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.