Millions of people call themselves followers of Jesus. Yet their lives look nothing like his and they're not obeying the things he called them to do, laments preacher and author Francis Chan.
The popular speaker lays bare his heart in a new film series, produced by the makers of the "NOOMA" films. And what's been on his heart is the disconnect between what he sees in Scripture and the church today.
"When we were kids, this was a lot easier," Chan says in the series titled "BASIC."
Kids would play the game "follow the leader" and mimic the actions of the leader, whether it's patting one's head or flapping one's arms like wings.
"In the church, we've done this weird thing where we go 'the rules to follow Jesus are different than follow the leader. See, in follow Jesus, we don't actually have to do what he does. We just do it in our heart,'" Chan explains.
"That doesn't really make any sense," he says.
Chan, author of Crazy Love, began sharing his frustrations about the church today with the Flannel team – the non-profit ministry behind the films – in February 2009. That was when Steve Carr, executive director of Flannel, met him for the first time.
Carr was looking for new and unique communicators for Flannel's next project and several people had suggested Chan.
"One of the things on our criteria list was authenticity," Carr told The Christian Post. "Is the person real? Do they live the lives they're telling us? And I can tell you without question, Francis is the real deal."
The seven-part "BASIC" series evolved purely out of discussions with Chan. The Southern California pastor was asked what was on his heart and at that time, he had been thinking about, or rather, rethinking "how we do church."
Chan was leading a successful megachurch he founded in Simi Valley, Calif. Cornerstone Church was growing and church leaders were planning on expanding their facilities. This was all around the time he was in discussion with Flannel for a new series.
Carr recalled, "The more [Chan] looked at it and thought about it, he got together with his elders and really asked the question 'Why are we expanding again? It's great that people want to come here but ...'"
"It kind of bothered him that people would drive 60 or 70 miles to hear him speak," Carr said. "He looked at it and thought, 'that’s nice, I hope it’s worthwhile that they come, but that’s not church.'"
"Church is not we’re going to get together once a week and sit and sing some songs and hear a great speaker and then go home. That’s not church," the executive director remembered discussing with Chan.
The "BASIC" series essentially is Chan's personal reflection on what church is and a reflection of what was on his heart.
Production for the series began in October 2009, just months before he announced to his congregation that God was leading him somewhere else and that he would be stepping down.
He preached his last sermon at Cornerstone in May and has since spoken about his restlessness with comfortable Christianity and his desire to live by the Scriptures and surrender himself fully to God.
"What bothers Francis, I believe, is the fact that in our culture, in particular, there’s millions and millions of people who consider themselves Christian and yet they don’t look really any different than anybody else," said Carr. "That’s a concern."
Some of those frustrations are laid out in the second "BASIC" film, titled "Follow Jesus."
"See, these words that we give without action behind it, that was never acceptable to Jesus," Chan says in the film. "He says 'it's pretty simple; when I say follow me, you follow me. You do what I do. And when I ask you to do something you just obey.'"
And Jesus didn't hide the fact that following him would be difficult. He was completely honest, the preacher highlights.
Though a difficult and narrow path, Chan stresses the promise Jesus gave to his followers. "If you would surrender to me, if you would just trust me, trust that I have something better and let go of everything else ... then you're really going to find life."
"Follow Jesus," Carr said, "is a really hard-hitting film. Francis has a way of delivering a really hard message, maybe a message you don't want to hear, and when he's done, for some reason you're left saying 'thanks, man. I really needed that.'"
The first three short films in the series were released this year. They address the Trinity and set the stage for who God is, Carr explained. The other four films, set for release over the next year, then explain the purpose of the church. The four building blocks of the church, Carr said, are fellowship, teaching, prayer and communion.
"Our hope with the series is to inspire people to really be the church that’s explained in Scripture," said the Flannel director.
Flannel is well-known for its popular "NOOMA" series, featuring Pastor Rob Bell of Grand Rapids, Mich. Over 2.5 million copies have been sold around the world and a majority of viewers say they have shown it to a nonbeliever. Carr describes the "NOOMA" films as discussion starters. Other speakers are expected to be added to the "NOOMA" lineup.
Carr believes Flannel's films have resonated with millions of people not only because of the communicators and the messages they promote but also because of how those messages are conveyed – namely, artistically and creatively.
"People are used to learning, obviously, in our culture through media. And we try to deliver that and in a way that’s just as excellent as the best thing they could see on TV or at a theater," he said.