Exponential 2009: National New Church Conference 2009
At Exponential 2009: National New Church Conference in Orlando, Florida, Cornerstone Community Church pastor and author Francis Chan exhorted both church planters and existing church leaders to go back to the Bible to rethink how they do church. The article below is an adaptation of his message.
When I started Cornerstone, I knew what I needed—a building, a worship band, a sound system, a kids area and a good sermon. Lately, though, I’ve been asking myself if that’s the list I would have come up with had I started with the Bible. If I were stranded on a desert island for the next 10 years and only had the Bible to read to shape my theology, what would the church that I’d launch when getting off look like? And I keep coming back to the truth that we need to be planting churches of boldness—churches that boldly trust in the power of the Holy Spirit; boldly foster authentic, 24/7 community; and churches that pray boldly.
Trusting the Spirit Within
If I read only Scripture, what would I believe about the Holy Spirit? At a recent elder meeting, we read Acts 4:13: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived they were common men, they were astonished and knew they had been with Jesus.” These guys didn’t even go to seminary, yet the Bible says they were bold and confident—so much so that the people were “astonished”
I’m blown away by the fact that in Ephesians 6, Paul asks the Church, “Pray for me that I might preach the Gospel with boldness.” Paul—the boldest man on earth at the time—asks for boldness. When was the last time you were astonished by someone’s boldness in the local church? When was the last time you asked your church to pray for boldness for you?
At Cornerstone, we’re trying to restructure our church—putting the leadership back in the hands of the laypeople and getting them to reach their neighborhoods, disciple and counsel the people around them. We’ve got laypeople doing weddings, marriage counseling.
As we’re doing this, though, I see that people are just so scared. They have plenty of knowledge, yet they lack boldness and the confidence that the Holy Spirit is really in them. When you ask them to lead, they say, “I don’t know if I could talk to my next-door neighbor about Jesus all by myself.” The Church as a whole is raising up some terrified people who just want to leave evangelism to their pastor.
But as I’m realizing these things, I’m finally admitting that ever since high school when I became a believer, I’ve never really taken Acts to heart. I’d read about the first Church and think to myself, “No way, it can’t happen like that again. I wish it could. I would have loved to have been a part of that. It was different time, a different culture.”
But today, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering, Why not? It doesn’t make sense that the Holy Spirit would change. I’m not saying it’s going to happen exactly the way it did back then. I understand He’ll manifest Himself in different ways. But Jesus promised this Holy Spirit. He told His disciples to wait for it in the upper room and to not leave until they had it. He told them they would receive so much power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
My eyes are now open that we need to be a church that boldly trusts in the Holy Spirit and acts boldly on that trust. We’ve got to give that confidence back to our people. But it starts with us. Do we as leaders even believe it? If I could start over, I’d start with more boldness, trusting in the Holy Spirit to move in His church.
Engaging in Authentic, 24/7 Community
Starting over would also mean changing how our church viewed and fostered community. If you came off an island after reading Scriptures, and then walked into a local church, what would you expect to see? I would expect to see a group of people boldly loving one another, sharing their possessions with each other, spending time together like a family.
A little over a year ago, we baptized this guy who came out of the gangs. I remember loving his fire and passion. A while later, someone came up to me and said that this guy had stopped coming to Cornerstone and had told him, “I had the wrong vision of church. I thought that when I got baptized and joined the church, it was going to be like when I got jumped into the gang. Immediately, we became family. They had my back 24 hours a day. If I was sleeping in the street, they were sleeping there with me. We didn’t get together just once a week; it was all the time. I guess I just didn’t understand church. It’s like Satan stole God’s playbook, and people are attracted to gangs because they’re doing things biblically—except for the killing part.”
That kills me! It’s so sad that gangs are a better picture of family than the body of Christ. And it just makes me say that it’s not this guy, it’s us—we are the ones who don’t understand church.
And I’ve heard the arguments. I know people say that even though it’s biblical, you can’t pull off that kind of bold community in today’s culture. And to that, I ask, Have we forgotten who the Holy Spirit is? If Jesus could look at 11 people and say, “You’re going to get the message to the whole world without Internet access,” then we can grab 11 people and reach these three or four blocks. It’s the same Holy Spirit. I’ve got to believe that the Holy Spirit still can and will do these amazing things. We’re going through this as a church right now. The leaders of our church are my best friends. I trust them. I know that if I die tonight, these guys will take care of my family. They’ll treat my kids like their own. We’re seeing that type of bond happen. Today’s Church can foster bold and authentic, 24/7 community.
If I was on a desert island reading the Scriptures, what would I believe about prayer, and how would that change my church? Think about the change that happened the day Elijah prayed in front of the 450 prophets of Baal. He tells them, “My God is going to take you down.” They’re dancing all day long and screaming out, and at the end of the day, Elijah gets on his knees and prays, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I know you’re there.” And fire comes down! These prophets see this, and they just keep saying, “The Lord, He is God. He is the real God!” They didn’t walk away that day, commenting, “That Elijah, he’s so funny, and he gave such a great message.”
When was the last time people left your services saying, “OK, your Jesus—He’s the real one. Give me that Spirit. I want whatever you have!” My fear is that sometimes we may sound like the prophets of Baal more than we resemble Elijah. The prophets had a great worship time that day. They sang and clapped and yelled. But the Bible says that when they were done, no one answered and no one listened.
Or do our worship services look more like what Elijah did when he got on his knees and boldly prayed and fire came down from heaven? It wasn’t just a bunch of people rallying themselves and getting fired up.
One of my favorite verses is James 5:17: “Elijah was a man, just like us.” But Elijah prayed, the Bible says, earnestly. He didn’t even pray that long. He just laid it out and quietly said, “God, show them who you are.”
We desperately need the boldness of Elijah. I want that. I’m tired of just creating hype. We need to be planting and raising up churches that trust, act and pray boldly—where people walk away saying, “The Lord, He is God!