“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. pastor lanka ravikanth

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    December 6, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  2. Samsung Galaxy S3 trotz Schufa

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    September 18, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  3. shareyt

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    September 8, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  4. Jay DePoy

    Francis Chan is a prophet of Truth, and I am deeply humbled by his life of selflessness and grace. Thank God for 2nd chances, and redemption... If it were not for the cross and resurrection, I would have killed myself.

    Jay DePoy


    April 23, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  5. Israel Sanchez

    This is a wonderful article. Francis is the real deal. Here is his goodbye message:


    January 28, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  6. Lindsay

    LOL at everyone not realizing tray117 was being sarcastic. You all got trolled.

    January 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  7. Brandon

    There are lots of Christian Leaders out there actively trying to become Christian Celebrities. Their pursuits have hindered their ability to shepherd their flocks. i hope the example set by Chan may help a young crop of leaders to test there motives and turn from pursuing worldly success, & follow the Holy Spirit!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • cyberpipe8

      Amen! I personally believe, this was the inspiration of the Holy spirit and all pastors of mega churches should be thankful for this revelation and should plan for a time in their ministry to step back. where they go is up to them. but those who are honest, will admit that you can't help but to proud. with such powers, how can you truly humble yourself and have time to spoil God with just been in His presence, learning from the Holy spirit?

      Pastors who try to suggest that Chan's heart of rejecting fame and choosing to give all he has to the poor is because of his childhood, should seriously repent and know both God and men can see they are not humble enough to let go of the power and influence. Try it for some time and in that time, seek your God and see the way He will renew your ministry and above all, restore your relationship with Him.


      November 21, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  8. Linda in Los Angeles

    PS – the Bible does teach us to help others – to put others first before ourselves. However, we can't do that until we learn to be disciples. In the first century church, it was sometimes decades before a body of believers was mature enough to go out for instance and evangelize. Not to say they did not help those around them in the meantime, but only as directed by the Lord. Bottom line – we are to worship God FIRST, in spirit and in truth. Then let him lead and guide us in ministerial work. We are not to put the work of the Lord above the Lord of the work. We will always have the poor with us, is what Christ told us. His point in saying that to the disciples was to let them know their focus should first be on the Lord above all.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • brian

      being led by the spirit is key for sure. Lord of the work before working for the Lord, awesomely stated. I think after being truly searched out, He will direct our paths. The main thing is to trust Him in that guiding, every moment of every day. That is how we walk in spirit. May the Lord bless you all. Aloha

      January 31, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  9. Linda in Los Angeles

    To Mary Ash and others of that ilk of thinking: The only leader/shepherd of the body of Christ (bride/body/church/Ecclesia etc) is Jesus Christ Lord and Saviour. Leadership in Christianity as shown in the first century church was a function, not an office. The person who was considered an elder back then was one who was more mature and had more wisdom then his or her brethren. Otherwise, all brethren were considered equal and all had something to contribute to meetings. Man did not pick other men to fulfill offices; God chose (remember Stephen in Acts?) men to fulfill certain functions within the body with their giftings. But – still all brethren were equal and Christ was the only Shepherd. That ended when "religion" indeed became a business and being a pastor or whatever office became a career. This is why judgment by God is coming to the "church made with hands". I know of many people (are you one?) who place the pastor on a pedastal. I left the last "church" I attended for that very reason. It was dead spiritually. Man organizes Christ and the Holy Spirit right out of organized church systems or religions. Christ is NOT a religion: He is The Way, The Truth and The Life. Period. You might examine if you worship the Lord or man. If Christ is not Lord of All, He is not Lord at all. The Bible tells us that we have no need to be taught of man (note – Paul was taught directly by God for three years in the desert). Christ came to act as the bridge to Father God that we would have direct access to minister to God, worship, praise and pray to God, instead of going thru some man. The only reason we need other brethren is to sharpen iron upon iron, that we may become one together – one mind, the mind of Christ. On another note, there are NO good men on earth. All have sinned and come short of God's glory. But we have an advocate – Jesus Christ Lord, who, if we believe with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, will cleanse us of our sin. He forgives us 70 times 7. No one is perfect, but if we give 100% of our being to Christ and Father's purpose, if our mind is 100% submitted to God, then our purpose towards God is perfect and he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We do not go on sinning on purpose, but if we slip up and immediately confess to God our sin, he will forgive. Our motive is key. Yes, we can know Father's heart and purpose – not all admittedly – but he gives us what we can understand and what we need as he sees fit. It is called – progressive maturing in the Lord. And it is a wonderful place to be when the world around us is all but falling apart.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  10. Linda in Los Angeles

    While I agreed with Joshua Harris at the time he wrote his dating books, I can not agree with him now. It is none of his or any of our business what the Lord does in one persons life or another. If God were to take out ALL "church buildings made with hands" tomorrow leaving no stone unturned, what business is it of ours? (and indeed the Bible tells us of God's judgment first on the church, then the world ...) If Francis never heads up another "church made with hands", so be it. God is surely working in this man's life and we all would do well to pray that God use this man and his family mightily to expand the Kingdom of the Most High God. The first century churches were not "buildings made with hands" but bodies of believers who learned to live as one, exhibiting the character and authority of Jesus Christ. They won many new believers with the love and bounty they shared among themselves and the poor around them. THAT is what we are all to do. How? By totally submitting our whole being to God, as Mary did in kneeling before Christ in Bethany. Reading the Bible gives you knowledge, but deeper meaning and wisdom to act comes only from the Holy Spirit. Submit completely to the Lord and then be prepared to be his tool to help others: an exciting life, sometimes harsh, but far more rewarding than the natural, carnal life can be. Blessings to all.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  11. CLM

    I can tell you from personal experience that you will never know Gods love unless you make a personal commitment to accept it. Its easy to say that you don't believe in him and simply put your faith in yourself. In fact, that takes more faith because you are relying on yourself and your limited understanding and control of the world around you. Faith only in yourself leads to continued disappointments. I have found that a true commitment to following and understanding Christ has been more fulfilling than I can express here. The one thing I will say to the Atheists and Agnostics on here is that you can't simply take a Academic approach to understanding Christianity. What you learn must be sincerely applied over a period of time for you to really understand it. If you really want to understand it and defend your point of view, then lose the logic and try Faith for a while. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

    January 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  12. John McCracken

    The following sentence from the article needs to be edited: "Like many independent churches in the United States, Cornerstone is not tied to a larger denomination." An independent church is a church that, by definition, does not belong to a denomination. So the sentence should read "Like all independent churches..." or "Many churches in the United States, like Cornerstone, are independent, not being tied to a larger denomination." Something like that.

    January 7, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  13. Tim

    For him to have heard the words "‘Francis Chan’ more than I heard the words, ‘Holy Spirit’ ", there was an obvious failure on his part to direct away from himself, instead of directing prime attention to our Creator, Jehovah God. His becoming "Christian famous” in Evangelical circles, points to a degree of worship toward him. Yet, when Jesus was called "Good Teacher" by someone, Jesus, without hesitation, said: "Why do you call me good? Nobody is good, except one, God."(Mark 10:18) Thus, Jesus deflected even being spoken of as "good", recognizing that only his heavenly Father, Jehovah God was "good" in the purest sense.(Rev 4:11)

    January 7, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  14. Sam

    Late to the party, but...


    Your definition of atheism is incorrect. Atheism, as commonly used and defined, is in fact the belief/doctrine that no gods exist. The position you advocate, saying there is no logical/discernable evidence for believing in a supernatural deity, is what most people would call agnosticism. I refer you to Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary, etc.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  15. Nancy

    I admire Mr. Chan greatly. I also disagree with many of his core beliefs. Fear based theology may work for some people but for me, it makes both God and me unethical. If I do good and suffer because I fear my creator and his judgment, am I really doing the "right" thing? Or, am I just jumping through hoops to attain the pie in the sky and escape doom?

    That being said, a little fear goes a long way. I liked his book, Crazy Love, because it made me fear my complacency as a Christian. I am afraid that I'm not doing enough in my time here on earth to uplift the poor, the hopeless, the suffering. I am not afraid of what God will do to me if I don't stretch my faith...I am afraid of who I will become, RIGHT NOW.

    Mr. Chan's thoughts are leading me to a better understanding of my responsibilities as a follower of Christ. Everyone can learn from other denominations, faiths or non-religious faiths (atheists) if we put aside our anger and selfish need to influence others and just open our hearts to our neighbors in the present. I think he is trying to do this very thing, the only way he knows how. I wish him and his family the very best.

    January 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  16. panda14

    He's just another man doing another job walking another path. Big deal. I'm not impressed.

    January 6, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  17. oyewale

    I think Francis has done the right thing. Remember Jeus said in Joh 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. and the Lord also said in Isa 42:8 I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  18. Vic

    While I understand at least from the article why Francis left I thank God for all the Pastors who remain faithful to what God called them to do. I believe Francis in this article gives us some insight on the difficulties of being a Pastor especially at a big church. I believe Francis is still searching for a place of rest like many of us in the Faith. We are all looking for a place where we can see God working without all the bull.

    January 3, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  19. Mike

    Ho hum...

    December 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  20. exposingtheprofane

    Francis Chan is the real thing-something that hasn't been seen in American nearly enough. A man whose heart is so in love with Jesus that he actually lays down his life for his Savior. When Chan says that he has been hearing his name more than the Holy Spirit's...there is something wrong. We are all called to live as Jesus lived and Francis Chan is a good example of what that looks like.


    December 28, 2010 at 9:44 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.