Francis Chan (founding pastor of the mega-church Cornerstone, in Simi Valley, CA) reported sharing with his wife the realization that if he and Jesus had competing churches in the same area, Francis’ would be bigger. When I first heard that remark I was stunned. Then again, so was Chan when he came to the realization. He was not bragging; he was heartbroken. He realized he must have been missing the mark somehow.
I am not sure how many of the marks he was missing, except for one. Jesus never would have settled a church in the same area. Jesus may have never settled a church at all. Church as we know it bears little resemblance to Church as Jesus understood it anyway! The whole concept that we have found so soothing and comforting is foreign to the Gospels and only tangential to the New Testament.
Jesus said very little about Church. He was not a big Church guy. He was much more of a disciple kind of guy. Jesus didn’t seek church members. He didn’t even recruit new disciples. He turned them away! When he healed the blind man in John chapter 9, the Pharisees accused the blind man of faking it and then called him a disciple of Jesus. Yet when Jesus approached him, he didn’t even know who he was! Jesus had performed the healing then was out of there! He came back after the religious Pharisees had run him out so that the man could know the power of God had little to nothing to do with Pharisees and religious rules, but was all about faith. Nevertheless, Jesus had his limit on disciples. His church was restricted to twelve members.
Sure there were others that could tag along, others that contributed and witnessed much of what happened. After all, how could they replace Judas if there weren’t qualified individuals, but Jesus never felt the need to replace any of his twelve, regardless of how hard-headed, selfish, lazy and scared they were.
He never put out a call for membership, he chose his members. Doubtless there were many who wanted to be a part, and some that he called may not have been the most eager, but membership was handpicked. There was no open altar call for membership. Jesus chose the least likely, the unpolished, the uneducated, the unwelcome and said, “These will be my disciples.” “These that have experience in the world and not in the Church; these that have learned what it is to be passionate, like the zealot, have learned to handle hatred, like the tax-collector, have learned that it is hard work to bring in the catch, like the fishermen.”
He chose men who were not comfortable settling down. Men that were able to move when he said, “Come follow me”, not the ones who said “I will, when the time is right.” If only Jesus didn’t demand movement, perhaps he could have built a larger church than Francis Chan.
If only Jesus understood Church the way we do, a stable anchor in the community, a beacon of light among the sea of confusion we call culture. Instead, Jesus understood the Church to be a torch that lights the way as we walk through the darkness.
The church is not the building we gather in, the steeple we look to or the pastor we heed. The church is the called out community of believers in Jesus Christ who understand we can walk this road together. And together, as the Church, we can make it through. To Jesus, the church is more like a gang, a band of brothers who will walk the streets together in safety than it is a civic association that spends its time making policies and rules. The Church is about living life together out in the world, all day, everyday, not just an hour or two a week.
Jesus spent his life with his church, and gave his life for it. He walked, talked, fished, ate, slept, sailed, studied, worshipped and shared all of his life with his disciples…his church. Francis Chan cannot do that with his church. Nor can I with mine.
If Jesus opened up a Church here in my neck of the woods, would it be larger than mine? That doesn’t even matter. The point that is so poignant is, it would be better than mine. Of that I have no doubt. And I would only hope, when he started to pick his members, he would choose me.