“Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia
December 22nd, 2010
06:00 AM ET

“Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia

By, Eric Marrapodi, CNN

He pastored a 4,000-member church in California. He was a sought-after speaker at major conferences, wrote two best-sellers and launched a DVD teaching series.

Then he abruptly resigned and left the country.

But in Francis Chan’s unexpected journey there apparently is no hidden scandal, no money trail, and no ‘other’ woman.

“I just want to disappear for a while,” he said in late September as he prepared to leave Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California for an undisclosed location in Asia.

Before selling his house and packing up his wife and three children, Chan was becoming “Christian famous” in Evangelical circles.

“Even in my own church I heard the words, ‘Francis Chan’ more than I heard the words, ‘Holy Spirit’,” he said.

That was a big part of the reason he walked away at the peak of his professional career.

“I think there has been too much emphasis on me. I want to be used by God, but I think we have this desire to make heroes out of people rather than following God and the Holy Spirit.”

He quotes the apostle Paul, who told his followers “I didn’t die for you.”

In his world of big conference crowds, multiple services each week, and instant access to social media, the notion of pastoral care had begun to change. His fame was straining his work as a pastor.

“When there is a large constituency, there’s a lot of voices,” he said. “It makes you arrogant or it makes you want to shoot yourself. When thousands of people tell you what they think, how can I be quick to listen, like the Bible says? I don’t want to be a jerk and tune everyone out. At the same time you, can’t love every single person and answer them.”

So after lots of prayer and soul searching, Chan decided it was best to leave the church, country, and Internet behind to focus on serving others one-on-one.

Chan’s rise in popularity began with the founding of Cornerstone Community Church in 1994. Like many independent churches in the United States, Cornerstone is not tied to a larger denomination. Chan reluctantly calls it an Evangelical church, but says “titles on churches don’t always match up. You walk in with assumptions.”

His first book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, has hit the New York Times best seller list since he left for Asia. His second, The Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, offers a glimpse into why he left.

“I was giving a lot of people just five minutes here and five minutes there,” he said in an interview, describing the book’s central theme. “I need to get better at just saying no to people and no to the crowds...Jesus worked a lot with individuals and his twelve [disciples].”

Two DVDs in his four-part teaching series, Basic, have been released, with more to come in March.

In Basic: Fear God, Chan says he doesn’t think we fear God enough. He appears starkly lit in front of a black backdrop to hammer home his metaphor, in which a woman tied to a bed watches as water slowly fills the bedroom. The water level rises until she is completely submersed and struggling to get free. Only then does panic set in.

If we were to meet God in person, Chan said, “I think the first thing He would say is you don’t take me seriously. You have no idea how to fear me.”

It is just one way Christians miss the point of the messages in the Bible, he said, a notion he aims to correct in the DVD series.

The New Testament, for instance, calls for a much greater commitment than many churches reveal when wooing new converts, he said. “We almost simplify it. We won’t tell people how painful it could be. It’s almost like joining the Marines and saying how fun it will be. Yet Jesus says, I’m worth it, I promise you I’m worth it.”

Chan was not drawing a salary at Cornerstone before he left, and never made more than $36,000 a year. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing things just because I was paid to,” he said. Mike Steinwender, the current administrative pastor from the church, told CNN in an email that “There were/are no budget or financial health issues that led to Mr. Chan leaving.”

Chan’s departure from his 9 to 5 gig to pursue his passion is something many cubicle dwellers can only dream about. But not every pastor agrees with his choice.

Joshua Harris is the Senior Pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He skyrocketed to fame in Christian circles with his book in the 1990’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which influenced many young Christians to do the same.

Harris and Chan have spoken at length about Chan’s decision, and Harris knows first hand about the rigors of the being “Christian famous.”

“Gifted people often become more the focus than the gospel,” Harris said. “But you can’t build a church around a personality. You get up and you preach a sermon and people walk away thinking what a great guy - and that’s a failure as a pastor. Our job is to proclaim Christ.

He said he understood Chan felt God was leading him in a new direction. But he hopes there won’t be an exodus of pastors from their pulpits. “There’s a tendency to idolize one person’s choices. We have to say, ‘you know what, there are a lot of ways to see what faithfulness [to God’s calling] looks like.’ Not every pastor of a big church should leave.”

Chan has been traveling across Asia, according to his website, where his wife Lisa has posted periodic updates.

She wrote that the family has been to India and Thailand, visiting small churches and missionaries. In an October update, she mentioned Chan was preaching again: “Francis spoke a great message of encouragement to this little body of Christ hidden away in a slum in India . 100 years from now we will be worshiping together. We will look each other in the eye and KNOW that it was worth it."

Chan plans to return to the states in January. He is already scheduled to appear at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, which has drawn a crowd of more than 20,000 in the past, and do a stint in the chapel at the NBA All-Star game in February.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Asia • Belief • Books • California • Christianity • India • Pastors • United States

soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. tzopilotl

    ...pushing religion is just like dealing drugs, you give people a high, which you hope will not be dangerous for them.
    it makes you feel like a spider, a good one maybe, if there is such a thing, weaving the scriptures by their ears,
    getting intimate reactions from areas not previously heard from, and hanging them in church to ripen for judgement
    day, as some apocalyptic preachers have it. but what is really going on? let's look at the word, pie-ty, coming from
    the word, pi/opic(N)=to pick, but, pie(N/Latin)=no pick. so how can you be pious and even piano/soft if you are picking
    people and evangelisizing them? this innate contradiction of the evangel is deeply illogical, you are making business
    of something holy, that we don't buy and sell, in fact, resides in a person alone for them to use and discover in the walk
    of life, who are you to interfere with this private communion we also call free will? are you there like the spider?tocatl(N)=
    toxic=toca(N)=to-/our being/-ca=t/d(r)og/ca(letra)=droga(sp)=drug(E)?
    in the toca/d(r)oga sourcing you can see our problem with drugs and religion, both deal with our/to-ca/being, not
    yours or his or theirs, but each and everyone of us. true, our, is collective but free-will is the priority to seek deity
    on toca/tocar(sp)/touch terms, as much as we would like inter-union, the creator made this world alone and delights
    in our creative individuality, hoping we will repeat the free-will exercized in first creation so we can meet the deity
    as equals, each one different, needing no pastor, nor sheep, as deity is perfect, no need of wool sweaters.

    December 22, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  2. nevada trust

    something wrong here with this fellow.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  3. Steve (the real one)

    Frankly Speaking..
    -Steve the real one
    Will christians stop asking stupid questions for god's sake! "Are you concerned about what you may have to give up?"
    Stupid question my "evangelical" brother coz he wont have to give up anything since the god of christians DIED to pay for the sins of humanity!!..Yes, GOD DIED as hilarious as it might sound its a chilled path to heaven so shut up and pimp the ride John

    1. Not too concerned about you thinking my question is stupid because it was addressed to John, that is unless you just happen to know why John is not ready to become a Christian

    2. Many folks actually believe the have to give up something to become a Christian (drinking and smoking for starters)

    3. If you can answer for John, please feel me in!

    December 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  4. Darren

    This article obviously contains only the basic facts. I find contradictions in Chan's supposed reasons for his exodus – he struggles to pastorally care for the individual one-on-one "as Jesus did", so he bails. Then he ministers at some outback church once & then signs up for a big Passion conference that draws 20 000 people! If you can't minister to 4000 on a week-to-week basis with your team, how can you minister to 20 000?

    Here's what probably wasn't printed. Day-to-day pastoring is the most opposed job on earth. Real discipleship is nigh impossible to measure & is tbe true currency of church pastors. Itinerant ministry (in small or large settings) removes the responsibility of that discipleship requirement. Chan wasn't achieving in his church what he thought he was achieving on the speaking circuit.

    As for his name being known more than the Holy Spirit...God has experience in handling big names. He has had kings & queens follow Him. Chan could have limited his public stuff if his calling to his
    church was #1 to him. I would assume that his itinerant ministry has slowly taken over as #1.

    That's okay Francis...but don't put the blame on the sheep simply because the sheoherd has shifted his focus. My heart goes out to the 4000 who have lost their pastor. Jesus ministered to groups of 4000 & 5000 too you know! He didn'2 feed them personally either. He provided the nourishment & had his team distribute it. As I said earlier, day-to-day pastoring is the most opposed job on earth...itinerant ministry is easier...that is what is missing in this article. If you are a pastor, stick & stay. Once you quit, that's it! Bless you.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  5. moooperator

    Shame on your for foresaking your intellect and capacity for rational thought."

    Atheists are so quick to label Christians and Jews as being stupid and ignorant yet 87% of the Nobel Laureates claim to be Christian or Jewish. The vast majority of those winning the Nobel prize do so in the sciences. While on the other hand, 10% of the Nobel Laureates claim to be agnostic or atheist and the majority of those are in literature... I guess because they are trying to tell the other 90% they are stupid and unlearned.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • Anthony David Jacques

      This only proves that intelligent people can still have blind spots.

      I could quote the stat that 89% of scientists are atheists, but would that prove anything either? Nope.

      Oh, and I'm sure you're religious views are just cute. 😛

      December 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  6. vladimir

    everyone is missing the point francis chan doesnt want to be considered the real deal he wants you to talk about Jesus Christ as He is a jealous God

    December 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  7. RightTurnClyde

    Now this I can understand. A pastor especially. There is a time when they have **Given** it all. They need to step back and recover (renew). When you are really giving of yourself it takes a LOT out of you. Pastors, nurses, some doctors, athletes .. can reach a place where they're out of gas and they need to step aside and let the field lie fallow. Good for him. May God be close at hand and give him the replenishment he needs.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  8. eMPower Media

    Awesome man of God. He is a great example in a world of "superstar Preachers" let alone pulpit pimps that keeps leading people astray!

    December 22, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Agreed! I was about to post "He may be the cult leader with the most integrity, but he is still just a cult leader perpetuating man-made tribal myths about imaginary supernatural beings."

      December 22, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Tek

    We do not fear God.... I have an issue with this. I do not think that we should fear God. Perhaps his wrath, but not him. I thought God was Love? Interesting points though, I think I understand why he said this, but still. Maybe that is what he meant. I do not know this guy or read his books. I do not think people think about what will happen after their time on this world.
    Then again some people think only about this, then Kill hundreds of people.

    I know it is a comedy, but I liked Evan Almighty's ARK acronym. Acts of Random Kindness. I think that is love. Therefore I think Love = God.

    Just my opinion.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  10. MKIII

    Well, have read through all of the prior and have reached a few conclusions.
    1. this is a debate between those who claim not to believe (or are not convinced yet) and this who devoutly believe.
    2. neither side is going to win the debate.
    3. the two groups are composed of the "don'ts" (athiests, agnostics, whatever), and the "do's" which seem to state the beliefs associated with fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    I belong to a denomination that practices in the Reformed Tradition.

    To those of you who take the Bible as fact, I and my denomination are planning on celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25, 2012. We believe the "end of times" will be determined when God decides, not by something written down by a human over a thousand years ago.

    On December 21, 2012, I will be sitting on my driveway drinking a Diet Coke and waiting for the fireworks. If God decided that's the day and told the Mayans that was the day, I don't want to miss it.

    Now don't quote me and attack me expecting a response, because you will not get one. Disagree? Fine go ahead and post. Agree? Fine, go ahead and post

    As for Being Saved, I was saved on 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross.

    May the Peace of Christ be will you all, even if you do not choose to believe. He loves you anyway.

    December 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  11. The earth is 6000 years old, stupid.

    I dont believe in him, not because i am mad at him, but because god is gay. Thats right, a huge raging ho-mo. probably with a leather outfit. My god tells me to hate the gays. Unless you can disprove my god, then i am right and you are wrong. You are just mad at my god arn't you?

    December 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  12. tickdmk1

    I'm not here to preach to anyone,but with that said let me say this to refer to God the divine creator as a mythical being and to say the words of the bible are not fact proves your complete and utter ignorance. If you are a true atheist you'd say neither of these cause you'd have no opinion you don't believe and any being and that we merely apeared from evolution. If you your an agnostic then your not sure which means you have no balls and are to weak minded to make a decision

    December 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  13. Wisdom4u2

    This Pastor is just making sure that the Worship and the Glory is given to the Creator whether than the created.

    How awesome is that?

    BTW, don't argue with fools about the Bible, because if someone over hears you they won't know which one's the fool!

    December 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Tom

    I'm not going to applaud my brother Francis for doing what any "Christian Famous" pastor ought to do – because he isn't out for applause. I do, however, applaud CNN for – this time, at least – highlighting at least a little of the good news going on in the Church. An authentic God who authentically came to rescue a rebellious humanity actually calls people like Francis Chan (and me, and my next-door neighbor) to live an authentic life of faith that both sets a good example and points people to His saving goodness.

    December 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  15. margaret

    I did a bible study on Francis Chan book Crazy Love. This was one of the best books that I have ever read. I wish he and his family nothing but the best that GOD has to offer. We should all stride to be this type of person. I know that I am a better person after reading his book.

    December 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  16. ProperVillain

    I agree with his points and his decision. Too many large churches are nothing more than a cult of personality revolving around the senior pastor. I actually think more pastors need to do this. Most churches populations would dwindle to zero if their figureheads left and that is a huge problem. As Francis Chan pointed out, he was hearing his name more than that of God. This tends to be true in most large churches. I've attended one for decades and worked in several, and this never changes.
    My only gripe is that, despite his protests, it looks like he will be back in the limelight in January.

    December 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  17. Mark

    I have said it before, and I'll say it again. I respect anyone's right to believe or NOT believe as they wish. I can't make you believe in my God. The Bible itself say's "Noone comes to the Father unless he is called" which basically means unless the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to your spiritual need for Christ and your need for Savior, you're not going to come to God. We don't seek God, he seeks us. But the one thing that I absolutley can't stomach is to hear all the would be "athiests" proclaiming that "science" is the answer. "I hold to science, reason, logic, etc etc". Well.....guess what? I do to.
    Followers of Christ aren't so stupid as to deny the wonders of science and all the really cool things that it has given us. When I have a headache, I acknowledge the benefits of science and take some aspirin. When I go into a dark room, the first thing I do is flip the light on and I really appreciate the electricity that makes that light possible. I love the field of science. I make my very living by it. I hold a degree in Chemistry and a degree in Chemical Engineering. You bet I like science. So don't use the field of science as some kind of "reason" to deny God. I look at science and can come to no other conclusion that there MUST be a God. The whole creation declares his existence.
    What a bummer it must be to God to know that the very wonder of his own creation is something that some people try to use as proof that he doesn't exist.

    December 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  18. gypm

    This is the real deal.

    December 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  19. Bob

    @Mike not Me you said:

    > The analogy is valid in that it follows your invalid line of thinking, but thanks for the name calling that solves everything.

    Tell me how it's invalid that a being that created everything, setting the rules and predetermining how everything would occur by his/her own design isn't responsible for it. It would seem to me that you're incapable of logically reasoning through an argument.

    > And way to logically come to the answer of its all the Beings fault which you "logically" dismissed as existing.

    Again you go to making stuff up again. I haven't logically dismissed him. I've said time and time again that a God may very well exist, but I don't have sufficient evidence to actually justify thinking he/she does exist.

    The bottom line is if the bible is correct, God is directly responsible for sin, for it has he who made humans able to sin. It was he who crafted each of our personalities and directly determined what situations we'd be put in. Not maybe, not if, not sorta. Otherwise he is not all powerful and all knowing.

    > So in the end your answer "The only person that can be responsible is the prime mover, the one who is responsible for everything. The omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe. God." That boils down to "there is no responsible one and its all relitive so I can never come to the conclusion that anything is wrong, including the statements in this blog"

    When did I ever infer that. I'm stating a fact. Just as I am responsible for a good/bad project that I design for work, God is responsible for a good/bad universe he created. If you're saying I'm wrong, please provide me with a intelligble reason why.

    What's even worse is that you mix up the concept of a premise for an argument with my own personal views. They're not necessarily one and the same. For the sake of this argument I'm saying "Let's assume the bible is true". It doesn't mean that I believe it, it's designed to put forth a foundation to the conversation.

    I mean really? Really?

    > Unless you do believe in a "the one who is responsible for everything. The omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe. God."

    See my answer above.

    But then that begs the question where have you learned that God is omnipotent, omniscient. You can't say the Bible is false and then accuse God of being that described in the Bible.

    > Premise of an argument. 🙂

    > Furthermore because you were slow to catch on, these arguments are not of my own so your last statement re4ally says
    "Clearly critical thought is not one of [CS Lewis, Tim Keller, Plantiga Bauker, Dennett] strong suits."

    Agreed, they are not critical thinkers. A good chunk of their arguments are nonsense. I'm sorry you're not swift enough to understand why.

    December 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  20. Fricsaid

    This man knows we are to be humble in the eyes of God. Yes folks, believe it or not, there are some good one's out there.

    December 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.