As the church heads into what he calls “a new season,” pastor and author Francis Chan is urging leaders in evangelical Christianity to encounter God and to make worship sacred and reverent again. In a message last week at the Exponential Reset Summit, Chan addressed the recent wave of high-profile Christians who have “deconstructed,” or left the faith. He also encouraged pastors to focus more on the vertical nature of faith and worship.
Evangelical Christianity: So Many Are ‘Walking Away’
At this year’s online Reset Summit, speakers addressed ways to “lead with confidence in the post-COVID church.” Chan spoke of the troubling trend of well-known Christians who have publicly abandoned the fold.
“I am seeing so many people, friends of mine who were in ministry, who are just saying they don’t believe, or they’re walking away,” says Chan. “And I just think that’s crazy. We’re seeing people that we look up to, leaders fall. We’re seeing the world look at evangelical Christianity as an absolute joke right now,” he adds. “Every day you can just jump on Instagram…and someone is saying, ‘I’m not a Christian anymore.’”
As ChurchLeaders has reported, recent faith-renouncers include Paul Maxwell, Josh Harris, Marty Sampson, Jon Steingard and Abraham Piper. Heated divisions, both within evangelical Christianity and in the country, also are contributing to the tensions.
In America’s churches and denominations, says Chan, a “lot of Isaiah 29:13” has been evident lately. “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” reads that passage (NIV). “Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Chan explains that true encounters with God have been lacking. Going through the motions and merely listening, he says, don’t equate with or lead to life-changing interactions with our heavenly Father. One way Chan himself has been seeking to encounter God more deeply is by exploring the incarnational view of the Eucharist.
Encounter God During This ‘New Season,’ Says Francis Chan
With many pandemic-related lockdowns now ending, Chan says opportunities abound for the church. “This is a new season,” he tells pastors and leaders. “And all of this, people walking away and fighting and angry about everything and so opinionated, is because they’ve spent too much time in our presence, and in our evangelical talk, talk, talk, talk presence and not enough time before a holy God and sacred and reverent, silence and awe and just recognizing their oneness with him.”
Chan warns faith leaders, “Don’t get away from your own encounter with God.” As the next step, he says, “We have to make sure we get people to encounter [God], and that their fear of God is not just a commandment that was taught to them by us.”
An important lesson from the pandemic that Chan points to is “there’s just way too much of this horizontal [interaction] going on.” In order to “keep these people with us,” he says, “we have to direct people to [God and] do a better job of bringing sacredness back into our worship.”
That vertical approach to faith will be vital as Christians face future challenges, says Chan. “The world is going to get worse. Persecution is going to get worse. And when [believers are] alone with [God], is there enough of this awe and enjoyment of him, and a fear of him that they can survive anything?”