Recently Amy and I were discussing about what it meant to be sold-out for Jesus following a message I had given. The story of Kieth Green came up and we realised that in the present day, there are very few people who live a radical life for God and who make sense at the same time. More often than not, we find Christians who preach about radical, sacrificial Christianity, but who live lives that do not always tally with our understanding of God's love and calling. Dichotomy, either obvious or hidden is a habit for us Christians. So, when I came across the story of Francis Chan recently, I was quite inspired and hope you will be too.
Chan was born in Hong Kong and (in relation to yesterday's post) had his fair share of suffering. His mother died while giving birth to him and his father was a strict disciplinarian. When he was 7, his father remarried and moved the family to California. However, his step-mother died soon after in a car accident and then, when he was in junior high school, his father died of cancer, leaving him in the care of relatives. These events could have marked him with anger, loneliness and cynicism, but instead, he became involved in a local youth group and came to Christ. After his training in seminary, he took a job as a youth pastor, but soon became disillusioned and left to wait tables at a restaurant. During this time, he met and married his wife, Lisa, who was a worship leader in the local church.
As he was searching for God's calling in his life, he met other people who thought like him and were disillusioned with the church and their faith and they began to meet together informally. This was how the Cornerstone church was founded in 1994 with about 30 people. In just about 2 months, the number had grown to 100 and this exponential growth continued with 1,500 people by 2000 and more than 4000 members at present. With his inspirational and entertaining preaching style, Francis was filling the pews every week to overflowing.
But this was not your run-of-the-mill megachurch. After a trip to Africa, Chan saw the suffering there and realised that he and his church were too self-centred. Till then, the church was giving only about 4% of its income away. Chan asked it to give 50%. This meant staff and salary cuts, but slowly everyone came on board and every year, the percentage gradually rose. It is also said that Chan himself gave away 90% of his own income for the work of God. Yes, that's 90%!! He did not take a salary from the church and donated his book royalties to charity, much of it going to organisations that rescued sex slaves in countries round the world. Possibly, he was following the principle explained in this post, which suggests that we live with a particular amount of money thoughout our life. Even if our salary increases, we just give the extra amount away!!
When the church decided to build a new building to accommodate the growing membership, the committee came up with a huge structure that would cost 50-60 million dollars. Chan was not excited about this and lobbied for a change. Finally, there was consensus and a simple outdoor amphitheatre was built saving tens of millions of dollars. When it rains, the congregation gets wet, but remembers the money is feeding the hungry!! Talk about radical thought and action!!
But it doesn't end there. Positioned as one of the top evangelical leaders in the United States, with an ever growing congregation and acclaim from all quarters, Francis Chan announced in April 2010 that he was resigning as the pastor of Cornerstone Church to follow the call that God had placed on his heart. It was a step of faith, he said and he was not sure where or how that call would materialise. But he felt he had to 'let go' and live sacrificially by faith as an expression of love. He is spending this year in prayer and waiting on the Lord and plans to begin his new ministry in the beginning of next year. The latest I read was that he had sold his house so that there would be nothing to tie him down and was planning a trip to an African nation with his family to spend 3 months and discern God's leading. I had been following this story for some time with a certain degree of skepticism (as is the wont of many Christians), but when I heard he had sold his possessions, I became more open to the possibility that here was a man who was truly seeking God and ready to put his faith into action in his life. After all, that is the challenge for every Christian - it is so easy to talk great things about following God, to preach in large assemblies and rain fire and brimstone down on appreciative audiences. But for most of us, following God begins and ends in the structural prison of a church. The freedom that comes from following God in our life is too risky for us to aspire to. May I be willing to take that risk, not tomorrow, but today....