Letters to Francis
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
By Dr. Jeff Parker - July 16th, 2019
Can Letters to the Church become Fodder for the Factious?
Let me begin by stating that Francis Chan is an accomplished pastor and author. His works have been stimulating and refreshing. Who can read Crazy Love without being moved to a more intimate walk with God? No doubt as with much of Chan’s writings, he is on a quest in his latest work, Letters to the Church to navigate his own feelings. However, unlike his previous books, Letters to the Church may in the end … damage the very institution he seeks to better and serve as “fodder for the factious”. Fodder being the hay, stubble and a quality of feed that is plentiful and yet in many respects, inferior to livestock. Factious meaning those who are divisive, contentious and argumentative. In other words, those who by nature in The Church are … “difficult to lead” (the disgruntled) … will feel empowered by voices such as Chan who has the popularity and platform to be seen as their spokesman … airing their grievances.
Perhaps Chan is simply doing what many in our culture gravitate toward … this ability to process hurt on a grand scale … to move our private struggles to a social venue … to hash out our emotions publicly. For example, a wife is betrayed by her husband and goes to Facebook to vent her anger and worse … her lack of trust of All men. Chan may be doing the same by exposing his ministerial wounds and the generalized frustration he feels toward the evangelical community.
Let’s face it, we live in a time when the masses wield the power to tear apart institutions and authority figures … to process their individual hurt in a public forum. Tragically this is often done in the life of a believer before God can reveal everything He may have been trying to teach. In other words, how many of us look back years later over something we said or wrote and regret our response? We reacted prematurely. I believe Chan is reacting over the hurt acquired while building a megachurch and perhaps, ministry itself and may one day regret portions of this book.
Perhaps an illustration with a biblical example may help to make the point. Nearly a third of the book of Genesis chronicles the life of Joseph, the youngest of Jacob’s sons. We see a son doted over by his father; given a coat signifying position and filled with dreams of superiority. But he is despised by his brothers. In time, his siblings sell him into slavery, pocket the proceeds and then fabricate a tale as to his death. We watch as Joseph’s life spirals up and down, from pit to Potiphar to prison and finally to the palace. His existence is cradled in injustices, lies and deception. But then as we come to the conclusion of his life, we ease drop on a conversation between he and his brothers. In Genesis 50:19-20, “But Joseph said to them (his brothers), ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.'” Wow, with all that sorrow, Joseph is able to process it through the hand of a sovereign God … but it probably took a lifetime to do so.
Imagine had Joseph lived in our time? Crouched in the corner of an Ishmaelite slave wagon journaling on Facebook or writing his memoirs before they have had time to gel under the hand of an infinite God? “Well my worthless, no account brothers sold me out to slave traders. What does this teach us, never trust your siblings. Another entry: Screwed again … Potiphar’s wife lied and turned my master against me … so add to the no-trust list … women. He spills his emotions, anger and even bitterness to a watching world. “God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20) is lost in a processing that should have never gone public. What makes it worse, is this public meandering is used by others to validate their own sibling experiences in a damaging way. “I can hate my brothers because Joseph hated his?” You may say Joseph never said such things. That is true but why? Joseph’s summation in Genesis 50 most likely came after years of processing his pain. Letters to The Church may be Francis processing his hurt in the public forum before God has revealed the “why”. Again, he may years from now … regret some of the conclusions he has come too.
Perhaps a side note but one worth noting is the tendency in these modern times to see ourselves as VICTIMS. In other words, some who read Letters to The Church can undermine leadership, criticize the remnant and mourn the church’s lack of tolerance with their pet sin while maintaining their victim status. Again, a victim is not responsible for their life nor the relationships to which they find themselves in. Instead, they grapple for some authority or institution to blame for the pain in their life and then look for voices to add credence to their conclusion. Again, Chan becomes the voice of every critic of The Church … many of which are not the victim of an unloving church but rather the opposite … a body of believers who are desperately trying to hold to the teachings of scripture in a depraved society.
But what may be worse, is that Chan’s book becomes a weapon to beat up the clergy.
For example, it is true that in his first chapter entitled “The Departure” he states,
“Nowadays, if a leader makes a mistake, no matter how small or innocent, we are quick to criticize and move on. Forgiveness is rare and almost nonexistent toward ministers.” (Chan, p.26)
However later in the book … comes statements such as “is it really safe to assume all pastors are Christians” or “a degree can be proof of intelligence or discipline but not spirituality.” (Chan, p. 111). He sums up his schooling as the worse five years of his life and reminds the reader, “that in Jesus’ day, some of the religious leaders-were the most evil.” For every congregant critical of ministerial education as well as those who seek the pastorate believing any form of seminary training is evil … Chan solidifies their convictions. He quotes from II Peter 2:1-3 and then summarizes the passage with, “There will always be false teachers on this earth. Jesus taught that wolves will come in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) What better camouflage than as a minister?” (Chan, p. 112). He continues, “Do your pastors show clear evidence that they have forsaken all to follow Him?” (Chan, p.112).
Wow! Chan told his staff to let him know if they were not praying at least an hour a day and he would replace them. Peter slept through a prayer meeting … denied Christ and though reprimanded … was not fired. I thought of Paul who encouraged believers to “pray continually”. (I Thes. 5:17). Chan follows up with, “pastors who are not drawn to prayer should not be pastors.” (Chan, p.114). There are many more statements void of compassion and filled instead with broad sweeping allegations. Chan comments, “Many vocational ministers are stuck doing the work of ministry because they take a paycheck.” (Chan, p.119). Often Chan sounds harsh, angry … tossing pastors under a bus that he himself is driving.
I thought of a professor friend who wept at the altar as he recounted his dad giving his life to ministry and dropping dead under the stress. His anger was visible as he spoke of the inadequate salary and his mom pretty much destitute.
Chan on the Spirit-filled pastor states,
“Shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the Spirit-filled person and the nice person who doesn’t know Jesus? Let’s not confuse theological knowledge or general kindness with being Spirit-filled. Is your pastor Spirit-filled?” (Chan, p.121).
His section on the Suffering Pastor may have been the shortest and yet at present ministers are leaving at record numbers … often broken and beaten up by the very institution they have been called to lead. Forced terminations (I was forced out of a pastorate for taking a stand on the race issue) but more so, a growing number stressed to the point of resignation or suicide. Many of these statistics filled with men who have never pastored a mega church nor written best sellers. They like the prophets of old have little in the way of subsidies and are often lone voices in communities across America. Chan states,
“There have been times in history when shepherds became corrupt. God confronted the shepherds strongly in the Old Testament (Ezek.34), and Jesus did the same with the religious leaders of His day. The Church is in dire need of a fresh wave of godly leadership. I pray that all existing leaders would be renewed or replaced.”
Chan speaks of those leaders on the mission field who serve in the midst of great persecution … singing their praises but at the expense of those who serve faithfully here at home. As a former Southern Baptist missionary, I understand well the cost and have lived on medication since 1994. But Chan makes the mistake of glamorizing overseas missions and the persecution they endure with the minister in America who may face the greatest form of persecution … apathy and indifference. To passionate men and women of God … their greatest fear is to be ignored. I would rather peer in the face of an agitated audience than preach to a complacent congregation.
Perhaps I could conclude this first letter with a caution to us all … one must be careful when correcting The Church vs. a church.
Until Next Time...