Francis Chan’s Talk From Passion 2011, And The $64 Million Question!

Posted on January 17, 2011


There are several people who have influenced me throughout my journey in Christ.  One person who has influenced me greatly from afar is Francis Chan.  Let me give you one example.  A few years ago, I attended a conference in which Francis was speaking to a large group of college students.  During the talk, Francis asked a question and made a statement that set something in motion in my life.

Francis asked this question: If he was born and raised on a deserted island with nothing but a Bible, had only read about the New Testament church yet had never seen a church, would he recognize his own institution he was leading as being remotely similar to what he read about in the New Testament?  He came to the conclusion that he would not recognize his own church system as being even remotely similar to what he read about in the scriptures. 

Wow, what a jarring, bold, and honest statement! 

That realization set something in motion in my life that has continued to this day.  As a result, I have asked myself this question…Why do I want to continue to propagate a church system that is so radically contrary to the example set in the scriptures?  The answer for me was simple…I don’t! 

Since that time, Francis has stepped down from the institution that he was leading in Simi Valley California.  I commend him for that step of courage.  Fresh off a trip to Asia in which he observed some persecuted underground churches, Francis spoke at Passion 2011.  Passion 2011 was a Christian conference of about 22,000 college students held in Atlanta for a few days during the first week of January. 

During the conference, Francis gave some details about his interactions with some of these  Asian church communities, many of which have suffered greatly.  Francis shared with them what much of the American institutional church system is like, and how things work within that system.  He explained how people join institutions, or stop attending church meetings based on their liking of the speaker, the band, or based on what programs and services the institution had to offer.

Their response was laughter.

The more he told them, the more they laughed.  He felt like he was a stand up comedian.  They thought he was being funny and telling them jokes.  Unfortunately, he was not joking with them.  He was being serious.  Although this might seem harsh, the American institutional church system comes across like a joke to much of the underground church in that part of the world.  Don’t get mad at me, Francis said it!  I agree with Francis however, it’s a joke.

I must say, however, that it is not enough to recognize the fact that the American institutional church system is a joke.  So what?  Does recognizing the fact that our system is a joke stop making it a joke? 

No way, I wish it did. 

It takes more than that.  Many people who agree with what Francis is saying want to immediately know what should be done to fix the joke.  In my opinion, without understanding ‘why’ the joke exists, we are destined to keep perpetuating the joke.  The only road out of the joke, however, requires asking a question that many people are not willing to ask. 

Asking this question will require courage, and asking this question is also where the crowd thins out. 

Some have asked this question and have paid dearly for it.  What’s the question you say?  Here is the rarely asked question:

“Why is the American Institutional Church system a joke?”


This is the $64 million question that many are not asking.  Could we be afraid of the answers?  This is a very deep question that should not be asked casually.  I would like to say that it is unfair to the many good people trapped inside of the institutional church system to keep saying that the American church system is a joke without asking this all important question of “Why”. 

I do not agree with the assessment that all American institutional church members are made up of people who are lukewarm in their faith who simply want to be entertained.  I know many people who love the Lord, and who are doing the best they can inside the system.  The problem is, without asking this all important question of “Why”, we are destined to keep perpetuating the same system that we agree is a joke.

Why do we keep dropping millions of dollars propping up multi-million dollar religious buildings for the sake of putting large amounts of people in a room to watch what happens on a stage once a week? 

Why do only a select few people with special authority create specific programs for the rest of the people to passively engage in? 

How can we get angry at institutional church attenders for acting like consumers shopping for goods, services, and entertainment when we keep creating institutions that seem to be bent on offering goods, services, and entertainment? 

Are you aware of the time, money, and effort it takes to put on these amazing productions each week?   

These are some good questions that need to be asked.  These questions will also lead us to the existence of some ‘sacred cows’.  There are several ‘sacred cows’ so to speak, which keep the institutional system alive.  Although there are more sacred cows within the institution, I will mention two here that keep the institution propped up and alive.  Until we have the courage to begin addressing these two ‘sacred cows’, I’m afraid that we will keep perpetuating the same system Francis talked about that we all agree is a joke.                       

Sacred Cow #1: The unbiblical clergy & laity divide  


This divide keeps the church passive and under the headship of man and not Christ.  The clergy / laity divide is a clear violation of the values communicated in Matthew 23:8-12, and 1 Peter 2:5 just to name a few.  (The unbiblical clergy & laity divide keeps the church operating as if there were a selective priesthood as was demonstrated in the Old Testament, not the priesthood of all believers that the New Testament describes. 

Sacred Cow #2: An Old Testament temple mentality. 

Although Jesus clearly said that He was the true temple (house of God), much confusion remains today about what the house of God is.  While almost all Christians agree with this in theory, it is obvious that most people still have an Old Testament concept of the temple and identify the church with the physical location where the church meets.  Most casual conversation with Christians about the church will reveal this deeply help misunderstanding.  Since we are the very body of Christ on the earth; and Christ Himself is the very temple of God, we (collectively as people joined together not individually) are the very household of God (See 1 Pet. 2:5). 

Obviously, there is much more that could be and needs to be said about these two sacred cows of the institution.  If we do not adequately address these sacred cows, the joke will continue.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Francis’ heart and message at Passion 2011.  I’m sure that most of the people at Passion 2011 wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment, shook their heads, and said “Amen”.  I also know that the majority of those 22,000 people left Passion 2011 and went back to (some are even building) the same type of institutions that Francis described to the Asian church in which they thought he was telling a joke! 

Good intentions and recognition of problems are not enough.  We must begin to question the very structure of the system that makes the joke possible.

Blessings to you,

Jamal Jivanjee