Orphan Summit : Francis Chan

The next couple of days, I want to share my reflections from Orphan Summit. It's taken me a shamefully long time to write these posts. Maybe I just needed some time to process and discern what really stood out to me in a flood of amazing? Or maybe I needed a babysitter to give me time to write? Either way. It is my prayer that you will catch a whiff of God's encouragement in my words. 

I will never forget the first time I heard Francis Chan speak.

It was 1994. Corey and I, newly married and transplanted to Phoenix, were chaperoning our youth group kids to a weeklong Bible camp hosted by Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. It was my favorite week of the summer, mostly because I could walk outside and inhale without scalding my lungs. (Arizona and I didn't like each other.)

Francis Chan was the speaker that week. He was insanely funny and maybe a tad unsupervised. The first night, he regaled the students with stories about his recent honeymoon, which had happened in the middle of a natural disaster. "I remember we got to our room and everything started shaking and the bed started rocking and I got dizzy. And then the earthquake hit." I still remember the horrified looks on the faces of the parent chaperones. ("Did he just tell a bunch of teenagers that sex is awesome?!")

Francis Chan has come a long way since then. He and his wife, Lisa, founded Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley and watched it grow into one of the largest churches in Ventura County. But he grew increasingly uncomfortable with his success. In 2002, he traveled to Uganda and experienced real poverty for the first time. Little girls the ages of his daughters were rooting through the garbage to find a morsel of food. Chan asked himself, "What does it look like to love my neighbor as myself?"

What he did next is well-documented. He and Lisa moved their family out of their suburban home into a small house in a down-and-out part of town. They invited the homeless to live with them. He challenged his church to give away half its money each year to ministries that served the poor. He vetoed a new campus for Cornerstone, even though it needed the space, because he was repulsed by the idea of spending so much on buildings. Instead, the church built an outdoor amphitheater that can be used by the community during the week and the church on the weekends. If it rains? Oh well.

And he wrote Crazy Love. Maybe you've heard of it? A New York Times best-seller, Crazy Love is a cry for Christians to take Jesus seriously, to follow Him whole-heartedly, to fall in love with the Creator of the Universe and trust Him.

Francis is a mess of authentic passion. He didn't just write Crazy Love. He lives it.

Which is why he was one of the highlights of Orphan Summit for me.

When Francis first stepped onto the stage at Saddleback that Thursday night in May, his smile was wide and his eyes were on fire, because Orphan Summit is for people who live a Crazy Love life. "It's so nice to be in a room where I'm not the only weirdo," he said with a chuckle.

Maybe because of that, he didn't spend his time that night trying to open eyes to the cancer of complacency, the crisis of comfort. I think he knew that would be preaching to the choir.

Instead, he spoke encouragement and perseverance to those actively involved in the fight.

Two points stuck out to me.

First: Cultivate a thankful heart. When we give thanks, when we look around us and see what we've been given, how we get to participate in God's work, that we get to witness grace and love and redemption, it should floor us. Who are we that we get to do this? Who are we that God would use us in this way? It's the antidote to the soul rot of bitterness and self-righteousness.

"We desperately need to stay humble," Francis said. "It's impossible to be proud when you're truly thankful."

It's true, isn't it? The cliche of counting your blessings opens up a vat of awe in our souls. We don't help orphans (or feed the hungry or love the unlovable or serve our families) because we are something special. We do it because we've been given so much. We do it because we gniosko grace, because we've tasted and seen that God is good.

We aren't the point.

Jesus is.

Second: Without the Holy Spirit, we can only modify behavior. True heart change can only happen with God.

This is a sobering message for people involved in the front-lines of ministry, because we see the need. We desperately want the Church to get involved. We want to motivate and educate and maybe convict a little. Let's get going, people! Rise up!

But as Francis rightly points out, guilt-motivated actions mean little-to-nothing in God's economy. Love is the cornerstone of all we do. And without the Holy Spirit changing people from the inside out, all our motivational speeches are empty.

"Are we praying that the Holy Spirit would change people's hearts? If He is the one empowering people, giving them the desires of God's heart, it will happen naturally," he said. "Otherwise, we are just trying to force people to do this. We are only modifying behavior. It takes a super natural act to produce real heart change."

He emphasized this by telling a story about one of his daughters. She was getting older and older, but he wasn't seeing a change in her heart. He wasn't seeing the Holy Spirit create a new person in her; he was only seeing a guilt-motivated response. And this distressed him greatly. Even as he retold the story, he pulled at his head and contorted his face in agony. How could his own daughter, the one he loves, the one who has heard about Jesus her whole life, not be changing from the inside out?

So he had a sincere and painful talk with her. (I imagine she was a teenager.) He spelled out his real concern, that he didn't see heart change in her, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. And without that heart change, he didn't know if she really knew Jesus at all.

As the year progressed, the Holy Spirit did intervene. She came to know Jesus in a real and powerful way. Most importantly, Francis and Lisa saw lasting, Holy-Spirit motivated change in her. Her motives changed. Her thinking changed. She was a new creation.

That story resonated with me as a parent. More than anything, I want my children to know Jesus. I don't just want to modify their behavior. And the raw truth is: I can whet their appetite for God. But I can't force them to follow Him. That decision is totally theirs. (Scary!)

The same is true for those around me. These days, I'm praying more and motivating less. And while it feels like I've backed off, maybe that's the point.

This is God's work, not mine.



  1. Kelley, This is just beautiful. I think that this session was also one of my favorites at summit and I'm so glad that your summary brought it all back up for me! It's like getting to live the awesomeness twice :-)

    1. Thanks Megan. This especially means a lot because - YOU WERE THERE. So if I was somehow misconstruing something, you would know. I'm glad to know I'm remembering the right stuff. Must be the Holy Spirit.

  2. I have some friends who attended his church and it sounds like he's a pretty incredible dude. I need to pick up a copy of his book...

    Also, I LOVE Orphan Summit...because it brought us together IRL!


  3. This is an amazing piece of writing Kelly. I am on fhe cusp of downsizing my lifestyle and heading into the misdion field. None of or friends understand, but neither did they when we started the Total Money Make Over. They gasped at thd fact that we were moving away from a meterial driven life to a GOD driven one. Then God tugged on our hearts for the lost outside of the US. Life has never been the same. I'm so excited about the journey God has in store.

    1. Forgive the typos. It's difficult writing and editing from my phone.

  4. I love that last point. I think my soul is fatigued with guilt-motivation, with loud words and in-your-face messages. I know I need to allow a lot more room for the Holy Spirit in my own life. Thanks for sharing Kelly.

  5. Love finally reading this! I've been looking forward to it. I really should read that guy's books, eh?

  6. Kelly - I'm glad you are just now getting around to this reflection because it was exactly what I needed to hear today!

    I couldn't make it to the Summit this year but am beyond blessed by your recap.

    After a very long day of caring for the fatherless, I needed someone to tell me to cultivate a thankful heart. I am to quick to become frustrated and exhausted and heartbroken over the mess of it all.

    I am going to put these questions on my mirror - "Who are we that we get to do this? Who are we that God would use us in this way?"

    Thanks for speaking truth!

  7. Crazy Love did a number on me. Love hearing more of his backstory and look forward to the day I can hear him in person!