Francis Chan–The Undercover Preacher

Even if we find it hard to relate to Francis Chan’s strong conviction, we can still learn a great deal from his level of commitment to authenticity and sacrifice. He is a man of devout principle, and that is a powerful beacon in a culture saturated with mediocrity.

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Most people know Francis Chan as the author of Crazy Love, but he is so much more than that. There is much more we can learn from him. He has a huge heart for the Church and what Jesus designed it to be. Chan is constantly seeking to stay true to what scripture says about the way we, as believers in Jesus, should live. He doesn’t mind challenging the status quo, ruffling feathers, or calling out lukewarm attitudes, and that’s exactly why people are so drawn to him.

His latest book, Letters to the Church, was released in September of 2018. After a long hiatus from the spotlight, Chan speaks out about the things that God has been laying on his heart. There’s a fire in his voice, urging us as believers to stand up and fight for the health of the Bride of Christ, the Church. How we should never abandon her because of issues or problems, but we should seek to bring wellness and restoration in the Body. Watch the video below to hear more about his heart that he shares in Letters to the Church.

Now, just a little back story on this amazing man of God!

Chan grew up in California. His childhood is filled with trauma, which helped ground his faith at a very early age. Chan’s mother died giving birth to him in San Francisco in 1967. Chan’s father remarried when Chan was eight, only to lose his second wife to a car accident one year later. He then remarried when Chan was ten, but when he was twelve, his father passed away from cancer. After the passing of their father, Chan and his siblings were raised by their father’s third wife. They had a lot of support from the Chan family as well as their close-knit church family, but the heartache and chaos of their childhood shaped their lives nonetheless.

Through all of this, Chan developed into a man of unwavering conviction. In 1994, Chan and his wife, Lisa, founded Cornerstone Community Church in Semi Valley, California. It grew from 30 people in his living room to over 5,000 members. Despite the large success of his church, Chan began to get very frustrated. The more he read the Bible, the more he felt sure that each and every person in the church had been given a supernatural gift that was meant to serve the Church body. He started to observe that every week, over 5,000 people were coming to receive from his gift, and he felt that that was a significant waste. The people filling the chairs had gifts to use, yet none of them were able to use those gifts in the church culture he had created. Then, he realized that it was costing millions of dollars just to run the church and wondered about churches overseas that were basically meeting for free, and he felt even more convicted that the money was being wasted. Year after year, he began to get more convicted of this, and it grew heavy in his heart. There was also a building disconnection between the way Jesus called His followers to live, and the way his church was living. He saw that it was very difficult to love and serve one another when they didn’t even know one another. The megachurch model felt very foreign to the commands of scripture to him. He speaks openly about this experience in the following video.

As he wrestled with what the Spirit was showing him, Chan made steps to honor the Lord while staying at Cornerstone. He decided to no longer receive a salary from the church and chose to give away nearly 90% of his income. He also decided to donate almost all of his book royalties. All in all, he donated over 2,000,000 dollars to organizations and charities. In 2008, Cornerstone followed suit and donated 55% of their income to charitable donations. Despite all this shifting, Chan still felt uneasy. To him, there was still a disconnect between the megachurch model and what scripture says in Acts 2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The conviction became too strong, and in 2010, he announced to Cornerstone that he was leaving the church. He didn’t know exactly what the Lord had planned, but he was stepping out in faith. The Lord directed Chan to move his family to San Francisco and begin what would be known as We Are Church in 2013. We Are Church is strategically designed to be small in number, but large in scale. It is a church-planting network designed to help people engage in church, learn to be the body of Christ, live out the One Anothers of scripture, and it costs nothing! Their desire is “to passionately pursue what God wants in a church [and] to get as close to that vision as possible.”

These small churches meet in people’s homes and are led by two people (who do this for free). These house-churches learn to love each other deeply and read the Bible for themselves. As the groups grow, they raise up leaders and divide to keep the group numbers small. These leaders experience exponential, personal growth as they learn to lead and serve the body. The members also grow because they are contributing their lives to those they are in community with. All in all, Chan says that these small house-churches are more like “being adopted rather than being in an orphanage.” In an orphanage, your needs are being met, but you aren’t part of a unit that is growing together, sacrificing for one another, or loving deeply. You can read more about their values here.

Sadly, there’s not a lot of information about what is going on currently in these house-churches or how the Lord is using them in the San Francisco area. My thought is that this may be very strategic. Chan mentioned how stardom had limited his own personal ability to connect with people, and it is more than likely why he wants to live under the radar now. Even if we find it hard to relate to Chan’s strong conviction, we can still learn a great deal from his level of commitment to authenticity and sacrifice. He is a man of devout principle, and that is a powerful beacon in a culture saturated with mediocrity.

Thank you, Chan, for listening to the Lord as He has urged you to fight for authenticity in the Church. We desperately need you as a leader, and we are thankful for your wisdom that you have shared in your books. Keep it up.

Featured Image by Osman Rana
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About the Author

Dawn King is a Carolina native with a Neverland heart. She's an Enneagram 4 that believes beauty can be found even in the darkest of places, light is always bright enough to outshine darkness, and love is stronger than any madness or evil. She values kindness and honesty more than most anything else. She will always believe that to change the world you must first change yourself.