Book review: Letters to the Church

In 2001, the church I worked at decided to change its name to eradicate the word Baptist from the title. Whether or not you like that idea is outside of the scope of our topic today. Shortly afterwards, a pastor visited our board and declared that we should change our name back because “we could see some consequences” from that decision. We eventually did see a very few short term consequences, but fast forward almost two decades or more, and leaving a denominational name out of a church plant or even an existing church never mentioning it in their church marketing is common place in the church world, including the pastor’s church who I mentioned previously. Hillsong, Journey, Granite, Landmark, Next Level, Vox, New Life, Life Church, and Vast, are just a few examples of churches I know, both denominational and non denominational, that don’t use their middle names (if they have them) and there is little to no evidence that it’s a problem for their growth.

This is actually a book review. Recently I finished Francis Chan’s “Letters to the Church” and thought it would be good to share its contents with you. I recommend that if you love the church, not a particular church, but Christ’s whole bride, that you read this book and allow it to change how you think, or call you to action if you already think this way.

This book is revolutionary in that a change is coming in the American church where entertainment will eventually not be able to sustain itself as something that “brings people in the doors” and it prophetically calls that out, yet is still a bit ahead of the game where it feels like churches aren’t quite ready to make the changes Chan calls for in his pages.

Thursday night I watched Avengers: Endgame, the last in a series of 23 or so movies that found itself in this final climax, and it was such an epic ending. No spoilers here, but even Disney, the master of storytelling, understands that a story must end and a new completely different story, or at least the way of telling the story must end.

In LTTC, Chan essentially asserts that the church go back to its old, more personal way of sharing its story, because modern ways have created a cartoonish version of the real story of Jesus and his followers. This version of church is one that attempts to fit in with culture, turns church into a 60 to 90 minute presentation, and do all that without suffering in any way.

And here’s the thing: The version of church that Chan writes about in LTTC would not immediately grow and have big numbers here in America, and he doesn’t seem to even care. He pastored a 7000 + mega church in sunny California, and walked away from everything because of how intensely he felt about this topic. But the question is not what are pastors willing to walk away from, but rather what are followers of Jesus willing to risk for the sake of really loving one another so that others can see that and know that following Christ means something?

Chan breaks down his arguments into compelling chapters, choosing not to talk much about how how churches are wrong today (though he does some of this), but simply sharing his story, then going into ways in which the church is called to be the church, using Scripture, and let me tell you, it is compelling and convicting to read. I remember loving “Crazy Love” and “Forgotten God” and loving them, then wishing he had not added his name to the horrible writing known as “Erasing Hell” because of how bad it was. Now he seamlessly paints a picture of what church could and maybe should be using both Scripture and powerful stories, not of numbers but of people. One thing I loved however, is that he doesn’t hold himself up as the guru as to how to make this type of church work.

As Chan walks us through the painting, he does a nice job of walking us (somehow humbly and walking in grace) through some of the problems with where we are currently and where we are called to go. Topics like holiness, family, suffering, unity, and walking with the Spirit of God were particularly convicting to me, but I would encourage you to read it and see where you land.

I think one thing I really liked about this book is how it answers many questions that young (or not so young) leaders who have been hurt by the church have proceeded to ask. I have a ton of friends who have walked away from the drama that is church and they are pretty much happier and more thankful for their lives in every way. I have to tell you though, the church I read about in the Bible is not one where people would want to walk away from, and yet here we are, a generation of people who can’t wait to get away from church and who generally don’t believe anymore?

Yes. And the problem is not the message, but how the message has been distributed. We have exalted pastors and leaders in the church world, making a generation of young leaders who “want to be like them”, but “want to be like them” doesn’t include suffering and the hard work of shepherding. It only includes having a platform. But what happens if we destroy the platform? On purpose? Perhaps the numbers will go down initially, but those who really follow Jesus will make a difference by being the church seven days a week.

The reason I started this book review talking about my previous church’s name change is because, at the time, other churches and pastors thought it was an unwise move on our part. I know many pastors who would read LTTC and say, “That’s for someone else in some other place.” I get the pressure of bringing people together because it’s the machine that drives our current systems. But what if you changed the way you did church? What if you poured resources away from your weekend routine and focused on loving one another, and taking care of the ‘widow and the orphan’?

What if…?

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from LTTC:

“We should be asking why Christians are willing to give up only ninety minutes a week (if that!) to the only thing that really matters in their lives!”

“Scripture is clear: There is a real connection between our unity and the believability of our message. If we are serious about winning the lost, we must be serious about pursuing unity.”

Speaking of the church in China: “What we call sanctification, they call prerequisite.”


written by Marty Holman

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