I’m a protestant, the founder and former pastor of a non-denominational church, but when I went through a dark time God sent a Catholic saint to save my faith.
I knew little about St Francis of Assisi until I went through a spiritual crisis a few years ago. I was burnt out on church ministry, disillusioned with church, fed up with evangelical subculture, tired of not being able to voice my doubts and questions without being labeled a ‘backslider,’ not to mention weary of telling people that just because I was a Christian wasn’t an ipso facto admission I voted Republican, owned assault weapons, or hated gay people.
At the height of my faith meltdown a friend invited me to visit him at his home in Bermuda to pray about whether I should remain in ministry or not. While packing I saw an unread copy of GK Chesterton’s St Francis of Assisi on my bookshelf, and without much thought threw it in my bag.
Over the course of the next week, I devoured it three times. It was a game changer. St Francis helped me realize how narrow my vision of Christianity had been. The more I read about him the more I thought, “If this is what being a Christian in ministry looks like, count me in.” More importantly, his life gave me a vision for how we might reverse our culture’s increasing disdain for Christianity, and inspired me to write the book Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale to share that vision with others.
So who was this winsome saint Time Magazine ranked 9th on the list of the most important people of the last millennia, whom Jack Kerouac dubbed the patron saint of the Beat Generation, and historian Sir Kenneth Clark called “Europe’s greatest religious genius?” What made him so extraordinary?
He rescued the Church from collapse.
Scandals wracked the church in the 13th century. Sexual misbehavior and shamelessly opulent lifestyles among clergy were commonplace. Christian leaders made the name of Jesus into a brand that helped move lucrative products (e.g. indulgences, relics, etc.), corrupt involvement in power politics, and encouraging people to kill Muslims to secure their salvation, led people to distrust the church, and by association, the gospel itself.
In response, Francis began a movement that restored people’s love for the person and message of Jesus, gave people reason to trust the church again, and brought a revival to Europe, the effects of which last to the present day.
How’d he do it? By more nearly mirroring the life of Jesus than anyone since New Testament days.
What would Francis tell us to do if we wanted to overcome the jaded impression our culture has of Christianity and the church?