is a pastor, speaker and first-time author who preaches an unusual message: live your best life later. His visionary ideas about “loving your neighbor as yourself” inspire Christians of all ages to live differently. Chan urges Christians to live a godly life now and expect their best lives to be enjoyed on the other side of death. Chan has an unusual grasp on the brevity of life, and investing in heaven’s wealth, due to his childhood experiences with loss.
LOSS AND LOVE
Francis Chan’s mother died bringing him into the world. Then his stepmother died in a car accident when he was just 9 years old. His father died of cancer before Francis reached his 13th birthday. The losses were profound. Chan says physical and verbal affection in his family, particularly from his father, was rare. His only memory of affection from his dad came when Chan and his father were on the way to his stepmother’s funeral, and his father put his arm around him for about 30 seconds.
Despite a childhood filled with death, Francis Chan did not doubt the love of God. He recalls a childhood filled with church and belief in God. And by junior high school he began to understand what it meant to have a personal relationship with God. High school he began living it. After graduation, Chan joined his youth pastor in ministry to reach his friends who were still in school. It was during that time that Chan chose to become a pastor. He earned a BA in youth ministry from The Master’s College and a Master’s of Divinity from The Master’s Seminary. After graduation in 1992, he worked as a youth pastor for another church. Eventually, he and his wife Lisa decided to start their own church, Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA.
Chan admits that Cornerstone Church was not intentionally intended to be outwardly focused. When the church opened in 1994, the main goal was size. “I was very self-centered, and therefore, I led a church into being self-centered,” recalls Chan. “We gave very little of our resources to begin with because I was only concerned about the growth of ‘our’ church.” After five years of church as usual at Cornerstone, a missionary from Papua New Guinea challenged Chan’s self-centered theology. Just a few years later, Chan took a trip to Uganda that further altered his thinking and living. “It was there that I fell in love with the orphans and dared to ask the question: ‘What does it look like to love my neighbor as myself?’”
The answer to that question brought about change in Chan’s life, both personally and professionally. Personally, Chan and his then family of four moved out of their 2000-square-foot house to a 1000-square-foot house. “It was just me, but I couldn’t reconcile how I could live in such a nice house while others were starving,” Chan recalls. Since then, the Chan family has added to their number. As Lisa’s parents arrived at retirement, the Chans felt it was appropriate to provide a place for them. So they bought a 1200-square-foot house with a bit more property to build an addition. They’ve welcomed two more children into their family and taken in a few more people. “In total, we’ll have 10 of us in the house which will ironically be about 2000 square feet.”
Answering that question in Uganda also affected Chan’s professional vision. His new vision for the poor, and his personal down-sizing choices, encouraged members of the congregation to consider radical changes as well. In 2007, the leaders of Cornerstone Church voted to give 50% of their budget to ministries and non-profits outside of the church. Currently, according to Chan, Cornerstone’s giving is at 55% of its budget.
Cornerstone Church’s generosity continues as they are currently making plans to forego the usual mega-church building program. With more than 3,000 people attending Cornerstone’s weekly services, they have outgrown its existing facility. Instead of building a traditional structure, plans are being drawn up for an outdoor amphitheater, called The Tierra Rejada Building Project. The goal? To reduce facility costs, which will then allow the church to increase spending on the poor. “We can save millions of dollars on a building that would be better used building the lives of the poor,” says Chan. “So we figured we could suffer (if you can really call it that) for an hour a week to become a church that is willing to think and worship outside of the box.”
THE BIBLE COLLEGE
Chan and Cornerstone Church are also focused on making Bible College affordable for those who live in their area. Cornerstone Church launched Eternity Bible College (EBC) in 2004. EBC keeps costs low and local connections high by partnering with community colleges so students can take general education classes on those nearby campuses. EBC is then able to focus on providing credentialed and experienced pastors as the teaching faculty for theological courses. EBC is intentionally affordable for all students, with each unit priced at just $50. As of fall 2007, EBC has more than 400 students enrolled, and 150 are taking courses for credit toward a degree.
BEYOND SIMI VALLEY
When not teaching at EBC and leading his church, Francis spends much of his time speaking to high school and college students. His passion is to see the next generation of American Christians display a much deeper love for Jesus – in words and in deeds Francis has been married to his wife Lisa for 14 years. They are the parents of four children – three daughters Rachel, Mercy and Eliana and a son Ezekiel.