Greater Than | Francis Chan
One of the primary issues I have always had with short-term missions is that they are all too often more about the individuals serving rather than the individuals being served. Youth group missions become a type of missional tourism, where students and leaders spend a few days in light labor and VBS camp type activities, then head to the beach. I’ve even heard stories of churches in South America that were getting painted for the sixth or seventh time that year because they continually hosted short-term missions groups and that is how the group chose to “help.”
Next Step Ministries was founded with the desire to not just be a one and done ministry, but to partner with local churches and communities to effect real, substantial, and sustainable change. Their ABOUT US page specifically references the book When Helping Hurts, a discussion of the pitfalls of short-term missions, and their attempts to overcome those pitfalls to bring lasting growth.
They even offer an apology for their past mistakes, writing that “However, through the rapid growth, Next Step was so focused on what God was doing in the lives of students, the ministry began to notice it may be overlooking the residual harm being done to the communities it served. In 2013, Next Step offered an apology for not always doing missions ‘the right way’. And that brings us to today, continuing the journey of learning and striving to be a missions organization where short-term mission trips collide with long term community development.”
As a part of their initiative to be missionally minded in the right way, Next Step has developed a series of training videos and Bibles studies to prepare their students for life on mission. It’s the perfect way of blending the service-oriented nature of short-term missions with the focus of leading and teaching those students coming in to serve.
Next Step has always taken the next step (see what I did there?) by providing these video resources for ABSOLUTELY FREE. And we’re not talking about some dinky, low-budget, 1990s looking stuff, either. This is professionally produced material with captivating speakers (Francis Chan, Bob Goff, Shane Claiborne, Propaganda, and more!) that surpasses most of what I see coming out of the major publishing houses.
Greater Than is a five-session series featuring Francis Chan. Each video is between 7-10 minutes and intended, with discussion and Bible study, to cover 45 minutes to an hour. Francis begins at creation (day 1) and tells the Gospel story. We are confronted by the problem of evil and suffering (day 2) and the holiness and justness of God that must judge sin and evil (day 3). From here, Francis talks about the Christian life, the process of redemption and sanctification, and what trials and persecutions that might bring (day 4). He is also clear that following Jesus is not a one-time decision, but a continual decision and desire to follow God and serve him (day 5).
The series opens with Francis standing in the forest with a Bible. It’s simple and profound, a merging of God’s general revelation of nature with his special revelation in Scripture. Francis speaks of the beauty and grandeur of creation and how each thing was created with meaning and for a purpose.
The imagery of this day is both beautiful and haunting. Francis questions the goodness of a God who can allow evil and suffering while standing at his mother’s grave. Why did a good God allow my mom to die while giving birth to me? It’s obvious that, even forty some years later—even though Chan has seen his question answered, even though he will share that answer in just a few minutes—this is still a real and painful question for him to ask. He moves to his stepmother’s grave. Or why when I finally had a mom again, she would die when I was eight? He moves to his father’s grave. Or why my dad would die when I was twelve?
Francis quotes from the book of James and how the trials of this life bring faith to maturity. He says that he can be grateful for his parents’ death because it forced him to think about life in a new way. It caused him to cherish life and pursue God. During that feelings of that loss, he solidified his faith in God. His conclusion: Anything that would cause me to find God is a huge blessing, no matter how painful it was at the time.
Day 3 is one of the most powerful, pure Gospel presentations I have heard. Chan lays it all down, in passionate and pleading tones as he laments over sin and praises the justice of God, all while fearing the necessity of punishment. But God knows a way. He takes the punishment upon himself through Jesus. He absorbs the loss. He pays the penalty. And we can be set free from sin if we enter into a relationship with him.
There must be a response to this sacrifice of God. Living the Christian life was not meant to be an easy way out. Jesus lived it and it got him crucified. Francis reminds us that Jesus isn’t just our Savior, he’s our example. As he lived, so we must live—and that means living a life on mission, a life set apart, a life dedicated to the service of others.
Following Jesus is more than a one-time decision. It’s about a lifestyle that comes from the Holy Spirit. In this concluding message, Chan teaches on the sustainability of Christian faith—that if the Holy Spirit has saved you, he has saved you for something. Christianity is about a daily walk with God and decision to serve him, not just a one time prayer for forgiveness.
I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough and robust the study guide is. It also gets its priorities straight. Rather than riff straight off of Chan’s teaching, the study guide begins with Scripture and then draws out connections with the video. This helps keep the Bible from being an ancillary part of the study.
Each section has several sections of relevant Scripture, along with 2-4 questions of application. There’s so much here that I would actually—for the purposes of small group setting—break up the Bible study into two parts and throw the video in between. 20 minutes of Bible study. 10 minutes for the video. 20 minutes to finish the Bible study. This structure will help keep students on task.
A lot of small group curriculum suffers from poor presentation. The teaching is good, but the production is a camera on a tripod pointed to a person at a pulpit. Others try to get fancy with graphics but end up looking dated and cheap. Greater Than outdoes most major publishers in their presentation. The locations are gorgeous (and relevant). The camerawork is spot on. It’s engaging and attractive. This isn’t just some side idea for a short-term missions company. Next Step proves that they believe that Bible study is an important part of their ministry by putting so much value into this production.
Even though it’s intended for missions teams, there’s nothing so specific that it could only be used during a missions trip or only over five days or only for a missions emphasis. The target demographic is high school, but I would recommend this to any person of any age. Next Step does a great job of creating a product specific for their needs, yet general enough to be a part of their larger ministry and be given away and used in a variety of contexts.
Francis Chan’s personal story brings a lot of weight to the series and helps it come across as very intimate and personal. Chan’s tone is passionate and the simplicity with which he challenges us to audacity for God is exactly what a safe and comfortable American church needs. Frankly, this one blew me away.