“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. BB

    For those of you who don't believe in God and Jesus, I really wish you could understand what you are missing. God never said that life would be better or easier when you believe in him, but it is such an awesome relationship that for those of us who have had the opportunity to experience it, it is unimaginable that God doesn't exist. My life is full every single day of proof that he is a wonderful, loving God. I have problems like everybody else, but my God isn't a fairy tale. He is real, and he is evident and he makes himself known in every aspect of my life. We can argue about this for the rest of our time on this earth, but nothing is going to change the fact that Jesus is going to come back and everybody is going to go one way or the other. Good luck. I know which way Im going without a shadow of a doubt and I pray that each of you will take the time to determine where you want to be for all eternity.

    December 24, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  2. aaron

    As a believer and follower of Christ, how I live should never, ever be about me. If I sing, it's to sing about Him, to Him alone. If I pray, I am praying about His Kingdom come His will be done here on earth and praying for others who are in need, rather than my own selfish needs. If it's serving, it serving others not myself, always to God be the Glory in everything I do. I'm not out to please man, but to please God and God only, serving wholeheartedly Jesus with everything I have. Francis Chan, is seeking God's perfect will in his life for he hungers God more than anything, more than being famous, more than the big dream house, more than the comforts and pleasures of this life, more than status, and more than riches this world offers. He must increase, we must decrease, I thank the Lord for this man making that stand. Because not many pastors will do it, because I really don't think they are ready to sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ. Yet, Christ left everything, and humbled himself lower than all of us to save us. He must increase in our lives, we must decrease, that is what Francis Chan is doing. God be with you my brother on your journey, for your not alone.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  3. eatcannabis2curecancer

    World hunger and sickness all started when evil governments outlawed the only plant that gives 100% good health
    when the leaves, seeds, and buds are ground and eaten at a rate of 1 and 1/4 grams 4 times
    daily, breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2hrs before bed. Grind with a coffee grinder and let set
    for 15 min to 12hr. seed oil absorbs the THC and the seed oil helps keep the “high” down.
    This is like drinking from the fountain of youth! Genesis 1: 29 (eat cannabis) and
    Revelations 18:23 ( all nations deceived by the merchants) !


    December 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  4. loudmouthinthebalcony

    I was tracking with him until the analogy of the woman in the bed, submerged by water as an example of how we should fear God. Until further notice, I will continue to believe that God wouldn't do anything that Love would not do. Submerging someone into a panicked state is not loving and not Godly.

    This guy totally lost my attention with this very ancient view of a God who does inhumane and demonic things. He can go scare somebody else.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  5. Nota Sucker

    To those who say atheism is a system of beliefs; you're not fooling anybody by your tricky equivocation on the word "belief". Besides, your claim is equivalent to insisting that "NOT collecting stamps" is a hobby. The usual rubish we've come to expect from those who promote the traditions that made thinking a crime punishable by death.

    December 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  6. Jaymie

    He spoke at my school (APU in California) shortly before he left. He said people keep telling him it's crazy and amazing, but he said something that stuck with me. "Is it really? I mean, if you were to put my story in the Bible, would it be crazy at all? Think of your own story. If someone put that in the Bible, would it be all that different, would it stand out as "too crazy"?"... probably knowing that most of this school didn't stand out from the world, let alone in the midst of biblical figures. http://www.jaymiehorak.wordpress.com

    December 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Courtney

    Good for him!! God bless you for blessing others!!! I wish more people were given that word from God!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  8. Mary Ash

    I understand the pastor's intention but as a leader, he is responsible for teaching the Body of Christ. The body is suffering from a lack of correction and truth. We can't quit on God like that, tell the people the truth about themselves!

    December 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  9. Muneef

    Yunus sura 10:
    They say "Allah hath begotten a son!―" Glory be to Him! He is self-sufficient! His are all things in the heavens and on earth! No warrant have ye for this! Say ye about Allah what ye know not? (68) Say: "Those who invent a lie against Allah will never prosper." (69) A little enjoyment in this world! and then to Us will be their return. Then shall We make them taste the severest Penalty for their blasphemies. (70).

    Ghafir sura 40:
    Those who dispute about the Signs of Allah without any authority bestowed on them― there is nothing in their breasts but (the quest of) greatness, which they shall never attain to: seek refuge, then, in Allah: it is He Who hears and sees (all things). (56) Assuredly the creation of the heavens and the earth is a greater (matter) than the creation of men: Yet most men understand not. (57) Not equal are the blind and those who (clearly) see: nor are (equal) those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and those who do evil. Little do ye learn by admonition! (58) The Hour will certainly come: therein is no doubt: yet most men believe not. (59) And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): But those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell in humiliation!" (60).

    December 23, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  10. Muneef

    Vatican ahead of others mentioned debuting pastors to East and Middle East is one move.
    The second move was to bring the states and Allies into religious leadership?
    Preparation being made for a new Roman Empire...that soonest is becomes strong it will start treating minorities as was in the past and as Spain did to Jews and Arabs?

    Therefore some times think that the presence of atheists in the middle is a bless for things not to become as extreme as were before!? One God but many religions rather than one religion dominant on many other religions which brings nothing but extremism.. There are other solutions to be considered where the national law is above all religious laws and religious laws leaders are to accept the national laws and respect it as long as it is good for society, community,and the world.

    December 23, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  11. Boenairgeez

    He has done stuff like this before. What about the sheep he left, are they covered. He is my brother but he has become spoiled by all his fame. Running away will not help, because when you get there, there you are.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  12. MarkinFL

    So he dumped his overwhelming day to day responsibilities to focus on what he enjoys. Good for him. You notice that he is staying in the news and updates of his activities are being distributed and he continues to be involved in some high-profile events. How humble.
    Now if he had disappeared completely into his new ministry after simple note of explanation, I might buy it.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  13. hopfan

    Ps. 24 says that he who has a clean hand and a pure heart shall ascend the hill of the Lord! 🙂

    December 23, 2010 at 5:24 am |
  14. telisesrich

    It is like complaining about your electric bill. Do without it and see if you like it . Don't pay it and see if they will turn it back on. The Lord our God will turn his power back on and all you have to pay is " I love you " . Try it you make like it. No deposit required and you can stop paying at anytime and still have power again if you change your mind. Not sure where else you can get that. Live in the dark if you please. Seems to be where a lot of you perside. Merry Christmas and I do love you all . Like it or not .

    December 23, 2010 at 12:59 am |
  15. jonathan((H), Ghg, or Gg) God has given or God's gift

    THERE IS truly an area of sickness that has crept over the body of Christ because unlike Job 14:1 man refuses in his vanity and contrary vices to accept Christ for who he really is. He is not a Sunday morning capitalist who does not live a daily life of denial. His reputation is not founded on the l.u.s.t. for money and crowds. He seeks no fame, but service. He does not refuse home and hospital visitation. He loves a body of believers constantly needing healing thru edification. No perfect love or perfect peace can be found in the body because there is an absence of joy. No love? Becaue the love. you. have sinfully. trashed. for vanity of vanities. Christ was made perfect(G. = complete, H.= wholehearted or sincere) through suffering even the suffering on the cross.
    Church after church there is no budget dollar religion, but robberies. No financial training for families, but lasciviousness and waste. Greed rules the day. No Proverbs 31 women, and men without their strength. No system of checks and balances that grace may abound. Who then can stand the test of discipleship? All of us, by the blood of Jesus. Let us start today to rebuild familes, and be ye perfect. I love u in the Lord. BBLESD

    December 22, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  16. Fish

    Francis Chan is a breath of fresh air in the midst of so-called celebrity pastors.

    December 22, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  17. steve

    good to see an article on one of the good guys. as always it leads to a discussion as to whether or not our own beleifs are being reinforced or torn down. just remember there is no one perfect except Jesus so to determine the validity of your beleifs on what a paster does or doesn't do is crazy. i think this article did a good job of placing the focus on the one that matters and that is Jesus. as to what anyone elses motives are or whether they have a perfect appearance in our view doesn't really matter. we look at the outside but God looks at the heart. someone who does all the kind things they can but does it to make themselves look good are as filthy rags but he who humbles himself and makes Jesus lord of their life shall be saved.

    only God can look on the heart but when you see a life of someone who is devoted to God as this guy seams to be it usually shows up in what they say and do and i wish him well.

    December 22, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  18. Phil

    "Christ died to save us from the sin that God created. God is responsible for sin, as he is the originator and made us to sin by virtue of being omnipotent and omniscient. In essence, Christ died to make up for a mistake that God made."

    Did God create sin? One thing I have learned in my walk with Christ is that only God can create, but satan can mold and pervert what God created. The world was sinless in the garden until satan came in and the first sin occurred. God created the world sinless, satan perverted God's creation and sin has become widespread.

    "a book that has been shown to be wrong as an absolute source for authority"

    What has been shown to be wrong about it? I havn't heard of any definite proof against the bible, but I have heard a lot of prophesies in the old testament that have come true.

    "You should read the bible. You should see the way God acts when he tortures Joeb on a bet with Satan. You should wonder why God needed dirt to make Adam, when he created the universe, an expanse infinitely greater from nothing, you should question why it is God creates us to sin then condemns us for it. You should really read the bible and think about what you believe, not what you've been told to believe."

    Job is used as an encouragement to believers when going through struggles, that no matter how hard things get, God is still there for us.

    God didn't need dirt to create Adam, but He chose to use it. God also created dirt, and He also created science. From what I've seen, God chooses often to work through the science He created rather than bending the common rules of our world.

    Lastly, answer this for me. If you decide to send yourself a text that says "I love you, you are awesome," would it make you feel good at all? Or how about programming your phone to do this every day? As encouraging a message as that is, it would not make me feel good because my phone does not choose to tell me that, but knows no better. God didn't create us to be mindless robots who "love" Him, because that would be meaningless. He gave us free will to choose.

    December 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
    • Muneef

      Strange to read that God made a mistake which Jesus had to pay for? As if God is not Perfect?
      Then the second one says Jesus is Perfect?? God is not perfect but Jesus is? Creator not perfect but his Creation was perfect? What I am reading here!! So were these words mentioned in your bible or made up ?

      December 22, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
    • Muneef

      Al-Anaam sura 06:
      "It is those who believe and mix not their beliefs with wrong― that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance." (82).

      Al-Araf sura 07:
      Say: The things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which he hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge. (33) To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation). (34).

      December 23, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  19. Muneef

    You bet that Mr.Christian Famous will be returning back to you but as a Muslim preecher...?and that only if he is truly seeking God...

    December 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  20. Anthony David Jacques

    I call BS. My money is on closet case.

    He just doesn't want to be the next Ted Haggard, and we all know there's plenty of tail in Asia.

    Two birds, one stone. Simple as that.

    December 22, 2010 at 8:45 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.