Thursday, March 22, 2012
Why Should I Chase Francis? - Chasing Francis Series
A few days ago, I finished Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.
It was about time. When our minister of music, Christopher Phillips, told me I should read it over a year ago, I ordered it. Then I put it on the shelf. Since that time, it has been patiently waiting for my attention. Fortunately, books are good-natured and will wait years until the reader is ready for them.
Chasing Francis opens with a church explosion. A successful evangelical mega-church pastor has been asking himself if he and his church are really on the right path. Then, one Sunday morning, he asks the question in a sermon. A congregational crisis follows. Board meetings, emails and gatherings of various sorts churn the pastor’s words until everyone in the church feels forced to make a choice about the pastor’s sanity and holiness.
The pastor decides it’s a good time to go to Italy. He has an uncle there, whose decision years before to become a Franciscan had terribly upset his family. He decides to spend a few weeks with this uncle and sort things out.
Meanwhile, things keep churning back home. Pastors start lining up with resumes. Committees meet. Studies are conducted. Opinions harden.
The story brings up several issues within American Christianity; our different definitions of church and faith, piety, poverty and wealth, nationalism and faith, holiness, what we believe is the role of a pastor, the spirituality of beauty, and other things for which we seem to have no common ground.
This morning, I decided this book is an opportunity for me to explore some of these themes. So, I am beginning a series of blogs.
The reasons are probably obvious.
Like the hero (or villain, perhaps) in Chasing Francis, I am a pastor of a large church. I love our church. I am called to lead it. However, I too have misgivings about the path we have been walking. I too wonder sometimes if this path really leads to Christ. For the most part, the ways we have been doing church has helped us adjust to our culture rather than taught us to challenge it. We have become good at helping individuals survive and thrive; we have become poor at calling for the transformation of the self or of the communities in which we live.
Whether or not any of that is true, our younger generations are increasingly disenchanted with what we have done with Christianity. As a result, they are either giving it up or leaving our churches to start over.That leads a pastor to ask what we can do to prepare the churches we lead to remain effective in the days ahead. Most of us realize that getting cooler music and a new lighting platform sure won’t do it.
So, there are days when I think that the solution might indeed be to move to Italy. Of course I don’t have a Franciscan uncle there to live with, so there is the matter of supporting myself …
Ok. Back to the book.
The pastor ends up in Assisi, where he encounters the life and words of Europe’s most beloved saint. He wrestles with Francis, who, like him, ministered in an age of great societal change. He ponders what St. Francis might have to say to a contemporary mega-church like his. He decides Francis would not condemn or scold the people. He would, however, offer an alternative. He would show us through his life that a preoccupation with big, powerful, luxurious and cool is gradually eroding our soul. He would offer beauty, simplicity, joy, and service to others by asking us to follow him.
Like Francis, this author does not yell at us. He woos us toward something many of us have wanted for a long time: to disconnect our faith from technique, manipulation, control, and fear. He encourages us to listen to the words of Jesus. He asks us to consider how to actually live by those words.
He doesn’t seem to care much if our church structures survive. He seems to care about the state of our soul.
Nonetheless, the book is not one of those “lets bash the church and call ourselves cool for being so edgy.” Not at all. This book is as much a rejection of something as it is an awakening to something far better.
I want to write about that for a few weeks.
If you are interested, I invite you to pick up the book and read.
Then we can talk.
And, perhaps with God’s help, we can do more than that.
Perhaps we can take a step toward becoming saints.
For if we catch up to Francis, we will soon see that he is chasing someone else – the one who has been plotting and scheming to make us into saints all along.