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Life, Theology & Discipleship with Wes Woodell

A Tremendously Blown Opportunity to Work with Francis Chan

Confession time: I serve in church leadership, and I want people to like me.

Do you?

Because that can actually be a dangerous combination.

No, I don’t mean that church leaders should aspire to be jerks (though some wouldn’t have to try very hard), nor do I mean that a desire to be liked is inherently sinful – wanting to be loved by your congregation is quite natural and one shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

I simply mean that a desire for the approval of men can easily turn into an idol if we’re not careful, because it can keep us from doing God’s will when it’s socially or relationally uncomfortable.

GOD’S APPROVAL

I’ve served in some capacity of church leadership for the past nine years now. How many times has my want of people’s approval kept me from saying or doing the things God would have me say or do?

The truth is I have failed in this area often, and am greatly challenged when I read scriptures like this:

Acts 20:25-27
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

That’s what Paul had to say to the church in Ephesus before his final departure from them – a church God had used Paul to establish and shepherd for a time.

Paul knew he would never see this church again, and he was able to stand before them and honestly proclaim complete innocence from their blood because he had proclaimed to them “the whole will of God”.

That means that while living among them, Paul had been the man God called him to be. He had said and done the things God called him to say and do – even when it had been awkward and uncomfortable or when it caused some to become angry with him. That’s because Paul was more concerned with having God’s approval than the approval of those God called him to shepherd, and if you study Paul’s ministry you’ll see that time and time again that nearly got him killed.

Looking back over the past nine years of my own ministry, can I say that I’ve been like Paul? Have I stood for God’s will in the midst of adversity, or have I chosen to be a coward when faced with the slightest pushback?

Unfortunately, I have greatly failed in this area, and it’s taken real disappointment to open my eyes to that sin.

WORKING WITH FRANCIS CHAN

I worked for a small, struggling church in San Francisco from the end of 2008 to the middle of 2012.

While the congregation was numerically small, we had a fairly large facility with a sanctuary that could hold upwards of 700 people. That facility was blocks away from a major university with an enrollment of over 20,000 college students, and my job there was to establish a campus ministry as part of a larger revival effort in the church.

While by God’s grace a ministry was established and I was able to baptize a number of students, a couple of years into the work the ministry was struggling and I was honestly feeling empty.

Some are aware but most aren’t (because up to now I’ve been publicly quiet about it), but it was around that time that I was able to connect with a new neighbor who’d recently moved to town: Francis Chan.

If you don’t know who Francis Chan is, he’s one of the bestselling Christian authors of all time and arguably the most sought after Evangelical Christian speaker in the world right now.

I do not have many heroes, but Francis was/is one of them. Since 2007, he’s been one of two popular preachers whose speaking I really enjoy listening to online (I’ve shared quite a bit of his stuff on this very blog), and his book Crazy Love is one of the few on my shelf that I’ve read three or more times.

Can you imagine my delight when he moved in up the street from me in San Francisco and I got to meet him?

But wait, there’s more.

Not only did I get to meet Francis and spend some time with him, he actually offered to help with the college ministry and wanted to help me start a weekly meeting on Friday nights to reach students using my church’s facility – his idea, not mine!

He even wanted to bring Chris Tomlin over to get things kicked off – how cool is that?!

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t happen.

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Francis Chan leading a prayer meeting with bay area college students in my former congregation’s auditorium. Unfortunately, this would be the only one.

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A TREMENDOUSLY BLOWN OPPORTUNITY

Who among Restoration Movement campus or youth ministers wouldn’t like to have Francis Chan personally helping them with their ministry?

Seriously, if the offer were on the table – no strings attached – who in their right mind would turn that down?

Because guess what? That offer was on my table … but I had to turn it down.

At this point you’re probably wondering why.

Here’s a clip from a sermon I preached in Florida at a campus ministry retreat a few weeks ago – the first time I told this story publicly:

To summarize: Francis Chan showed up on my doorstep (I’d reached out to him and he responded), said he felt led to help with the university outreach after meeting with me, and that he wanted to help start a weekly Friday night outreach event for college students at my church. After informing those in charge of our church facilities about it and requesting use of the building on Friday nights, they objected and refused to grant permission. Ultimately, I was forced to tell Francis Chan “no thanks” because the people in charge at my former church were afraid things would get out of hand – that is, too many people might show up, and other Churches of Christ in the city might badmouth us if we dared work with someone who’s not strictly C of C or if there happened to be a guitar or something at a meeting.

Can you believe how ridiculous that is?

But the blame for missing that opportunity doesn’t rest solely on them. It was largely my own fault (thinking about it again greatly tempts me to type a curse word between “own” and “fault”).

The truth is, I did not shepherd that church well, I did not build trust with them well, and I did not love them well.

In the years leading up to that point I had neglected to confront certain things mainly because I wanted to be liked more than I wanted people to grow, and ministerially speaking I reaped what I had sown.

I didn’t see that in the moment – only in retrospect – and I never want to make that mistake again.

NEVER AGAIN

Back to this scripture:

Acts 20:25-27
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

In the past few months, Acts 20:25-27 has been on my mind a lot. I hope that at the end of my life I am able to look back and say to those God places under my care what Paul said to those under his care in Ephesus.

But the only way that will happen is if I become and remain more concerned with doing God’s will than with making those who aren’t God happy.

-Wes Woodell

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30 Replies

  1. Thanks for this Wes. I remember it well. And you’re right, it was a tremendously blown opportunity. It proves, however, that it’s very easy to begin to serve our particular visions of “the church” rather than God’s Kingdom.

    I’m moving into a new phase of life and ministry, and want to call upon myself and others to do what you have done here: Be honest. Be honest about the church, where we are and move into a new and better direction.

    Too many Restoration Preachers and professors, are, quite frankly, cowards. We shouldn’t be bold and honest for our own sakes, but for the sake of the kingdom.

    Good work, brother.

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  2. Wes, I love you a Brother and fellow soldier in the Lord’s army. I’ve always appreciated your candor–and while I know you’d like to change how the story went–you’re no coward, Brother. I know the situation well enough to say that you did some really good things while you were there. Those are dear people, as well. We all have things we’d do over again. Live and learn, my good man. Oh, by the way…if you run into Francis or Chris Tomlin again–let them know they’re welcome at NVC any time 😉

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    1. Thanks Tim, but I have been a cowardly when it comes to saying hard things and I need to repent of that. I don’t know that the outcome would be different today had I not been, but unfortunately now I’ll never know.

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      1. I’m with Spivey. You’re no coward.

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  3. Wow. I feel for you. The CofC system of operation is a perplexing one. We are holding ourselves back, and until we come to see that unity is more than conformity, we care going to wither on the vine.

    It says something about Francis Chan, to be sure. It’s another reason I can like him. Given where he’s come from, I would venture to say he knows every bit as much about the CofC as we do. He extends an olive branch that the system forced you to spurn. I really feel for you.

    Thanks for what you are doing… God bless!

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    1. We need a new leadership paradigm – I do not believe the eldership model of the typical CoC is biblical and will be writing about that in next month’s New Wineskins. And Francis is a good man with a wonderful family.It was cool getting to spend a little time with them.

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      1. Looking forward to what you have to offer…

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  4. I appreciate what you have shared, and I have experienced many of the same feelings. Of course, I never had Francis Chan show up at my doorstep! My brother was once not allowed to preach, though, because (although he had been a CofC preacher for years) he was attending a Presbyterian church at the time. As you have stated, I was more concerned about being liked and growing; only I called it “not rocking the boat” believing it was for the greater good. Wish I could have changed that. Thank you again for sharing, and may God continue to bless you!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Paul. Blessings

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  5. Wes,

    You were put in a tremendously awkward position there. I mean no disrespect to the elders who came to that conclusion but it sounds like fear, isolation and sectarianism won the day.

    It is easier to spot looking back. It is easier to say what you should have done looking back but right there in the middle of it, it is very hard to see and hard to know what to do with. In the end, Francis Chan got used somewhere and you got used somewhere…who says the two have to go together to be pleasing to God? In fact, you guys are working together in kingdom work so don’t sweat it.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. We actually didn’t have elders at that congregation or any leadership outside of a board of laymembers. That was part of the problem there.

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  6. Jody B

    Wes, I admit, I would have made the same decision. However, I think when we (that includes ME) tie ourselves and our support to those who are sectarian, we limit what God can do, and we become puppets rather than living ambassadors. If I had Atlanta to do over, and knowing what I know now, I would have done things a LOT differently by going bigger than my own little vision of what HE can and will do. Hope you are well in your new place, brother!

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    1. Jody – you are right about what happens when we are tied to certain things. Glad God reformed you as he is reforming me

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  7. Wes, I’ve not had a Francis Chan knock on my door, but I’ve seen church leaders turn down wonderful opportunities for service and partnership based on fear rather than faith. I think it takes great discernment to know when to challenge and when to submit to church leaders. I’m not trying to change your conscience, but time and reflection can provide a lot of clarity that’s absent in the heat of the moment.

    Of course, maybe some opportunities are just that big we only miss them from overthinking the situation. May God continue to bless your work in His service as he molds you into His image.

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    1. Yes – It me a year and a half to process what I shared in the above post, and that’s where I landed. Thanks for the comment

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  8. Gil Jimenez

    Wes, this testimony moved me. Thank you for sharing brother.

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    1. Thanks Gil – love you brother

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  9. Joshua Parrish

    Wes,

    I greatly appreciated your perspective on this post as that desire to be a people-pleaser has been the theme of my week and is something I feel like God is challenging me to grow in as well. Thank you for the confession; it was encouraging to me.

    When you struggle with self-doubt, please remember things like WestCoast Rush and how much it is blessing young adults all over California now. You were the catalyst behind that.

    With regard to the situation with Francis, I only wish there were a way that we could resurrect the idea with him. He could really bless this area. I have been meeting on SFSU campus for some discipleship of late and now realize just how close Lake Merced was to campus. I lament with you bro!

    In Him,

    Josh

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    1. Thanks Josh – I can mention something to him about it at Tulsa if you’d like me to.

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      1. Joshua Parrish

        Yeah, I’d love to hear where is heart is now. I think we can still do amazing things in the area.

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  10. Wes, I listened to Francis Chan at the workshop, heard bits and pieces of this story, even Francis told it in very general terms after praying onstage that this would not be “from the flesh” and it is an important story. I most appreciate that you own part of the blame — that’s very hard to do, and I’ve been there in those situations, and it does no good to be reductionistic and only blame others. You are a man of God who has publicly put your heart out there and made bold moves, and God is faithful. God is faithful. Thank you for telling this story.

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  11. Reblogged this on High Places and commented:
    I listened to Francis Chan at the workshop, heard bits and pieces of this story, even Francis told it in very general terms after praying onstage that this would not be “from the flesh” and it is an important story. I most appreciate that you own part of the blame — that’s very hard to do, and I’ve been there in those situations, and it does no good to be reductionistic and only blame others. You are a man of God who has publicly put your heart out there and made bold moves, and God is faithful. God is faithful. Thank you for telling this story.

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  12. Wes,

    Thank you for sharing so openly. If it counts for anything, I don’t think of you as a coward but as a brother and colleague in Christ whom I admire.

    And thanks for the challenge towards more boldness!

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

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  13. You are not a coward. I’m not a minister, but am blessed to be in a place with men who are unable to go to a church building. One of the men will not talk to me. but wants spiritual food. He ran over one of our members of the congregation about two years ago. I know Jesus walks and helps me talk to the 1100 thieves, murderers and other inmates who need Jesus.

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  14. God is a God of reconciliation.. so certainly you could contact Francis Chan and just tell him you changed your mind

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  15. koreen pius

    how do we get in touch with francis chan?

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