because they are rejoicing when they suffer, and still witnessing boldly. We are barely witnessing without suffering and persecution. What will happen when it comes? Let’s practice rejoicing now, even with the small inconveniences of life, and therefore prepare ourselves for greater suffering.
3. The way we operate church now does not have to be the same in the future. It is not even necessarily biblical. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we have to have 30 minutes of worship, and 30 minutes of preaching. Paul preached all night in one instance (granted someone fell out the window and died, but he was resurrected, so it was fine). In fact, our model may be hurting the Church because we are creating a consumer culture where a small number of people do all the work, and the rest sit and listen. The Church was designed to function together, with everyone using their gifts to edify the Body, even the weakest members.
Francis Chan is now running house churches, with groups of 20 people. Once the group gets bigger than 20, he sends them out to start their own church. Most of the pastors have their own job, and so the money they collect is used completely for missions purposes, or the needs of the members. This could be a very effective model, and a way to minister more effectively, allow members to use their gifts, and to use funds more efficiently.
4. The Church should be missions-minded, and sending people out regularly to be missionaries. We have been given a Commission, so what are we doing about it? Some of us will be called to stay here, but we should not automatically assume that. If we are staying, then we should be praying for, and supporting those who are going. Our whole lives should be wrapped up in this mission.
If you want to be challenged, I highly encourage you to read this book, whether you are a church leader or a lay-person. I pray that God will use this book to help us return to a more biblical model of church. May Jesus find us faithful when He returns.