A Conversation about the American Church with Francis Chan

May 31, 2019

This week, Vince and Jo are joined by special guest Francis Chan for a wide-ranging conversation answering the question, “What do you think is the next step for the Evangelical church in America?” Francis Chan is a father, grandfather, pastor, and author of several bestselling books, the most recent of which is Letters to the Church. You can find out more about his work at www.wearechurch.com and www.crazylove.org.

Have a question you want Ask Away to cover? Email us at askaway@rzim.org or use the hashtag #askrzim on Twitter. You can also talk about this episode with fellow podcast listeners and the RZIM team on our online community.

Don't miss another episode, subscribe wherever podcasts are found (quick links: iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify).

Follow Ask Away on Twitter:

Vince Vitale – @VinceRVitale
Jo Vitale – @Joanna_Vitale
Michael Davis – @mdav1979

Want to listen to this later?


Note: Ask Away is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Michael Davis: As our culture continues down the path of secularism and postmodernism, it is more important than ever for the Evangelical Church to be consumed with loving God and loving neighbor. As the world continues down its path into darkness, the church must be a beacon of light pointing towards the truth of who Christ is and what he has done for sinners. But what does that actually look like for everyday believers? How do believers, who disagree on so much, move towards unity? Is it even possible? But before we get started, I am excited to say that we have Francis Chan with us in our studios today. Francis, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about what you've been up to recently?

Francis Chan: Okay. I am in San Francisco with my family that I love. I've got seven kids. My oldest is married, so I'm a grandfather also to a one-year-old, and we're just planting churches throughout the Bay Area. But we're doing it all in homes, and it's all with lay people who are working full-time jobs, and they're doing an amazing job shepherding, teaching, and multiplying and discipling. So, we're just building a little army here…

Michael Davis: That's awesome.

Francis Chan: …That's kind of covert, and where they're just trying to be the church in everyday life.

Michael Davis: That's very cool.

Vince Vitale: Fantastic. Yeah, we're so encouraged. I really want to come out and see what you're doing as well, Francis.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Vince Vitale: That'd be great.

Michael Davis: Okay, so let's get to our question. Today's question is from Lola. What do you think is the next step for the Evangelical Church in America?

Francis Chan: Hmm.

Jo Vitale: Starting small with that one, aren't we? No pressure.

Michael Davis: Yeah, that's an easy one. That's a real simple answer.

Jo Vitale: We've been sitting on that one for a while. Like, "Francis Chan's here, let's pitch it to him."

Francis Chan: Here's what I did. When I look at scripture, obviously the greatest command is loving Him, right? With all your heart, soul, mind, and we have to start there. My biggest concern is there are tons of people that attend these gatherings. And yet when I speak to them, I don't hear this fire when they talk about Jesus, the person of Jesus. Like "I love Jesus so much. I was with him this morning in his way." A lot of times it's about, "Oh did you hear Ravi's message? Did your..." And obviously I love Ravi. Okay. And did you hear this song? Did you hear it? There's so much talk about these different people that I just wonder, do we understand who we're talking about? And so step number one is almost, I think getting people back into the word of God alone and loving him to where you just get this sense of, whoa, you really know him and are known by him. Because when that is real, that's contagious.

Jo Vitale: Hmm. That's, that's so cool to hear you say that. Cause we've been here for like two and a half years in America and, and we have visited so many incredible churches that they deeply, truly, do you love Jesus? But there's also... It was interesting coming from a different culture and stepping into it because I was just being a little bit disoriented, and I was trying to figure out about a year in... We went away on a holiday together, and suddenly out of nowhere, it should have been a chill day. We were talking about where to have lunch, and I almost started having a... I don't know if it was a panic attack, but just struggled to breathe, and I was feeling really stressed out. And we were trying to figure out, where is this coming from? We sat down and took about half an hour and as we were talking and processing where does this come from?

Jo Vitale: We've been really busy in ministry, busy traveling. And suddenly I think I hadn't realized til I said it, it just came out of me: "I just really miss Jesus." And it just sort of poured out, and then I burst into tears and I was like, "why do we... we were doing so much ministry in churches. So why do I feel like I really miss Jesus?" And I just felt like there was so much cultural stuff to get your head around when you move to the U.S. In some ways it's just a different experience. And partly it was me not being used to it and having to learn, but I was struggling to do... Jesus hadn't gone anywhere. This is right. That is his church. He's the Lord of all. And he was right there with me as well, so. But I just felt a little displaced. I was like, "Why am I finding it hard in all the mix of the good things there to also find Jesus in it?"

Francis Chan: I love that you say that though. That makes my day to hear because I don't hear people talk about that.

Vince Vitale: Yeah.

Francis Chan: I miss him.

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Francis Chan: Right.

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Vince Vitale: Yeah. So they know. And of course I'm walking down the street at that point, just looking for a lunch cafe. You know? Jo bursts in, “I miss Jesus.” As usual I have no idea what's going on.

Michael Davis: Francis, you were saying over lunch today, which I just found so convicting, talking about living in reality, and I think this is related to what you're saying and how much time are we actually spending with him and in the word and soaking in the deep truths of reality. And I was asking myself the question as you were saying that over lunch, what percentage of my day is lived in reality, not just distracted by whatever someone has thrown into my inbox, or whatever is pinging on my phone, or whatever I'm seeing in the 3000 advertisements that flash across my eyes every day.

Michael Davis: But what percentage of my day is deeply rooted in the tangible presence of God and on the noble truths that are found in his scripture? And it was really convicting because I couldn't put a very high percentage on that number.

Francis Chan: Yeah, I think about how the scripture urges us to not dwell on the things that we can see, but to stare at what is unseen.

Michael Davis: That's great.

Francis Chan: Right? How much time do I think even right now, am I just looking at flesh and blood right here, or am I thinking about the unseen world? Even as I look at you, can I look beyond the flesh and blood and see this eternal soul, and somehow we're going to be transformed into these bodies one day and we're gonna have this eternal relationship in the presence of him. That's reality.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Francis Chan: Everything else is trying to distract us from that.

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Michael Davis: Definitely.

Francis Chan: And it's killing us.

Jo Vitale: Wow. And it's...I'm just thinking about the context that you're ministering and particularly in the Bay Area, and we've spent some time doing evangelism there. Did team missions at Berkeley in the last couple years. And the highlights of the year, the most exciting place to live for mission in the U.S. It's so fantastic. But it's interesting to me, because I think people look at the next generation, and they'd be like, oh no, the next generation, so hopeless.

Jo Vitale: So I look at all the people on university campuses and places like Berkeley, right? And I'm like, "This is an opportunity." Because they are actually hungry for causes. They actually care deeply about the world. Apathy is gone, and there's this opportunity there because they're passionate and longing for something, but they have no framework for it. They don't know what it is, and they're just kind of desperate. And that's why the suicide rates are so high, and you're you like, there's actually a need here, like a neediness in the next generation. Where I feel if the Evangelical church sort of awaken it's eyes to the opportunity there as opposed to being frightened of work where the students are at and where it's going, then I just feel like for evangelism that there is so...The harvest is incredible ripe now.

Francis Chan: Yeah. But I get the fear, and I praise God for your ministry here because you help people overcome that fear with answers. But I think most of us have this insecurity when we hear of, Oh no, Cal-Berkeley. I don't want to go there. I'll speak to some homeless people that are drunk out of their mind because they won't ask me because I don't want to make God…

Jo Vitale: Yeah, yeah.

Francis Chan: …I don't want to sound ignorant.

Vince Vitale: Sure.

Francis Chan: Well what do you guys say to people like that? That's a genuine fear even of mine. Sometimes.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Vince Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jo Vitale: Yeah. And it was great hearing from....We have Becky Pippert. I'm speaking earlier to in evangelism, I love what she said because she was basically saying, "Look, everyone's scared of evangelism because you feel so inadequate, don't you? But actually that's where we start, and celebrate the small because that's when you see the power of God at work." And I think even places like Berkeley get hyped, don't they? Because everyone sort of intellectualizes it. But also there's so much spiritual stuff going on there and you're like, hey, we have scientism and we have this new age-y stuff, and there's a lot of spiritual darkness but also an openness to the power of God as well.

Jo Vitale: So I think sometimes you... Sometimes it's not the intellectual arguments that win there. So people come to faith from that campus through the power of the Holy Spirit and surprising things happening. It's almost like God works his way around the intellectual obstacles because he knew they were dug in there, but there was an openness over here.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Jo Vitale: And so he moved. Really it was the power of prayer, not the power of intellect or…

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Jo Vitale: ...Which isn't surprising.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: I think people will be surprised at how often, even as a ministry, we're not answering the question, but we're just asking questions in response to the question to try to figure out what's behind it. But when I'm in one-on-one conversation, sometimes we'll go, we'll do events, we'll speak to an audience. But then some of the real ministry happens afterwards when you're face to face with someone one-on-one, and somebody asks a question, you ask a question about their question. And all of a sudden you're talking about real life.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: And in those conversations, I try to hold off answering the question as long as I possibly can…

Francis Chan: Wow.

Michael Davis: Because as long as you hold off answering the question, you listen before you speak, that biblical model, you learn more and more about who the person is and why they're asking the question in the first place.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: And you get pretty far into that conversation. You can't remember what the question was in the first place.

Francis Chan: Gosh, that's right.

Michael Davis: But, you're actually speaking to their soul much more. So I think sometimes people think to be interested in apologetics, you have to want to be an answer person. Actually quite the opposite. No one had the answers more than Jesus, but he almost always responded to a question with a question.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: By figuring out what was behind it.

Francis Chan: Gosh, that is so true. There've been so many times when I've been shocked when I do find out what is behind the question. I've totally forgot about that. But there are many times when I'm like, "Gosh, this this person, they may even appear to be this bully is really just so hurt inside over something that's not about logic." It's just almost how they fight against it. It's kind of like when Ravi was talking about the Jonah thing where you almost have to run the other direction cause you're so convicted. And so you just start fighting against it.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Francis Chan: And really there's something else going on inside. And that's where you have to trust the word of God. I think you might've mentioned that earlier today about just know deep inside I might be buried, suppressed.

Michael Davis: Yeah.

Francis Chan: They know there's a God.

Michael Davis: That's right.

Francis Chan: They know we have to go back, and that's where the word of God says. I just got to be used by God to peel through those layers, and help them look and see. Now at the core of my being, I know there's a God.

Michael Davis: That is exciting.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: If you actually believe that when you believe God's telling the truth. In Romans 1 when he says people do know God, or in Acts, when he says God is not far from any person…

Francis Chan: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Davis: I think things get exciting then because no matter who you're talking to, you're like, this could be the conversation.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: Right here. And even as evangelists, if you ask us to try to pick which person's going to respond to an invitation to accept Jesus positively and which person's going to respond negatively…

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: ...We wouldn't get it right.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: We don't know. That's in the spiritual realm. That's what God's doing in a person's heart. And so we try to always extend that invitation. And an invitation's a gift even if you don't think you're in a position to accept it. If I extend you an invitation to come to our wedding, even if you don't think you can make it, that should be honoring to you. So we just want to extend that invitation whether someone thinks they have great obstacles or not and sometimes just an extending that invitation. Somebody just...Yeah, it resonates deep in their soul. There's truth in this.

Francis Chan: That's so good because I love that you're looking at your theology and saying, "Look, this is what I believe based upon Romans 1. So here's how I'm going to minister."

Michael Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Francis Chan: Because I think too often we kind of put our theology aside. And then when it comes to ministry, we think about what will work.

Michael Davis: That's good.

Francis Chan: As though it's two different things.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Francis Chan: It's like: no, there needs to be an alliance with our theology and our practice of ministry. And that's one of the things I'm just been harping on lately. It's like, "Gosh, I shouldn't do things this way if my theology says this." And so now how can I bring those two into alignment?

Jo Vitale: On that note, because that's so brilliant, how is that part of the impetus for what you've done with your church?

Michael Davis: That was exactly what I was going ask.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Jo Vitale: Tell us more. In America, you're going in a different direction right now.

Francis Chan: A lot of people are.

Jo Vitale: It's awesome. Tell us where's theology in practice?

Francis Chan: But because the...My theology tells me that every single believer has the spirit in them, if they truly are a believer, and they manifest the spirit of God in a very supernatural way. That's huge. That's what was driving me nuts. Because in the old church when I was like, "Lord, I don't know how to do this. I have thousands of people who supposedly have so much power in them, and I don't know how to... I'm not smart enough to get them to all use it. And they can't all use it on Sunday morning because we only have an hour. How are we gonna make this happen?" So my theology was telling me, you have supernatural power in you, and I need you. But my practice was, "Hey, I just need a worship leader, and he and I will run the thing." Right?

Vince Vitale: Yeah.

Francis Chan: You know, the rest of you... yeah, you know, give or whatever. Help out a little bit here. But my practice was not showing that I really believe this. My practice was not showing that I believe that the Holy Spirit was given to all of us to make disciples, to be his witnesses, and that there was power in that. The power was in the gospel itself. And the power was in the word itself. I was starting to act as though the power was in me solely in my gift of communication. And rather than, "No, no, no. Through the Spirit, through the Gospel itself, the very words of God. So I should be able to read these words, and we should tremble at it."

Francis Chan: And again, some of the stuff I was talking about today about when we become perfectly one, this is going to convince the world.

Michael Davis: Yes.

Francis Chan: So if I believe that, then shouldn't I? Because it's so much easier to go, "I'm just going to preach the Gospel by myself." And yet biblically, no, you can't do that. The power of the Gospel is when the church is unified.

Michael Davis: That's good.

Francis Chan: And so then if I believe that, I need to fight for that unity, seek to have deep relationships that the world can see that is clearly different from the rest of the world. I have to release these people in the body. And so it's trying to figure out...Not saying that we have the perfect way. It's like I've gotta make avenues for all these people to make disciples, to lead, to exercise their gift. Put the burden on them to share the Gospel with the people they work with. And so this whole thing of how we're doing the church is mainly because it's 100% because of the theology.

Michael Davis: That's so exciting. I just want to pick up on the theme of Unity for a minute. And maybe Lola, this is another potential answer to your question. These are just thoughts that are forming. I'd love to just throw them on the table and hear what you guys think about these as well.

Michael Davis: But as I've been reflecting on culture, even in just the last weeks, seems like two of the things that are very characteristic of our culture at the moment is that there's an extreme sensitivity to offense, and there's an extreme lack of forgiveness. So we're existing in a culture where everything is offensive. We're easily offended, but there's not really any model for forgiveness and reconciliation. And so there's this huge gap between the offense and the forgiveness. And I think that's...It's a really dangerous place to be because if you know deep in your heart you're an offensive person. That there's sin in your life, and I think everyone knows that deep down, but you know that forgiveness is not an option.

Michael Davis: Well then you can't be honest about who you are.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: And if you can't be honest about who you are, you can't be known. If you can't be known, you're inevitably going to be lonely.

Francis Chan: Yeah.

Michael Davis: And you're going to become angry, and you're going to start to think, "Is life even worth it?" I think that some of that cycle we're seeing in culture, but it all stems from this lack of forgiveness. And the reason I started thinking about this was because my best friend came to Christ a few months ago. And that happened when he and his wife dug up something difficult from their past. It was from over a decade prior, but it had never been dealt with. And for the first time in their lives, they were taught what it means to actually repent and ask for forgiveness. And they did that genuinely. And it's one of the most beautiful things that I've ever seen because you rarely get to see two other people do that.

Michael Davis: When he said to her, will you forgive me? And there was this pause and there was as you could see the weight on him. And then when she said, "Yes, I will," and it just fell off. And he came to Christ later in that day, and I have to think it was because all of a sudden the Gospel wasn't just abstract to him, but he had seen it concretely. He had seen that Jesus had made forgiveness possible. And that there was power in forgiveness because of what Jesus had done. He had actually concretely experienced that weight being lifted off. And so all of a sudden the Gospel made so much sense to him.

Michael Davis: So in a culture where we are seeing so much offensiveness and such a lack of forgiveness, don't we have something amazing to offer? And it was so when I looked at your question, Lola, what's the next step for the Evangelical Church? Where my heart is really going at the moment is, are we a people of reconciliation? Are we a people for whom the words, "Will you forgive me," roll easily off of our lips. And are said frequently. When is the last time I said those words? Not just, "I'm sorry about the circumstance," or "I'm sorry you felt that way," but, "Will you forgive me?"

Michael Davis: Because thinking about my best friend, I have to believe that if people see in the church the concrete reality of a Gospel of forgiveness, then the Gospel is going to make sense to them. They're going to want that.

Francis Chan: Yeah. Yeah. It's almost like there's an incompleteness of just preaching the Gospel without demonstrating it right through the church. It's like what Peter says in 1 Peter 2 how he says, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possessions that you may proclaim the excellence of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people." So it's this picture of how together...you used to be an individual, but now the church... You're a people group. You're this holy nation, and it's somehow together you proclaim the excellence. You collectively proclaim the excellence. I can, well, there's a million sermons on forgiveness.

Michael Davis: Right.

Francis Chan: Okay. We've all heard them, but how many examples have we seen in the church? That's why the church is so important is because suddenly if the world looks on and sees forgiveness like they've never seen anywhere.

Michael Davis: Right, right.

Francis Chan: Maybe you offend me in the worst way possible. And someone is looking on because we're both a part of the church, and they see you forgive me and show grace and they go, "What are you doing?" And you go, "You don't understand. That's what God did to me." So there's, there's no way I could ever...It's that picture that they're not seeing. Sometimes we look at the world and go, "Oh, they're so intolerant. They're so unforgiving, and I don't know how to fix it. Or maybe I'll go out there and try to bridge these gaps, and get people to get along." The answer though, is: no, it's supposed to happen in our church first.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Francis Chan: We're supposed to be a light. There's not supposed to be unity in the world.

Michael Davis: Right.

Francis Chan: Right? The Spirit's not there, but where it is supposed to happen is in the church, and that's when everyone's supposed to be looking on and going, "how come they get along so well?"

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Francis Chan: "What is it that makes them so unified? I've seen forgiveness in that group. Everything else." But no one's talking like that.

Vince Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Francis Chan: And that's the shame here. So before we get into trying to figure out how to bring peace to all these different places, we start with us. I think about my own family, right? My own personal family. I've got to start there. And so when my kids bring their friends over, they look at the unity of our family: "Look at your mom and dad. What, 25 years?"

Francis Chan: Well it's shocking. It's like, "You love your little brother, you love your older sister? Look at the way you guys care about each other." Seriously, my kids that have brought friends over walk away, and they'll tell me the comments their friends make. Like, "We've never seen a family like that. That was really weird. Or that was just like being in heaven or something." These are unbelievers saying these things.

Michael Davis: Wow, what an encouragement.

Francis Chan: And so that's the way the church is supposed to be. That if they walk into our gatherings they're like, "What is this?"

Jo Vitale: Right.

Francis Chan: That's where we have to start.

Michael Davis: Well, thank you Francis for joining us. We are unfortunately out of time for this episode. But Jo, Vince, thanks for joining me. Thank you all for listening, and we will catch you guys next week.

Every article, podcast, and video on this website is made possible by the kindness of our supporters.

If you'd like to support our mission of sharing a thoughtful Christianity to the world, you can donate through our site.

Get our free , every other week, straight to your inbox.

Your podcast has started playing below. Feel free to continue browsing the site without interrupting your podcast!