Francis Chan’s latest book, Letters to the Church, is powerful. In fact, it is surprisingly powerful, because on the one hand it is so simple and yet, on the other hand, it is deeply moving. Chan states at the outset that he was reluctant to write this book because he did not want the book to be misused by Christians who might complain to their pastor that he is not doing church right.
It is a hard-hitting book that challenges many assumptions of the church in America today. He contrasts what we see in the church today with what we read of the church in the Book of Acts. This book is not for the faint of heart.
He begins the book by telling the story of why he left his large church in Southern California. He describes why God led him to leave the church and the journey God took his family on while traveling in Asia. After this season, God called him back to the Bay Area to start a church.
Here is a survey of the remaining chapters:
Chapter 2: Chan talks about the glory of the church, how much the church means to Christ and therefore how much it should mean to us. This chapter is a strong challenge to those Christians who claim to be following Christ and yet they are not part of his church.
Chapter 3: He paints a vivid picture of what the early church looked like in Jerusalem, focusing on Acts 2:42-47. He movingly writes of their devotion to Scripture, to communion, to community, and to prayer.
Chapter 4: He elaborates what he writes about community, using the motif of an inner city gang. This chapter includes a compelling call to radical love and unity in the body of Christ.
Chapter 5: The New Testament is called to be a servant, not a consumer. Every true Christian must be a servant in Christ’s army.
Chapter 6: Chan outlines the essential characteristics of pastors and shepherds. They are not just professional, paid pastors, but all Christians who shepherd other believers.
Chapter 7: Suffering in the church is normative according to the New Testament. We need a new theology in the American church today. He includes powerful stories of the persecuted church in China and other countries.
Chapter 8: We are called as Christians to be missional rather than self-centered.
Chapter 9: Only in the final chapter does Chan describe the current church that he leads, We Are Church. It is a network of house churches throughout the Bay Area. He is not claiming that others should do church in this way, but here is one way to do church like the early church in Jerusalem.
As I was reading this book I was asking myself: Why is this simple book on the church affecting me so forcefully? What is it about this book? I am not completely sure of the answer, but certainly part of it is Chan’s unusual passion for Jesus Christ that bleeds through all of his writings.
But also, he does an excellent job of contrasting what the church so often is in America today with what the church looks like in the Book of Acts. He challenges some of our common assumptions about church and the Christian life. He stirs us to reflect: “Lord, what are you saying to me through this book? Lord, what are you saying to us as a church through this book?”
I highly recommend this book, but only for those with enough courage to hear it.