Category Archives: church

Reflections on Francis Chan and We Are Church

Francis Chan is getting a lot of press these days talking about why he left his mega-church a few years ago and started a house-church movement called We Are Church. I’m not sure how I feel about what he’s up to. I like his ideas and passion, but they may not work for everyone. I think  we should sit back and observe before we form conclusions either way.

I want to start by saying that I like many things about Francis Chan. I appreciate his willingness to think outside of the box and do the unconventional thing. I appreciate how he doesn’t seem to have been seduced by the trappings of fame (well, initially, but he recovered). He’s gone out of his way to live modestly. And I like his passion for God and his unwillingness to compromise what he sees as the truth.

So please don’t mishear what I am saying here. I’m not concerned about Francis Chan as much as I am concerned about how people might misuse his words.

Finding a Better Way

In the article linked above, Francis said he felt that his mega-church was all about Sunday and only focused on his gift of teaching. He thought it was a waste of money. His new church has no staff and no building. It costs nothing and everyone gets to use their gifts.

Who can disagree with this? Church shouldn’t be all about Sunday or one person. And why spend millions of dollars on a building and staff if you can do it for free, right? I can see all the heads nodding as people wonder how so many Christians can be so foolish to attend a church that has a building with staff.

Is it Fair to Compare?

But, let’s think about this a bit. Why is it that Francis can lead this church for free? Well, his fame has produced various streams of income. I don’t knock him for that. In fact, I think it’s great. Most pastors don’t have an outside income to support them. I’m sure we all wish we did. But we have to realize that Francis is in a unique position that enables him to do what many churches can’t do. Most churches need to pay for their pastoral staff.

We Are Church (WAC) has no building, just people meeting in homes like in the first century. How long has this been going on? A year or two. Is it sustainable? Can it grow? Before we judge WAC to be a better way, it might be wise to wait a few years to see if it succeeds or fails. A lot can go wrong in house churches. It’s a wonderful idea in theory. I beat this drum for many years. But it can get very messy, very fast.

Frankly, most people want a building to house their faith community. I know. My church was in a theater and then a mall for seven years. No one cared in the early days because we just loved Jesus and starting something new, but we reached a tipping point where our space stopped working for us. Working out of temporary facilities puts a tremendous stress on an organization.

Francis Chan is Unique

It’s not fair to think that every church can do what Francis Chan is doing. He is one in a million. He has name recognition that might draw people from around the world to join him. He’s going to draw a higher capacity group of people than your average local church. There will be leaders who show up just for the opportunity to work with Francis Chan. Francis might be able to mobilize a million people in five years in house churches, but the average house church never grows beyond fifty people.

Will it Come Full Circle?

My guess is that, in time, if Francis is successful, he will need to hire staff to manage the church, otherwise it will implode in chaos. And he will also need to build a building to house the staff and his need for training facilities because renting them will be too expensive.

Do you see where this is going? In ten years he might have a building, a staff, and a few million-dollar budget. It’s very possible that he goes full circle, back to something that resembles a mega-something.

So I have to wonder why, if he didn’t like the church that he built, why didn’t he redesign it and not leave it? He had a staff, a building, and a gift for teaching people what church should really be all about. Couldn’t he have led them into this deeper life rather than leave them? Maybe he just needed time to sort it all out. I can appreciate that.

Is Francis Chan a Hero?

My concern in all of this is not what Chan does. I’m actually fascinated by his bold idea. I just don’t think it’s fair to make him out to be a hero….not yet. He’s just one man trying to make church work, like most of us. God bless him in his effort, but we ought to be careful not to trash our church model just because he’s trying something new.

I’ve gone through the same cycle from mega-church, to small church, to house church. With each move I thought I was so wise and belittled the previous church. But I’ve come to believe that the model isn’t what makes the church: it’s the people and the mission of the church. Are they committed to developing followers of Jesus or not? Are they committed to loving and serving like Jesus? That’s the goal. I don’t think it matters how you get there.

Will People Use Francis Chan as an Excuse?

I hope people won’t use Chan’s comments to justify leaving the church. I’m just afraid they might point to what he’s doing and say, “See, that’s the way church should be done.” But in reality, they won’t attend that church or any church. It’s just a good excuse for why they’ve given up on church.

It’s easy to point out the problems with church. It’s harder to engage and offer some solutions.

Maybe Francis Chan has found the solution. I hope he has and does amazingly well. I really do, then in ten years we can follow his example. But I question if what he’s doing is reproducible because there is only one Francis Chan. Please don’t project his expectations for church on your church.

Let the Dust Settle

My recommendation is that we don’t jump too quickly on the Francis Chan bandwagon because when people are in process, they will abandon the new wagon as quickly as they abandoned the previous one, leaving you without a leader.

Let’s see what happens, and learn from him.

Give Francis another five or ten years to let the dust settle on his thinking on church before you start quoting him. He might not agree with what he’s saying today in a year or two.

 

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Best Books on Spiritual Abuse: Broken Trust Tops the List

What are the best books on spiritual abuse?

I’ve sent out a few copies of my upcoming book on spiritual abuse, called Broken Trust. I’m grateful to see that one reviewer (Stephen A. Smith) put it on the top of his list of fifteen books on spiritual abuse. Here is his list in the order that he recommends them:

Best Books on Spiritual Abuse (libertyforcaptives.com) 

  1. Broken Trust: A practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic

    Stephen A. Smith

    church, and spiritual abuse by F. Remy Diederich (this title available from Amazon Sept. 18, 2017)

  2. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
  3. Twisted Scriptures by Mary Chrnalogar
  4. The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin
  5. Churches that Abuse: Help for Those Hurt by Legalism and Authoritarian Leadership by Ronald Enroth
  6. Coping with Cult Involvement by Livia Bardin
  7. Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness by Barb Orlowski, Ph.D.
  8. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan Allender
  9. Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  10. “Spiritual Authority” by Hal Miller (an article @ http://www.home-church.org/scc/authority.html )
  11. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D.
  12. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  13. Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen
  14. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes
  15. When God’s People Let You Down by Jeff VanVonderen

You can visit Steve’s helpful website here. 

If you would like a free copy of Broken Trust to review on your blog, please contact me here.

If you are not a blogger but would like to be on my launch team, please see the details in my previous post.

 

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Making Progress on Book About Spiritually Abusive Churches

Here’s a quick update on the new book I’m working on. It’s a book that helps people in spiritually abusive churches identify what’s wrong with their setting and what to do about it.

Four Changes

I’ve invited people to read my first draft and give me their honest feedback. It’s been very helpful, causing me to make the following changes:

  1. Change the name of the book to reflect a primary feeling associated with experiencing spiritual abuse: Broken Trust.
  2. Eliminate half the material I suggested. It didn’t flow with the main purpose of the book, which is to give practical “how-to” steps” for people in spiritually abusive churches.

  3. Soften my approach. I’m a straight shooter and most people appreciate that about my writing. But people who have suffered in spiritually abusive churches have been shot at enough. I need to be more careful with my words with this audience.

  4. Answer more questions. People in spiritually abusive churches are hurt, confused, and often full of guilt. They don’t know what to do. It seems that everything they do is labeled as wrong and incurs the condemnation of many. They want answers, so I included a whole chapter on FAQ’s and gave more detail to many questions I had already answered.

These changes will make the book much more readable and helpful. If you would like to receive advance drafts of the book, email me here and I’ll add you to the e-list.

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Toxic Pastors and Why They Are Not Confronted

Why is it so hard to confront toxic pastors? If they are clearly in the wrong, it seems like it would be the obvious thing to do. But if you’ve ever been in a toxic church, you know how hard it can be.

Here are ten reasons why people don’t confront toxic pastors.

Ten Reasons People Don’t Confront Toxic Pastors:

  1. You don’t want to be accused of being rebellious. Toxic pastors make you feel like disagreeing with them is equal to questioning God. And we all know that bad things happen to people who question God, right? The Old Testament has more than enough stories to give you pause. You don’t want the ground to open up and swallow you, and you don’t want to be labeled a rebel, or God forbid, having a “rebellious spirit.”
  2. You get filled with self-doubt. Toxic pastors make you feel like YOU are the problem. They say things like, “The reason you disagree with me is because you aren’t as spiritually mature as I am. You need to trust my leadership and submit to my authority like the Bible tells you too.” That can mess with your mind. They turn things around and before you know it, you are asking for THEIR forgiveness when it should be the other way around.
  3. You fear losing your circle of friends. Sometimes we tolerate a toxic church simply because that’s where our friends are. When I left a church, after being there for seven years, I lost my entire network of friends.
  4. You don’t want to lose your equity investment. If you have a home mortgage, you have an equity investment. Each month that you make a payment, your equity, or ownership of the house, grows. But if the bank foreclosed on you, you lose your equity. All that investment would be lost. That happens in relationships too. You feel that you’ve invested so much time and energy into the relationship/church that you don’t want to lose your investment. So you try a little harder, a little longer, hoping it will work. You even tell yourself that God will reward you for persevering. So you invest another year, but the system doesn’t get any better. Now you’ve lost another year and your equity has increased which makes you feel even MORE obligated to stay.
  5. You like to be liked/needed. If you are a good performer, the toxic system can be very rewarding. You feed off of the praise. Or, maybe you simply can’t handle the thought of the church people not liking you if you leave. Your low self-worth keeps you trapped.
  6. You fear losing your salvation. They had you convinced that their way was the only way to God. Even though you know they are wrong, you fear falling away from God without their strong input into your life. You’re not sure you can make it on your own.
  7. You fear exposure/humiliation for leaving. You know if you leave that your name and reputation will be trashed by those in the church. You’ve seen it happen to others who left the church and you don’t want it to happen to you.
  8. You fear being wrong. What if they ARE right? After all, what do you know? You don’t know the Bible like they do. And the pastor and his/her followers seem so convinced.
  9. You lack boundaries. You were raised to believe that people had the right to impose their thoughts/beliefs/will upon you. You don’t feel like it’s your right to question others. You are used to being violated. You think that’s your lot in life, so you let it continue.
  10. It’s not worth your time. You are so sick of the craziness that you are just done. You don’t think talking to the pastor will change anything, just aggravate you more. So you up and leave. End of story.

As you can see, confronting toxic pastors isn’t so easy. There are lots of reasons people fail to follow through on their intentions. It takes maturity to stand tall and confront the madness. Someone has to do it. Why not you?

Can you think of other reasons that people don’t confront toxic pastors? Leave a comment below.

If you need help in confronting church leadership, see my post on how to confront a toxic pastor here.

If you have encountered a toxic pastor, let me know about your experience. I am in the process of writing a new book on how to handle a toxic church experience and your insight would be helpful to me. Email me here. Thanks.

 

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Toxic Church, Toxic Faith… a new book in the works

People often ask me what my next book will be. My answer has been that I’ve got nothing in the works. But then I noticed that my blog series last year on toxic church and toxic pastors has gotten a lot of reads. In fact, they are always in the top ten of my years of posts.

I wondered why that was and so I googled some of the topics I covered on toxic church and saw that my posts are near the top of the list. Hmmm… maybe there is an interest out there that I didn’t realize existed.

Checking Amazon.com there is only one book on the subject. So…I have a new answer to the question about my next book. I just started a new book to help people discern a toxic church and know what steps to take with it.

Would you contribute your thoughts on toxic church?

I’m letting you know about this because if you had an experience in a toxic church, I’d like to hear about it. You can email me your thoughts by clicking the link in the margin. I may or may not include your story/thoughts in the book but whatever is included will be anonymous with some details changed so no one could trace the story to you. Whatever you send will broaden my understanding and make for a more helpful book.

It’s a sad statement…

It’s really a sad statement that a book like this is even needed. “Toxic” and “church” should never be two words that are linked. But when it happens, people need to know what to do, so I’ll do my best to offer advice so believers can discover the true church that Jesus had in mind for us: a gathering of people that encourages people to know God and find freedom.

Let others know

Please share this post with your friends who may have interest in contributing their experience with a toxic church. I’d love to hear from them. Thanks so much.

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Forgotten God: Remembering the Spirit

Francis Chan wrote a book called Forgotten God. I used his title for the name of a recent five-part series to talk about how the church somehow forgot about the Holy Spirit. Forgotten God

Chan opened his book with this:

From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.

The benchmark of success in church services has become more about attendance than the movement of the Holy Spirit. If I was Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit. Forgotten God

My series didn’t follow Chan’s book, but his words drove me to try to help my church rediscover the Spirit for their own lives.

Ignorant of the Spirit

I was surprised how many people, even long time believers, told me that they knew very little about the Spirit. They were taught growing up who Jesus was and what he did. But they were rarely taught who the Spirit is and what he wants to do in and through us.

Think about it: we dedicate 40 days to preparing for Christmas and Easter. But most people don’t even know when Pentecost is.

Think about it: we dedicate 40 days to preparing for Christmas and Easter. But most people don’t even know when Pentecost is (It’s this Sunday, by the way). That should tell us something about our focus. It’s in the past, on what Jesus did, not on the present and what the Spirit is doing.

A Five-Part Series on the Forgotten God

I wish I had more time to write books. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I decided to turn my sermon series into PDF files and offer them here from time to time. You can download the full series here.This is the outline for it:

  • Part One: From Creation to Pentecost. An overview of the Spirit.
  • Part Two: Jesus Promises the Spirit. What did Jesus say about his Spirit?
  • Part Three: WE are the Temple. The meaning of Pentecost and the Church.
  • Part Four: God’s Moral Guide. God guides us from within.
  • Part Five: Filled with the Spirit. What does it mean? How does it happen?

I hope you’ll give Forgotten God a read. I’ve studied the Spirit for many years and from many perspectives, having participated in a variety of churches. So I hope my words offer you some insight. Part Three seemed to open people’s eyes. I got a lot of good feedback from that message in particular. Let me know what you think if you give it a read.

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The Key to Growing in Personal Freedom

Jesus came to set you free, but do you know why? Is freedom just for your personal happiness, or is there a greater purpose?

Jesus made it clear that he came to set us free:

If you obey my teaching…Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. …I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…but if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36

Maybe you’ve heard someone tell their story of how Jesus released them from a habit or lifestyle that had them trapped in a death spiral. Those stories are great to hear, but being set free is only Part One of a two-part story.freedom

Sometimes people forget that.  I’ve heard people say that they attended a church, came to faith, and got the help they needed during a hard time in their life. But when they got what they came for they left the church and drifted from God. They used their freedom to live for themselves. They just wanted to be happy.

These people used church and Jesus like they use a doctor…just when they needed some help. What they failed to see is they were set free to help others. That’s the second part of our spiritual story. The apostle Paul put it this way to a first century church:

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.…use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. Galatians 5:13-15

Did you catch his insight here? He said that when you serve others your personal freedom grows. But when you use your freedom for just yourself, you destroy it. It’s like God gives you a treasure chest of riches. If you use the riches to help others, the chest never empties. But if you use the riches for strictly your own benefit, you’ll drain the riches and end up in poverty again.

God, give us eyes to see not only how we can find freedom in You but use it to serve others!

 

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