Francis Chan, Facebook and Being a Shepherd

Shepherd

I know I am a little late on this, but I want to talk about Francis Chan speaking to employees at Facebook Headquarter. If you’re not familiar with whom Chan is, he was previously the Lead Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA and has authored numerous books (Crazy Love, Forgotten God, and Erasing Hell). When I initially heard about his talk, I really did not think much, except, “Awesome. Good for him.”

Then on July 25th, I shared an unrelated video of him that Verge Network put out. In it he talks about doing church and asks, “What if we opened the bible, read it, and tried to do what it says?” Later, a friend commented, asking if Chan was the guy that abandoned his church. The direction of the question intrigued me, so we started talking about it. My friend admitted he unfamiliar with what happened surrounding Chan leaving his church in early 2010. He said most of what he knew came from a podcast that talked about it after Chan spoke at FB.

The 7 Minute Critique

The podcast he referenced is called CrossPolitic. To be clear, I do not listen to their show and only know what I read on their website. But, I did listen to the part of the episode that they talked about Chan speaking at FB. The conversation involved the three hosts and their guest, Ben Shapiro, and took up 7 minutes of the one-hour episode. It was pretty clear none of them were fans of him speaking at FB. At the time I listened to their podcast, I had not yet listened to Chan’s talk. It seemed that the hosts' biggest issue revolved around, as they saw it, Chan "abandoning" his church in Simi Valley.  And in doing so, he was somehow violating his call to shepherd the flock God gave him. That, in their view, is sin and requires him to repent and seek the forgiveness of the congregation.

A few minutes later, one of the hosts invited some reason back into the conversation. He acknowledged it was possible that Chan had taken the steps and time necessary to leave in a “healthy” way. Then they became angry that he “aired” the Church’s “dirty laundry” to Facebook, or as they called them, the “wolf”. They moved their issue with his talk away from him failing at being a shepherd and into the realm of… I don’t actually know. Being too open about church issues with non-church people, I think.

The Facebook Talk

Before I started writing this post I figured I should probably listen to Chan’s FB talk. So I did. It was classic Francis Chan. By that I mean, he preached the Gospel and told them that they needed Jesus. And what of his bashing of The Church and airing the dirty laundry? The speech was 48 minutes long. In those 48 minutes, he spoke about it for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. During those minutes, he was actually answering a question about how he got to the point of doing “We Are Church.” It was comical that the podcast even spent 7 minutes talking about his talk. All that, and that’s not even what I want to talk about.

Church Leaders as Shepherd

I want to talk about the stuff they said having to do with him not shepherding his church well. The reason is that most of us misunderstand what it means to call someone, Pastor (or shepherd). We want the pastor that teaches on Sunday mornings to be the guy at our bedside when we’re sick. We want to think of him or her as a shepherd who lovingly tends to the needs of his flock. At the same time, we really just want that person to stay on the platform, teach what the bible says and never really getting into our lives. Then we can pick and choose what we take from the sermon.

I get frustrated that the church has (and the pastor) has allowed that to be how we define shepherd and then gets mad when he doesn’t something like leave because he really isn’t shepherding. So I want to talk about that. I think the best way to do that is just post my reply to my friend’s comments. When he posted the link to the podcast, he said that this was what he mostly knew about Chan leaving and he thought they made some good points about shepherding.

My Response

They do make some good arguments about being a shepherd. But, they kind of misapply it. Like with Paul. They talk about how he never left the churches he was a part of. But, that couldn't be farther from the truth. There are churches he planted, stayed with for three years and then never was able to go back to. He did write them, but that isn't the same as being there to shepherd them. The best part is that these guys tried to put Paul into a shepherd role and he was clearly an Apostle/Teacher. In Chan’s case, maybe he was given to the Church as the gift of shepherd.

Unfortunately, most pastors today, especially in mega-churches, don't get to be shepherds, even if they are gifted as one. Because institutional church focuses on the weekly gathering, pastors are shoved into Teacher/Preacher roles. Some who have a genuine heart to add small groups to their church model (and not from a place of, "that's just the model") are more along the lines of Apostle. But shepherd? Based on what a shepherd should be doing, most pastors are not. If Chan is gifted as a shepherd, he's likely getting to live out that gifting better, in his current setting, than he was able to with a 5,000 person congregation.

Obviously I wasn't there when Chan left, but while it was happening I tried to follow it as closely as possible. From what I understood, there were years of conversations with elders and leaders and sermons pleading with the congregation, all to little or no avail. My hope is that he wasn't the only pastor on staff that was capable of leading that church. A congregation that size has to have more than one shepherd. Whether they realized it or not, is another thing altogether. At the end of the day, if he was trying to be obedient to God's call (whether it was to leave or simply work in his gifting), we can't know that.

As for him airing the church's "dirty laundry" to the "wolf". Maybe he did. Maybe he shouldn't have told the employees of FB. I haven't heard the speech so I don't know. But, I understood it to be about leadership and that is the context that Chan lead in. One of the things that frustrates me is the way we, in the church, aren't permitted to talk about where we miss the mark and that somehow there are topics and people (celebrity pastors) who are off limits. Lest we forget that the whole first section of Revelation is Jesus publically proclaiming the shortcomings and failures of the Church, His bride. I'd rather have that conversation and fix it, in front of the world, than hear Jesus say it.

In fact, I think it can work in the favor of the church if we, the body, are honest about where we fail and how we're trying to live that out in following Christ better. It's more honest and gets rid of the "perfect Christian" persona that pushes people away from Christ, lest they be the same hypocrites. And I'm not saying that we can't be "perfect", but that we can be more honest about our progression toward perfection involving a really messy process. I don't think he was airing dirty laundry to the wolf, more than he was just sharing where they failed to live in their calling as the bride.

Anyway, I feel like maybe the guys on the podcast tried to boil down a process that took years into a 7-minute conversation and that's difficult to do.

Stop Obsessing Over your Call from God

Call

Like many Christians, I used to worry a lot about my “calling”. Most of the worry has to do with the pressure leaders place on the importance of finding and fulfilling that “one thing” we are supposed to do for God. These leaders never intend that to be the case. Most, if not all, simply want us to realize and accept the invitation that God extends to us to join Him in His work. Unfortunately, it can often come off in a way that it is the most important thing we need to figure out. Almost as if not figuring it out makes us ineffective in God’s kingdom.

So we wrestle with it and pray about it. Then we seek counsel on it and listen real hard to hear God call us. And we get frustrated because we do not hear it as clearly as Moses did with the burning bush thing. But the thing is, I think it is a lot easier than all that.

The Clarity of Our Call

In fact, I think He has pretty clearly outlined our calling in the bible. For the last few years I’ve had this conversation with people: lots of young adults, my kids, newly married couples, my middle-aged friends. After awhile I started to become more frustrated with how none of us realize how simple God has made it. So I decided to write a book about it. Well, the book is actually about how Jesus only gave us three specific commands and how one of them, I think, is the key to obeying the others. But, the undertone of the book deals with our calling as followers of Jesus. I’m hoping to have the book done by the end of August and ready for release by early spring 2018, but until then, I wanted to share this secret. Ready?

As Christians, we all have one calling. Yep, you read that correctly. We are all called to one singular thing and it is the same for all of us. Actually, to be fair, our calling is truly made up of a few different elements. Specifically it is made up of three commands and one commission. That is our calling, obedience to three commands and one commissioning. So what are they?

Three Commands and a Commission 

I know this seems too easy to be true, but it really is not. I am confident that God was clear about two things: 1) how to get to Him (spoiler, Jesus) and 2) what we are supposed to do after we confess Jesus, so others can get to Him. Number two is our calling. It is THE thing that God is calling us all into. We, as Christians, all share in the exact same call of Christ. Here they are:

He commands us to:

  • Love God – Matthew 22:37
  • Love Our Neighbor – Matthew 22:39
  • Love Other Christians – John 13:34

He commissions us to:

  • Be my Witness and Make Disciples – Matthew 28:19 & Acts 1:8

Jesus was pretty clear at the end of Matthew 22, after he acknowledged the two most important commands. In verse 40 He said, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” He was saying that our obedience to everything in the Old Testament depends on our understanding of and obedience to these two commands. Then He gave His followers the new command to love each other. I think there is a lot in that, but you will need to get the book to read my thoughts on that. In the big picture those commands are not always easy to follow, but I think they are pretty simple to understand.

After identifying the commands that we ought to be obeying, He commissioned us to be His witnesses to an unbelieving world and teach others to obey those commands. That’s our calling. Simple, right? I know some of you are saying, “But, I know my calling is to youth ministry.” So let's talk about that.

Your Call to Youth Ministry

Really it can be any call, youth, any other vocational pastorate, para-church ministry, or even Taco Bell. I am not suggesting that God is not calling you to any of those things; there is a high likelihood you are, again I am not arguing that. But, the context & setting in which we do “ministry” is inconsequential if we do not accept loving & going as our call. More and more, I am certain that when you understand and accept that this is what God is calling us to, He will direct that call toward a specific group or cause. Chances are you probably already care about the thing you feel “called” to; you just need to align it with what God has already commanded and commissioned us to do.

My hope is that this frees someone who feels like they are not doing something “impactful” for the Kingdom. Here is the truth, the most important thing you can do for God, and other people, is whatever you are doing for them right now, as long as it is done with a lovingness that introduces people to Jesus. If you are not doing anything right now, just pick something. What you do and where you do it is often of little concern. So, just do something that puts the love of Jesus on display for others to see and feel. That is your call.

 

photo: Flickr/Sean MacEntee

Divine Frankenstein, Chapter 1, Darkness

Darkness

A New Thing

A few years ago I had an idea. I was reading a critique on Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein, and the writer mentioned Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s very obvious god-complex. I remember thinking at the time that what Victor was trying to do was far more similar to what God does than the writer was suggesting. Specifically, just as Victor was using dead and broken parts to create his being, God uses our broken and dead parts to rebuild us. The difference being, while Victor only reanimates death, God creates something new out of it and gives it real life.

As I thought through that idea and tried to figure out how to structure it as a blog post, I started to realize that it was a longer story. One of my favorite books is The Great Divorce, by CS Lewis. What I like most about it the way it’s written as a conversation between two main characters. As I thought through the idea of God as a divine version of Frankenstein, I began to see a story that was centered around a conversation between my own two main characters, one a more mature Christian and the other, a new Christian just waking up to the work of Christ in him. Almost immediately this “conversation” became one that I wish someone would have had with me when I was a new Christian.

So I started writing a book and called it Divine Frankenstein. I am currently working on another book, that will be out before this one, but I felt like I needed to share this first chapter. I have only ever shared it with a few other people (5 exactly), but here it is… Divine Frankenstein, Chapter 1.

DARKNESS

It starts in darkness; creation always does. The second creation can only ever start with darkness. For it’s only in the darkness that the genuine need for hope is realized. Before that, hope is simply an impression that, when the synthetic light we manufactured in the first creation begins to dim, causes us to momentarily ponder what might happen if the light is extinguished. That dimming causes us to search out something to grasp. We look to anything that might help us maintain our bearings, should the darkness come. As children, we seem wiser with regard to understanding darkness. We approach it with a healthy fear or at the very least caution.

Eventually though, somewhere between the nightlights of our childhood and the reading lamp of adulthood, we lose our fear of the dark. We forget that scary things lurk and skulk there. We dismiss that it is the preferred method of cover for the ominous creatures that seek to undue and destroy us. Somehow it simply becomes an absence and we ignore it; sometimes we might even welcome it.

Collapse of the First Creation

But the truth of it is, darkness entering into creation was the most dreadful of things. Darkness in creation reveals void. It exposes the created to emptiness, ultimately ending with the death of all that was intended to be good in the first creation. It stifles the life that creation brings, choking and pressing out every bit of it, until all that remains is a distorted reflection of what once was. Creation was not meant to function in darkness. It was light that was introduced into creation first. Creation was intended to flourish in the glory of The Light.

All created eventually collapses into darkness. Truth be told, darkness has already consumed the first creation. If this were not true, there would be no need for hope. And seeking something like peace, specifically in this world, would be a frivolous pursuit. Likewise there would be no need for the second creation. But we seek hope and we do desire the comfort of the light. The second creation is necessary.

The Second Creation

The desire of The Creator is for His created to release its tight-fisted grip on the first creation and welcome the dying that darkness brings, ultimately surrendering to the work of His second creation. It is only in this second creation that hope can be truly experienced and peace, which until now has only ever been spoken of around treaty tables as a fanciful and utopian idea, becomes a reality. It is in the second creation that we realize the wholeness and peace, we have so long hoped to experience, first occurs in us. Then, and only then, is it able to work its way outward into all of creation.

Peace is grown in the light of the second creation. Light is always brightest as it extinguishes darkness. The only way for second creation to come about, is for the first to end in darkness; there is no other way. And that end of the first creation results in void and emptiness. On the surface this seems a dreadful thing. But without void and emptiness, filling and fullness cannot occur. If we are filled with the trappings of the first creation, what room is there for the second creation? The work of the second creation requires the first to end. And the first ends in darkness. Only after this end can hope take hold and peace become tangible. So it is that your second creation starts in the midst of darkness.

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