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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A New Book On Spiritual Abuse Available Soon

I’m pleased to announced that my new book on spiritual abuse is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

I’ve been working on Broken Trust for the past year. The book is subtitled: a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse. That’s an accurate description of what the book is about.

..this book provides the clearest, simplest, most helpful coverage of spiritual abuse and recovery.”

The book is so much better than what I had initially planned. I planned on simply spinning off a book from a series of blog posts I wrote with a few related sermons. Then I had the idea of inviting survivors of spiritual abuse into the process of writing the book. Good decision!

The book took on a totally different feel. Rather than a one-dimensional slant coming solely from my perspective, my helpers challenged me in many ways to consider new angles on the topic that I hadn’t personally experienced myself. The result is a much broader and more compassionate approach to the topic.

High Praise for the Book

I’ve sent out many draft copies of Broken Trust already for feedback. One survivor of spiritual abuse, and avid blogger on the topic, replied back to me saying:

“As a spiritual abuse survivor and blogger, I have now read dozens of books about this topic. Many are academic in nature, or very dense. I am comfortable saying that this book provides the clearest, simplest, most helpful coverage of spiritual abuse and recovery.”

That was great to hear and gave me the confidence to start finalizing the book and put the publishing in motion.

The book is scheduled to launch on September 18th. I still have some final tweaks to make on the book, but the clock is ticking.

Would You Join My Launch Team?

My hope is that my book gives grace and wisdom to readers who have been deeply hurt by abusive church leaders. I want so much for people to make a full recovery and not be reduced to spiritual “road-kill.”

Would you consider doing the following?

  1. Read a free advance PDF copy of the book.
  2. Post a review of it on amazon.com on September 18th.
  3. Repost your review on your blog and/or Facebook page.
  4. Share a link to the book on your Facebook page or other social media.

I’ll send a signed paperback copy of the book to the first twenty people who post a verified purchase review of the book on amazon.com and post a copy of the review on their Facebook page.

Reply to me here if you are game to help launch the book!

Read more about the book on amazon.com

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Survivors of Spiritual Abuse: Five Ways to Offer Your Support

I’m working on a new book called, Broken Trustreclaiming God’s survivors of spiritual abusegrace from toxic faith, toxic church and spiritual abuse. I want to help the many hurting people I’ve met find a way to healing and wholeness. In this post, I’d like to speak to pastors and other believers who meet survivors of spiritual abuse.

In my book, I describe survivors of spiritual abuse as the person that Jesus spoke about who  was wounded and found by the side of the road. The religious people were not willing or able to help him. Thankfully the “Good Samaritan” stopped and did what was necessary for healing.

It’s very easy to dismiss the concerns of survivors of spiritual abuse as overreacting. It’s tempting to minimize their hurt and expect them to “get over it.” But what many people don’t understand is that survivors of spiritual abuse often suffer from PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Minimizing their abuse and expecting a quick recovery only adds to their pain and may send them away, feeling like no one can understand them, or they are too broken to heal.

Helping Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

Here are five ideas to keep in mind when befriending or pastoring survivors of spiritual abuse:

1. Listen to their story. Survivors of spiritual abuse need to tell their story. It helps them to process their experience. They gain awareness of what happened to them even as they speak. Talking helps them to sort out what happened.

Don’t feel the need to jump in and correct them or offer solutions. That’s what they have experienced in abuse: people telling them how to think and feel. What they need is a safe context to speak without being corrected or judged for their thoughts or emotions.

2. Validate their experience. As people tell their story, they are afraid of being judged. They are afraid of being rejected because they are either too far off base or too broken. Let them know that you appreciate them telling their story and you believe their experience. Even if you don’t think their experience would have wounded you so deeply, be careful not to minimize or dismiss how it affected them. It’s their story to tell.

3. Don’t offer quick fixes. Christians are great at offering simplistic solutions to complex problems. I noticed the contrast in approaches when I joined a Celebrate Recovery ministry. The small groups gave each person a chance to respond to the evening’s teaching. But other members were not allowed to offer comment. We just thanked the person for what they shared and went on to the next person. This was so foreign to me (and refreshing).

My experience in church small group studies is that someone would share a concern, and everyone else in the group felt it was their responsibility to offer their 25 cent diagnosis of the problem along with as many Bible verses as they could remember. Point: don’t do that! Just listen and draw them out. Invite them to say more and give more examples. It will help them to heal.

4. Give them space and time to heal. People are often exposed to abuse for years. It will take years for them to regain their equilibrium. Don’t rush them. If they have recently joined your church, don’t push them to become a member or volunteer. You can offer the opportunity, but don’t imply that either are necessary to be fully accepted.

You have to realize that just returning to church is a big step for survivors of spiritual abuse. It might be months or years before they can do any more than that.

5. Appreciate their hyper-sensitivity. Survivors of spiritual abuse are prone to high anxiety and panic attacks due to their past experiences. Little reminders will trigger strong reactions. Many people have spoken to me about their fear of running into someone from their old church at the local store. Don’t brush this off as silly, insignificant, or “nothing to worry about.” Some people organize their day around avoiding people.

You can be a healing presence to survivors of spiritual abuse or another person along the way who adds to their pain. Consider how you might be a healing presence.

Get a Free Copy of Broken Trust

If you would like to read a draft of my book, Broken Trust, email me and I’d be happy to send you a free copy. It’s still a work in progress. Any feedback you have to offer me would be welcome. I’m doing my best to offer practical advice so people can move toward healing and full recovery.

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Forgiven: How Guilt Can Block God’s Forgiveness

Forgiven, that’s what we all want: to be forgiven…by God, by others, by ourselves. The following is an excerpt from by latest book: Starting Over…finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself.

Meet Steveforgiven

Let me tell you about Steve. Steve has a drinking problem, but he never saw it coming. He got started drinking heavily in college with his buddies. He thought after college that things would change, but he found that old habits die hard. Steve realized that he didn’t have the self-control he thought he had.

How would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?

When Steve’s friends invited him to the bar, he always said yes. And when they encouraged him to have one more, he never said no. After the third drink he lost count. He knew it wasn’t right but thought, “Hey, I’m not hurting anyone.” He was just having a good time.

In his honest moments, Steve knew that he was hurting someone. He was hurting himself because his drinking hurt his health. It hurt his relationships. It hurt his job performance. It also hurt his relationship with God.

Steve’s excessive drinking made him feel guilty. But things had gotten out of control, and he didn’t know how to get back on track. Like I said: he never planned his life to be this way. One thing just led to another.

When God is the Problem

Interestingly enough, Steve’s faith in God was actually a part of the problem. He felt so ashamed of his failure that he drank more trying to cover his guilt. It was a vicious cycle. The more he drank the guiltier he felt. The guiltier he felt the more he drank. He never dreamed of being forgiven.

After a while, Steve stopped feeling guilty. He grew numb. He just accepted that he was a drinker and resigned himself to a life without God. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was better than feeling guilty all the time.

Steve’s story describes many people I’ve talked to over the years. Just change the name, and the addiction, and Steve might be someone you know. Steve might even be you. Instead of a drinking problem it might be a problem with food, pornography, gambling, shopping, anger, or any number of things.

Guilt: The Roadblock to Being Forgiven

What often keeps us from getting the help we need is guilt. We are so ashamed of what we’ve done that we push God away, assuming he wants nothing to do with us. But in doing that, we push away our greatest help.

What if Steve could live a life free from guilt? How do you think Steve’s life would change if he knew that he was completely forgiven, and God accepted him unconditionally, just the way he was… warts, addiction, and all?

More importantly, how would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?

I’m not talking about being free from all guilt. Some guilt is good…I’m talking about the false guilt that lingers and often turns to shame. I’m talking about the feeling that weighs on you and makes you want to avoid anything remotely associated with God, because you are convinced of his disgust for you.

True guilt has a short shelf life, that is: once guilt serves its purpose in getting you to see your wrong, it starts to spoil. It’s like soured milk: guilt turns from being helpful to being hurtful. But many people keep drinking the “sour milk” of guilt thinking it’s the right thing to do… even the godly thing to do. They just assume that all guilt is from God and so they embrace it. Big mistake.

The truth is that God wants you to move from guilt to grace as quickly as possible. Put your past behind you and start building your new regret-free life. Live forgiven. [adapted from chapter nine from Starting Over: The Problem of Guilt.]

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Free Kindle Book: STARTING OVER…a look at the forgiveness of God

Free Kindle Book

FREE Kindle Book

Free Kindle Book. There’s no better time to release a new book about Starting Over than on Easter. Jesus came, died, and was resurrected so we could all start our lives over. And there’s no better way to introduce a new book than by giving it away for free!

Starting on Easter, through Tuesday, my new book, Starting Overfinding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself, will be a free Kindle book at Amazon.com. If you attend one of our services at Cedarbrook Church, it will be given away in paperback.

From the Back Cover of Starting Over

You are perfect in God’s Eyes. Impossible? Not if you understand what Jesus did for you. Many people talk about God’s forgiveness, but few understand how radical it really is. Instead, they climb onto the hamster-wheel of performance, working to please God, while unresolved guilt eats away at them. Sound familiar?

Loved this book. It’s a fast read and made me take a more biblical look into God’s forgiveness instead of being left to dwell on my own guilt and shame.

To counteract this common mistake, F. Remy Diederich has written, Starting Over...finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself. The book lays out how God made you perfect in his eyes, as well as how being forgiven impacts your life.

With twenty brief meditations, the author hopes to convince you of God’s unquestionable and unfathomable forgiveness. His goal is to help you move past your regret and start living the new life that God has for you.

If guilt and regret have pushed you away from God, Starting Over might be the next book for you to read.

Can You Help Promote Starting Over?

I write books so people will read them. I know, crazy idea. But, the truth is: most books on Amazon.com aren’t read. They just sit there like orphans. If you want your book to get read, you have to ask for help. So, that’s what I’m doing! I’m hoping you will do me a favor, well, actually a few:

  1. Go to Amazon.com and search in “Books” for “Forgiven.” Currently my book is listed on page 5. Click on my book and “buy” it for free. Searching this way will help the book move toward the first page of ranking.
  2. Read the book this week (it will take you just over an hour) and post a review on Amazon.com. That helps A LOT. People decide whether to buy books based on reviews. The more reviews I get the higher the book ranks on their search engine.
  3. Post the link to the book on your Facebook page and let people know that it’s free.

That’s it. Those three things will make a big difference. If you believe in the message of Starting Over (God’s radical and unconditional forgiveness) it’s an easy way to spread the message.

So far the reviews are super positive. For example, one person wrote:

Loved this book. It’s a fast read and made me take a more biblical look into God’s forgiveness instead of being left to dwell on my own guilt and shame. You can read it as a daily devotional, but I couldn’t put it down and read through the whole thing in one sitting.

Enjoy the free kindle book. I hope to read your review of it soon!

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God’s Forgiveness Makes You Perfect in the Eyes of God

God’s forgiveness makes you perfect in the eyes of God. Can you believe that? My hope is that my new book, Starting Overfinding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself, will convince you of just that.

Today I’m quoting from Day Eight of the devotional where I look at the benefits of forgiveness.

Forgiveness Makes you Perfect in the Eyes of God

Perfect in the eyes of God. That might sound too good to be true. I had it explained to me like this. Imagine that you and Jesus are sitting side by side and Jesus asks Father God: Which one of us is more perfect in your sight? What would the Father say? He’d say, “You are both perfect in my sight.”

When I first heard this, it sounded wrong. How could I be equally perfect in God’s sight as Jesus? But that’s what Jesus’ death did for you and me. The Bible tells us:

By one sacrifice God has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14 (emphasis is mine)

This verse is about you. Jesus’ death made you perfect in the eyes of God, not for a moment, but forever. It tells you that Jesus’ death cleaned your slate.

When my kids were little and they started washing dishes, I’d often have to go back and rewash them because they missed some spots. Our forgiveness is a lot like that. It’s spotty. It’s not often complete. But God’s forgiveness is perfect. The word “perfect” means “to be fully complete. Nothing lacking.” As a result, you stand before God completely blameless.

When is the last time someone looked at you as completely blameless? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone look at you without remembering all of your mistakes, all your sin, all your failure, and past history? That’s how God looks at you.

But the really good news is that this cleansing isn’t a temporary state. It doesn’t have a thirty-day shelf life. This cleansing lasts…forever. That means you can breathe deep. Relax. Quit looking over your shoulder. Your struggle is over. You’ve been restored to God and he is now in the process of making you “holy,” that is, set apart for his purposes. From Day Eight: Perfect in God’s Eyes.

Click here to view the book on Amazon.com

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