Book Review: “Letters to the Church” By Francis Chan (Chapter 1)

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I have had a lot of people tell me that I need to read Francis Chan’s book, “Letters to the Church.” I began reading it a few weeks ago and am going to share some thoughts here. I also want to involve you in this conversation for any of you who want to read through this book with me.

I will be posting reviews of each chapter and then engaging in conversation over what we read over at our Facebook Discipleship group. You are welcome to comment here on the blog as well. The FB group has several people already committed to reading through this book so I believe you will find that group helpful as we walk through “Letters to the Church” together.

Chapter one details Chan and his wife leaving a church in their mid 20s to start a house church. This would become Cornerstone church in Simi valley. He had three things he wanted to emphasize in this new church: participatory singing, engaging with the Bible, and to live holy lives. (p.11-12). “It didn’t make sense to teach the scriptures without expecting change.” (p.12).

What do you think about his three emphases? There is no cookie cutter or repeatable pattern to these things. We do need values to drive our behaviors. In essence, values always drive our behaviors, we just might not have a solid set of values and then something less than adequate results in our behavior.

As they grew they moved. From house to middle-school to a converted liquor store to finally buying a building. The growth continued and worship services were added to accommodate those who were coming. People were being converted and God was being praised but Chan still felt something was missing.

Here was the issue – giftedness. Too much of it became about Francis Chan and the crowd coming and receiving. People were not being challenged to identify and use their gifts in that environment. This is not just a problem for megachurches. This is a problem for churches of all sizes and this has been on my mind for some time.

How do we identify and encourage the use of the gifts of the congregation for ministry?

How do we fully embrace the priesthood of all believers in real time?

This has been on my mind for well over a year. I don’t think many churches do a very good job of identifying gifts and encouraging people to find ways of using those gifts for the kingdom. Instead the church does what the church has always done and you can take it or leave it. We can be more creative than that.

The story continues with Chan and family leaving Cornerstone and moving to Asia for a season. I appreciated his willingness to answer God’s call even when it meant leaving something you love. If he is unwilling to be obedient to God in that, how can he/we expect others to do the same?

Next, Chan tells about coming back to the states and having a more organic outreach in San Francisco. Again, something was missing – it wasn’t part of a church body as we see in the New Testament. He had no elders, no accountability, etc. I appreciate his seeing the need to continue to connect these things back to a church body. I believe that is healthy and humble on his part.

This line really hit me on page 24, “Many want to change the Church, but it is often motivated by personal preference rather than biblical conviction.”

What do you think about that line?

I think it is a solid reminder that everything we do needs to be discerned through what we can best tell God’s will is, even if it isn’t our preference.

Chan ends the chapter talking about the urgency of doing what is pleasing to God. We don’t need to get distracted by infighting and petty arguments. We can’t let social media weigh us down. We need to do our best to please God and do what we would do if we knew this was our last week before meeting Jesus.

What challenged or convicted you from chapter 1?

How might we live a more full and free life in Christ?

What would church look like if we took the Bible seriously?

Go to chapter two review, “Sacred,” here.

6 Responses

  1. It sounds as if Chan would have fit into the Restoration Movement nicely.
    Participatory singing is a good thing, participatory living is a great thing.
    We should engage with the Bible, more and more, because then we are engaging with the Word of God and the Son of God, the Word.
    Living Holy lives, means not just living our lives in the church building, but everywhere. We might look Holy when we are in the pew, but we are Holy when we help our neighbor or a widow or an orphan or talk of God to others who are lost.
    Since the church is the people who are connected to Jesus, the only thing we can change are practices by the saints. Unfortunately often we believe that our personal preferences are biblical convictions and then those become laws that shall not be changed.
    I often think what “scriptural” things would we be concerned about if we were being persecuted like the early church was…song order, collection amount, numbers in the pews, names on the church buildings, etc. Would we get back to the basics of Jesus as our hope and living in Jesus as righteousness.

  2. Chapter one confirms several values Francis has demonstrated in his life. One a willingness to listen to the prompting of the Spirit in himself and others. This is a challenging but valuable practice . He has been willing to apply the scriptures in the administration and function of the church. This is becoming a rare value in our American culture. Despite fame and fortune he has remained humble and willing to serve others with his time and possessions.
    Certainly his point about honoring leaders is true. Far too often they are the target of criticism and attack. Scripture says to honor and obey your leaders. My experience is that preachers want to be Pastors despite that role being addressed to elders. Qualified elders willing to server are hard to come by. There is too much divorce, too much drama, too much heart ache, and too many distractions. Elders are called by the Holy Spirit and not by popular vote.
    The leaders of the church need to help people identify the gift the Holy Spirit has bestowed on them for the common good. Yes this is spiritual. Yes this is outside our normal comfort. Being able to use my gift to edify the church is my passion and joy.
    The urgency is real. This is Christ’s church not ours. We need to let Him lead. When we listen to Him and so prove to be his disciples. The current trend to market and rebrand the church is dangerous. We need to apply innovation with care and wisdom while holding to the apostolic traditions.

    1. I am blessed to read these words of your Phillip! I agree with everything you wrote. Eldership is a very hard and often thankless job. We need to encourage them. We also need to follow God’s lead rather than our own and have some discernment processes embedded in our decision making that reflect valuing the lead of the Spirit and the scriptures.

    2. Preachers are caught between a rock and a hard place, all responsibility and no authority. Most cofC congregants want preachers to be pastors. Elders who are supposed to be pastors function more like trustees and are rarely liked by congregation but can’t often be removed. Everyone suffers.

    3. Amen!! My husband was a preacher. He tried at each congregation to get the Elders to take on the roles they were meant to have. He finally quit preaching and now does things on a volunteer basis. The church needs to read the Bible without the glasses of everything they have been taught and get what is truly there.

    4. If Acts 6 is an indication of the first deacons and the apostles moving towards Elder things, then what we have are the Elders leaving to pray and spread the word, while the Deacons handled the feeding of the needy saints, which means they had control of the funds for that. Today the Elders are usually board members over a local institution.

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